Thursday, 26 September 2019

Our forebodings about today were not realised.  We are not sure why our guide was making out that it would be so difficult: that the road would be horrific, that we really needed to stock up on supplies for lunch because nothing would be available on the way, that we wouldn’t arrive in Kars until night time???  We were also even expecting (according to our itinerary) to have to change to an intermediate Georgian driver for the drive through Georgia and our itinerary showed us crossing at the Posof border which was a much longer drive  She even said that they would not make it back to Yerevan before midnight, but when we said goodbye at the border at 12:00 and asked what time they would reach home she said 18:00.  Very perplexing.

As things turned out, our Armenian driver and guide saw us across the Armenian Georgian border across Georgia and to the Georgian Turkish border, we crossed at Aktas, a newly opened and much nearer crossing point, the roads were no worse than anywhere else in Armenia, both border crossing were new and completely deserted (we were the only foot people going through except for a long line of trucks which looked like they had been waiting for an eternity to cross.

Our Turkish guide was at the border early.  We went straight through, met up and were off to lunch at a restaurant on the shores of lake Cildir to have the “famous” yellow fish.

Our Turkish guide is another young Kurdish chap, Adem.

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The only slight “downside” of this move back into Turkey is that our new vehicle is a harem on wheels.  It’s a MercedesBordelloBenz and must have been kitted out in Saudi or the UAE.  Black with black tinted window.  Inside is wood panelling, pelmets and swagged curtains, lift up tray tables, small refrigerator (which looks a little like a potty).  All of this, of course, is intended to stop people looking in but it is all a little inconvenient as is it damn difficult to see out of the windows.

One plus is that the guide sits in the back facing us so it is easy to talk.  As a result, we have had more interaction in four hours with the new guide than we had with either of our Georgian or Armenian (female) guides in two weeks.  All three are in their late twenties so it is not an age thing.  He is also a much more “interactive” person, not only for us to experience Turkey but interested in us and about Australia.  It was only on our third day in Georgia that our Georgian guide realised we were from Australia – she thought we were from America and it was only because Clive heard her telling a stallholder in a market.  Needless to say, we were not impressed and we set her right.

Our yellow fish lunch was good and it was perhaps a sign of how uninteresting the food was in Georgia and Armenia that when a salad was put down on the table Cheryl dived in ravenously.  Cheryl – salad??  Anyone who knows Cheryl surely knows that those two concepts (Cheryl and Salad) never willingly come together – only under dire circumstances if nothing else is available.

Along the way after lunch our guide asked if we’d like to stretch our legs and walk through a village as he wanted to tell us an interesting story about it.  It was a “Molokan” village.  The Molokans, a Russian religious minority, were (forcibly) resettled here by the Russians in 1877.  They are (sometimes) blue eyed, blond haired Christians of a pacifist bent (somewhat like Quakers).  When the Russians pulled out in 1918 the Molokans decided to stay.

Arriving in Kars we visited the very good town museum which has a lot of the original artefacts found in Ani which we will be visiting tomorrow and a second museum of the history of the Crimean and First World wars and the important role that Kars played in those conflicts.  The museum was excellent and was located in one of the fourteen bastions that encircled and defended Kars.

Our guide insists that we learn one word of Turkish and one word of Kurdish each day and proposed he test us daily and we forfeit him a coffee for each word we fail on.  With our limited knowledge of Arabic (many words of which have found their way into Turkish) Clive is frantically building up credit points and at the end of the day the guide owed us about five coffees.

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We are staying at a very nice boutique hotel which is in a 19th century basalt stone building of the “Baltic” style (ie. from Russian times) the only disadvantage being that it had a very small sign and we drove past it twice before the driver and guide could find it – not helped by Cheryl who had a picture of the hotel on her phone and said “that’s not it” only to later find out that the picture is of the back of the hotel not the street side.  We were shown to a two room suite on the top floor but it was under the eaves and only had small window facing the sky so we asked to change.  We are now in a lovely room on the first floor with a beautiful outside veranda.  Unfortunately, we can’t quite see the castle.

Kars is famous for it’s cheese, honey and geese and there are more than 60 cheese and honey shops in Kars.

We had dinner with our guide this evening and tried the local Kars speciality which is goose, first boiled then cooked in the oven. OK but nothing to rave about.  Our guide wants to make sure we fill our days to the maximum and wanted us to go to a Caucasian song and dance show after dinner but we telepathically discussed it and said we were too tired (which was true as there is a 1 hour time difference from Armenia so it had been a long and bouncy day).

And the best thing about today – no bloody monasteries!!!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, 27 September 2019

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This morning we drove for about 40 min to the ruined ancient city of Ani, situated on the border with Armenia, which was once an important station on the ancient Silk Road serving as a trading post and caravanserai for merchants travelling with heavily laden camels between east and west.  It is now a ruined ghost town.  It must be punishment for my comment of yesterday as Ani is known as the city of 1001 churches.  Fortunately 999 have been totally destroyed.  Ani managed to survive through the millennia of earthquakes, invasions, lightning strikes etc. only to succumb to neglect, cultural cleansing, looting and vandalism.  With roots going back 3000 years to the Urartians, Ani was most recently an Armenian city, so when they were gone it was open season on destruction.  No one looked ahead 100 years to when it could have been the biggest drawcard for mass tourism in Eastern Turkey.  It was a hot two hours walking around in the sun before we headed back to Kars for a döner lunch and another city walking tour.

Kars goes back a long way too but most of it is hidden under present day grot.  We did visit the house of an Ottoman general which offered a cool respite from the heat outside, then a peek inside an old Russian mansion, followed by a stroll along a streetscape of old Russian buildings of varied architecture before visiting the Church of the Twelve Apostles which has been very sympathetically converted to a mosque without destroying much of the original architecture.  Finally we looked at a Russian cathedral which again has been converted to a mosque.

© Cheryl & Clive Miller 2019-20