If you rely on travel guides like The Rough Guide, or Lonely Planet, this side of the country is very often overlooked. Mersin is given less than a page, Tarsus a bit more, and Adana even though it’s a much bigger city gets barely more than either. Certainly this part of the country is not a designated tourist zone, as much of the western Mediterranean and Agean coast is but that doesn’t mean it’s completely lacking in things to do.
Someone once told me that Turks turned their backs on the sea so that when it came to divvying out the inheritance the girls would be left with the ‘worthless’ coastal land while the boys wood grab the more profitable farmland. Ha, girls had the last laugh there hopefully when they realised tourists would bring more money to the coast. However, I think this also probably goes some way to explain why from Mersin westwards there is a massive 3 lane highway running s0 close to the coast. Unfortunately this road means that, unlike the western coast, it’s almost impossible to find a quiet, secluded, beach or bay and that for many of the mostly Turkish tourists who head this way they have to negotiate crossing what is in effect a motorway in order to get to the beach. When we passed through Antalya last year in addition to seeing what, in my view, are horrific faux historical hotel complexes (blerch) I did see some novel ways to over come this problem with ornate bridges, underpasses and such. But for the Mersin area the coastal towns provide tourists with a some white painted lines on the road which are meant to service as a Zebra crossing but there are often no lights and usually ignored by typical impatient Turkish drivers.
That said we do still try to find things to do with the boys and new places to go. Not always very successfully as it can be a struggle to want to go anywhere in the height of summer when daytime shade temperatures are well above 35 degrees C. Our trip over to Tarsus was pretty short-lived as it was just too hot. Perhaps midday on a Sunday wasn’t such a great idea, but we managed to see the Church of St Paul, which actually has very little to do with St Paul at all and more to do with a bunch of enthusiastic Armenians in the 19th Century and after decades of not being used as a church it’s now in the hands of the Cultural Ministry meaning you have to pay to go in. Same with St Paul’s well and unless you have a museum card which offers discounted entry into Turkish museums, the prices starts to add up for a family of five. It was nice to see that Bogaziçi university is renovating an area next to St Paul’s church but quite what the plans for that none of the locals seemed to know. The historical sites are dotted about Tarsus sadly in between some rather ugly concrete, and if we were to have a wander again I would recommend going in spring time.
The same goes for Adana, if we thought Mersin and Tarsus were bad Adana is doggedly at least 1 degree or more hotter in the summer. It may not sound much but once you’re in the 30’s I just find every extra one a killer. As we hadn’t explored very far East (well not with the boys anyhow, we had done a massive south east Turkey journey in 2000) I’d started nagging husband to take us. To the north of Adana there is a large lake formed as a result of a hydroelectric damn, one of the oldest in Turkey. So we all piled in the car to go the the Seyhan Baraj lake for a picnic. I’d expected, what with it being a lake and Adana being at least an hours drive to the nearest coast, it would be quite a popular place to go. It isn’t even signposted. I had a vague idea of where we had to go based on the rather rubbishy map (don’t get me started on Turkish maps and I wasn’t going to use data roaming for Google maps), it turned out that my hunch was right but the road was pretty rubbish and we could easily have missed it.
Eventually the road opened out to show a fabulously turquoise blue lake, and apart from a few shabby huts dotted a long the coastline it was empty. I couldn’t work out if the huts belonged to homeless people or what. Some were rickety wooden shades with blankets or a mattress in, others a mix of wood, plastic and tarpaulin and one even had a solar panel. It seemed rather odd. There appeared to be a distinct lack of shade. The hillside to the back of the lake was fenced off and closer to the coast the trees were few and far between. The boys were getting hungry so we found a tree between two huts and decided to stop there. There was a cooling breeze so it turned out to be quite nice. I did have to consciously ignore the litter though. Littering is a massive problem in this country but where we were sat was nothing compared to what we saw later on the bridge spanning the lake.
We did think about going down into the lake, but the boys wanted to drive across the big bridge and the weeds or whatever on the shore didn’t make it entirely inviting. So the boys won and we had another drive. The city is expanding northwards so from the north shore we could see apartments overlooking the south shore. We also saw quite a few villa complexes in various stages of construction so the lake was clearly becoming a desirable part of Adana. I wanted to go for a bit of a paddle though. Trouble was we now couldn’t seem to find a part of the lake which had a shore that was accessible. In the end we found somewhere we could walk down to, even though it was rather stoney. I’m a wimp and soon found myself paddling on a rock which had I stepped off would mean I was instantly in the depths of the lake. So followed a spot of mild freaking that the kids would fall in, followed by Lai Lai getting distraught at the others throwing bottles in the lake and demanding husband remove them. While I agreed with his sentiments husband was not about to fling himself in the lake to retrieve bottles bobbing about. He was tired, yet again it was about 2pm (what is it with us and being about at the hottest times of day?), there was no shade, so time to get back in the car. Oh how I miss going for a walk, such a bleb when I’m here.
We headed back to the city, and like Tarsus, it has historical stuff dotted about but it was just too hot to go investigating. I freely admit I am crap and am not made for this climate. Plus it was prayer time so we ended up in the enormous mosque, well the boys did I sat in the shade by the taps where they do abdess. One thing those travel guides are good at are pointing out that every city you go to has ‘an old mosque’ as a must see. This one isn’t old, and its huge. The architecture is yet another dull attempt at copying Sultan Ahmet/Blue mosque in Istanbul, but it is right next to a huge park which is in the middle of the city. I didn’t venture into the park, just think of the Cole Porter song as that seems to be my theme at the moment.
The plan was to head down to Karatas, the costal area to the south of Adana, but husband decide that while we were there he may as well drive round the historical stuff–long Roman stone bridge spanning the river Seyhan (Cole Porter), traditional renovated Adana houses, apparently different to Tarsus houses but I couldn’t see and again Cole Porter. To appease the boys in the back of the car I introduced them to the weirdity (Husband’s word) that is sweet leblebi.
Unfortunately we got snarled up in the horrible downtown Adana traffic and yet again the lack of signs meant very poor guesswork. When husband eventually asked for directions, after being harassed by the craziest dolmus driver I have ever seen, and I have experienced many in Istanbul and Ankara, it all just turned to crap. We never made it to Karatas, we had a prang. Thankfully the rules have changed and now you don’t have to stay where you are blocking traffic whilst waiting for the traffic police, but it still took over an hour to sort out. Hot, tired, and now a dented car, thankfully nothing worse but still I was unimpressed to say the least. Our trip to Adana and the surrounding area cut short as I just wanted to get home after far too long spent in the car.
If it hadn’t been for the prang, and the Cole Porterness of it all I definitely think Adana is overlooked by the travel guides. If we go back though, it won’t be in summer, but I would like to go back and have a bit more of a wander and an explore. Seyhan baraj is definitely worth checking out and if you have a car there are bays along the lake you just had to work out how to get down to them. There was an old road below the one we were on, on the north shore, so definitely doable. Where we paddled the water was really warm, would be nice to see if we could swim and if it would be cooler if you go deeper. Plus if you go over the bridges you do eventually find some restaurants and cafes.
My only worry would be taking the car into Adana again, the traffic is horrid and the drivers completely insane.