May 2010. My first trip outside Europe is with my my friend Daiva. The trip was done via Istanbul then off to Eastern Turkey (Kurdistan), visiting Diyarbakir, Mardin, Batman, Hasankeyf, Şanlıurfa, then off to Syria.
Our objective – to visit Istanbul then take a flight to Diyarbakir and join Saber with his Kurdish friend Mucahit, and a few days later, to reach Syria.
Istanbul. It feels good here. We met a local pen pal, Batu, a wonderful Turkish guy with whom we spent a nice time together exploring Taksim. It is overcrowded and filled with tourists. It has energy breathing through every kind of people. Nevizade is its stomach, which smells delicious due to fresh traditional dishes…bars and restaurants everywhere.
A waitress invites visitors, in English, to get inside. Batu was a real hero and a protection angel. He kept answering politely to all requests in English – “I know that you are Turkish” – replied the dissatisfied waitress, who was expecting having an answer directly from my lips.
If you feel like trying our Turkish pubs, then start with Bomonti and Efez beers which need to be checked out; especially Bomonti, which Turkish friends recommend to me the most. It is also the beer that has been the longest in production, and it used to be made close to Taksim at a place with the same namesake.
Bora with his girlfriend joined us later and walked us ‘home’. Walking on a street, local guys just wouldn’t let us relax, some would simply take my hand or Daiva’s hand and say something to the effect of, ‘let’s go‘. Poor Bora, he had to leave his girlfriend each time in order to get to us and ask those guys to go away. Some guys, after a millisecond of eye contact, would immediately point at their crotch while gesturing with their heads as if saying ‘let’s go’. I was impressed by their generosity. Any Turk who just saw you could approach you and profess his love. Nowadays it changed a lot and guys treat foreign girls correctly.
My Turkish friends explained that this is the local guys’ behavior thanks to Russian women, who used to come to Turkey to enjoy cheap summer holidays while looking for exotic, hot guys. There used to be a lot of such tourists. Turkish guys until now remember them well and will still assume that a girl comes alone to Turkey for the same reason. For sure, not all Turkish guys are like that. But in this case, if your name is Natasha, please do change it. It could help you to avoid some unnecessary problems (they used that name to address easy-going girls).
For all travels inside Istanbul by local transport, don’t forget to buy an Istanbulkart with possibility to recharge it as often as you want in the kiosks or special machines.
For a night we had to stay over at Bora’s friend’s place, and everything was organized. Our Turkish friends wanted to take absolute care of us and make us feel like home.
Sunday morning. I am still with the angels in my dreams as suddenly AAAAAAAAllahuakbaaaar. I was so scared at such loud noise, that I jumped out of bed and hurt my knee. As my brain started to come online, I understood that it was just a morning call for praying from a mosque, which was very close by, and a megaphone was pointed at our direction where the room had an open window. You know what I mean :). Just a day ago I was afraid not to get up too late but at 5.00am we already had our eyes wide open.
If someone asks me how my first acquaintance with mosque praying was, I would say – ‘breathtaking’. A few hours later Bora came to pick us up and guided us through the town for a few hours until our flight.
In Istanbul people like animals. They say “Why to keep a pet inside if a lot of dogs, cats are outside?”. They feed them, don’t hurt. Animals feel very relaxed, enter even shops to have a nap or to hide from the hot sun. Sadly the truth is different in Estern turkey where animals don’t respect any rights.
I remembered my childhood when my grandparents asked my father to bring me with himself to a village because it used to rain each time I went there. I was the only non-satisfied person there as I had nothing to do during such weather though all the village enjoyed because their yields became watered. For sure, it was raining each time I was travelling in European countries too, but I swear, it was just a coincidence and nothing to do with my personality! This joke looked funny to Bora that he transferred it to Saber. – no worries, she is coming to the most dry Turkish part…. If he would know how he was wrong.
Local Turkish flights originate mainly from Sabiha Gogcen. We had to take a bus at the Taxim district. In the airplane we were the only two non-Turkish persons. A pilot after obligatory introduction (in Turkish) before the flight, said in English “…and now, some information to our two guests …..” We felt very special in that flight, that was so sweet from him. But the flight was terrible as there were lots kids in it and most of them kept shouting and crying all way long. We landed and we got wet immediately once out of the airplane…. . ‘It’s not the right country to travel in the end of April’ – went through my mind… . “It used to be a sunny town with little rain per year and it has started to rain 5 minutes before our arrival” murmured confused Saber. He remembered what Bora told him one day before. We had no choice but just to enjoy our stay no matter what. Sometimes it was hard and the rain was very heavy. But these rainy days were the most funny days during our trip. We couldn’t stop laughing and they enjoyed making fun from me.
