Convenient, modern, clean, liberal, college town, regional center, international, European, Parisian, “Little Amsterdam,” the “Seattle of Turkey”: these are some of the ways that Eskişehir, a city of about 600,000 whose name means “Old City,” has been described to me. People have said to us, time and again, “I’ve never been to Eskişehir, but it’s a great place.” People who live here tell us, “It’s the best city in Turkey to live in.” Some individuals we have talked to attribute the easy-going nature of the town to its European roots–the Turkish people here are from families which originally immigrated from Bulgaria and Balkans over the past few decades, bringing more European/Western/liberal styles and attitudes with them. (This immigration is continuing–two of my students have reported being from Bulgarian families.)
We (me and my two fellow Fulbrighters) have been living here for a month now. Normally I am skeptical of hype–with all the positive reviews, I was getting paranoid that Fulbright and Turkey were playing a cruel trick on us, getting our hopes up before shipping us off to some sad, dusty little middle-of-nowhere dump. In fact all the reviews turned out to be true and more. While Eskişehir is not a tourist destination, it has a Europe-in-Turkey feeling and really is an incredibly easy and enjoyable place to reside, make friends, live in, and come home to.
Warning: this post is long and picture-heavy, geared more toward the “friends and family” demographic of Pulsations readers. However, if you’re interested in visiting or living in Eskişehir, or curious about what a Fulbrighter’s life is like, you might find this post informative in some way.
Our main neighborhood is Universite Caddesi (Üniversity Street) which begins at the front gates of Anadolu University’s campus and winds its way up to the city center. Eskişehir, dominated by two of Turkey’s largest public universities (Anadolu University and Eskişehir Osmangazi University, and I’ve heard a third is under construction), is most definitely a college town. Since Anadolu does not provide on-campus housing, University Street is where most of the students reside, and this is apparent by the disproportionately youthful population of sidewalk walkers.
We find ourselves walking up and down the first five or so blocks of University Street at least once a day: to pick up miscellaneous foodstuffs from the Migros or a smaller grocery store, stock up on fresh produce from the Pazartesi Pazarı (Monday farmer’s market), buy a bus ticket from one of the vendors (Kamil Koç, Pamukkale, Metro), meet someone for tea, or get internet while sipping a mocha at Caribou Coffee (who knew a Michigan-based cafe would make it all the way to Turkey?), or do random errands like get a key copied or buy a spatula. Also on this street is Es Park, the largest and newest of the city’s three shopping malls. (The other two are Kanatli and Carrefour.) On the one hand, it gets a bit boring traversing up and down the same busy street multiple times a day (getting through the crowds on this street is “like swimming up a river,” as one acquaintance said); on the other hand, it’s indescribably nice that all the things we need are within a 10 minute walk. After living in northern Virginia all summer (i.e., sprawling suburban nightmare), this kind of accessibility feels amazing and just what I need.
Kanal road/Porsuk River/Barlar Sokağı/Parks
Eskisehir gets its nickname “Little Paris” (or Little Amsterdam, or whatever) from the pleasant riverwalk that hugs the banks of the Porsuk River. Only someone who has never been to Paris would really confuse the two, but it is a charming and pleasant area in its own right. Attractive bridges span the river as passenger boats and gondolas float past below.
Near Canal Road is an alleyway-like sidestreet called Barlar Sokağı, or Bar Street, which is exactly what it sounds like: dozens of theme bars that are packed and lively every day of the week, not just the weekend. People come to Eskişehir from smaller towns all around in order to enjoy the nightlife here, which also includes three or so nightclubs (the largest of which is called 222).
Eskişehir also has two or three public recreational parks, most of which I have not yet made it to. One of them, Kentpark, features a lovely lake, greenery, and includes an artificial “beach” (see above). Closer to the campus, there is also a lunapark (amusement/theme park) guarded by a pair of disturbing clown statues. And, there’s a pet store just two blocks outside of the front gates. I felt that was important to add.
Anadolu University is one of the largest schools in Turkey and, by some measures, the world: its resident student population is over 22,000, and when “open education” (online distance-learning) pupils are factored in, the total school population tops 1.5 million. We work as English instructors in the Hazırlık department with the School of Foreign Languages (Yabancı Diller Yüksekokulu, pictured in the last three photos above). Hazırlık, or “prep school,” is a solid year or more of English as a Foreign Language classes that most students must take, and pass, before they can proceed to their respective “departments,” their majors. The English prep school here is huge–some 200 teachers and 3,000 students. Before class or during breaks, the building’s main hall and cafeteria sounds like a bee hive buzzing with hundreds of students’ chitchat. This size is quite impressive, considering that some of my Fulbright colleagues are teaching at schools whose entire English language department consists of six or seven instructors. The program here is also notably intense, as beginner students must study for about three semesters (fall through summer) and achieve a B 2.2 Level on the Common European Framework to pass.
