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Lake Van

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Ali, Me and Hasan in the centre of Van

People who contributed to and improved my trip: Hasan and Ali (Turkey)

Arriving into Van my first priority was to find a phone so as i could call couchsurfer Hasan. Unfortunately the news wasn't good, he was leaving Van that evening to return to his hometown of Mersin, to be with his family for the Kurban Bayrami festival, which was due to start on the 8th. It wasn't a major problem as i knew there was cheap accommodation in the City, and he kindly offered to meet me at 18.00 to give me the low down on what was to be seen in the area.

Hotel Aslan was listed as the cheapest option in the book, and as it was only a two minute walk from where i was, it made sense to go and check it out.

Van Castle
The prices had certainly gone up since the book was published, so i decided to take a twin room that i would have to share with one other person, which i bargained down to 12.5YTL ($8) a night. I carried my bag up to the first floor and entered what was an acceptable room, with one exception - my room mate!

Now Turks love to smoke and if they want to do so, then i have no problem with that, just as long as it doesn't directly effect me. I can tolerate it in bars, cafes, restaurants etc, but when it comes to public transport and hotels, i think its bang out of order. I normally dislike entering a private room when the last inhabitant has been smoking, so to find my new roomy sat there puffing away when i entered sent the alarm bells ringing. Now the sensible thing to have done would have been to return downstairs and complain, but for some reason i just dumped my bag and left straight away, to enjoy what was left of the day.
Van Castle - something out of a fairytale


Van isn't a particularly big town to get around with only one main street to speak of, although it does have nearly 400,000 citizens. It didn't take me long to see the Hz Omer Camii Mosque and bazaar and having walked down bustling Cumhuriyet street, that was me done for the day. Twilight had set in by the time i found myself an internet cafe, which was a dirt cheap 0.50YTL ($0.30) an hour. I was pleased that the internet was proving to be so cheap in Eastern Turkey, as there was pretty much nothing to do after it got dark at 15.30.

Having spent a couple of hours online, it was time to go and meet Hasan, who brought along his house mate and a work colleague called Ali. The three guys were all engineers in the Turkish air force and had recently served some time in Afghanistan.
A view over Lake Van, Mount Suphan (4053m) in the background
I was shown to a nice restaurant and let the guys order some traditional Turkish fare, which included a maize dish for starters and a variety of kebab for the main course. After this we went to a stylish little upstairs cafe, where we drank some tea and chatted, before it was time for Hasan to make a move.

Rather than this been the end of the night, it was actually only just beginning, as Ali suggested that we could go and watch the Denizlispor vs Fenerbache match on tv. I'd not seen football for some time, so this sounded like a great idea, except for the part where i had to pretend to be Ali's Turkish cousin, as he wanted to sneak me into the army base! I had to ditch my hat and gloves and try not to look so touristy and with my hair sticking up everywhere, Ali said it was perfect, as it looked like i had just come back off a mission! Entering the barracks i kept my mouth shut and avoided eye contact with the guard and luckily he didn't suspect anything and waved us in.
The lower section of Van Castle


We sat drinking tea and eating cake and watched Fenerbache win 1-0 with a wonder goal from Emre Belizoglu, who used to play in England. After the game Ali walked me around the City for a bit before it was time for us both to head home. It had been a really nice evening and a good chance to interact with English speaking Turks, which had been the first real opportunity that I'd had since arriving in the country. The only thing that did make me rise an eyebrow though was the comment of “Not all Kurds are terrorists, just about 50%”. This is a little alarming coming from people in the army, and makes me wonder what they get taught in training. I mean, i am sure there are terrorists, there is the PKK after all, but i sincerely believe that this is a small minority of the Kurdish people.
Van Castle with towering mountains creating the ideal backdrop


My evening in the hotel wasn't very pleasant to say the least, holed up with a chain smoking drug addict. Now this guy looked normal enough and always tried to be very pleasant to me, even though we shared no common language, but he was still a complete prick. I say this mainly for what was to happen for the next four nights, which would go as follows. We would go to sleep, then about 90 minutes later he would climb out of bed (often falling onto mine) start rummaging through a plastic bag, eat some food, smoke a cigarette, go to the toilet and slam the door every time and then go back to sleep. This process continued through the night and obviously woke me up every time. Just before we had gone to sleep i saw him taking some powder and also heard him sniffing something off the bedside table.
The walls of Van Castle
In 4 days he barely left the room, just repeating this 90 minute process all day, every day.

