Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Malatya, Turkey: Well-Designed City Centre with UNESCO Site 2 Hours Away

If I were Turkish, I'd live in Malatya. It's clean; the perfect size, geographically and  population-wise; and enough to do but not so much you feel pressured to jump out of bed at 7:00AM each morning. 

Best of all, just 2 hours and 15 minutes away is a 2000+ years-old UNESCO site, Mount Nemrut (aka Nemrut Dağ), containing beautiful views reminiscent of one of my favorite places in the world, Chile's San Pedro de Atacama. 
On the way to Mt. Nemrut.
The city of Malatya itself also has a beautiful vibe, like a teenage girl prettier than everyone else at a party but not obviously so because she doesn't use make-up. When I took the bus, I didn't have the local bus card and didn't realize I couldn't pay cash. Someone, a young person, scanned his card twice, once for me, and once for him. When I tried to pay him, he refused to accept my money. Being Iranian and thinking I had to be persistent until my act of courtesy was accepted, I actually tried forcing the money into his hand, only to have him forcefully push my hand away. (Note to self: although the Turkish drink, ayran, is similar to doogh, Turks ain't Persian and don't know taarof/تعارف‎‎.) 

This situation repeated itself a few days later--I underestimated walking distance to a location and spontaneously hopped on a bus. After I literally waved a 10 TL bill around, a young woman ignored my money and scanned her card for me.

My tour guide for Mount Nemrut? He met me at my hotel the day before our trip so we could see each other in person and agree on the basics. 
My tour guide's info. I paid 250 TL.
Worth it.

Lest you think I'm discussing a farming village the modern city hasn't corrupted, here's a photo of Malatya's city center at night.  
All the roads are perfectly paved. All of them.

Interestingly, Malatya's economy does rely heavily on agriculture, more specifically apricots. The best are the black ones, and dried apricots are everywhere.
12 TL.

There's even a small shrine to the apricot in the middle of the city. (Tip: when choosing hotels, try to stay near the apricot statue, located near the Sire Bazaar and other convenient locations. Best hotel in town is the Doubletree Hilton. If you want non-corporate, try the Kircuval Hotel.) 
All hail the Great Apricot.

In addition to the apricot, Turkey's national food, doner/shawarma, is also popular. I didn't find the local speciality, kagit kebabi, though. Maybe you'll have better luck. 

Let's do a quick rundown of sites to see in Malatya:

1.  Nemrut Mountain and Sire Bazaar were mentioned above. 
Sire Bazaar
2.  Waterfall Park aka Şelale Parkı and Kernek Meydani aka Kernek Square are next to each other. (Most people outside of upscale hotels do not speak English, so always have the Turkish name available). There's a restaurant with bland food at the top of the man-made waterfall's stairs, but it has beautiful views, especially at sunset. 
The bottom of Waterfall Park aka Selale Parki

Kernek Meydani aka Kernek Square.
No one I met knew the origin of the word, "kernek."
(By the way, there's a beautiful-looking natural waterfall about one and a half hours away from Malatya called Gunpinar Selalesi.) 

3.  Hurriyet Parki, a small but pleasant park. Ataturk Museum aka Ataturk House, a tiny museum, is nearby. 

4.  The best mosques to see are Ulu Camii aka Battalgazi Grand Mosque, Yeni Camii (New Mosque), and Aysehan Cami. You can skip all the other mosques. 
Aysehan Camii/Mosque
 Arslantepe Ruins aka Arsaltepe Mound aka Aslantepe. I haven't been there yet, but you can look up pictures online. See here, for example. 
From the Provincial Culture & Tourism Directorate

(Update: I visited Aslantepe. You can skip it--it's small, not well organized and nowhere near ready for primetime unless you are really, really into archaeology. Directly below is a photo of the only interesting part, which was covered until a worker interested in a tip showed it to me.) 

6.  The Provincial Culture & Tourism Directorate in Malatya publishes a very useful tour guide. You can see the guide at the local tourism office, but I'll publish a page of additional sites I didn't include here. 
From Malatya's Provincial Culture & Tourism Directorate

7. If you are into interesting architecture, there's a building next to Malatya Park Mall called Malatya Büyükşehir Belediyesi. 
Local government office. Spiffy.

 4 days is more than enough to see Malatya, but I'm staying for 7 nights, and I'm more relaxed than I've been in months. If want a simple travel experience with all the amenities of a modern city, try Malatya--a city-village that hasn't outgrown its country manners and, like Cinderella, in need of exposure and luck to show the world her charms. 
Bonus: a few suggestions for Malatya's tourism department: 

1) Hire more people who speak English and Farsi. Most of your tourists are from Iran, Russia, and Germany, but almost no one speaks any of their languages fluently in Malatya. Why not hire college students abroad during the summer or do a student exchange with an Iranian, German/Austrian, or Russian university? 

2) Why is Wikipedia blocked in Turkey? I can use a VPN on my phone to get around restrictions, but my connection slows down a lot. Strangely, my VyperVPN does not work at all when attempting to connect to any U.S. server. 

3) I still don't know where to buy a bus card. Hold on, I just asked one of the few fluent English speakers at the Doubletree Hilton hotel. Apparently, I can buy a local bus card at a shop near a specific bus stop. Why not make it easy for tourists and sell local bus cards inside hotels?

Double Bonus: a taxi from the airport to the city centre should cost about 80 TL, but you can take the Havasbus for 10 TL. Uber and Careem do not operate in Malatya as of October 2017.  

On a separate note, the hotel recommended seeing the city of Sanliurfa, located several hours away. 

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