Fab first day on the real Gertrude trail, by which I mean getting out of İzmir and into somewhere smaller and more manageable. On her visit in 1902 she made a number of trips to local sights including those of Manisa which I found myself visiting on rather an odd day when the boulevards were bright with flowering tulips despite a sprinkling of newly fallen snow on the mountains soaring over the town. “In mid April – that’s a first,” commented a woman at the bus stop.
Manisa has just been elevated to Büyükşehir (Metropolitan) status which apparently means a lot to the bureaucrats who decide what advertising should greet incoming visitors even though it means absolutely nothing to the rest of us. I wasn’t much thrilled to discover that the otogar had been exiled to the outskirts of town either. “Terrible traffic. It’s much better now,” said İsmet, the taxi driver. “Before we charged TL8 to the otogar. Now it’s TL10, 11, 12, 13, 14…”
Yes, I bet it is. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – these new bus stations are of benefit to no one except the taxi drivers.
Whinging aside though it was great fun to revisit the Sultan Cami and find the mental hospital mentioned by Gertrude converted into a small Health Museum. The Muradiye Cami lived up to my memory of its being one of the finest mosques outside İstanbul. Ditto with its toilets, spotlessly clean and advertised as such – as you step on the doormat a mechanical voice pipes up “Hello. Welcome” which is a far cry from the days when, as a newcomer to Turkey in 1974, I was driven to yelling at the poor man dispensing cologne outside an İstanbul toilet, so foul were his facilities.
Sad to say, the museum which should be Manisa’s pride and joy is still closed for restoration after at least three years. Up on the hillside the Ulu Cami was also locked up although that didn’t stop me admiring its glorious courtyard full of columns, each of them pilfered either from an earlier church on the same site or from other remains of the old Magnesia ad Sipylum.
On my last visit I was too lazy to hack to up the hill to inspect the remains of the Sandıkkale. But Gertrude had made it up there so today so did I, pausing for coffee in a small cafe whose plastic awning flip-flapped in the wind as if a typhoon were on its way.
Afterwards I hopped into a taxi to run me to the famous rock said to resemble poor, bereaved Niobe which, for some unknown reason, I had always assumed to be out of town. In fact it turned out to be within perfectly walkable distance, its natural setting now disturbed by a modern amphitheatre . Gertrude walked over the hill in search of the tomb of Tantalus, Niobe’s father, but it being rather cold for that I had the taxi driver run me up to the Mevlevihane which, when she visited it, was still full of students but which is now just another small museum.
Back in the town centre I went on something of a wild goose chase in search of the last remaining piece of the old Ottoman palace that once stood behind what is now the Hükümet Konağı. Strangely though that same wild goose chase took me down a side street where I came across the beautifully renovated Taş Fabrika, an old factory, mentioned in passing by Gertrude, that is now an unexpectedly good restaurant.
There was just time for a hot chocolate amid the students gathered in Kahve Durağı (Coffee Stop). Warmed up again, I felt a little guilty about Tantalus. Another time perhaps.