Black the Walls, Black the Dogs, Black the Hearts

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Middle East » Turkey » Southeastern Anatolia » Diyarbakir
November 26th 2014
Published: December 8th 2014
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Second half of Southeast Anatolia

Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, and Gaziantep, the major cities of the southeast

Diyarbakır City WallsDiyarbakır City WallsDiyarbakır City Walls

Not the small figures on the right tower
With a reputation like that Diyarbakır would certainly not seem like an inviting place although I'm almost certain that the slogan was not self-conferred. It's had a bad reputation nation wide going back to the bad old days of the 80s and 90s and many Turks were shocked and chagrined that I ventured there without incident. Contrary to what many will say, it is perfectly fine to visit and definitely not to be missed if traveling in the southeast.

After 2 weeks in the southeast and short stops in Antalya and Konya, I'm back in İstanbul for a couple of days, my 5th time here since 2011. Its appeal is timeless and never gets boring even though I don't really do much more than walk around taking in the sights and incredible views. Tomorrow flying to Spain then back to the US from Portugal in a month. Hard to believe that The Trip To End All Trips is coming to an end... until the next installment.

$US ≈ 2.2 Turkish lira (TL)


The city is famous for its black, burly, basalt walls but I did not notice an abundance of black dogs and the black hearts is definitely a myth as I found the people here extremely friendly. I was fortunate to meet a group of local Kurds my first day in Diyarbakır one of whom actually lives in San Diego in the US of A. Another was a translator and the others English teachers so they were loquacious and very curious what an American would be doing there. One of their friends was affiliated with the Iraqi Kurdish Government and asked me if I wanted to visit "Kurdistan in Iraq." I passed. The buildings are really unique for Turkey as many in the city are constructed from the same black rock found in the walls. There are restored mansions and several ancient caravanserai reincarnated as restaurants, cafés, and small shopping centers.

Accommodation and food Passing through Urfa Gate by dolmuş into the city center I was keen to look for a hotel along Inönü Caddesi, one of the main drags where many budget hotels are located. I only looked at one place and took a single room with private bathroom at Hotel Şeker for 45TL. It was very nice but not like the sugar in its name. There's good WiFi all over the hotel and breakfast on the top floor which would have had fine views except for the persistent morning fog which abated by lunchtime. Staff at the hotel were great too, helping me with my heavy backpack and even trying to take it to the bus stop when I left.

There are a couple of very good restaurants near the hotel, Ciğerci Emin and Ciğerci Ibe. "Ciğerci" means a place or someone that serves liver which was probably on the menu but I just went for kebabs and the ayran served in a traditional copper bowl with ladle. Many places serving döner and also the Kurdish sheep head soup which, appetizing as it may sound, I did not try. What I did try was menengiç kahvesi which is not coffee although it is prepared as such. It may also be called "pistachio coffee" because it is made from a plant that is related to pistachios. But it is actually neither coffee nor made from pistachios. My Kurdish friends took me to Sülüklü Han, a former caravanserai, where I thought we were just getting coffee but it took ages before we were served so I figured it was not what I was expecting but it was very good. The preparation is time consuming if the menengiç is made properly.

Transport Many bus services to Urfa (20TL, bit less than 2½ hrs) from the distant otogar. Unfortunately no servis shuttles from the center so have to take a city bus (1.5TL, don't need transit card... yet) from the main stop near the hotel area which goes very indirectly taking almost an hour. For Mardin need to head to the ilçe otogar (county bus station) by dolumuş (also 1.5TL but much closer).

Şanlıurfa (a.k.a., Urfa)

Place of pilgrimage and definitely has a more "eastern" feel than most places I've been in Turkey. The beautiful city has a byzantine bazaar, towering castle, and Balıklıgöl (Pond of Holy Fish). Also close to Harran, home of the world's oldest university's ruins and "beehive" mud houses but not really worth a day trip from Urfa as a lot of other sights are inaccessible without a car or by helmet-less motorcycle tour offered by local "guides."

