South east and eastern Turkey trip report
Flew into Urfa airport and got the Havas bus (10TL) to the city centre. Got off the bus at the roundabout, wasn’t quite sure what I was doing but just followed the majority of other passengers who luckily walked in the right direction. As Urfa was my first destination I had my only pre-booked hotel of the trip at Hotel Arte on the main road going into the city centre. Stayed there for 2 nights (60TL per night). The room had 2 beds so if there are 2 of you travelling it would have worked out cheaper (the same goes for all of the hotels I stayed at, all hotels were either a double bed or had 2 single beds). The hotel was clean, modern and a good location. The breakfast was decent, all the usual stuff; eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, jam, honey etc. I really enjoyed Urfa. I thought the Golbasi area had a great feel to it, very busy, very atmospheric and particularly nice an hour or so before sunset when it’s getting cooler. Also, immediately after late afternoon prayers, there is a group of old guys (not sure if they held a particular religious position; I assumed they did) who fill the small room next-door to Abrahams cave and enter into this religious singing that builds into a dramatic religious fervour that concludes with them repetitively chanting ‘Allah!’. The room was full so the next day I went there early and the old guys encouraged me to come into the room, so I did and sat at the back to experience the full ritual. It was a really great experience, and I found it was the start of having one truly great experience every day. If you go to Urfa I strongly recommend you to try and get into this room yourself, although unfortunately there was only men in there so I think women weren’t allowed in (although I don’t think the room constituted a mosque). This is a photo of the room if anyone wishes to find it: flickr.com/photos/marcspicsphotos/9076602093/
The next day I went to Gobekli Tepe with the Aslan hostel/hotel. I’d read some previous reviews that the driver is severely disabled and consequently poses a risk, but there must be several drivers as the one I had was fine. It cost 90TL including 1 hour waiting time, which was enough time. I’m glad I visited Gobekli Tepe because if its importance, and I’m really into ancient history and pre-history, therefore this site was a must, but I admit it was a little bit of a let down. I skipped Harran as I read from a previous review that the castle was closed for renovation, and from what I saw of previous photos the beehive houses looked like a tourist artefact. It turned out that I saw plenty of other beehive huts whilst travelling the region. Back in Urfa I found a non-listed really great café/restaurant on Sarayonu Cad. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name but it was just before you turn off Sarayonu Cad for the town centre Otogar. The food was great, and the feel of the café was more like a bohemian place in a cosmopolitan city. If you’re in the area try and find it! The next morning I left Urfa by taking the 71 from the town otogar to the main otogar. I got a direct bus to Kahta (15TL), no need to change a Adiyaman.
I went straight to Hotel Kommagene Hotel (125TL). I read a bit about it before hand, so I knew to expect smooth talkers etc, but I actually found everyone who worked there to be really good fun, if you can see past the cheesy charm. It was a great day out, the tour was great value for money taking in all the sites of Mt Nemrut and lasting 8 hours. I didn’t bother trying to get a discount, it said 125TL in Lonely Planet, it said 125TL above the door for room, breakfast and tour, and I’d read of other people bargaining hard and still only managing to get a small discount.
The next day I took a bus to Urfa (15TL), then one straight to Mardin (20TL). At Mardin the guy who I sat next to on the bus who could speak English had to explain to the bus man to drop me off in the old centre, otherwise the main stop is in the new centre that then requires a local bus to the old centre. I headed for Sahmeran Otanik Pansiyon, Lonely Planet’s ‘top choice’ for cheap, decent accommodation in old Mardin, which it described as new and recently opened (from the updated April 2013 Turkey Lonely Planet), however, it was exceptionally derelict and appeared to be falling down. It was definitely closed, with the shutters down at the front and the only path way impossible to climb over due to a pile of rubble about as tall as me, so Lonely Planet definitely needs updating there. A guy found me and in a non-pushy way suggested his totel, which wasn’t listed in Lonely Planet, but it was exceptionally nice, just off the main high street, called Akadlar B&B (60TL). Great views over the fields below, made in the typical Mardin-stone way, very cool and refreshing inside and the owner is fluent in English. I really loved Mardin, I spent most of the time just gazing out at the incredible view. Walked up as far as possible to the kale, up to the military fence. Also on top of the hamam is great spot too for taking in the view. I also enjoyed it’s bazaar. I thought eating places were quiet limited, but I got by. The next day I took a day trip from Mardin to Diyarbakir. Spent some time walking around the old city, didn’t spend long on the castle walls as it was so hot and there is no shade there. Went out of the old city, quite far into the modern city and came across a modern restaurant area, and found my first non-kebab restaurant! I was informed the food there was what women would cook at home, and that kebabs is something men like to cook. The food wasn’t much to look at, but it was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately I have no idea whereabouts it was, so just wonder! I’ve hear several reports of Diyarbakir being a little edgy, but I really didn’t feel that. In terms of the way people were, I felt it was indistinguishable from the other places I’d been to so far, the people were friendly and nice. Back in the old city I found the main mosque and the Hasan Pasa Hani very photogenic flickr.com/photos/…
and reminded me of the Umayyad architecture in Syria. I travelled back to Mardin in the late afternoon.
