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Published: September 6th 2011
Once the sun rose I found that Kars is actually quite a nice little city. Kars the city is much more well-to-do than I had imagined from knowing a bit about its history. Was Soviet Russian not too long ago, etc. I figured a downright dreary sort of place, but it was nothing like that. The apartment buildings, while rather uniform in structure (thank you Russia), were decked out in wild colors. I think this might have something to do with the Armenian influence, but a more astute student of history could perhaps fill me in. The standard of living seems to be quite high based on the products available in the home appliance stores (large LCD TVs, etc.). I figured Kars would be much more a sleepy city. I mean it is still a city that is highly dependent on agriculture, but I would be hard pressed to call it a poor city overall.
My first order of business was to move all my stuff from the imposter Hotel Temel to the real McCoy Hotel Temel. I woke at about 8am in order to accomplish this and packed my bags and humped them over to Hotel Temel. I was
able to steal some wireless at Hotel Keravansaray, so I was able to figure out where I was going and take a photo of the Google Maps for Kars to be sure that I was going to the right place.
I ended up at Hotel Temel a little after 9, and checked in. Mr. Problem No was telling me something about a dolmus (share taxi) to Ani, but I didn't initially understand. Eventually we were able to communicate, the gist being that I had just missed the dolmus to Ani (Damn you Mr. Taxi Driver), but there would be one the following day at 9am, and it would be 30 TL. Ok... Whatever. Mr. Problem No was hilarious as he checked me into the room and got me set up in the hotel. He doesn't speak much English at all, but he took me to the breakfast room and got me some breakfast (which I GREATLY appreciated), and treated me like an infant. And him explaining how you need to put your key into a receptacle in the wall to get the power to come on in the room was quite entertaining as well. Luckily there was a socket
that wasn't powered by the key thingy so I could still charge my phone and other things while I was out of the room.
It worked out fine since I was able to pick up my camera and go for a wander. First order of business was going up to Kars Castle, which overlooks all of Kars, and is quite old, and largely in ruins. Kars itself is at 2000 m above sea level, and I got a bit winded just hiking up to the castle. I was feeling shades of Darjeeling, so to avoid a full-on Darjeeling I bought two bottles of water at the castle, and continued to hike around the castle. There were many ruined buildings in the vicinity, and I saw one that looked interesting and made a beeline for it. It ended up taking a bit of a hike going up and down to get to it, but it was fun going hiking. I was in the mood for more walking, so I continued onwards towards a military building, but I wasn't at all sure whether it was still in use. As I got closer I could eventually see that it was abandoned, but
it was quite heavily fortified. I wonder how recently it saw action? I walked a bit further and turned around and walked back to the city, and began to wander the city of Kars.
One thing that I need to do was to buy a bus ticket for Igdir for the day after we went to Ani, which I did successfully, but this turns out to have been a mistake. Oh well. Keep reading to find out why. I also ate some pide at this restaurant, but all the walking tired me out a bit, so I made a bit of an early night of it.
On the following day, I awoke early enough to get a breakfast of boiled egg, cheese, tomato, cucumber, and an absurd amount of bread with butter and honey. Kars is famous for its honey and you can buy it all over the city, as well you can see beehives all around the city when you drive out into the country. It's a nice breakfast, though not terribly filling.
I was right on time for the dolmus (which ended up being a yellow taxi), and got into it. Two of the originally
The military building
Part of a rather large complex, not sure of the age
four people couldn't make it due to some reason (don't know why), so the price of the ride to Ani was increased to 60 TL roundtrip. Ouch. Still was worth it I think, though I would have rather paid 30TL the previous day (2x Damn you to Mr. Taxi Driver). Also in the car was a French guy (from Marseille) who also went to Ani with me. We got talking at which point I found out that it might be possible to get to Dogubeyazit the same day with him rather than waiting until the following day. By this time I had come to realize how little time I have left in Turkey and had a new appreciation for not dawdling too long in Kars. Besides there wasn't much else I wanted to see or do in Kars.
We took the taxi to Ani which was really quite impressive. This city (Wikipedia
) used to hold more than 100,000 souls, and there are several orders of magnitude fewer people living there now. The city used to be quite spectacular, and even the ruins are worth seeing. From Ani you can look into Armenia (just the other side of the river).
We walked around Ani for two and a half hours which seemed at the outset way too much time but ended up being just right. There are a lot of things to see and they are quite spread out geographically. It is an ancient city after all. Some of the buildings are quite spectacular. Particularly the cathedral is a surprise. It is set into the ground a bit, so it is actually deceptively large. Also, many of the churches have artwork in them dating back to 1500 years ago that is still visible. Though there is also quite a lot of modern Turkish graffiti. In places there is also modern Armenia graffiti below ancient Armenian text.
