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2006 Summer in Turkey

by Trudy (1/6/2009)

From Adana to Elazig

Friday June 2nd: Adana – Urfa (365 kilometres)

            The uncomfortable feeling about hotel Turkay is incorrect. I have slept well, the room is large and clean and has even air-conditioning, a mini bar, English television and a bathroom with a very good shower. Breakfast is sober, but I almost all the time think that of a Turkish breakfast. I am more the fruit-and-yogurt-type.

            Because I really want to leave Adana I am at the otogar at 07.50 hoping to catch an early bus. Changing my ticket is not a problem but there is not an earlier bus. Though I am waiting on an otogar with little to do, I am happy as all the touts know that I already have a ticket so they leave me to sit quietly. At the bus company they offer me many cups of tea (there is more Turkish çay in my veins than blood) and pide. I make friends by saying Fenerbahçe and Pierre van Hooijdonk. Being from Rotterdam I say that PSV (PeeCeeVee) and Ajax are nothing, in which everyone agrees.

            They have warned me for Urfa – the official name is Sanliurfa but everyone uses the short name. Quite religious and a pilgrim city with sacred places therefore unmarried couples and solo travelling women are not welcome at all places. I do not want to search for a good hotel with the risk of being suspiciously looked at several times so when I get out of the dolmus next to the belediye, I see hotel Arte in which I choose to stay. It looks new, good and safe. It is new. The hotel opens today and I am their first guest! My room is spacious, dark wood, chrome and beige interior, with television and air-conditioning. The bathroom is perfect. The remote control of the television is still wrapped in plastic in a drawer. On the corridors and behind the reception everything is done to get the last things right. When I look through open doors into the rooms I see workmen placing the beds. I think this hotel with its price of 50 lira (26 Euro) is nicely priced – in Holland it would cost at least 100 Euro. At Harran Nemrut Tours they think it is ridiculous high. I don’t care. Comfort, safety – electronic controlled doors - and in the middle of the centre do cost a bit more. Harran Nemrut Tours has the possibility for a tour to Mount Nemrut but – because there are no other tourists yet – their price is 150 Euro. That I find ridiculous high!


Saturday June 3rd: Sanliurfa

            Before going into town, I like to drink coffee first. Birlik Pastane looks good but every seat inside is occupied. Ayse (27), Nalan (36) and Vildan (27), three young women invite me to sit at their table. Ayse and Nalan live in Izmir but are visiting their sister Vildan who lives in Urfa. Ayse & Vildan are twins but I don’t think they look like twins. They are fighting about their age; Vildan says they are 28 because they are born in 1978. No, says Ayse, our birthday is in August, so we are still 27. Vildan looks as if she does not believe this. Ayse lived for 3 years in Scotland – and has a Scottish boyfriend there – working as an au pair. Her sisters speak less or no English. Ayse must translate almost everything and she is constantly correcting her sister, like a teacher…. Like four adolescents we talk about anything, Turkey, England, religion, but mostly about boyfriends and love. They have some good advices for me. They come with me to a travel agent, but I do not have luck, also here any other tourists to make the tour. Two of the girls even want to come with me but the prices keep the same so we decide that is too expensive. In addition, other tour operators I visit but none of them have an offer for Mount Nemrut.

            In Gölbasi, the pilgrim quarter of Urfa, I visit the cave where – according to the legend – Abraham is born and has lived for seven years. Abraham needed to hide for King Nimrod who killed all newborns because they might be a threat to his throne. I now understand how a Hindu from India must feel in catholic Lourdes in France: not understanding anything at all. My t-shirt with long sleeves, jeans and headscarf are not covering enough. They give me a grey ankle long coat. Inside the cave dozens of praying women – aloud, softly or in silence – who stroke the walls, kiss the walls, fill bottles with sacred water and full of devotion look at pictures. This enormous religiosity (and me not knowing what, why and how) intimidates me and I leave the cave quickly. At the way out I see a sign with entrance fees, sorry I did not see that sign before.

            I really do not understand this complete body covering. If it is because men get dirty thoughts, then they have to raise these guys better and educate them. If it is because you are only allowed to show your body to people in your family, I think it is an insult of God’s work. Can His work not be seen by others? (It does not mean that you have to dress in shirts above your belly button and in hot pants! Nevertheless, this all-covering clothing I do find not nice.) I feel sorry for these women, they must feel the terrible heat and sweat a lot.