In the past Diyarbakir used to be a bit dangerous, with lots of landmines hidden out in the fields. All that has changed and now it is a cool town. The streets are narrow and winding, rarely wide enough for a car to pass through and yet very easy to get lost in. Lots of buildings in the center look like they have been through a war but still, what a wonderful place it is, full of interesting old mosques and museums and fine old houses, wrapped inside the huge basalt walls. It has hidden nice spots like the Taranci house which belonged to a Turkish poet, Cahit Sitki, which is free to visit. Then we saw the prominent Ulu Cami, which is the oldest mosque in Anatolia. In its big square is a sundial. And of course, it was the wrong moment for us to check the time.
The Zinciriye Konağı is behind the Ulu Cami. It is a place with a small antique market and cosy restaurants with delicious local food! One of the best places we visited and ate at is the glorious Gazi Köşkü restaurant, a stripy stone summer house dating back to the 15th century that sits out in the fields overlooking the Dicle. Food was delicious even in small ‘taverns’! People eat a lot of meat, and less vegetables than one would expect. There is a huge choice of desserts and ice cream – maras dondurmasi is the best choice!
People are really kind and helpful, but most of the time we spent with Saber and his local friend Mucahit who didn’t speak English. Maybe that’s why :). He was just too kind to us, never allowed us to pay for food, and drove us around in his car to show the best places not just in Diyarbakir, but in other towns as well!
Picture of Hasankeyf (up) is took from internet
Next day we went to take a short walk in Batman, and by that I mean a town named as such, and then later on Hasankeyf – the place that turkis governement wants to destroy. It will be flooded by a reservoir, one of Turkey’s newest and largest hydroelectric projects.…. 🙁 This is not just a town, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. People used to live here even as far back as 12 000 years ago. Surreal mountain and troglodytes cover this magnificent place. No tourists at all! Take a walk up the mountains, on the way visiting abandoned caves. On the top you can find an ancient cemetery with the ruins of a mosque and panoramic views to the surrounding territory. Some drops of sweat walking up are definitely worth it.
Next visited town was Mardin. For sure, it was a rainy day and the town was half empty, but one kind boy proposed to guide us and to show the best places. I was impressed by his intelligence, 10 years old but talk like he already experiences more than me in this life. Sadly he didn’t speak English well, and friends had to translate.
Other kids tried to sell us bracelets, creating a huge bazaar just in the middle of a street. Boy told us to ignore them in aim to avoid complications. ‘What kind of complications?’ my brain didn’t stop asking questions. Mucahit decided to show us how it looks like, so he answered the kids in Kurdish. Kids saw his reaction and from that instant moment decided not to let him go (they had their leader, an older girl whose decisions were took into consideration each time). They covered him from all the sides. Covered, I mean surrounding him so tightly that nobody else could approach him. He was hardly visible. They tried to make him buy bracelets. He refused. They were shouting. It was a huge mess. They put bracelets to his pockets, onto his hand and would run away, but when he would remove the bracelets and put them on the ground, thus refusing to buy them, the kids shouting intensified. Again, they surrounded him, hanged onto his shoulders, in front, on his back, below, on the sides… . He looked like a Christmas tree with human decorations on it and presents laid below. Poor Mucahit, they left him without any leaves on his branches. We were convinced more than enough by the golden truth of our young guide. So after a short, wet walk, we came back to our car and to Diyarbakir. Mucahit started to smile again.
Though we travelled by car, it’s easy to get mini busses or busses at main stations to get where you want. Diyarbakir-Mardin costs 25 Turkish Lira, Diyarbakir-Batman 15 and Mardin-Batman 30.
Next morning we took a bus to Sanurfa. It was going to rain there too…. As we realised, the rainy cloud was following us everywhere we went in Turkey. All Turkey was sunny, but not the places that we visited. Luckily, sometimes we had sun too and soon rainy days were gone for good. Saber’s parents were not motivated to invite us anymore, especially me. They just didn’t want rain in their town; some people are way too superstitious.
