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Harran beehive
Harran beehive ceiling
Hosap Castle

Subject: #6 Eastern Turkey & Istanbul
Date: October 3, 2008 8:48:46 AM PDT

Hello from Istanbul.

Boy, am I glad I put off coming here until the last minute before my flight home very early tomorrow morning. Talk about culture shock. I hadn't seen another tourist pretty much my whole trip until the few I met in eastern Turkey. I think every tourist in the world is in Istanbul right now - hordes of them. It's a good way to end the trip. I can't wait to get out of here, which I wouldn't have said earlier.

I flew in from Urfa at 11pm and, like a good cost-conscious traveler, took the metro/tram for 3 Turkish lira ($2) rather than a taxi for around $20. That put me into the Sultanhamet area after midnight with no reservation. Not a good idea. I wandered the streets for almost an hour before I finally found a hotel with a single room as opposed to a dorm. It's a nice place - the smallest room of my trip and the most expensive.

I spent today walking all over town. I really liked the Taksim area on the European side of the Bosphorus, which I hadn't seen before. The architecture is stunning - that part of town has a very European feel - kind of like Rome or Paris - narrow, cobbled, winding streets and lovely buildings. Then I fought the crowds in the spice market and Grand Bazaar until I couldn't take it anymore. OK. I bought another kilim - 150 years old, well worn. It's my only weakness. I buy nothing else either at home or when I travel but I'm a sucker for a beautiful old kilim.

Back to the east. I traveled from Hakkari to Van, a good-sized city sitting on the shores of Lake Van. It was cool and rainy part of the time, which actually felt good. Unfortunately, clouds obscured Mt. Ararat so I couldn't see the ark.

I hooked up with some exchange students at my hotel and we hired a minibus to the sights around Van - Hosap Castle, built around 1643 by a local Kurdish chieftain and still somewhat standing. Then Cavustepe, a fortress-palace and home of the kings of Urartu and built between 764 and 735 BC by King Sardur II. It was pretty much one of those places where you have to use your imagination to picture the structures. We had an awesome fried fish lunch on the shores of Lake Vane before taking a boat to Akdamar Island, on which is perched Adkamar Kilisesi (Church of the Holy Cross). It's an Armenian church built in 921 AD. It is very intact and contains some well-preserved frescoes. The outside is full of relief carvings of biblical stories - Jonah & the Whale, David & Goliath, Daniel in the Lion's Den, etc. It was my favorite part of the day. Lastly we stopped at Van Castle, built around 840 BC. It's perched on a high rock west of the city and overlooks the old city of Van, which was destroyed by the Turks during the Armenian Genocide during WWI though the refuse to acknowledge it.

I spent a day in Mardin, which I'd heard was everyone's favorite place. It's built on a hillside and is supposed to have a great market, but because of the end of Ramazan and the Bayram holiday, things were fairly closed up and I didn't get to fully enjoy it.

Sanliurfa (Urfa) was my last top on the Kurdish Turkey tour and I really enjoyed it. Almost a million people, the central part of the city has a great bazaar. The thing that draws people to Urfa, though, is its biblical link to Abraham and Nimrod, the Assyrian king. Legend has it that Abraham (Ibrahim - a great Islamic prophet) was in Urfa destroying pagan gods when Nimrod took offense at his behavior and had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre. But god turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. Abraham was hurled into the air from a hill where the fortress stands but landed safely in a bed of roses. There are courtyards and gardens and a sacred fishpond tied to another story.

I took a morning trip to Harran to see the beehive houses, whose design dates to the 3rd century BC. Most of the present houses were built within the last 200 years. People started using recycled brick from old ruins due to lack of wood for making roofs. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. There's also an old castle dating from Hittite times but what remains is what the Fatimids - whoever they were, restored after 1059.

My flight is at 5:30 am tomorrow so I'll be heading to the airport around 3 am. So much for my free breakfast! I've still got some of those cookies from Jamal's mother in Dohuk, which I plan to eat with some tea at the airport.

So this is the final email from this awesome trip. Thanks for coming along on the journey. I'll let you know when the pictures are posted to my website and my Picasa page.


Mt Ararat
Urfa bazaar
Urfa market
Van Museum


Sheryl Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer based in Boulder, CO.