            I walk up to the mountain because I think there is the kale but no, only a cemetery. The kale is much more far away. I do not want to go up a mountain in this heat – it is 45 degrees Celsius today! The ponds with the holy fishes I do not visit, too touristy. I take a very, very long lunch break at one of the restaurants. In Urfa you need to take care while eating because of the temperature. Food poisoning is easily caught. Urfa’s specialty I will not eat – raw lamb – I really must not think about it.

            The bazaar is large and disordered. Besides shoes, clothing and household articles there is also a lot of silver- and copper work, sometimes made while watching. The lustful hands my travel book warned me for, I happily did not experience. When I have the idea I have seen it all, I cannot find the exit. I just walk around and see some shops I guess six times. I need to ask to find my way out.

            The heat is so awful that I walk from tea to lemonade to orange juice. It also affects my intestines and stomach. I feel so ill that I decide to go to my hotel room to sleep for a while. I wake up at nine in the evening and just before closing I can have dinner at Gülhan Lokanta. The aile salonu I do not go to this time. Being the only woman downstairs I eat. Strange idea, every female visitor, even with modern young couples, goes upstairs to that family salon. As if sitting on the first floor means you are available for every man.


Sunday June 4th: Sanliurfa – Mardin (175 kilometres)

            This new, Italian decorated hotel does have some shortcomings. In the room there is no refrigerator – which would be nice in this heat. The breakfast is very simple, too simple for a hotel of this class. I cannot pay with Visa yet. However, it will be arranged soon, the hotel owner promises.

            A taxi brings me to the otogar. The driver does not have change from my twenty lira note so he goes inside the office of one of the bus companies while I follow him. Before I can say more than just my destination Mardin, an employee gives me – while making a telephone call – a ticket without saying another word. Wait a minute, that is too quick! What time does my bus leave? How much is my ticket? I just do not believe a ticket is exactly 15 lira. My suspicion is rightly, according to the price list on the desk it cost 10 lira. It is not about the 5 lira, it is the thought that bothers me. The employee starts talking in Turkish. A few sentences I do understand: You are in Turkey and you need to speak Turkish; tourists always cause troubles. No sir, you are trying to swindle me! Arriving in Mardin I get my ‘punishment’ for my remarks. They put me off somewhere outside the city and before I can ask them anything the bus has left again. Bystanders help me to find a dolmus to town. Up hill, I am glad I do not need to walk. Boutique Hotel Erdoba Konaklari is expensive, especially to Turkish standards. However, the room has everything I need and therefore worth its price. A few blocks from the hotel is a çay bahçesi, a teagarden. I only see many men and when I ask if women are allowed too, they show me: see, there is also one woman…

            The view over the Mesopotamian plain – going far across the Syrian border – is fabulous. The high – a lot of stairs, pfff – Sultan Isa Medresse is closed because of renovation. Also in Mardin they sell beautiful silver jewellery. At Hassan’s place I drink tea and I am now the owner of silver earrings with the shape of Turkish slippers. The hotel terrace is spacious and ideal to drink çay at night, together with an apple nargileh.


Monday June 5th: Mardin

            Mosques of Mardin, my next destination: Hamza-i kebir Camii is so far the smallest mosque I have seen, at most 50 people can visit it at the same time. The Latifye Camii is being restored and there are no open doors to peek. In the ├×ehidye Camii a group of men is praying and reciting. I do not want and do not dare to disturb them. The most important mosque of Mardin, Ulu Camii, of which many people say it is so nice I find quite bare. Even the mimber is hardly decorated.

            At the Sitti Radiyye (Hatuniye Medresse) I meet Süleyman, a police officer of the tourist police department. He shows me around the medresse. About 80 years ago Atatürk closed all medresses. In spite of the fact that normal scientific education was given, the fact that there was Qur’an education was enough for closing them. Süleyman tells me that later the governor of this province will visit the medresse. Therefore he cannot leave his post to offer me tea. He gives me his email address and his mobile phone number. He also wants mine, well with just one number fake in it he can have it…

            Never short of vitamin C in Turkey. Fruit and freshly pressed orange juice – portakal suyu – is everywhere for sale. In this heat I drink lots of it.

            Walking through the old city part gives me a feeling really being in the East. The yellow coloured houses, built against the hill, windy streets, stairs up and stairs down. Lovely to wander around like this for some time. In the silver store of Hassan I talk a while, drink some çay and buy myself a couple of handmade earrings. In the hotel I talk with the manager, to him I am a possibility to practice his English.