Sanurfa is a great town, rich with history and it is a religious destination for lots of pilgrims. The town is full of life, lots of people outside, activities, workshops….. The big mosque and its surroundings with lots of markets are the main destination points. Sellers at the market have not yet been spoiled by tourists so we had freedom to choose which products to buy.
The lower part of the old houses used to be painted in blue. It’s to protect houses from the scorpions – explained one local.
We spent lots of time close to the mosque. Impressive. There is a huge park and channels where ‘holy’ carps live. I had never seen so many fishes at one place before. It’s forbidden to feed or to touch them! Injustice. Some guys sell special ‘carp food’ for those who want to feed holy, hungry creatures. If the fishes see a shadow in a water, they are here in a fraction of a second. These holy creatures were stealing (by jumping out from a water) my own food directly from my hands while I was eating by the channel, those bastards! I’ve never seen in my life such arrogant, egoistic carps! A vision of grilled, delicious carp was stuck in my mind.
As I understood, water is running out from the mosque to these channels. Women and men have separate entrances. On the women’s side is a small praying space and tap with running ‘holy’ water. Women come here to pray and fill bottles with the water. I tried twice to get some for myself but in vain. Each time I put my bottle under, water stopped to run. Women became highly unsatisfied and I was scared that I just run out from there. I prefer not to play with religious, manic believers, especially when the problem seems to originate in me, the only ‘white’ and non-Muslim in that place.
Climbing up the mountain, which is just behind the mosque, the view opens to the town. Terraces with restaurants and great views. On the top are ruins of a castle and calm ‘village’ which with its calm is a total contrast to downtown noise.
The town is not visited often by those who are not pilgrims. It’s easy to make contact with the locals, who are very interested in meeting travelers inviting them for a coffee at their place. The same happened to us – it was not polite to refuse a professor’s invitation :). We were talking about everything and nothing He asked our opinion about his town and for sure about teaching system in our country.
Continuing our walk in the town, we visited another small mosque and cemetery. Just don’t forget – there are mosques just for women or just for men, so don’t enter the wrong one in aim to avoid problems. Too late… as a consequence, we had to run away in order to avoid accusations. My curiosity one day will make me suffer a lot :).
One market seen place is still stuck in memory – a huge cage for pigeons. The seller inherited that business from his ancestors. Such a different kind and unseen beauty of birds that really impressed us. We were even invited to enter the cage and take pictures, what we surely did. Kurds like to keep pigeons at home as pets (probably till a moment when this beauty poops on an expensive carpet).
During our trip we always stayed with the locals. It was easy even to find a host on a street if needed! People were curious about us and glad to see foreigners enjoying local life and they kept inviting us over. We were not typical guests, so a guy who hosted us, invited friends for a culture-sharing party. He trusted us and even left us the keys from his apartment! He used to live outside the centre. We had a chance to make acquaintance with local transport. Buses run like crazy. I never drove so fast my own car in a town as the busses do here! Observing passengers apathy, I reached the conclusion that we should reach our destination. Apart from the driver, there was another guy who sold tickets and helped passengers. I really admired his respect for older passengers and women. Each time an old person entered the bus, he asked a younger person to vacate their place. He helped women travelling with kids, to board the kids and get bags from/to a bus. Once a woman with 3 kids and some bags had to take a taxi, so when he got all her stuff out, he hailed a taxi, talked to a driver, put all bags inside and after making sure that he did everything he could, he was back in the bus taking care of other passengers. Impressive, and all that was done in a few seconds. Nobody would even have time to complain.
Also, don’t trust (too much) embassies or consulates! Before going to Syria, Saber called to their consulate in Turkey and Turkish embassy too, just in case, to be really sure of the credibility of the given information. We received advices, but they were wrong, never trust them!!!! Ask locals who travel between two countries, they will know the best.
