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Adana, Turkey: Off the Beaten Track but Well Worth the Trip (if Only for the Kebabs)

Posted on the 23 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Adana, Turkey: Off the beaten track but well worth the trip (if only for the kebabs)

Adana, Turkey. Photo credit: Gabrielle Jackson

Adana: wow. It’s the only word that does it justice.

This is a bustling, vibrant, lurid, busy city. Walking down the street at 5pm is like being on London’s Oxford Street on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas. Or Soho in New York. It’s packed with people; sim card vendors, stalls selling sunglasses, watches, hats and jewelry. There are horns honking and spruikers singing. Every shop is sporting a sale.

This is a modern city and there are as many girls as boys on the streets, but they’re all Turkish. I stand out like a sore thumb, not only owing to my red hair and blue eyes, but with my huge backpack at the rear and my day pack on front, I’m hard to miss in any city. And here people know I’m not one of them. Everyone stares and those who can speak a little English shout ‘hello’ and then giggle among themselves. Some people ask where I’m from.

I get out my map and a man selling watches yells out, “Lady, I can help you. Where you going?”

I show him the address of my hotel and he tells me to keep walking straight ahead to the end of the street and then cross the road. I reach the end of the street and which road to cross no longer appears as straightforward as it sounded minutes earlier. Several roads meet here and it’s unclear where to cross or in which direction. Then, as if by miracle, I hear: “I speak English. I can help you.” Another stall owner.

I show him my hotel’s address and he nods, yells at some passing schoolgirls and then tells me they’ll take me to the hotel. They do. They speak no English. They stare at me and try to suppress their giggles. We have to stop a couple of times to ask directions but they get me there within a few minutes and all four of them walk me right up to my hotel’s entrance. They smile at my Turkish thank yous and then one of them says, ‘goodbye’ in English and they all crack up and carry on.

The men who greet me at the front desk only speak a little English so they call (who I think is) the owner on the telephone and hand it over to me. He tells me he will bring me a map and asks me to wait in the lobby. I’m served complementary tea and introduced to some other guests. They turn out to be Iranian and when the owner appears we have a long conversation about my Iran trip and how to wear my headscarf and where to buy the best Persian carpet, all through the translation of the owner.

They all like my new Turkish pashmina, which I will wear as my headscarf in Iran, but when I try it on, another hotel manager tells me I must take it off in Turkey.

“Iran and Turkey are both Muslim countries, but it is practiced very differently”, he tells me. He doesn’t approve of the headscarf. I don’t need to ask his opinion on Prime Minister Erdogan or his wife.

Then I say I’ve come for Adana kebab and I’m hungry and the owner walks me to a kebab salon, orders for me, arranges for me to try a few new things “on the house” and stresses I must eat the onion salad, even though it might give me bad breath.

When I stepped off the bus, I was overwhelmed by the pace, the people, the noise and stares. In under an hour I am overwhelmed by the hospitality, generosity and friendliness.

My meal is another story but I have to explain how I came to be in Adana. To put it simply, Ezgi – the colleague of a friend – told me it has the world’s best kebabs. “People are crazy about kebabs”, she told me. I had to come.

All the same, I was nervous about it. Ezgi and my guidebook pointed out that tourists are an oddity in Adana and that a woman traveling alone would be very curious indeed. There are no hostels, despite it being Turkey’s fourth biggest city. People all over Turkey told me not to come, that there was nothing here for me to see. Until I told them I was writing about kebabs, that is. Then they understood, but proceeded to tell me how difficult it might be for me anyway. Not only that, it’s out of my way. I was in central Turkey. I’ve traveled five hours south-east to stay here for 21 hours and then get a 19-hour train north-west to Istanbul.

All for a kebab. And based on the recommendation of a person I trusted. But I’ve learnt something valuable through this and it’s a lesson I’ll cherish: It’s almost always worth the risk.

This post originally appeared on Gabrielle’s KebabQuest blog.

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