Anatolian Express IX: Urfa

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My day started early, at 5.45, with a call from the front desk at my hotel in Malatya. It was time to start getting ready to head to the bus station.

For some reason, it's difficult finding transportation between Malatya and Urfa--a first, frankly, for me in Turkey, where it seems like it's almost always possible to find transportation at the ready between any two points. Yet I'd been having trouble, in my one night in the Apricot City, finding a bus leaving at a decent hour. The closest I'd managed was a small (one-buttock seats) bus to Adıyaman with an outfit called 'Petrol Turizm,' with the assumption that I could eventually find another small bus taking me the rest of the way to Urfa. In the end, I opted for the big bus leaving at 6:30 am. At least I'd end up having more time in Urfa, I figured.

On the way to Urfa

The trip was quite pleasant, actually. There weren't many people on the bus, and I had a nice chat with a young woman who's pursuing a PhD in physics at Adıyaman University. After  a couple of hours, our bus stopped by the side of the road and all of the passengers, including myself, who were headed to Urfa boarded a second bus, which took us the rest of the way to our destination.
Crossing the Euphrates

I have to say, I was totally blown away by this city within an hour or so of arriving. Walking from my hotel to Balıklıgöl, the city's main attraction, I frankly felt like I was in a different country. I realize I'm not being very original in making this point, but Urfa feels a lot more like the Middle East--and (prewar) Syria in particular--than just about anywhere else I've been in Turkey. 
On the street, I heard far more Arabic and Kurdish than Turkish, and everywhere I looked I saw dudes wearing shalvar, the baggy trousers that are associated with this region, and women wearing brightly-colored dresses and scarves. There are lots of pilgrims from Arab countries here--as well as a good number of Syrian refugees--but many of the most interesting-looking folks I saw on the street were from Urfa, and the surrounding countryside. 
After stopping into a nondescript looking kebab place for lunch--and finding out that they had a really nice covered garden in the back--I roamed around the covered bazaar (from the 16th century) and the old city for about five hours. I just couldn't stop--it was too much fun. Also nice was the fact that no one really paid me any notice, a very different experience from most places in Turkey, where people usually call out to me in English when I pass through a touristy area.

Urfa is considered the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, and is therefore a popular destination for pilgrims, many of whom can be found feeding the fish in Balıklıgöl
Shot from the bazaar

There isn't a whole lot going on in Urfa at night. I had dinner, then roamed the streets for a while. Although there were still a number of people walking around, the crowds had thinned out considerably from the afternoon. It's just as well, as far as I'm concerned--I was exhausted from the travel and hours of cruising through the city.

I've traveled a lot through Turkey, but there are still lots of interesting places I haven't seen. As was the case with my trips to Kars and Van a few years ago, I'm reminded by how great the east is. As gorgeous as Istanbul and the coastline is, and as wild-looking as Kapadokya can be, the east and southeast of Turkey is just jaw-dropping incredible. I feel insanely lucky to be here right now.

If you're interested in seeing more shots from Urfa, I've put up the rest of my photos in the Borderlands Lounge.

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