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Published: October 19th 2015
We finally arrived at our hotel in Van at about 9pm local time, after over 24 hours of travel from Melbourne. Our first flight from Melbourne landed us in Doha with enough time between flights to go through security (after standing in a long line for a long time) and get to our gate with about 30 minutes to spare. Our second flight to Istanbul almost resulted in the murder of the morbidly obese man who snored loudly from take-off to landing. After landing in Istanbul we waited in line at immigration while listening to some woman screaming at the security staff, got our passports stamped, grabbed our bags (mine was nearly the last to hit the carousel) and waited for our prearranged transfer to Istanbul’s other airport. After an hour and a half drive (top speed 140km/h..), a wait 40 minutes longer than expected due to our flight being delayed we boarded our final plane for the day.
Van is not on the usual tourist route, but the pictures of a large lake surrounded by Anatolian mountains with Armenian, Kurdish and Urartian ruins caught my attention. After a very solid 10 hour sleep, we started the day with the
typical Van breakfast on Kahvalit Sokak (Breakfast Street). We grabbed a table at one of the many restaurants and ordered…well, told them we wanted breakfast, nodded to a few questions (no idea what they were asking) and hoped for the best. We ended up with 3 different breads, 4 cheeses (feta, herbed goats cheese, cheddar cheese and a sour one), olives, cucumber, tomato, curd with honey, figs soaked in something which tasted like port, cherry jam, sesame seed paste, aged walnut jam (we think), an omelette and our first glasses of Turkish tea. Breakfast was very enjoyable, incredibly filling and fantastic value at only 20 Lira (~10AUD). The curd with honey was definitely our favourite.
After breakfast we set out for Van Kalesi (Van Castle) which is about 5km from the city centre. Along the way we stopped briefly at a breeding centre for Van cats. Van cats are typically pure white, with one blue eye and one green eye. There were lots of cats on show including a very young kitten with bright blue eyes (I assume one of the eyes changes colour when they get a bit older). Scott eventually managed to drag me away from the
cats and we continued walking to the castle.
The entrance to the castle wasn’t signed and wasn’t at all obvious; we ended up finding it to the north west of the site. The castle is on top of a hill which was both good and bad; bad because we had to climb the hill and good because of the views from the top once we made it up there. There isn’t a lot left of the original buildings, but the view over the lake definitely made it worth the visit. We had the place largely to ourselves, with the exception of a few local families, a couple of other western tourists and one local guy who sang loudly (and badly) the whole time he was up there.
After a while we decided it was time for a late lunch so made our way back into Van. We found a place which had a whole lot of chicken on a spit and managed to order the house speciality, a chicken sandwich. The sandwich was delicious and an absolute bargain – our lunch came to 12 Lira. On the way back to the hotel we picked up some delicious deep
fried balls of dough soaked in honey.
After reading our books for a little while in our hotel room we headed out to check out the city. As we were walking along the street a local guy started chatting to us and eventually invited us for tea at a local restaurant where he works. We spent the next few hours chatting / learning about Van, Turkish politics (including the issues with the PKK), the Koran and getting a crash course in Turkish whilst drinking lots of tea. Eventually he decided he had to head home to keep his mum company so we said farewell and we headed off to find some dinner.
We settled on a restaurant which looked reasonable busy and had some chickens on spits in the window. After a late lunch we weren’t that hungry, but ordered a main each and Scott ordered a meat soup. I asked about ordering a salad, but was told ‘salad is free’. I expected a token salad on the side of my plate which would have been fine given I wasn’t super hungry…but then seven salads and two types of bread arrived. We ate as much as we could
(it hardly looked like we hardly ate anything) before heading back to the hotel.
The following day we hired a car and set out to explore some of the countryside around Van. Our first stop was Çavuştepe, ruins of a Urartian fortress on top of a hill a half hour drive from Van. There wasn’t much left of the fortress except for the foundations, a few of the original grain stores and a dam, but the view made it worth the stop. We spent some time admiring the view and talking to the caretaker’s son who was helping his dad out for the day.
Our next stop was the ruins of the impressive Hoşap Castle which was built by the Kurds in 1643. Unfortunately the castle was locked up (it wasn’t clear whether it was closed or whether it’s unsafe to enter) so we admired the building from the outside for a while before heading back to the car.
Our final destination for the day was Akdamar Kilisesi, the Armenian church built on an island 3km out in Lake Van. We somehow managed to time our arrival at the ferry terminal perfectly as we had just enough
time to park the car, buy tickets and hop onto the boat before it set out for the island. The church was quite pretty from the outside; however it was the location that really made it worth the visit. We spent about an hour on the island admiring the view, checking out the church and surrounding ruins and sitting on the jetty enjoying the lovely sunshine before heading back to our car on the ferry.
By the time we got back to Van the streets were absolutely teeming with people out doing their weekend shopping. We gave up trying to park the hire car near our hotel and decided to return it early. We double parked the car on the busy main street (perfectly acceptable judging by all the other cars doing it), handed the keys back to the hire company and walked back to our hotel.
Our hotel recommended a restaurant for dinner and walked us to the door which was lucky as we wouldn’t have found it otherwise. We ordered a dish each (didn’t ask about ordering salad and said no to the soup – we had learnt our lesson the previous night!) and waited for
our food to arrive. We ended up with the dishes we had ordered, a cucumber and tomato salad, a yoghurt dip, a spicy tomato, onion and roasted capsicum (?) dip, some couscous things, bulgur, onion and bread. Once again the food was delicious. We finished the meal with a couple of glasses of tea before heading back to the hotel.
For our final morning in Van we decided to head back to Breakfast Street for another delicious breakfast. After breakfast we packed up our stuff and headed to the airport to catch a flight to our next stop, Sanliufa (via Istanbul).
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