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Turkey: Adana & Tarsus

Sabanci Merkez Mosque in Adana
I have been advised that there is nothing to see in Adana. I confess, the only reason I plan to stop by Adana is to catch a flight back to Istanbul, and to try out Adana Kebab at the source. Other cities may make the meanest Adana kebab, but I want to have it in Adana to strike another item off my to-do list. Adana also happens to have one of the most regular flights to Istanbul from this region. Being quite close to Antakya, I should be able to travel here and have enough of the day left to move around.

10 September 2009:
Spending most of this morning napping in the two and half hour bus from Antakya. It could have been faster if not for the bus stopping at every otogar along the way.

On the bus to Adana, with my small pack containing the usual accessories: GPS, audio recorder, blackberry, phone, etc

1338hrs: Been a long travelling day. Made the questionable decision to leave the otogar at Adana, go downtown and look for the hotel to drop my bag first before heading out for a day trip to nearby Tarsus.

Why Tarsus? Adana is a big city, in fact one of the biggest in this region. I don’t know if there’s a big attraction in Adana other than the big American air base at Incirlik. Tarsus is a historic town, at least historic enough for me to have heard of it, and sure as hell beats wandering around a city with more than a million inhabitants like Adana on a hot summer afternoon. The way from the Adana otogar to the city center is not too convenient. There is no free shuttle bus from my bus company, so I took a public transport instead, bus 117, and they happened to start a kilometer away from the place I wanted to stay. The noon sun was no making things too comfortable.

In Turkey, a statue of Ataturk seems to symbolize the center of the city and this is also where I found a small boutique hotel to drop my stuff. After a little asking around in simple english, catching bus 140 to the otogar, hoping to catch the Tarsus bus at the right time. While travelling, I try not to remain too idle waiting hours for a bus. However, taking a bus here is not that easy. The names on the front windscreen of the buses here are quite confusing. There seem to be just a couple of final destinations, from the looks of it. A surefire way to catch the right bus to the Otogar from the Centrum of Adana seems to be either bus 120 or 140. Strangely, public buses to the otogar seems to be always driven by women. The driver on the bus I took has heavy make-up and is quite presentable. Passengers are all staring at her when they get on the bus, so that means that this is an exception!

1409hrs: And we’re off in a minibus at the otogar bound for Tarsus. Strangely the driver’s attendant asked us to leave the van and walk 100m outside the otogar before we were supposed to leave and join the minibus outside. (ed: I would find out why later, I think they are trying to keep as much of the ticket fare for themselves!) And this guy drives faaast. 3.5TL for the fare. Bus is not full, myself, a lady and her daughter, and a mufti. And two backup drivers. This place is strange!

Downtown Tarsus

1454hrs: Drop off point in Tarsus is right next to Cleopatra’s gate. Confirmed by my GPS. This minibus goes all the way to Mersin if I got the message right. The return path is on the otherside of the Cleopatra’s gate, I presume as the bus returns from Mersin. Nothing cleopatra-y about this gate, just one of the gates forming the old city wall of Tarsus. The assumption is that since it is one of the major gates of old Tarsus, since Cleopatra came here (where she met Anthony), she must have passed through it. Part of it looks renovated but there is a little bit sticking out that still has some carving left. I’d say less than 10%.

Tarsus' Cleopatra Gate

1509hrs: At an excavated site next to the tourist information booth. The sign says old city, but what it is is a plot of land, with excavations 6m deep showing a section of an old Roman road. There are some base of buildings clearly shown besides the road, and on the slopes there are some columns peeking out of the dirt, quite obvious if you dig some more there will be more to be found. The tourist information booth marks the entrance and for once, it is free.

Excavated Roman Road

Cross section of the excavation border. Obviously quite a lot more of the road lies under modern Tarsus.

Right next to the old roas is St Paul’s well. I’m suspicious about it. Could have been anyone’s well. Even more suspicious if you consider that something more than 2000 years old has to be 6-8m or more below current ground level, and this one is right at ground level. Plus there are some building base left over, covered in glass top. Unless his house was the only one that happened to be found, I am a skeptic. And there is a gate charge of 3TL to go in. Was hesitant, rather spend the money on baklava at a local pastanesi, but maybe it is an order from heaven to eat less today. So I relented and donated 3TL to the Turkish tourism council. Here’s a tip for the scrooge in you, you don’t really need to pay the entrance fee to see the well, it is possible to see it from the gate, and going in just gives you the pleasure to peep into the glass covered floor, which is worth skipping.

