It was getting to be time to grab dinner, and a dusky glow was already starting to illuminate the narrow stone streets of the old city of Urfa. Danielle, Fabio and I were hungry from a long day of exploring the city, in all it’s ancient glory, so we decided to grab a quick dinner of pide and lahmacun at a cheap restaurant we passed the day before not far from our pensiyon.
The night was still early, and few Turks were out eating at all when we slowly approached the glass fronted restaurant with a grill that spilled out onto the street in front. As soon the restaurant owner saw us, he passionately herded us down to sit at a table on the sidewalk in front of his small establishment. Business must have been slow that night, for, except to shepherd a few other customers into the restaurant or to give instructions, he spent the entire night by our table, earnestly explaining his situation.
“This is our soil, our soil, you understand?” He fervently expounded to us, over tea. “This is Mesopotamia, we’ve always been here. This land belongs to the Kurds, you know? If we have to, we should fight for it! The PKK,” he was shouting, but quickly took stock of the fact that he was in the street.
Last weekend I ventured down to Şanlıurfa again, although this time Danielle and Fabio were in tow. Although I had managed to see the majority of the sites within Urfa itself when I had gone there by myself, the city seemed to beckon to me and I was excited to see it again in large part thanks to the posts by Kim on her fantastic blog Turkey With Stuff In. The first day we arrived in Urfa, we spent the majority of the day seeing the touristy religious sites that the city is known for – and that I’ve blogged about here. Seeing the sites again was magical, but the main impetus for my return was the ruins of Harran.
As 2012 wraps to a close, I feel compelled to give a special post of ‘Turkey in Review.’ I’ve been extremely fortunate with the amount I’ve been able to travel and see within the past four months and, although I’ve missed a lot, I can’t help but be happy with what I’ve seen. So, without further ado, here is a quick and dirty review of some hot-spots in Turkey for any of you thinking of traveling in this amazing country.
Visiting Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı) was my first major Turkish excursion, and it also featured prominently on my life bucket list. Built as a burial mound on top of one of the highest peaks for the king of the Commagene Kingdom in South Eastern Turkey, the mountain is definitely worth a visit, though maybe not necessarily for the reasons you may think.
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.