As soon as I stepped off the bus, I had trouble breathing. It was suffocating. I felt as though I was melting, sweat trickling down my face and back, with the noon sun gleaming over me. I had boarded the bus from Cappadocia, the first stop before exploring the country's southeast - but first, I had to stop over in kebab paradise, Adana, the country's fifth largest city, located in the middle of the Cilician plain, now known as the Çukurova plain, in southern Turkey and along the Mediterranean coast.
Found just about anywhere in Turkey - and Turkish restaurants around the world - the Adana kebab, commonly known as "kıyma kebabı" (minced meat kebab), a long, charcoal-grilled meat kebab on flat metal skewers, is one of the city's most popular dishes. This hot spicy meal on skewers is best served in its place of origin, Adana, so I had to try it before heading off to my next destination, but first, a little tour of the city had to be done and dusted.
Although one of the Turkish cities least known to tourists, with only a few sights to visit, Adana is one of the most convenient day-trip options for those seeking a short getaway or just passing by between cities.
The Sabancı Central Mosque
Adana, warm throughout most of the year, is one of the very few cities in Turkey where you can escape to for a little warmth and sunshine if you feel the rough winter weather in the country taking its toll on you. The temperature peaks in the summer, rising to well above 40 degrees Celsius in July and August, combined with intense humidity, making it unbearable for most. No wonder why I had trouble breathing as soon as I arrived - even in October. It was quite a change from the chilly weather I left behind in Capadoccia only a brief four hours ago.
Most of the touristic sights in the city are within proximity to each other. So, I decided to walk to all the sights I wanted to see on my mini-tour of Adana's city center. I first noticed little glass booths along the main roads. Eager to find out what they were, I pressed the button located beside what seemed like sliding doors and, voila, they slid open. As soon as I walked in, the cool breeze felt relieving. These were air-conditioned waiting booths at bus stops. Obviously, even the locals are affected by the summer heat.
Locals say the best months to visit are April and May in spring and October and November in the fall, but I experienced first hand, that even in October, temperatures can reach above 30 C. Then again, as the people of Adana are used to warm weather almost all-year-around, I guess 30 C is quite normal for them.
It is said that since almost every street in the city center is lined with orange and lemon trees, the air is filled with an aroma of oranges during the sweet lukewarm springtime. Attending the annual orange festival on a visit to the city in April is an event to add to the must-do list. As a matter of fact, it is on my bucket list of the myriad things to do in Turkey.
After exiting the air-conditioned booth, it wasn't too difficult to decide where to go first. A vast green park with the spectacular six-minaret Sabancı Merkez Cami (Sabancı Central Mosque), the largest in Turkey and Europe, standing tall within, could not be missed. Dragging my little suitcase and my backpack pulling at my shoulders, I walked to the park, known as Merkez Parkı (Central Park), situated in the heart of the city. Presently one of the major attractions in Adana, it was built in 2004 in the location previously used as a bus terminal and encompasses both sides of the Seyhan River.
I was eager to see the Sabancı Central Mosque up close. It was even more magnificent than what I had seen on television and in photos. Bearing traces of classical Ottoman architecture, the mosque, having the capacity to house 20,000 worshippers, was first opened in 1998. An event not to be missed at Central Mosque in Ramadan is the annual tradition of sherbet flowing from the mosque's fountains throughout the holy month for the worshippers to break their fast at sunset. What a sight that would be.
Following a brief walk around the mosque and seeing inside, it was time to head to the 319-meter-long Taş Köprü (Stone Bridge). Connecting the city's central Seyhan and Yüreğir districts over the Seyhan River, the Stone Bridge is believed to be built 1,700 years ago in the Roman era. There are also claims that some research indicate it was built much earlier, some 3,500 years ago, by the Hittites, making it the oldest operating bridge in the world. Closed off to traffic in recent years, the bridge offers amazing photo opportunities with the magnificent Sabancı Central Mosque in the background.
Once I was done pacing up and down the bridge and snapping some 1,000 photos, feasting my eyes on the beauty of the view, I wanted to see the Adana cinema and Atatürk museums, a short walking distance from the bridge, before downing what I imagined will be a succulent Adana kebab.
Not the least bit drier than when I arrived in Adana, still soaking in my own sweat, I reached the quaint cinema museum after a short walk amid the trees lined along the path by Seyhan River - the only area in the city offering some sort of shade. A humble double-story building, filled with old posters and old cameras and costumes, offering a nostalgic walk through my favorite era of the Turkish cinema industry, the Yeşilçam (Green Pine) period between the 1950 and 1970s, I was taken back to my childhood years.
Next door to the cinema museum is the Atatürk Museum located in the old Suphi Pasha Mansion, a heritage of the Ramazanoğulları Beylic. It is said that the Republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk would visit and stay at this mansion during his visits to Adana. Although the other accessories in the room he stayed have changed over time, the carpet is the same one Atatürk stepped foot on. Entry to both museums is free and staff are friendly.