Accommodation and food Coming from the otogar by city bus I was trying to get dropped off at the central bus staging area but ended up pretty far away even though the driver told me it was 100 meters which must have been off by a factor of only 10. I trudged down Atatürk Caddesi (main avenue in every Turkish city) laden like an ox with my 20 kgs, checked out a couple of dumps, and eventually took a room at Hotel Gül Palas, a restored, old konak just off Atatürk Cd., for 50TL (asking 60) with private bathroom, good heater (cold at night all over the southeast), TV, an OK breakfast, and WiFi. Next day I moved to Aslan Guest House for 2 nights where I'd hoped to meet some other travelers but there were none. I stayed in a warm 8 person dorm by myself the first night and with only one other person (a Turkish customs official headed to the Syrian border) the next. A very good breakfast was included as well as free flowing tea. Good WiFi, very close to the bazaar. Owner can be kind of pushy though. 30TL in the dorm but also private rooms. Across from Gül Palas is a hamam where the works (entry or "banyo," scrub, massage) is only 26TL a screaming deal of which I did not take advantage. Compare that to Konya (36TL at Judges Hamam where I did go and it was very good), Antalya (50TL in Old Town, 36TL just outside), and İstanbul (a positively insane €35 I saw advertised today which was marked down from €50, quite the bargain for the throngs of Russian oligarchs now touring the city).

Close to the guest house is Merkez Ocakbaşı serving dirt cheap 3TL chicken döner or 3.5TL şiş each including ayran and ezme which is kind of a sweet, sour, and spicy cabbage salad seen only in Urfa. Famous in Urfa is patlıcan kebabı (eggplant layered with mince patties) which I didn't find so great also at Merkez for 6TL. Being close to Syria, it should come as no surprise that there are many Syrian run restaurants almost all invariably identified by the rotisserie chicken on display. The food is definitely different and much spicier but ayran helps alleviate the burn and may be free. Incidentally, baklava is much cheaper here than in Antep, like half the price for a kilo. Menengiç kahvesi at Dergah Kafeterya was OK but not nearly as good as in Diyarbakır. Kitchen Museum is housed in an old mansion. All in Turkish and
My Mates In DiyarbakırMy Mates In DiyarbakırMy Mates In Diyarbakır

Kevin, second from left lives in US, next to Hasan and his business partner in their carpet shop.
creepy lifelike mannequin models.

Transport Both buses (20TL) and dolmuş (15TL) regularly head to Gaziantep from the otogar, either taking ~2½ hours. Small, city buses run between the center and otogar and the R1 bus runs from the center to the end of the bazaar passing close to Aslan Guest House. Both buses 1TL and the UrfaKart is not necessary. Dolmuş leave frequently for Harran (6TL one way, 1:15 going down but only :45 coming back), last return trip ~17-18:00 but there are places to stay although it's much nicer and better value in Urfa.

Gaziantep (a.k.a., Antep)

One of Turkey's bigger cities, edgy compared to Urfa and Diyarbakır. Liked it enough and the Zeugma Mosaic Museum is simply incredible and I'm definitely not a "museum person." Castle would have been nice but it was closed for restoration. Nearby is the copper bazaar.

Accommodation and food I'm pretty sure I looked at all the budget hotels within 4 or 5 blocks of the Atatürk Statue. Value and quality of all of them were poor compared to Urfa and Diyarbakır and I just kept seeing much of the same muchness. I stayed one night in Uğurlu Otel for
Hasan Paşa Han, DiyarbakırHasan Paşa Han, DiyarbakırHasan Paşa Han, Diyarbakır

Refurbished, former caravanserai, one of several in the city
60TL (oddly no bargaining given that there are many hotels in Antep with scant occupancy) in an ensuite single with WiFi, tea, breakfast... the usual. It was fine but noisy exterior renovations were a bummer early in the morning after I'd stayed up late watching the New England Patriots tame the Detroit Lions. I moved next door to Hotel Yunus for 50TL (slight bargaining) with the same amenities albeit a smaller room but no morning hammering. Great staff always offering tea. Met a couple of journalists at the Yunus who were covering the Syrian refuge crisis. The ride from Urfa to Antep passed what could only have been a refuge camp which looked more like a prison compound with barbed wire and soldiers patrolling the grounds.

