Before I went to Urfa, I imagined the city – the center of religious pilgrimage in Turkey – to have a very quiet and conservative nightlife. Indeed, a good amount of the population is conservative, I’m sure. Except for the three or four women I saw in full black chadors, though, I saw no outwards sign of religion. Well, except for all the mosques. This didn’t put a damper of the city’s nightlife in the least bit, however.
After a long day seeing sights Friday, I went to a guest house – Türkü Konağı – for an early dinner; I was lured in by their sign claiming to have live music every night. I must have arrived way earlier than any expected customers, though, as all the workers of the hotel were sitting together about to have their own dinner. When I ordered food, they brought me a luke-warm chicken kebab wrap. Not wanting to raise a fuss, but also not wanting to risk eating this – I was warned about food-poisoning in Urfa – I made up an excuse to the waiter and was heading towards to the door when one of the eating workers gestured to an open seat next to me and told me to sit.
Besides seeing the sights of Urfa, I spent a surprising amount of my time in the city also conversing with the locals. Usually, it was just polite pleasantries, although I did have three long drawn out conversations with locals who I believe – for the most part – meant well deep down.
My first such encounter was during lunch on Friday. I was having a small lunch in a cafe at the Balıklıgöl complex when a man came over and sat at my table. At first we were just making chit-chat about what I thought of Urfa and what I was doing in Turkey. Then, very quickly, the man steered the conversation towards how he would love to take me around the province in his car and show me the sights.
It was all okay, he reassured me. He had done the same thing with a couple from the Netherlands that morning, and they loved it! When he still sensed I was hesitant, he pointed towards two men sitting down in the distance. “They’re police officers,” he said. “They’re my friends and we will ask them what they think of me. They will say I’m trustworthy, I know it.”
After we finished lunch and walked over to the men sitting down, they did indeed seem to be off-duty police officers and they did vouch for Yilmaz’s supposed trustworthy credentials. So, I followed Yilmaz to the El-Ruha hotel which was directly outside of the complex; he wanted to show me the hotel since it was built on some ancient caverns that the hotel had turned into dining rooms – it was really cool, and surprisingly swanky.
Never has a city evoked so many varied emotions from me within such an exceptionally small space of time as Şanlıurfa – Glorious Urfa – managed to do this past weekend. The three days I spent there were actually so amazingly eventful, and unexpected in the most peculiar ways, that I will be splitting my experience into three posts. This one will focus on the city of Urfa itself, in all its glory.
I left Malatya for Urfa at 5:30 AM, and I was lucky enough to arrive on a quick intercity bus – made by Mercedes Benz with personal TVs, which I did not take advantage of as I promptly fell back asleep – by around 10:30 in the morning.
With my hopes of going to Antep and Urfa for this weekend crushed, I instead prepared myself for a relaxing solo-weekend around Malatya. I had grand plans of going to the hamam (a Turkish bath), hanging out at Nostalji – a renovated wooden Ottoman house that’s now a cafe – and meeting up with Mehmet for narghile. Unfortunately for Danielle, she also ended up catching a stomach bug so she and Fabio were happy to join in on my plans for a recuperative Saturday in Malatya.
When I was younger, I was obsessed by the idea of being anywhere but where I was. Why stay in New Jersey, I would think to myself, when there was almost an infinite amount to be seen outside of my known world. My imagination was also spoiled when I was little – my mom, or dad, or brothers would read to me stories of Greek myths, Tolkien, and His Dark Materials. My entire world view was based on the idea that sitting still in one place was almost sinful.
To need to explore seemed like a default state of nature to me. By the time I reached high school, explorers and drifters had become heroes of mine. Almost eight years after first learning about Ibn Battuta, for instance, I am still hard pressed to think of someone who I admire more. I mean, the man spent the second half of his life traveling from Morroco to Mecca, down the East coast of Africa, back to Turkey, and then all the way to China. Oh, and he did it in all in the 14th century – and got rich because of it! Who could pass up the chance to explore in the face of the amazement of something like that?
I like to think that I have made the most out of any chance to explore so far in my life. I have been to 4 continents, the Arctic Circle, and I have lived in Turkey – even if it was only for 2 months. I definitely have not let chances pass me by, but I am afraid. I graduate in two months and after that, if I manage to find a job, my dreams of long-term traveling seem to be mostly dead. I am waiting to hear back about the Fulbright Grant, which would allow me to live in Turkey for another nine months (perfect amount of time to have a kid a bail), but that isn’t certain. Unless I want to commit to living abroad for years – like my brother – my years of exploration seem to be quickly running out.
Except, they aren’t. There is always another frontier to explore, although I never realized it. As cheesy as it may sound – if it does sound corny, I can’t really tell – that last final frontier is the future. Although I may never be able to explore as much strictly temporal space as Ibn Battuta, it does not mean my life has to be any less interesting.
I have no idea what will happen in my life. Even tonight, I know only vagaries of a plan – meet with some friends, go to a party, hopefully get Pizza City. That’s the thing, though! Legitimately every action I can ever take is a journey unto itself, with every outcome possible and unknown.
That’s not just exploring, that’s a full on adventure.
Suck it, Ibn Battuta, my life can be just as bad ass as yours… even if I don’t travel more than 75,000 miles before steam power (damn!).