Learning to make Iznik tiles in Bursa’s Yeniceabat village

One of the reasons I love Istanbul is because there is always something new to explore – a new neighborhood or a new restaurant – the possibilities are endless. Bursa, on the other hand, has always been a place of familiarity for me. I’ve memorized the bus and dolmuş routes, I know the downtown area like the back of my hand, and I don’t get the same sense of overwhelmingness that tends to befall me in Istanbul from time to time. In fact, I thought I had explored every nook and cranny of Bursa until I visited Yeniceabat village earlier this summer.

The village is discreetly tucked away behind Bursa’s otogar (bus depot) and despite all the times I took buses to Istanbul and Ordu, I never knew the village existed, and even more surprisingly, neither did Gurkan. We were in Bursa a few weekends ago for a mini-holiday, and we had plans to visit our good friend Cat who is leading this year’s NSLI-Youth program – a program which I led in 2012 and I highly recommend to any American high school students aspiring to learn Turkish or other critical need languages.

Cat was taking her students on a field trip to nearby Iznik (Nicaea), and on the way out of Bursa, they had planned to stop at an Iznik tile workshop in Yeniceabat. After perusing a map, Gurkan and I were surprised to find ourselves only a five minute drive from Yeniceabat – we had been having coffee at Anatolium waiting for Cat’s call. We headed out to the village and despite it’s deserted appearance, we found it was home to not just one, but three different tile workshops. One of the NSLI-Youth drivers met us on the main village road, jumped in the car and directed us to the correct workshop (take a right at the kiraathane located on the main village road).

When we arrived, the workshop was bustling with activity. One group of students was milling around outside chatting, another was hand painting tiles in the workshop, and still another was preparing for a tour of the kiln room. Gurkan and I chatted with one of the artisans and saw how the tiles were glazed and fired. We learned that the workshop uses quartz which is more difficult to work with (it shrinks when fired and needs to be done in small batches) but of higher quality than the material most workshops use.

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Glazing tiles in the kiln room

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Dipping tiles in the glaze

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A close-up of some traditional Iznik designs

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A variety of pieces waiting to be glazed and fired

I noticed the workshop had a small showroom off to one side, and Gurkan managed to persuade one of the workers to let us have a look inside. It was a very small space but had pottery stacked in all corners and spread across the floor. On some of the pieces, we were surprised to find Paşabahçe – one of my favorite Turkish home goods store – written underneath. According to the worker, the workshop sells their items to Paşabahçe which in turn sells them in their retail locations at three times the price. Although I would have loved to fill up a whole box to take back with me to Istanbul, I used my discretion and ended up purchasing just a couple pieces for wedding gifts.

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Painting pomegranates with Iznik designs

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The workshop’s small showroom

Afterwards, Cat and I talked with one of the workers who I assumed was the owner about the possibility of returning in the fall for informal classes for just the two of us. At first, he seemed hesitant – the art of making tiles isn’t just a hobby, something you can learn over a few days he said – but he softened up as the day went on. Maybe Cat and I will get our very own private Iznik tile class after all.

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Even the outside of the workshop is stacked high with pottery

 

 

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An Introduction of Sorts

My first trip to Turkey (Bursa) circa 2009 seemed to be the perfect time to try my hand at blogging. I set up a no-frills Blogger account, and I wrote about my first impressions. Of course, these were the standard impressions of any American finding herself in a foreign country, in a city of the beaten track (or at least, tourist track). The winks too many, the western style toilets too few, and the magical Turkish baths a welcome respite from the dirt (and second-hand smoke) of a growing metropolis. Looking back on these first observations I squirm at the absolute naiveté of it all. Thankfully, only a few friends and family members were privy to my first foray into the world of blogging.

I was reluctant to continue blogging during my graduate studies at Sabanci University. Short on time and hardly enough energy to make it through Professor Berktay’s assigned readings, I couldn’t fathom keeping up a blog. Extra time was spent taking cat naps in the library, tea breaks in one’s office, and prolonging the weekend breakfast at the yemekhane (cafeteria). Writing was for analyzing gender in the early Turkish education system and minority rights in the modern Turkish Republic, not for leisurely blogging. I envied my classmates who found the time to post a few snippets of their life in Istanbul. Surely their friends and family back home were more than appreciative.

My second attempt at blogging was surprisingly quite successful. As the Resident Director for one of the US State Department’s scholarship programs, my target audience was my students’ parents. With strict limitations on the students’ own internet and phone usage, I felt a blog would be a great way to offer their parents some peace of mind. With sparse text and lots of pictures, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. This blog is still live and not a half bad resource if you want to explore Bursa or learn more about the NSLI-Youth program.

Back in Turkey, after a failed job search in the Midwest and a stint on the East Coast, I have transitioned into a career in marketing and business development. I now feel obliged to approach writing as a targeted marketing tool, and my creativity is limited to my reign of the office’s social media. But, for some reason, I fail to use 140 characters as creatively as many of my contemporaries, let alone the Gezi Park protestors. Lucky enough to follow these change-makers, I feel privileged enough just to be able to retweet their words on my personal handle.

With a full-time job and plans to start a small business on the side, I certainly didn’t feel like I had the time to start another blog. That is – until my friends encouraged me to start one, and not just any blog, but a restaurant blog, in fact.  Of course, I had plenty of excuses to offer, but perhaps the one that weighed most heavily on my mind was that I didn’t want to be that expat. But friends kept urging me. Start one, they said, if not for others, at least for yourself so you can remember all the places you go!

And, at the end of the day, with an account set up on a whim some weeks earlier, I figure why don’t I pen a few words? If there’s one thing I can write about, it’s Istanbul’s food scene, maybe a few day excursions, and a couple Turkish bath reviews thrown in. At least I will no longer feel guilty for planning my weekends around trying new restaurants, and now, I have a decent, if not valid reason to take pictures of my food. My you-can-pass-go card of sorts. Enjoy 🙂