Adventures in Southeastern Turkey

This past weekend I set out with three others for southeastern Turkey. Now southeastern Turkey is a vast region, but I can’t just say one city because in fact we went through 5! While some we only “stopped in” others we spent quite a good amount of time – aka we actually slept.

Our route – started in A and went to E (and back to A to fly home). Super close to the Syrian and Iraq border (probably the closest I will get)

A – Mardin, B – Midyat, C – Hasankeyf, D – Batman, E – Diyarbakır

I took the Ankaray (similar to the metro) to the bus station in Ankara and hunted down the Havaş – a bus service to the airpor

t that costs only 10 TL –> such a steal. The ride was about an hour but had its own forms of entertainment – I originally sat in the aisle seat but when we stopped to pick up others I HAD to move because my seat had a mind of its own – aka it moved – like I would slid half way out into the aisle. A Turkish lady even asked “Are you moving or am I imagining things?” haha quite the sight everytime the bus made a turn – and there were a lot of turns. Well post picking up more people it was a full bus which meant that another “unsuspecting” passenger was just getting comfortable when he went for a little hang out in the aisle. The man’s face was priceless and it took all energy not to laugh but by the end of the bus we were both holding our stomachs with laughter. The best may have been when he was able to doze off until a quick turn  had him on the move again.

When I got to the airport my fellow travelers had not arrived so I went ahead and checked in and read for a bit. The plane ride went without a hitch – even enjoyed the Anadolu Jet complimentary Turkish tea and cheese sandwich – fancy fancy. We landed in Marden – possibly the smallest airport I have ever traveled through – a stand along building with a one airplane capacity – it may see 4 flights a day at max…this may be an over estimation…

Grabbed ourselves a taxi and headed to our Pansiyon in the old city – sits right atop a hill – beautiful outlooks (:

Now the name of our pansiyon (pension) was Şahmeran Pansiyon and it was characterized as Otentik – authentic. Possibly the most authentic thing about it was the creepy and steep staircase that had to be climbed to get to it and then finding out that our room was actually built into the side of a cave. Quite cool – literally. I think it was the first sleep I’d had in a long time in which a blanket was needed. We were the first people (or so we were told by the owner) to sleep in our room – it was quaint had 4 single beds and the owner had given it the grandiose name of “Surprise Room” with the “Magic Door” – I think we needed help every time we returned with opening the door.

After settling in we headed on over to a restaurant that is run by local women who were battered. The dinner was alright, but with our late arrival the kitchen really wasn’t in full operation still and the re-heating of one of the dishes didn’t really work out too well – frozen inner meatball like dish – not appetizing. Otherwise the food was good (got to sample some of the local dishes) and it was a unique experience. 10 or so women rotate on chef duty and money earned from the restaurant goes toward helping other battered women in the area. The idea is starting to take off in other parts/sectors of the city to include a soap shop. Woman power (:

Afterwards we headed across the street to a tea garden – pretty sure it was the most happening place in the old city. We enjoyed ourselves some çay (tea) and settled in to watch the Germany v. Greece Soccer game with the locals. I was pleased since Germany won 4-1 –> no complaints there – took awhile for Germany to start scoring, but once they did they were unstoppable. My love for Klose continues on (naturally he had a header goal!) All the locals thought we were German, not a lot of Americans go there and with us wanting to watch the game that didn’t help with the confusion. After a long day we settled into our surprise cave room for the night.

Saturday morning we started fairly early – grabbed breakfast and then toured Marden a bit – a smaller city so not a great amount to see but we did go into a few Syriac churches, checked out the local Pazar (where I tried a very interesting looking cucumber – looked like a baby watermelon – definitely wasn’t though) and wandered the streets for the local speciality of Sugar Almonds (so delicious) alongside donkeys and horses – doesn’t get more authentic than that (:

Donkeys and horses can be seen throughout the streets of Mardin – brought a smile to my face (:

The white ones in the bag are the sugar almonds (already looked up a recipe and will have to give them a try)!

Just a little construction going on in the streets of Mardin – no big

We set off for our next destination Hasankeyf, but had to go through the city of Midyat to get there. We met a really nice Kurdish guy on our dolmuş ride who showed us a good place to have lunch. On the way one of the guys I was traveling with received some unwanted attention from a local man – he received a nice kiss on the cheek – quite unexpectedly too when we were just walking down the street. Although I was glad the local didn’t try to kiss me. The lunch was good – way too much food, but when in Turkey do as the Turks do and

eat…right?

So much food, but so delicious! Be sure to notice the big bread basket – a staple for all meals

Now before I go on a little explanation to what a dolmuş (dolmoosh) is, is required. In Turkey they are minibuses (stretched mini vans) and they act as shared taxis between cities – they drive on pre-determined routes so you just have to be sure to board a dolmuş that is going your way. The name may sound familiar because of the food dolma which are stuffed vegetables and that is exactly what a dolmuş is – a stuffed vehicle. Now on one of our dolmuş rides there were a whopping 28 people – there probably should have only been 18

or so. People were sitting on each other, a few were standing and a few were sitting on little stools in the aisle – talk about “stuffed”. In total we took 4 dolmuş rides on Saturday and 1 on Sunday – dolmuş is the way of travel in Southeastern Turkey.