Hazırlık is a frequent source of discontent among students; some see it as a waste of time at best, and an “imperialistic” imposition at worst. While I was teaching the other day, two seemingly activist-minded students entered the classroom during break and posted a flyer on the wall. In Turkish, they invited my students to a protest against the Hazırlık system that would take place outside of the rector’s office the next day. Other commentators claim that students’ rebellion against the system is based more on laziness than ideology. In any case, I’ve been impressed with my own students’ enthusiasm and interest, and have experienced very little of the stereotypical lazy/unmotivated Turkish student.
Anadolu has two campuses. The front gates of Yunus Emre kampüsü, the main campus, open up onto University Street, and contains most of the “faculties,” or departments, such as Communication, Education, etc., as well as the Rector’s Office, athletics facilities, and so on. While we are lucky to have a spacious, comfortable, and newly renovated apartment on this super-convenient main campus, unfortunately, our department is located on the other campus, dooming us to an annoying commute each day. Fortunately though, our colleagues are generous enough to give us rides to work every morning, saving us from the dreaded Kırmızı 4 (Red 4) city bus, which has an unpredictable schedule and is always standing-room-only.
Lots more below the break…
We live in misafir lojman, or guesthouse. Turkey has established many new universities in recent years, some of them in relatively remote areas, and in order to fill the schools often they must import professors from larger regional centers. Teacher guesthouses are meant as places for these imported professors to live during the week, and then go back to their own homes on the weekend. Since this case doesn’t apply to Anadolu (Eskişehir is not a small town, and all the colleagues I’ve met reside here), I’m not entirely sure who the other people who live here are and why they qualify for housing in the lojmans.
In any case, our place is a third-floor spacious and furnished three-bedroom with one and a half bathrooms, living and dining rooms, a kitchen, and two porches. Getting Internet was highly problematic, as was establishing our commute to the other campus, but other than that living, here has been easy breezy. We’ve already hosted one guest, and have a Halloween party in the works.
Eskisehir is not without its own cultural attractions. After he was elected into office, the current CHP (Republican People’s Party) mayor (and former rector of Anadolu University), Yılmaz Büyükerşen, ushered in a period of urban development, from installing an electric tram system in the city center, to building a new shopping mall, to renovating the historic district into a tourist attraction. As Wikipedia says, Büyükerşen “has been credited as an example of how a capable and progressive mayor can transform a dusty, conservative city into a lively and modern one,” and indeed in Ankara, Istanbul, and Denizli, people who are not from Eskişehir know about Büyükerşen and spontaneously submit positive commentaries on his work as mayor.
Odunpazari, the aforementioned historic neighborhood, is a swath of Ottoman-era residences on the base of a mountain that were restored and now remain a rather vibrant tourist destination. Besides hundreds of colorful houses, in this neighborhood is a han, or caravansaray, filled with two floors of artisan’s shops. Here is where to find and buy Eskişehir’s “famed” craft product and claim to fame, carved pipes made of meerschaum stone. I’m not personally a fan of meerschaum–supposedly the soft, porous mineral is perfect for a flavorful smoke (again, according to Wikipedia), but considering that neither I nor anyone I know smokes, it’s a bit irrelevant. Instead of bringing meerschaum pipes back as souvenirs for friends/family, I plan on getting scarves in Bursa or silver in Beypazarı.
It’s still early to say (I may still be in the “honeymoon” stage of abroad living), but so far Eskişehir is the most convenient and enjoyable place I’ve lived. It has everything one needs on a daily basis–food, shopping, amenities, entertainment–within arms reach. Its central geographical location means that all the places one would want to visit or need to go to in Western Turkey–from Antalya to Ankara to Istanbul–are just a bus ride away. I get to be in Turkey, and enjoy the warmth, hospitality, and wonderful culture, but I don’t have to deal with the gender-based harassment or conservative attitudes that prevail in many Turkish cities and towns. (An amazing fact about Eskişehir–women and girls can wear short skirts and tank tops and not get honked at by taxi drivers.) And even though I’ve been here over a month, there are a ton of attractions I haven’t even had a chance to advantage of–traditional hamams, live music, riding the riverboat, visiting the municipal zoo, seeing museums and concerts and exhibitions.
Those who are “in the know” are aware that my work situation has been occasionally frustrating and sometimes stressful. And winter will be hard–the Anatolian climate is rather extreme, very hot in the summer and deeply frigid in the cold months (now, during autumn, the temperature fluctuates a full 40 degrees F within the course of the day). Yet even during the anxious or difficult moments, I am more content, satisfied, and peaceful here than I was back in D.C., and I take that as a sign that my year in Eski will be a good one.
Any questions about Eskişehir, or suggestions for what I should do here in this city? Let me know in the comments or by email. The next Freewheeling Report will be about Pamukkale.