Tuesday June 6th: Mardin – Batman (148 kilometres)

            The manager of the hotel arranges a taxi for me to Deyrul Zafaran, six kilometres from Mardin. The driver takes me there, waits an hour for me and drives me back. This Syrian orthodox convent exists over 1500 years and used to be the head quarters of the patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Now these head quarters are in Damascus. A guide, who claims to be head of the tourist information in Diyarbakir, shows me around. He speaks rapid French so only with some efforts I can understand him. He brings me to the several rooms and explains about what to see. In addition, he gives his mobile phone number, I can call him if I need elsewhere in the region professional guidance. Back in the hotel the manager asks for my address in Holland. When I ask him why he wants that, he shrugs. No reason. I will think about it, I say. Back to Hassan’s store to buy a beautiful silver tespih as a gift for my friend Abdullah

            Mardin is at only 15 kilometres of the Syrian border. Besides Turkish or Kurdish many people here speak Arab. There is also another thing I can notice Arab influence: where in the rest of Turkey I hardly see people spitting on the ground, here they do a lot. More than I like. In the bazaar of Mardin they use donkeys as transportation. The windy roads with unequal stairs are not accessible for cars. Regularly I see a monkey passing by or I hear one bray.

            After almost three weeks in Turkey I am recognising words: açik, giri├ż, kapali (open, entrance, closed) – I know the words. I have to smile when I see the sign of the ├×ekerbank (Sugarbank): would I open an account there?

            Batman is a boring city. To me just a place to find a hotel because I want to go to Hasankeyf tomorrow where is no good place to stay. Hasankeyf is a stunning area at about 37 kilometres distance. Hotel Zeki might be a three star hotel, it is especially a men’s hotel. Most people who stay in this hotel earn their money in oil business in this town (discovered in 1948).

            I walk to the town, it takes about 15 minutes, my hotel is at the edge of the centre. It feels like I am ‘walking the streets’, almost all cars use their horns, some are driving very slowly and I see a lot of faces turned curiously looking towards me. Still I see women walking, dressed much more exciting than I am, some with headscarf. My wide, even not completely clean, jeans and my t-shirt with loose sleeves seem to me much less inspiring than those tight long skirts and outlining shirts. Obviously strange things and persons are more interesting…

            I decide to have fun myself and sit very visible on a terrace of a good-looking pastane. Coffee, water, cakes, ice cream and looking at people passing by. I see a funny text on a t-shirt. A boy of about 17 years has on his shirt the text ‘suck my dick’. Does he really know what it means, I wonder…

            The last couple of days I have had stomach problems caused by the extreme hot weather and maybe from a hygienic point of view (I see meals kept warm for hours long). I am very happy when I see bal├Żk (fish) on the menu. That I like to try.


Wednesday June 7th: Batman – Hasankeyf v.v. (74 kilometres)

            I have another fan… The receptionist of my hotel offers to bring me to Hasankeyf and be my guide there. I can convince him that I never sit alone in a car with a man, unless it is a taxi. He understands. That this excuse is a white lie, he does not need to know!

            Hasankeyf is gorgeous although I think the title of ‘little Cappadocia’ is somewhat overdone. The chasm with conical rocks and carved former houses is on the list of disappearances. A dam they like to build, the complete valley will be under water in a few years. For years protesters are trying to stop this gigantic project. They like to protect nature and keep the area as it is. I hope they will succeed, it would be at waste if this nature piece disappears. The kale is high, many rambling stairs are slippery. It is hot there so high, time to drink again. I will do that together with Zuzanna and Zuzanna, two Czech students who are in Turkey for five months because an exchange programme of their university. Yesterday they had a kind of fight. They do not want to tell me all details but it was very unpleasant I understand.

            Also together, we have lunch in one of the restaurants in the water of the river Tigris. These restaurants are build on a wooden foundation and covered with thatch. Our fish is, as a matter of speaking, swimming below our feet just fifteen minutes before it is on our plate. To get there we have to wade through the river. On the way up I think it is a bit scary because the stones we have to walk on are slippery with alga. On our way back the water has risen, it comes above my knees now. Some Kurdish bystanders see we are frightened a bit (the two Zuzanna’s think it is scary as well) and help us by taking our hands. My jeans are soaked but in this heat of 43 degrees Celsius, it is dry within no time.