Close to the hotel is the ultra hazy Bahçeli Kahve where Türk kahvesi is only 1.5TL but you shave a month off your life drinking it with the amount of second hand smoke permeating the café. Still, seemed like an institution and it was warm inside too. Across the traffic circle is Büyük Döner where a mere 4TL scores the never tiresome combo of tavuk döner with ayran. Around the corner and a ways west down Atatürk is Akdeniz Döner & Kebap, ~13TL for a porsiyon (grilled meat, salad, bread) with ayran, Huge kebabs at Akşam Kebap for ~10TL and 1.25TL for foamy ayran, walk south on İstasyon from the statue although I think it goes by a different name here. Also near the hotel is Memik Dede where fistıklı baklava porsiyon (about 4 pieces of pistachio baklava) goes for 6TL. Gaziantep has a reputation as having great food but overall I thought the food wasn't anything special and the baklava was much more expensive than any other place in the southeast. To my non-discerning palate it didn't seem like it was worth it. Baklava anywhere in Turkey is really good and there's certainly no reason to pay close to 35TL/kilo for the basic pistachio variety.

Zeugma Mosaic Museum Only recently opened in 2011. Don't miss this if in the area and that includes an easy day trip from either Adana or Urfa. Entry is 10TL (no student discount) and the museum is open 9:00-17:00 daily. The site where the mosaics were found lies close to Gaziantep and more are being excavated before the Zeugma region is also flooded by construction of a dam. Museum supposedly houses 1,700 m2 (18,000 ft2) of mosaics making it the largest in the world. I don't think there was any public transport to the museum from the hotel area around Atatürk but it's not a far walk taking the short cut via the train station pedestrian underpass. Don't follow the road signs to the museum unless you are driving - it's not meant for walking.

Transport I took the slightly cheaper dolmuş from Urfa thinking it would get close to the G'tep city center. I have no idea where I ultimately got off but it was far from the center and in a sketchy area. A local girl had gotten off with me and said she could help me get to the center which she kept calling çarşı (CHAR-shuh, or market, bazaar, etc.). Gaziantep's buses are cashless and the kiosk where we were dropped off was closed before 5 pm so there was no way for me to buy a bus ticket. Fortunately my co-traveler had a card so she let me borrow it and I gave her 1TL which she kept trying to refuse, ultimately relenting. The small, city bus was soon packed to
On Gözlü KöprüOn Gözlü KöprüOn Gözlü Köprü

Ten Eyed Bridge spans the mighty Tigris River, Diyarbakır
the gills and I had no idea where we were or if the bus was going where I wanted. I kept asking other passengers if they knew the intersection of Atatürk and İstasyon, 2 of the major thoroughfares in the city, close to where many cheap hotels are located. No one knew and I started thinking I'd end up at the Syrian border before getting close to Antep's center. The driver must have overheard me asking directions and let me know when we were approaching Atatürk. From that stop was a short walk to several hotels. To get to the otogar purchase a single use ticket (2.25TL) for the buses or buy a bus card if staying a while as the fares are cheaper. Even though just a few kms away it takes ~35 minutes by bus from the center to the otogar. Leaving Antep for Antalya, I went with Öz Diyarbakır for 50TL departing at 19:30 and arriving 8:30, long ride. Didn't make a reservation, just rocked up at the bus station and was soon on my way.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


Behram Paşa Konağı, DiyarbakırBehram Paşa Konağı, Diyarbakır
Behram Paşa Konağı, Diyarbakır

Behram Pasha Mansion now a school for indigent children, kind of walked in here by accident but staff gave me a brief tour
Chicken Döner Stand, DiyarbakırChicken Döner Stand, Diyarbakır
Chicken Döner Stand, Diyarbakır

I think it was 1.50TL for a decent sandwich
Cemil Paşa KonağıCemil Paşa Konağı
Cemil Paşa Konağı

Cemil Pasha Mansion now a city museum, Diyarbakır

Feeding fish to bring good luck, Urfa

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