Today’s guest is gorgeous Kym who is the author of Turkeywithstuffin’s Blog and the pretty brain behind On the Ege, the monthly online magazine about Turkey’s Aegean coast. Kym is married to dusky Murat, her hunky Turk. When veteran expat Kym wears a headscarf, she wants to look like Sophia Loren but thinks she looks more like Hilda Ogden. Personally, I think she resembles a darker version of Gynneth Paltrow in the Talented Mr Ripley.
It’s a Thursday in November 2008 and I am on my first road trip to Sanliurfa, my husband’s birth town. When we first arrived in Urfa late at night, the electricity was off and the city was in darkness. Perhaps because I was tired from the long journey, I felt uneasy and had commented more than once that I’d been kidnapped and taken to Beirut. I did for a moment consider taken a plane home the following day. As we stood in the dark alley I was moaning, but once the large iron gate opened things could not have looked more different. We walked into a beautiful stone courtyard with mosaic tiles, Ottoman seating, potted plants and a small fountain.
The Manager at the Beyzade Konak Hotel is Murat’s cousin’s husband, Omer. He shows us to our room and once I have the internet and some coffee (they have a generator), I’m quite happy to chuck Murat out for an hour or so to allow him to play with his cousin Mehmet. I have a boiling hot shower, get my pajamas on and send a few quick “I’ve landed” emails. Then it’s lights out and a sleep so deep I could be in the cemetery.
Day breaks and I realise the hotel is between two mosques. I open my eyes to the dual call to prayer, one a heartbeat behind the other. I doze for a bit then remember I’m actually on holiday and there are shops out there.
After breakfast, I nip back to our room and cover my locks with a headscarf. It’s a simple gesture of respect while I’m here and among the more traditional rellies. Well, that and I don’t really want to get stoned in the street! Mu of course thinks this is great and off we trot, out through the iron gate and onto the streets of Sanliurfa.
Once we leave the cobbled alley and get onto the main drag, its bustling; busses hog the road, cars fight for space beside them, scooters weave in and out of the traffic and pedestrians narrowly avoid being run over. The air is filled with BBQ spices, pungent & smoky and the smell is everywhere. Small eateries and kebab houses jostle for space alongside clothes shops and jewelers who have 24 karat rays shining from their windows.
There are a few glances my way naturally. It could be the pale skin and the green eyes, or it could be the flip flops and bright red toenails that don’t quite go with the rest of my ensemble. Still, that’s a great excuse to buy shoes isn’t it?
First things first, I need a new camera. We wander across to the maze of connecting alleyways that make up one of the eight covered bazars, to the collection of electronic shops. The salesman shows us his wares and converses with Murat: “Senin Esin mı?”(your wife), “Yabanci” (a foreigner), “Alman?” (German). Mu confirms the first two and I answer the last. “English” I say, not realising at the time that we will have this conversation many times during our stay. I guess it’s due to my height and build and of course, my great Grandparents, Mr & Mrs Shram!
I end up with an Olympus, a compact professional the man says. We will see.
Leaving the shop we are met by Cousin Mehmet and Hassan Amca. Their first words to me are “Kym, Beirut Nasil?” Very funny! The four of us then continue around the bazaar which contains a veritable Aladdin’s Cave full of treasure. There is even a street full of workshops where workmen batter copper and solder iron.
Heading into the Balikigol area toward the cay bache, we pass through the ‘Sipahi Bazar’ and the ‘Kazzaz Bazaar’, the oldest covered Bazaars of Urfa. These were built by the Ottoman Emperor, Suleiman the Magnificent in 1562. It really is like stepping back in time and I watch ancient shalvar wearing salesmen sitting cross legged in their little tented alcoves, bathed in rich colour and drinking tea while customers peruse their antique carpets, kilims and hand woven head dresses.
During our small shopping excursion, I’d picked up some elastic hair bands that I needed and watched as three pairs of hands reach into theirpockets to pay for them. Oooooo I like shopping here. I wonder if it works in shoe shops? A few minutes’ walk and we reach the cave of Abraham. Legend has it that the Babylonian King, Nemrud, had Abraham captured and thrown into fire. His crime? Calling upon the people to worship the real god and not the icons of celestial objects, as was the religion of the time. Of course, God was watching and on seeing this, he turned the fire into water, saving Abraham from certain death. Not content with that, he then turned the surrounding woods into the sacred fish, the ancestors of which we see today at the site of the “Halil ur Rahmen” Mosque in the centre of Urfa.
I buy a dish of fish pellets and watch the fat feisty fish fight each other for each tiny morsel, after which we take a rest in the cay bachesi. I sit sipping hot sweet tea and take a look at my photos so far. The photos are amazing; sneaky zoom shots of men at prayer and performing the abtest, plus the usual tourist shots of minarets and domes. It’s getting late now and as dusk settles over the city, we head back to the hotel.
So far so good, my first day in Urfa was wonderful and I am hungry for more. We have decided to use Urfa as a base for a few road trips. On my list are: Harran, Nemrut, and Hasenkeyf, then, a stop at Cappadocia on the way home. I had no idea at the time but this journey would also encompass, Mardin, Midyat, Batman & Siirt. My Anatolian adventure continues.