            Pastane Mado opened a month ago and has a large offer of tatl├Ż, Italian pasta, alcohol free cocktails, little snacks and complete meals. I talk with Mehmet, the manager who lived for a couple of months in my country. The menu I translate partly for him, that can be useful when there are other Dutch customers. Mado is the kind of place I hope there will be more in Turkey, light, bright, and with furniture to lounge in for hours. Time until dinner I use for checking my email, there is nothing else to do here in Batman, no park, no museum, no bazaar. Unfortunately, no electricity. Çay, they ask? Almost 2,5 hours I talk with three Kurdish (no, we are not Turkish) young men of 18, 20 and 24 years old. Communication is a bit handicapped but it is nice. One of them asks if I can come to his school tomorrow and give a presentation in English so they can practice. Sorry, I already bought a bus ticket to Elazig. Some chatting with a friend in Holland and because these boys look over my shoulder and do understand more Dutch than I thought, we make some jokes. At the end I am absolutely not allowed to pay for my tea and using the internet: Kurdish hospitality. Mado has some very delicious courses on the menu, so this is my place tonight, sunk in the cushions. If it is really specially made for me, I do not know but Mehmet arranges that I get künefe as desert, and it is not on the menu. When I pay for my dinner, I ask him to call me a taxi. He says I have to wait. He walks to the nearby Shell gas station and gets me a car with driver. From the house! What a service!


BaCK in Central TurkeY: ALMOST A JOB!


Thursday June 8th: Batman – Elazig (300 kilometres)

            I will not know for sure but I think the künefe was not good. In the middle of the night, I wake up with stomach pain. The next hour I am sitting in the toilet with my head close to the sink…

            An hour before we arrive in Elazig there is a passport control. My passport has to be checked too. While waiting some of the passengers smoke a cigarette outside the bus, I join them. I talk with Sev├░i, a Turkish woman of 38 from the Dutch city of Amersfoort, and her chat friend Metin. Sev├░i works in a Turkish bar in Amersfoort but is a bit vague about it, in this area not everybody appreciates a woman working in a bar. Her friend is a Kurd and he does not speak English. Both are very surprised that I am travelling solo through Kurdish territory, I have guts they say. Personally I think I am just naive… I did not tell my mother about these warnings… That I – because of safety reasons – skipped Diyarbakir, is at first said to be nonsense but later they admit there is more robbery and theft in that city than elsewhere.

            The bus company at Elazig otogar says there is no direct connection between Elazig and Erzincan, too dangerous because terrorist attacks they claim. I can travel via Malatya and Sivas or via Erzurum, both journeys will take at least ten hours. In four-star hotel The Marathon I ask the manager about this. He says the route is quite safe, everyday hundreds of people take it. He will check for me if I can buy a ticket.

            The hammam in the hotel I can exclusively have to myself, at the end of this evening or tomorrow morning, they promise. Only: the masseur is a man! My doubts about this are taken away. If he does anything I do not appreciate he is getting fired.

            In a bookstore, I want to buy an English book, but no results. They take me to language institute Data next to the shop. There they do everything they can to find me information in English about Elazig. They even offer me a job as an English teacher. When I say I am just a tourist the answer is that a course of a few weeks is okay as well. Well no, but thanks. I can visit a classroom for ten minutes to see the difference in teaching here and in Holland. Visiting? No, I have to teach! At first, I do not have any success. The mostly 18 years old students are scared when they see a strange woman in front of them, talking rapidly English. They are very shy. When I ask a few students direct questions I get answers. This group has their exam in two weeks, they need to take it so they can go to university. They all want to become a teacher of English or a translator.

            Back in the bookstore, I want to buy a Turkish-Dutch dictionary for tourists. Funny to see the phonetic translation of my language. I am absolutely not allowed to pay, it is a gift for my ten minutes of teaching. Sometimes I get shy of these attentions (and I am not the shy type), I cannot pay back for their friendliness?

            The Saray Camii in Elazig is only 22 years old but it is really the most beautiful mosque I have ever seen. The Mehmet Pa├ża Camii in Istanbul is now on second place. Inside and outside a marvellous architecture with arches of marble, decorated in several colours, blue tiles and refined up to the last centimetre. The 80-meter high minarets look like ornamented cakes but are absolutely not kitsch. The michrab is made of grey carved marble and the mimber is worth looking at as well. Outside a few men sitting there ask me if I am alone and if I am not afraid. No, but questions like that make me suspicious. The Izet Pa├ża Camii is according to these men more beautiful. After I saw it, I do not agree. It is nice but not as gorgeous as the Saray Camii.

            In the hotel, I see a message about ‘seramik’ and I think there is an exhibition. It turns out to be a conference. All seventy visitors have dinner in the hotel, so my meal is somewhat late today.

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From Elazig to Erzurum

1. From Ankara to Malatya
2. From Malatya to Adana
3. From Adana to Elazig
4. From Elazig to Erzurum
5. From Erzurum to Dogubayazit (and surroundings)
6. From Dogubayazit back home

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