Ani was an ancient Armenian city, and as a result you see quite a lot of Armenian text on the walls of the city. This is my second exposure to Armenian writing, the first being on the Prince's Islands outside of Istanbul.
After our two and a half hours of wandering around Ani, we got back to our car, and somehow the fixer for the taxis was also there (not sure how - its pretty far from Kars ). But
we talked with him and he got us a reservation for the bus to Igdir and we drove back to the hotel to pick up my stuff, I hurriedly rammed everything into my bag as fast as possible, paid for the night at Hotel Temel, and we were back into the car for a ride out to the bus. We got there just in the nick of time, bought a ticket, and were on the bus before it left. Sadly I lost my old ticket for the following day that I had bought before. Which is ok because I couldn't remember where the store was anyway. Onwards to Igdir (and then Dogubayazit). On the way to Igdir we stopped for a short time in a small town along the way and I used their toilet. Boy was that a nasty toilet. It was a squat toilet (pretty common around here), but smelled so strongly of ammonia. It was hard to breathe. I am becoming less and less a fan of squat toilets. A story for another day.
After we arrived in Igdir, we wandered around a bit and asked for directions for the share taxi to Dogubayazit, and were
able to find it without too much trouble. Didier and I crammed into the taxi along with two benches worth of bottled drinks. I sat on a wooden box next to the sliding door with my pack next to me. Luckily it was only a 45 minute ride to Dogumayazit from Kars. After all that traveling, when we got to Dogubayazit, we stopped for a cup of tea, and made our way to Hotel Tahran, our home for the evening. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and went for a bit of a wander. I bought a bus ticket for the following day for Erzurum at 1pm and we went and had dinner. Dinner was nothing special, but there was a funny moment during dinner. We had tried to order beer with dinner, but the problem we had is that beer (the drink) is pronounced the same as bir (Turkish for one). At one point when we asked again for the beer, we got another soup instead, but eventually we were able to get it all sorted out. After dinner we went to a tea house. Didier knows how to play backgammon and was able to teach me how
to play. I learned how to play once before, but this time was actually really clear, and really, really fun. There is something great about playing backgammon in a tea house, surrounded by all these Turkish men and . On the TV was a football (European) match between Turkey and Kazakhstan. I expected everyone to be rooting for Turkey, but I would say allegiances were split 50-50 or so. In the East there are a lot of Kurds, and suffice it to say the Kurds are not the biggest fans of Turks, with quite good reason. The game was hard fought and ended with a score by Turkey right at the end of the game to take the game. Quite thrilling. Not everyone was happy with the outcome.
After we had been playing for a while, a kid came over and sat down with us and helped me for a while. At the end, Didier and this kid played a game and Didier actually won. Pretty cool.
The next day, our plan was to go to the Ishak Pasha palace, come back and get my stuff, and I would leave and Didier would stay for another day. He's
also taking a "sabbatical" year.
We awoke and had our Kahvalti (breakfast) on the top floor of the hostel and headed out for Ishak Pasha palace. We took a share taxi from the edge of town out to the palace, a distance of about 5 km. The palace has undergone some modernization to make it more durable. In so doing they have added some modern superstructure to the palace which detracts a bit from the view from outside.
When we got to the palace we first climbed up this rather steep hill next to the palace. I went all the way up and Didier hung out halfway. He probably had the better idea since the view from the top of the hill was about as good as from the top and the upper half of the climb was a bitch.
We wandered around the castle for quite a while. It is really quite beautiful. In particular I really liked the dining room - I don't think the photos do it justice. Sadly since they are doing work on the mosque and the minaret, we weren't able to go through them.
After the castle, we decided to
walk back into town. Or rather I decided and convinced Didier. We got back to the outskirts of town right at about checkout time, at which point this cop offered us a ride all the rest of the way. It wasn't at all clear whether the ride was optional or not, and I was a bit sketched out. But it was fine and he dropped us off at the bus station without a problem. We made the rest of the way back to the hotel and I picked up my bags a little after 12pm. Didier and I had enough time for a lunch, so we found a place right next to the otogar (bus station), and we had a bite to eat. Didier reminds me very much of my Belgian friend and colleague Vincent, and not just because of the accent. Many similar mannerisms. It was a lot of fun spending time together by the end, and it was sad to part ways.
I made it to my bus on time, and got on without too much bother. The next bus trip follows in the next post.
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