Needless to say i felt like shit when i finally woke up on Saturday morning, so i ditched my plans of a day trip in favour of going to see Van Castle. As the weather was nice, i opted to walk 5kms to get there and stopped for two tasty, if not a bit spicy for my liking, lahmacuns (Turkish Pizzas). Arriving at the base of the castle it looked like most other castles, but i was there now, so it made sense to take a good look around. I headed towards the ticket office on the far side of the structure and several groups of young kids approached me asking for money and whilst some were nice, some others made me feel like i could have been in the movie 'Hostel'!

Before entering i decided to ignore Lonely Planets advice, which was not to bother with the lake and took a stroll down to the waters edge.
Patchy clouds cover Van Castle
This proved to be an inspired decision, as when i looked back at Van Castle, it was like looking at a fairytale castle, with jagged snow capped peaks framing the 3000 year old bricks. I must confess i was a little flabbergasted at just how beautiful it looked, so i stood and stared for as long as i could, before my curiosity got the better of me and i decided that i had to get a peek at the place close up.

Admission to the site was 3YTL ($1.90) and just inside the gate was a traditional Van house, although i can't remember seeing any of them like this in the City! Passing this by, there was then a steep climb up to the ruins, which were in surprisingly good shape for their age. Reaching the top i climbed up Sardur Burcu Tower, where the base dated from 840 - 830BC, although the upper half looked far more modern.
My 4 Kurdish friends that i met at Van Castle
The stairwell was incredibly narrow and steep and upon reaching the top i wondered why i had bothered, as there was nothing to see and it left me with a nervy descent back down to the bottom.

The views over Lake Van and the ancient Uratian City of Tushpa were spectacular, as was the castle itself, which seemed to take on a different form the more you delved into it. Having soaked up the atmosphere for an hour or more, i went in search of some Cuneiform inscriptions, which proved to be quite tricky to locate. After quite some time of scrambling around, i eventually came across them, although they were fenced off by barbed wire, which was a little disappointing. I'm no expert in Cuneiform, but i am told that this writing says what a jolly good King Argishti was from 786 - 764BC.
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
2800 years on and people are still visiting the site that he ruled and reading about him, which probably brings a smile to his face whilst looking down.

It was just about 14.00 when i got back down to ground level, so i didn't have long before the sun was going to disappear on me again. I therefore skirted the base of the castle and spotted some more cuneiform chiseled into the rock and this time i was able to get up close to it, have a good look and take some photos - but no touching obviously. I then scrambled back onto the lower section of the castle, which i found equally beautiful, before heading to what remained of Tushpa

There were plenty of crumbling buildings in the area and also some that were in tact. Most impressive were the Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi and the Kaya Celebi Camii, both of which were Mosques.
Sunset over Lake Van
The sun was slowly setting on the horizon, so i was keen to make a move before it got too cold, but then i was collared by 4 Kurdish guys who were having a picnic. After beckoning me over several times, i finally gave in and went to join them and we exchanged lots of sign language and the few words that were common in both of our languages.

Introductions out of the way and a glass of Raki was shoved into my hand, which is an aniseed spirit, Turkeys equivalent to Ouzo. However much i tried to decline, they insisted more vehemently that i should drink it and gave me some pomegranate and pistachios to eat with it. Having polished it off, i tried to make my move, but before i knew it another glass was thrust into my hand. Now we were toasting Kurdistan and i couldn't really not drink to that, so i necked that one too, which thankfully brought an end to their bottle.
Walls of Tushpa, with Kaya Kelebi Camii and Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi on the horizon
I took a photo of them which i later emailed on to them, thanked them sincerely and went off with a rosy glow!

Walking back to the centre became a whole lot easier when two Kurdish guys stopped and gave me a lift. They obviously saw i was a tourist and took great delight in giving me a ride, which suited me down to the ground as well! I don't really want to get into the whole 'Kurdistan' issue, but i will say that these people deserve a lot better than they get in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. I think visiting a country called Kurdistan would probably be the highlight of anyones life, the people are so incredible, maybe one day that dream will be realised.

