Van Travel Blog› entry 471 of 658 › view all entries
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.