I was quite tired by the end of my museum visits and my tummy was grumbling for kebab.
But little did I know it would take much longer than I had expected to find a place to sit and enjoy the food experience I had envisaged since I hopped on the bus to the city early in the morning. I asked a few locals and some shopkeepers to direct me to a restaurant. It seemed like everyone was describing the same area, but somehow the directions they were giving were different.
I had to find the historical Kazancılar Çarşısı (Boilermakers Bazaar), which houses some of the most popular restaurants. During the brief chats I had with locals, in an attempt to get directed to a kebab restaurant, they would always ask where I was from. When I said Istanbul, almost all of them recommended the Kazancılar Kebapçısı, which has a branch in Istanbul as well, or some of the more popular venues like the Asmaaltı and Istanbul Kebap Salonu. But I was keen on dining at a more local and shabby venue, because, known best for its succulent meats, "bad meat" is very difficult to find in this city.As I pulled and tugged at my hand luggage through the side streets, hoping to find what I was looking for, I was turned off by the piles of trash out in the open on the sides of the street. When I saw from afar, what seemed like a clock tower, I forgot everything that was bothering me, including my swelling tootsies. Soon after reaching the monument, I learned from the sign next to it that what took my mind off the heat and trash and my exhaustion and hunger was another historical sight: The Big Clock Tower. Its construction was first started by acclaimed writer and poet Ziya Pasha - Adana governor during the Ottoman era. It is said that the 32-meter-tall clock tower, which contains a staircase inside, also extends 32 meters under the ground.
I was determined to find a place to eat, so I tried my luck one more time and asked another passerby. Bingo. I was headed in the right direction as the Boilermakers Bazaar, where I would find just what I needed, was less than a kilometer away. Passing through an industrial area, I had finally reached my destination. The popular dining venues I mentioned earlier were also said to be in the same area, but I saw a corner booth-like kebab place. It was not a restaurant - or even a booth really. It was some sort of a 4-square-meter corner store missing two of its walls facing each side of the street - to make it easier and quicker to serve customers. There were some tables lined up outside, along the narrow street. I know I said I wanted to dine somewhere shabby, but this was not anywhere near what I had in mind. Undecided whether I wanted to risk eating here, I suddenly heard the sound of sizzling kebab coming from the open grill, followed by the salivating smell that rose from the grill and traveled through the air, inviting passersby. My thoughts were now cloudier than ever.
I saw an elderly man, who appeared to be a shopkeeper, across from the kebab place. I walked up to him and asked if he would recommend eating there. "You won't regret it," he said, "Eat to your heart's content and if you don't like it, I will pay the bill."
I returned and placed my order. You have two options when ordering an Adana kebab: You can either order it on the platter, typically served with a side of bulghur and salad, or you can ask to have the kebab wrapped in lavash, a flatbread, with red onions, seasoned with sumac. Any drink you please will go well with the Adana kebab, but due to its piping hot flavor, you might want to choose the yogurt-based ayran as it will help relieve the burning sensation in your mouth. Yet, you might also want to try the şalgam instead, "turnip juice," a traditional beverage native to Adana and its neighboring city of Mersin.
After a brief wait, I was finally seated at the next table that had become available. As I was waiting to receive my meal, I noticed an old woman, hunched over, standing close to the next table. She was probably in her late 70s or early 80s. The middle-aged man sitting at the table, also waiting to be served, turned to the woman and asked, "Maam, are you hungry?" She simply nodded yes. He directed her to sit in the chair across from him. Without asking what she wanted - they only serve Adana kebab - he asked the man to add another kebab to the grill.
I was very touched by this simple act of kindness. Up until that moment, I could not wait to get out of Adana. The heat, the exhaustion, my soaking dress, the trash I saw along the way, looking to find somewhere to eat for more than an hour was, until then, was too much to bear for me. But witnessing that moment made it all go away and I left Adana happy and with a very satisfied, full stomach at only TL 12 (about $3) for an entire meal that included the kebab, salad, a couple of mezzes on the side, with bread and a can of drink. I wanted to thank the old shopkeeper who knew I would not regret the experience, but he was gone by the time I was done.
Unlike most other cities, the airport in Adana is conveniently located five minutes from the city center. However, although there are shuttle buses from the airport to surrounding provinces, the service does not run into the city center. So, you will need to take a cab, which should not cost more than TL 20 to TL 25, or a minibus.
For those looking to stay the night, Divan Adana, Şirin Park Hotel, Kristal Hotel are some of the most recommended accommodation options in the city. Unver Hotel and Kısmet Hotel are good options if you want to be located more centrally. Alternatively, Hotel Mercan, Adana Saray Hotel and Adana Küçüksaat Hotel are some of the more budget hotels you might want to consider.
Lastly, if you are in Adana in the early hours of the day, you might want to try breakfast "Adana style." Renowned for its palatable meat dishes, a common breakfast in Adana consists of grilled liver served with an array of mezes - yes, early in the morning and, yes, for breakfast.