St Paul's well, allegedly.

St Pauls Well: This is what I paid money to see?!?!?

There are a few other ruins around the town but they are all in bad shape. There’s the remains of a roman bath, but seriously only part of the wall is remaining. And there is a roman temple, but no one knew to which of the hundreds of Roman gods/goddesses it is dedicated too. I walked around town from one attraction to another in the hot sun.

I believe this is the ruins of a roman bath or something...

Tarsus is a small town, big enough to have statues and a town hall, but has the feel of a small rural town. Stalls are selling red coloured Salgam all over the place. And lemonade. Apart for a roman highway about 20km out of Tarsus, the sights in the town can be covered in an hour or two, and then it is time to head back to Adana.

There is a small section of the town that reminds me of the houses in old Antakya, but not quite. The balconies are smaller and the road/alley is wider.

Backlane Tarsus

Tarsus has many old buildings with hanging balconies... just like Antakya.


1616hrs: Done with this place, and on my way back to Adana, and hopefully grab a taste of the famous Adana kebab. Tarsus is possibly being my final adventure for this trip in Turkey as I will be heading back to Istanbul tomorrow morning.

Along the way back to Adana in the mini bus, we met with a police roadblock, and the bus attendant quickly whip out his receipt book and were busy scribbling some thing and gave it to everyone, then it occurs to me that they are supposed to issue receipts, possibly for tax reasons, and of the traffic police stops them, they will check that everyone has a receipt. So far, my 2 days of dolmus hopping, I have never received a receipt! Then it struck my mind that the guards manning the gates at the otogar probably either checks for receipt/tickets or charges a percentage commission, so on order to maximize profit, we were told to walk to the main road so that the dolmus could leave empty and circumvent whatever they rules or taxes were! Interesting. But the trip was cheap enough so I don’t complain and surely if there’s a way to keep costs low, I’d be all for it!

Adana's Otogar

Back to Adana, dinner was at a place close to the hotel as I’m not in the mood for more long walks. Again, started off with hummus and of course, adana kebab, how can I miss having it in Adana? The waiter brought 3 sets of side dish. First was the, now standard, fresh parsley and lemon wedges. Second, a plate of salad, as side so no topping. And third a plate of bread, pita style. First dish was an appetizer of pastries, one was the square pizza thingy I recognized from yesterday’s lunch with chilli flakes, and accompanied by pastry with melted goat cheese. Then not too long after, hummus came in a hot stone plate with cheese on top of it and ample olive oil. I finished it quickly as I didn’t have a proper lunch yet. Then the kebab came. Just a skewer of spiced and minced lamb, with some thin durum-like bread under and over it. That with grilled tomatoes and green chillis. Forgot another side dish, sliced shallots with chilli flakes and shredded parsley to go with the kebab. And finished it with a complimentary house cake oozing with honey. Drank a cup of cay at the end and ayran during the meal. If it sounded a portion and a half, that’s because it is. I’m typing this a few hours later and I’m still full from dinner! Again, will fast tomorrow!

Dinner: Hot plate hummus

Dinner: Adana Kebab

11 September 2009:
My last day in Adana and set the alarm to go off early. Was still dark so I went back to sleep till 7 am. Then it was time to pack the Leica M6 and take a walk to the roman stone bridge 1km away from here and see what the morning life is like. There are only mini buses or dolmus on the street, and some pedestrians. The area I live is close to fabric merchants and some shops are already open this early, but they make up less than 10% of all shops. The sunlight comes at an oblique angle, so on the way to the bridge eastwards, it was possible to shoot silhouetted shots and coming back properly exposed pictures, except for a little long shadows here and there.

Early Morning in Adana

On the way to Taskopru bridge

On the bridge with the Sabanci Mosque in the background...

I liked this view so much, I took quite a number of shots here...


Bicycles are common on the bridge...

Buses in downtown Adana

Town bus

Had a productive shooting session and managed to mmake it back for a turkish breakfast. After an hour packing and checking emails, time to go to the airport. Adana airport is small, 2 small buildings, one domestic and the other international. There is only 1 hall, both for checking and waiting. It’s one of those airports where the planes park just outside the waiting lounge and the idea is you walk up to the plane. Like a big house.

I didn’t spend too much time in Adana city center. Didn’t see anything worth looking at. So this is only a food trip, mainly. There are other towns near Adana with a lot more history or popularity. As usual, I don’t like big cities too much.

On the way to the airport...

What a way to end this post, if you're wondering what the Sabanci Mosque look like in glorious colour, here it is...

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