Left Mardin on the Midyat bus (8TL), forum member bedknobs had suggested I visited Gulgoze (an ancient Assyrian village) from Midyat. I looked into it a bit and decided that I really wanted to, so I followed his suggestion and took a taxi from Midyat for 50TL including an hour waiting time. The ride was pretty good, through uninhabited countryside, but the relative tranquillity was brought to an abrupt end when we drove through a Syrian refugee camp, that was in the middle of being constructed. It really brings things home to you, thinking of people having to live in them. Gulgoze was great, really interesting. A young guy showed me round the church and the full village. I put a donation in the church box and I didn’t really want him to guide me round the village, I assumed he did so for a tip. I offered him a tip at the end, but he looked very offended, so my assumption was obviously wrong, and he was just proud of his heritage.
Took the bus from Midyat to Hasankeyf that same day (8TL). Stayed at Hasankeyf Hasbache (60TL) which also included a really filling and nice breakfast. As other forum users have noted, Hasankeyf Hasbache is a great/strange place, more commune like than B&B, with lots of animals roaming around the place. The next morning some cows outside my hotel room woke me up! I really liked the feel of the place though, and I really loved Hasankeyf. Did 2 long hikes in the area, so I really took the whole place in. During one of the hikes, the clichés about Kurdish hospitality turned true – I was miles away from the village at the top of a hill/mountain, when I came across 4 Kurdish farmers. They were a great laugh! They insisted I sprayed my sun cream on them, they gave me water and insisted I ate their food (a cucumber chilling in a stream). The castle at Hasankeyf is closed, but one of the hikes I did ended up approaching the castle from behind (i.e. avoiding the guys stopping people going through). It was nice to see it and I got a few photos. The next day I took a direct bus to Van (25TL), no need to change at Batman.
The drive to Van was stunning, especially just after Batman through the mountains. At Van, I stayed at Buyuk Urartu Oteli – (60TL), modern, clean, good location. One of the receptionists tried to sell me a tour for 300 euros!!!! Apart from him, the other staff were very nice. Unfortunately, I went to Halil Ibrahim Sofrasi (recommended in Lonely Planet) but ended up spending the whole night vomiting through food poisoning. The next day I was knocked out so slept all day. The day after, I went to Akdamar Island, took the dolmus to the ferry point and paid 35TL for the bought as there weren’t enough customers so there were only 4 of us. Spent 2 hours on the island, the views being great from the top. Met another traveller who had transport, so after the island drove along lake Van to a remote village and did a little exploring, attracting lots of attention and by the end of it about 8 young local guys had befriended us halfway up a hill. They were clearly after money, and the other tourist paid up, although I don’t think I would have done. I don’t think the guys would have turned violent but we were very secluded and outnumbered. The next day I left Van on the direct bus to Dogubeyazit (15TL) which left half an hour after the advertised time of 7am.
Again, another really beautiful drive, the scenery was amazing, at times more resembling the image of Mongolia. It makes me want to go back with my own transport – you could spend hours stopping to admire the view and take photos. As soon as I got off the bus I was hounded by the most persistent kids I experienced the whole trip, just asking for money but they left eventually. Stayed at the Hotel grand Derya (80TL). I really didn’t like this place. The hotel manager was grumpy, the hotel was grotty. My room was the worst I had throughout the trip. My bathroom was pretty disgusting, where you have to share the shower with a rusty old heater. I was here quite early, so headed straight up to Ishak Pasha Palace. I made the mistake of walking up, I’d suggest getting a dolmus. The palace was as great as to be expected, as were the remains of the castle. I got the dolmus back into Dogubeyazit, and again found the locals to be really helpful and friendly, going out of there way to help me find the bus stop for my onward journey the next day, although be warned there are a few kids that look like they could be chancers, so just have your wits about you. For example, one young lad repeatedly tried to steel my sun glasses. He was never violent but I can relate to other reports describing the place as a little ‘frontierish’ (although I think that’s a pretty awful term, you get the idea!). The next day I took a bus to Kars, changing first at Igdir.
At Kars I stayed at the Gungoren Hotel (80TL). Again, nice, clean, modern hotel, with a very helpful and friendly receptionist. I spent the first day exploring the old part of Kars, mainly the castle area. Day 2 I went to Ani with Celil (details in the Lonely Planet) who charged me 60TL. I was with 4 other travellers. I was flying back to Istanbul from Kars so I had the day after Ani to spare. I decided to go to Erzurum for the day. I knew I wouldn’t have much time there but I really wanted to go. I got a bus at 9am, but the guy was a bit of an idiot. I’ve read many time about the pain of waiting on a dolmus for it to get full, or driving round the city to pick other passangers up, but this journey was something else. We spent about an hour and half looking for other passengers. I’m not sure how locals can put up with services like that! On top of that, once we were on the high way, we took obvious and long diversions off to pick on person up that was take about 30 minutes to get back to the same point on the highway. Other passengers were really shouting at the guy, but he just kind of brushed it off. I must say that I probably had it coming to me as all my other journeys were really smooth and efficient, so maybe now this was making up for it! The scenery made up for it though, again, it was really special. At Erzurum I only had a couple of hours, but I don’t regret going, despit it also raining there. I think Erzurum has great sites and I would have liked to have spent a night there. I returned to Kars and the next day got my flight back to Istanbul.
I really enjoyed the region, the people and the sites I saw. Thanks to the many forum members who gave me lots of info. I followed many suggestions and my trip was all the better for it!