Out and about in Turkey’s Saffron city

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Who would have thought 500 years ago that their neigbourhood would become a heritage site? They must have gone about buying fruits and vegetables from the kiosks on cobblestone streets, visited families and friends in horse drawn carriages – done business as usual.

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The thoughts came to me as I sipped saffron tea at a café in an old Ottoman town Safranbolu – which literally means Saffron city – you guessed it right – because this is where the super expensive spice – much like red colored grass – grows inside blue flowers.

The flower is picked in the fall season. Its stigma is collected, dried and packed in boxes. Personally, I never understood the big deal about saffron – because I don’t like the smell and it doesn’t have any taste. Hence the Urdu saying: “Ghaday ko zafran ki kya qadar (What does the donkey know about saffron)” was probably meant for people like me.

We went to the city for a day trip. To get away from Ankara, the Turkish capital, where I have been working for nearly a year now.

We took a bus from Ankara. Their intercity bus terminal is bigger than the entire Karachi airport — overwhelming, if you ask me.

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Once in Safranbolu, we took a cab to the old town Carsi (pronounced: Charsi). The city otherwise is ordinary — with apartment blocks and Turkish cafes selling chai and borek pastries.

But once we entered Carsi, a pedestrian zone, it was like we traveled back several centuries. Red roofed houses lined the streets. Some of the buildings dated back to the 12th century. The facades had inscriptions in Arabic letters — praising God or the Prophet. This is before the Turkish alphabet got its Latin script.

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The old bazaar, with its narrow, winding lanes are a shopper’s paradise. This is coming from someone who is trying to give minimalism a shot.

Hundreds of shops sell traditional Turkish goods — tablecloths, leather bags, pottery, glass-blown pendants, handmade soaps, baklava and Turkish delight.

Cafes serve flavoured tea and coffee and authentic Turkish kebab — with a sprinkle of saffron in everything — a touristy thing I assume they started.

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From the 13th century till the early 20th century, the city was a main stop for caravans coming from Asia to Europe. It is also listed as a UNESCO heritage site.

We returned to Ankara at dawn the next day — with lighter pockets, tired legs and happier hearts.

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