Saturday, 28 September 2019

We had a long day today.  Off from the hotel at 08:00 and we didn’t get to our next hotel until 19:30 after covering about 500 km on the road plus sightseeing.  And Adem, our guide, wants to be off at 08:00 tomorrow!  We told him to bugger off – we are on holiday, but did compromise in the end on an 08:30 start.

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Our first stop for the day was to the second largest palace in Turkey, after the Topkapi in Istanbul, near Doğubayazıt called Ishak Pasha Serai.  It is admittedly a long, long way second.  However, it was impressive and well worth the stop.  In addition there are some old Urartian ruins on the mountainside above the palace and Iran is just the other side of the mountain.

We lunched at a good place and had the speciality of the area – one large meatball on rice (shades of Ry Cooder’s song “Just One Meat Ball”).  It was pretty good.  The dish is called Abdigor Kofte and is made of beef ground together for a long time with onions into a fist sized meatball and boiled.  The rice is also cooked in the water used for the meatball.  For dessert we had our favourite Turkish rice pudding dessert, Sütlaç, which our Contractor in Jordan always used to give us (when we were feeling poorly).

There happened to be a carpet cooperative next to the restaurant so we had a peek.  Their new carpets, made by local women under the direction of the cooperative, aim to both give employment and keep the craft skills alive.  They were good.  They also had a good selection of older carpets that have emerged from local homes, usually damaged, and have been restored and washed for sale. 

Carpet buying becomes more difficult the more you already own, not easier, as you might expect.  You also realise that the more you know about carpets the more there is to know.  But it is nice when a dealer starts giving you the old waffle about how they are hand made … blah, blah, blah and you casually interject “Is that an old Kashan, Balouch or whatever”.  It’s very effective at halting the standard sales spiel.  But of course, knowing what some carpet might appear to be is a long way from telling whether it is genuine or a copy, let alone what it might be worth.

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The second stop was to a waterfall where all the Kurdish Saturday brides were out for their photos shoots.  There were about half a dozen of them striking dramatic poses.  It has almost become our Saturday entertainment – bride watching.  Two weeks ago it was Georgian, last week Armenian and this week Kurdish.

This part of Turkey is predominantly Kurdish.  Our guide told us that neither of his parents can speak Turkish and he couldn’t speak a word when he started school, which was a bit difficult because at that time all teaching was in Turkish, but all the pupils were Kurdish.  Not a good recipe for progress.  It seems to have changed.  He said the Kurdish people were much happier now and migrate less as there are now more job opportunities in the region and the Government is more understanding.

Finally we arrived in Van and had one last stop for the day to the citadel to watch the sun set over Lake Van.  The citadel is another Urartian complex and is 2,500 years old.  One watchtower is made from mud so it is amazing that it has lasted so long.

We ate in splendour at the “Grill” in the hotel.  Hamburgers again but to the accompaniment of a four piece Kurdish ensemble who were just a little too amplified.


Sunday, 29 September 2019

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Our semi-early start found us out at the marina on Lake Van kicking our heels waiting for enough people for the boat to go out to the Akdamar island which is home to the 10th century Armenian Holy Cross cathedral.  Yes, another Armenian church!  But it was probably as good, if not better, than the ones we visited in Armenia.  These monks really like to make themselves inaccessible: either up a cliff, on an island, on a mountaintop or at the end of a cable car.  There is nothing like a “drive-in” monastery.

It seems that a lot of the tourists in Van are Iranians, identifiable by the ladies headscarf fashions of “as far back on the head showing as much hair as possible”.  It must be a relief for them to be able to even take them off in public whilst on holiday in Turkey.

On return to the mainland Adem suggested a fish lunch at the restaurant opposite the marina but after sitting down and looking around we vetoed the idea and left as the place was a dump.

We had another monastery and a castle on the agenda but Adem had suggested a stop at another carpet cooperative that we had passed on the way out so we canned the monastery and the castle and headed for the carpets.  It turned out to be a vey good place even though we were not interested in the new cooperative carpets.  They had a collection of old and antique pieces in a separate room and we settled on a very nice Iranian Kurdish bread sofreh which we have been looking for, for some time.  It is not a carpet as such; it is the cloth that nomads used to use to make their bread on.  Because they are not used any more they are relatively rare – most carpet shops would not have any, some wouldn’t know what they are.  Anyway, a very nice piece and a nice guy doing the selling so a good experience.

We gave the monastery and castle a miss and voted for the museum instead.

We lunched back in Van at a restaurant over a service station – different!  The food was very good.  We had bbq’d trout, lamb ribs and a dessert called katmer which is pistachio paste inside a thin filo type pastry – yum!

After lunch we went to the new Urartian museum in Van which only opened two weeks ago and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there.  It was excellent.

Figurines at the Urartian Museum

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We visited the office of our local travel agent to pay the last part of the cost of our trip (no Thomas Cook for us – we are almost at the end of our tour and still haven’t paid for it all) but their credit card machine wasn’t working properly, so “malesh” (never mind in Arabic) it will be sorted out later.

We dined at a döner restaurant opposite the hotel.  We were the only foreigners there (except for some Iranians), they didn’t speak English and there was no menu but not to worry – the choice was döner kebab or Iskander döner.  We ordered two döner and two Ayran (the salty yoghurt drink).  It was great.  Your order is always accompanied by a salad, a plate of sliced onions, at least one dip, fresh bread and water.  The döner was hot off the spit and the lavash bread made in front of our eyes in a traditional tandoor so it couldn’t have been fresher.  For dessert we had baklava and halva which arrived as part of the whole deal plus tea.  All for TL 50 (AUD 12.50) which was less than the cost of the two beers Clive had in the hotel grill last night.

© Cheryl & Clive Miller 2019-20