Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sacred Fat Fish

We left Antakya after breakfast the next morning. Erdem insisted upon walking us to the otogar even though we knew the way. After the guy there sold us our tickets he called the bus driver, telling him to come pick up the tourists. The minibus showed up, picked us up, and took us to the minibus terminal where we waited for more people. There were only a few other people on board by the time we left, and in hopes of picking up more people, spent over half an hour crawling out of Antakya, honking at all the people walking by the side of the road, as if this would make them realize that they suddenly had a very strong need to go to Gaziantep, or Antep for short. No one had an instant change of heart though and finally we started to go at a normal speed. The airconditioning barly worked, and gave up completely halfway through the journey. And the host guy kept yelling into his phone, sometimes in Turkish, and sometimes in Arabic or Kurdish or possibly both. He also elbowed Mark in the head. Then, unfortunatly it was his turn to drive, and he continued screaming down his phone and passing people as Mark and I sat there a bit scared. It was the worst ride of the trip so far, and then the driver couldn't even drive us into the otogar to let us out properly. We then took a very scenic drive on a city bus, which did eventually lead us into the center of Antep. We went into the Güllüoğlu hotel, which is above the güllüoğlu baklava shop and asked for a room and then looked pitiful and asked for a student discount. The cut 10TL off the price so we decided to stay.

Starving, Mark took the bags up for the room and we immediatly left to find some food. We got some food around the corner, but after eating it realized we were still hungry. Walking around the area Mark got a liver sandwich from a street vendor and I got some very yummy banana milk. And then we went up into our nice airconditioned room, and slept in cool bliss.

The next day we woke up to find that Mark's liver sandwich might not have been the best thing to eat. After breakfast we went to the train station to find a nice, but completely clueless guy behind the desk. He thought he could make us a reservation for the Ankara-Istanbul train, but had no idea there was a train from Kars to Kayseri and told us to call that office. After he suceeded in making the first reservation, which took a great deal of fiddling with the computer on his part, he realized that he could do the same thing for the second ticket. The first two days we asked for were full, but in the end we left the slightly more confident man with two sets of train tickets.

The train tickets too all our remaining money, and so we had to walk past the museum, back to the center and take out money before returning to the museum. Which was closed for lunch when we got there. We spent nearly an hour reading in the gift shop/cafe waiting for it to open. The museum is amazing, incredible, beyond words. The site of Zeugma has been partly flooded by the GAP project, and so the museum did a large number of rescue excavations and moved the incredible mosaics to the museum. There's a model of what they looked like in the site, and it must have been wonderful to see them there. The mosaics are mostly intact and phenominal. The biggest was about 20ftx12ft and completely intact. Words don't do it justice, I shall post photos soon.

After the museum we walked up to the castle, decided it was too hot to climb up to it, and instead went around the side of it and through the market. The focus of the market is copper and tin work. There were a few guys sitting around, etching pieces, and another couple polishing. Good thing I have no space in my bag, because I wanted to buy a number of things. After wandering through the market we found the famous Imam Çadas resturant and baklava shop. They claim to have the best baklava in Turkey. Antep is famous for it's pistachios, so all the baklava is pistachio baklava. The ayran (yogurt drink) came in large tin bowls with a spoon like ladle for drinking. We had lahmacun and then very amazing baklava, but I still maintain that mom makes the best baklava in the world.

We couldn't leave Antep without buying what Mark declared were the best pistachios he had ever eaten. Those purchased we got our stuff, and took a less round about bus to the otogar. Entering, there were two companies going to Şanliurfa, one on each side of the entrence to the platforms. We were going to the left, when all the guys on the right started gesturing madly to us. So we went to them. They had a large bus showing on their tv monitor and told us it was leaving immediatly. It left another 15 minutes later, but that's pretty immediate for Turkey.