Now back to post lunch…

We stood on the side of the road where some local men told us to stand and hoped that a dolmuş would come along shortly – in fact it did so we hoped in – unfortunately had to sit sideways on this one – much concentration was necessary to keep my head facing forward so that I wouldn’t get motion sickness.

When we arrived in Hasankeyf it was wonderful – more to the relief that I could stand and not have my jeans sticking to me anymore, but also because it is quite the site. Have I mentioned how much me and my fellow travelers sweated!!! Well after Hasankeyf we were a nice bundle of sweat and sand – sexy.

A little on Hasankeyf is that it is an ancient town along the Tigris River – yes I repeat I have now seen the Tigris River – super cool (: Kurdish people today form the majority of the population (use to be more Armenian and Arab). The history of the area spans nine civilizations making it quite the site of importance and this has been raising concern in Turkey because of a little project called the Illısu Dam Project. Basically it goes without further explanation that if the dam is completed the whole area of Hasankeyf will be inundated – as one of my friends mentioned the upside to that would be that it would be an awesome place to scuba dive! Thus, I have seen a site that may not be around in a few years – even Turks are saying how they must get there and soon – after all it is one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world.

After hiking around Hasankeyf (complete with all of our weekend belongings on us) we boarded our second to last dolmuş (the one with 28 passengers) to the city of Batman! Yes there is in fact a Batman, Turkey. Not really sure what all it has to offer besides a university because this was just a city for us to transfer to our last dolmuş to get to our end destination of Diyarbakır.

We four backpackers – nice and sweaty

Hasankeyf and the Tigris River

Climbing to the top – quite the climb with a backpack – thankfully the sun decided to stay behind the clouds

Once we got to Diyarbakır we dropped off our stuff in the hotel and headed to dinner. We went to this place (Selim Amca’nın Sofra Salonu) where we got a local Kurdish dish of Kaburga Dolması – basically roasted lamb stuffed with rice and almonds – it was served on a massive platter to the table – was quite the challenge for 4 of us to eat (and unfortunately we didn’t eat it all), because of course it came with mezi (appetizers) and bread. Delicious meal – highly recommended – the restaurant was just outside the old city walls. Then we went on a hunt for a bar since the night before was one of the guys birthdays – enjoyed some drinks and talking at Habitat. The bar staff was super enthused that we were there. The place was nice, but there was just too much smoke – still getting used to all the smoking. A relaxing night though – I was super tired  after such a long day in the heat and with all the traveling I passed out at the hotel (but not before we all stopped for some delicious baklava).

When we woke up on Sunday we headed on over to the Hasan Paşa Hanı where we went to Meşhur Kahvaltıcı (Famous Breakfast Place) and gorged ourselves on quite possibly one of the most elaborate breakfasts I have ever seen. It was an amazing experience and may just be at the top of the list of weekend activities. My favorite dish was definitely the kaymak (cream) served with honey and eaten on bread – delightful (:

Post breakfast – super stuffed

We then set out on our day of touring the city which included many mosques, churches and of course the city walls. Now an interesting fact that I want to put out there is that the walls that surround the old city are the longest just after the Great Wall of China – how cool is that?!?! I thought pretty awesome when I was walking along them – but I couldn’t think too hard because I had to watch where I was stepping – not the smoothest wall path so you had to watch where you were going so you wouldn’t just trip and fall off – that would not have been good. We went into the largest Armenian Church (Surpağab Kilisesi) in the Middle East – had a sign up that it was under restoration but we still somehow scored a little trip inside to see it. Gorgeous. My favorite mosque that we went in was Behram Paşa Camii where we got a tour from a local kid. The interesting thing with Diyarbakır is that most of the churches and mosques are locked so you want to go a bit after call to prayer so that people are around so you can be let in for a tour post prayer and for churches just hope someone is around on the street to let you in.

Now Diyarbakır was an interesting city – full of kids running around and bugging tourists – but the interesting thing is that the local men most of the time are yelling at the kids to leave you alone. A nice man in the Bazaar even told my friend to tell me to put my camera around my neck because he was worried someone would try to snatch it. The locals warning tourists about other locals and their bad thief habits – quite the place. We even went to a traditional Kurdish coffee house (Dengbejan) where we got to listen to Kurdish men tell stories through song – it was a moving experience and possibly my second favorite thing about the trip (next to the gigantic breakfast –> I’m a foodie)

The Wall around the old city of Diyarbakır

Diyarbakır is known for its massive watermelons – the watermelon festival is unfortunately later in the summer – but watermelons were spotted on numerous occasions and we even got to enjoy some at the Kurdish Coffee House

We left Diyarbakır around 5pm to head back to Mardin to catch our flight – last Dolmuş ride for awhile (they are all over Ankara but I’ll stick to walking and the metro). We stopped in the mall next to the airport (the only other building in the area) for a nice ice coffee and witnessed the kid train driving through the mall playing Sean Paul – hahahahaha – still laughing over the irony of that. All in all an enjoyable and memorable trip that ended with a normal taxi ride home from the airport (unlike my last taxi ride – things are looking up).

Slideshow of all of the photos from my trip

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Cheers to my first weekend trip in Turkey and surviving the Southeast

n

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