Sunday, November 18, 2007

Night Bus to Urfa

Well, Şanliurfa to be precise, although 'Glorious' Urfa seems somewhat of a misnomer. A bit like saying 'Wonderful Rochdale'. Urfa is one of those scruffy eastern Turkey towns that has an historical air about it and a sewer system to match. We continued our whirlwind flight to Syria by heading here from Konya on a comfortable night bus. We'd met a soldier (presumably an officer -he was reading a book) on the bus who told us what a marvellous cosmopolitan country Turkey is - but then asked us what we thought about the PKK etc. Unfortunately the conversation ended when the bus set off, so we couldn't talk more about it.
The buses are generally excellent, and after each journey has begun the bus "steward" comes down the aisle, first with cheap cologne to wipe your hands with and then tea or coffee and cake. So civillised. There are strict rules: no smoking and no mobile phones - rules that are never broken by the passengers, although it's not an uncommon sight to see your driver lighting a fag with one hand while he talks to someone on his mobile as he's overtaking a slow truck approaching a blind summit. The night bus to Urfa departed at 9.30pm and dropped us off at 7.30am - this far east the sun rises and sets much earlier and we wandered around looking for a hotel - undecided as ever - in bright sunshine. Gayle eventually left me with the rucksacks and roamed around a bit - finally finding a cheap dive built on top of a row of breakfast "salonus". The cheap dives are fine if the shared facilities and beds are clean. Our problem is with the mid-range dives that charge more and offer gloomy rooms with brown curtains and Alice in Wonderland ensuite bathrooms.

Urfa is an ancient city - continuously inhabited for 11,000 years allegedly - and has famous gardens built around two lakes full of carp. These are to commemorate where Ibrahim/Abraham fell when he was plucked from a burning pyre by Allah/God. On a Saturday afternoon the gardens were very busy with families, couples, packs of children, and men who would say hello as they passed by. It was warm and sunny and we snoozed over a tea in one of the tea gardens and watched punters rowing around the lake.
That night Turkey played Norway in their European qualifier and the staff in the restaurant couldn't tear themselves away from the TV after their team equalised. We haven't had too many football conversations with Turks recently - the last was on the night we left Istanbul and someone made a reference to Liverpool - they were smiling so I guess they were a Fenerbahçe fan.

Our penultimate stop in Turkey was Gaziantep - 'heroic' Antep, named for fighting off the French after the First World War. Our sole purpose to visit was to see their Roman mosaics, recovered from ruins on the banks of the Euphrates before a damn project would have flooded them. The collection was from a very small site where every house had four or five almost intact mosaics. They were superb - with great detail. The city itself is big and modern with very few green spaces - so pretty typical of Turkey. There are a couple of large churches converted to mosques - an indication of the history of the place. Most Syrian christians and Armenians left here when Turkey became a republic. Not quite the cosmopolitan country the soldier tried to have us believe.
We spent a day mooching about and trying to crack on with our mobile library - a small selection of which is featured. We are both avoiding TE Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom - its time will come............

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