The bus ride was lovely, cool, short and direct. Sadly, the Urfa otogar is also about 6km out of town. A guy that was talking to the driver told us that he would take us to the center as he was also going there. Looking at eachother we agreed. He told us about the things we were passing and in a friendly Turkish way asked too many questions about where we were going. I told him we were going to look around, and so he insisted upon letting us out in the area where all the tourist stuff was, even though we wanted to get out half a mile before. He handed a package in a black plastic bag to a guy, and we said goodbye and left. We walked back to our hotel, which turned out to be shorter on foot than in a car. The hotel was on a back street, had airconditioning (good as it was 110 F or 43 C), and was cheap. The walls were so think though that we could feel the heat radiating out of them as the airconditioning tried to cool the place down. Leaving the hotel we discovered that the entire town seemed to shut down at 8pm. There was nothing open for dinner, or nothing open that had içli kofte. We ended up sharing a medeocre kebab outside, and then, still hungry walked back to the area where we were earlier and had a toast and slushie before returning to the airconditioning. Next time I visit southeastern Turkey it will be in April or October!

Urfa is said to be the place where Abraham was born, and where he was put on a pire to burn. Except that he got knocked off and was saved and the coals from the fire fell in a pool and turned into fish. Today, a part of Urfa is a park with the sacred lake of fish, numerous mosques, and the cave where Abraham spent the first seven years of his life in hiding. It's a lovely place. We first went to the lake of sacred fish. Sacred and very fat fish. All the visiting pilgrims want to feed the fish and make a wish, and so when you stand next to the pool and raise your arm, all the fish rush over, even if there isn't actually any food in your hand. It's also forbidden to feed the fish, so the pool is very full, and fish that have escaped the pool wind up all over town in various waterways.

Next we visited a couple of mosques and then the cave where Abraham was born. There are seperate entrences for men and women. The women's entrance was quite full and had women crowding around the two fountains, pushing a bit, and filling up large numbers of bottles full of the water which is supposed to have healing properties. I got a glimpse of the cave and then left.

We walked up almost to the castle to have lunch at the cift magra (double cave) resturant. It is, as the name suggests, in a cave, and it was amazingly cool inside. We sat on benches covered with cusions at the back of the cave to eat. We both had içli kofte - spiced ground meat wrapped in a bulgur wheat dough and then fried and cacık - a yogurt and cucumber salad. It was quite delicious and we followed it up with tea and then Mark followed up his tea with a coffee, which we then both followed up with a walk through the heat and a visit to the internet cafe.

Walking through the park we had found several cafes surrounding small fountains, and one of them had nargile (water pipe). Finding a seat next to the fountain Mark smoked his nargile, and I caught up in my journal. The area is without a doubt the nicest park I've been to in Turkey. After leaving the park we went for a walk in the baazar and got lost in the backstreets of Urfa. After our first pass of the baazar we hadn't found the sites listed on the map, so we dove back in. We found the covered bedestan selling lots of scarves, and then stumbled out into a beautiful two level han where lots of people (mostly old men, but one family) sat around drinking tea and playing backgammon. Inspired, we sat down for a tea too. On our way back through the bedestan I stopped to look at scarves at a stall with three women dressed in a traditional style. A lavender colored scarf with white emrodery seems to be the typical thing here, so I stopped to look. The vendor wanted to put it on me, but instead I asked one of the women. She took a black and white silk scarf and wrapped it tightly around my head a couple times and did a fancy tucking in thing, then loosly wrapped the lavender scarf around my head. She was also wearing a very sparly overcoat in purple and gold. Mark looked at a scarf too and the guy tied it on for him. Deciding we hadn't bought anything really touristy on the trip we decided to buy them.

Leaving the baazar we had to return back to the center of town to find money and visit our hotel and then walk all the way back down to a resturant with a terrace we had spotted. We had Urfa kebab for dinner - a must when in Urfa, right? It was lovely and much more spicy than the Istanbul stuff. Despite all the warnings of Urfa as a very conservative town, we found ourselves very welcome there, and I think it's my favorite place in the southeast.

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