Back at the hotel my room mate had bought me a piece of cake and a banana, which was maybe as a gesture of good will for keeping me up all the previous night.
Hz Omer Camii
Whilst i didn't sleep particularly well again, he did cut down his cigarette and toilet breaks to about 5 during the night! I must confess that i was rather looking forward to moving on from this hotel!

almond72 says:
Better 'zap' out that part about Ali & you getting in to watch the game. You won't want him at the firing squad literally for that.
Posted on: Sep 02, 2009
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Ali, Me and Hasan in the centre of…
Ali, Me and Hasan in the centre o…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle - something out of a fa…
Van Castle - something out of a f…
A view over Lake Van, Mount Suphan…
A view over Lake Van, Mount Supha…
The lower section of Van Castle
The lower section of Van Castle
Van Castle with towering mountains…
Van Castle with towering mountain…
The walls of Van Castle
The walls of Van Castle
Patchy clouds cover Van Castle
Patchy clouds cover Van Castle
My 4 Kurdish friends that i met at…
My 4 Kurdish friends that i met a…
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Sunset over Lake Van
Sunset over Lake Van
Walls of Tushpa, with Kaya Kelebi …
Walls of Tushpa, with Kaya Kelebi…
Hz Omer Camii
Hz Omer Camii
Hz Omer Camii
Hz Omer Camii
Hasan and I in the centre of Van
Hasan and I in the centre of Van
A plane flies over Van Castle
A plane flies over Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Sheep grazing in front of Van Cast…
Sheep grazing in front of Van Cas…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Birds sitting in thin white trees
Birds sitting in thin white trees
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle - something out of a fa…
Van Castle - something out of a f…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle - something out of a fa…
Van Castle - something out of a f…
Van Castle - something out of a fa…
Van Castle - something out of a f…
Traditional Van house
Traditional Van house
Van Castle
Van Castle
A view over Lake Van, seen from Va…
A view over Lake Van, seen from V…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
A view over Van
A view over Van
Van Castle
Van Castle
A view over Van
A view over Van
The walls of Van Castle, with a vi…
The walls of Van Castle, with a v…
Sardur Burcu (Sardur Tower)
Sardur Burcu (Sardur Tower)
Uratian City of Tushpa
Uratian City of Tushpa
Sardur Burcu (Sardur Tower)
Sardur Burcu (Sardur Tower)
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Sardur Burcu (Sardur Tower) atop V…
Sardur Burcu (Sardur Tower) atop …
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Ruined building at the foot of Van…
Ruined building at the foot of Va…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Flocks of sheep graze on the ancie…
Flocks of sheep graze on the anci…
Ruined buildings where Tushpa and …
Ruined buildings where Tushpa and…
Steel figure of a man at the top o…
Steel figure of a man at the top …
Van Castle
Van Castle
A view over Lake Van
A view over Lake Van
Lake Van
Lake Van
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Cuneiform inscriptions at the top …
Cuneiform inscriptions at the top…
Christian crosses now part of the …
Christian crosses now part of the…
Armenian script and a cross - part…
Armenian script and a cross - par…
Cuneiform inscriptions on the base…
Cuneiform inscriptions on the bas…
Cuneiform inscriptions on the base…
Cuneiform inscriptions on the bas…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Sunset over Lake Van
Sunset over Lake Van
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
A view over Tushpa and Lake Van
A view over Tushpa and Lake Van
A view over Tushpa and Lake Van
A view over Tushpa and Lake Van
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Van Castle
Ruined Church at the foot of Van C…
Ruined Church at the foot of Van …
Ulu Cami and other buildings at th…
Ulu Cami and other buildings at t…
Ulu Cami and Van Castle in the bac…
Ulu Cami and Van Castle in the ba…
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Kaya Kelebi Camii
Kaya Kelebi Camii
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Husrev Pasa Kulliyesi
Kaya Kelebi Camii
Kaya Kelebi Camii
Foreground Tushpa, background Van …
Foreground Tushpa, background Van…
Foreground Tushpa, background Van …
Foreground Tushpa, background Van…
Van Castle
Van Castle
Sunset at Van
Sunset at Van
Van
photo by: Stevie_Wes