In the morning we took a minibus to the border point at Ceylanpina. We had barely started to get off a minibus when our stuff was already placed into another car. The locals understood immediately where us tourists were going and in a few minutes organized a car for us (they stopped a car crossing the border) and took care of our bags. I had never been ‘served’ so fast. I didn’t even have time to think what to do exactly after getting off a bus as I was already put into another one. We reached the border. There was nothing! Really nothing, just sand, stones around and some trucks going via Syria to Saudi Arabia. We failed in a major way. Truck drivers reacted immediately. At the beginning they told that it is impossible to issue visa there but later they offered help, for 200 dollars! Then they proposed 140 for a visa and also to take us all the way to Aleppo. They were lying. To issue a visa at the border costs only 10 dollars (was possible to make it just at one land border) and a bus to Aleppo around 5 dollars each person. Seven muscled truck drivers surrounded us, and were evaluating our bodies through stares. We felt like goats in a market. They wanted to sell us into prostitution! My cute blond friend was less interesting to them. They preferred me. Brown hair and white skin was more exotic than my friend’s white hair and white skin. The only thing we could do was to keep calm and give angry, aggressive stares that helped to keep them a bit at a distance. Finally a car crossing over to Turkey stopped. A driver took us in, and after some moments with Daiva we realized that we were hitchhiking again (we though, better one guy than seven). Everything happened so fast. Just in a car we realized the real danger of our situation, what if… Poor Iraq, Afghan… girls who try to escape from their countries, they are just sold off so easily into prostitution by this kind of assholes. Sometimes on such a hard, dangerous trip they just have no choice and they try to trust someone. Lack of information destroys their lives.
Our hero mister driver was a very cool man. He drove an extra 50km just to send us safely back to Sanurfa! We invited him to a restaurant to show our gratitude. You ask me why we chose that border point to cross…I have no clue. I ask myself too. It doesn’t have any logical explanation and it was out of our path for sure. Maybe because we trusted Saber too much.
And so our plans changed.
Aiming not to waste any time in vain, Saturday we headed 44km southeast of southeast of Sanlurfa to see Harran. It is a small village with some heritage still left. The village is surrounded by a 4km-long wall. The wall has 187 towers and 4 gates, which were built 1400-200 BC.
The main point worth of attention and what Harran is famous for, is the traditional beehive adobe houses, constructed entirely without wood, just using old bricks, clay and manure. It makes for an atmosphere that is cool on the inside. During thousands of years, the houses haven’t changed. They are perfectly adapted to be livable in such hot conditions. One building can have from a few to dozens of domes. Each dome has an opening on its top, which serves as a chimney.
One which we visited was, according to local believe, built by a rich guy. He had it built for his 7 wives. That’s why it has 7 domes – one for each wife. Inside the house, the owner dressed us up in traditional clothes and invited us for a tea. Some girls joined us as well. Their main question to us and Daiva was “which one of us was the most beautiful?“‘. We didn’t know how to answer such kind of question, as it could provoke huge dissatisfaction between the other two. Girls just didn’t understand when we tried to explain that the main beauty is not always what we see. We just wasted our time, they didn’t care, and they just needed to know which one was more beautiful. Finally the three other girls got angry at us (better 3 than 2 in this case). Later we took a walk to see the archaeological remains of a major, commercial, cultural and religious center first inhabited in the Early Bronze Age II!
There we met lots of girls just hanging around talking. A man in Turkey has no right to ask his wife to work, it is only her choice and probably, as in this region there is not a whole lot of work, women stay home making decorations, clothes and other handicrafts. The police guy was spying on us, trying take as many pictures of us as possible with his phone, and surely enough, we didn’t see that at first and then later asked money for the services rendered of being our guide. A huge cheater… he was just hanging around taking photos of us.
Dogs and cats are in every part of Turkey begging for attention. In Istanbul they can come to sit by you. Animals living on the street are not aggressive at all, they just need love. In Western Turkey there are people feeding them, and treat them with much more respect than those from the Eastern part. “You like dogs that much? But they are just dogs!” I still remember these words from a policeman in Harran. In that part of Turkey I saw the most cruel scenes of behavior towards dogs.
Sunday afternoon we arrived at Gaziantep – the economical capital of Turkey. After settling at a hostel we went outside to find a place to take pictures for a visa, in case it was needed. Workers were so glad to have our visit that instead of 4 pictures for a passport we received one big photo each , some middle size ones and 8 small ones for the same price. I don’t ask myself how many of them they printed out for themselves 🙂
Monday morning we arrived at the gates of the Syrian consulate……. the story continue here https://www.vanetatrips.com/2020/04/16/syria-2010/#more-1807