Day 34: Why you should always be careful trusting someone's advice

Erzurum Travel Blog

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first view of Erzurum - so far so good

People I have met here and/or travelled with: Ahmet (Turkey)

I had slept surprisingly well in the bus. Once the TV and lights had been switched off I managed to sleep for several hours, only waking up every once in a while when the driver slammed the brakes or had to swerve around a pothole of some kind.

At 5 o'clock I found myself standing at Erzurum's otogar. I was staying with a couch surfer tonight, so I had figured I'd hang around the otogar for a while, work on my blog a little and have some breakfast, so as not to disturb him too early on his Sunday morning.

Pretty much every city I have visited in Turkey has a brand new Otogar outside the city. Not Erzurum.

view of the mountains surrounding Erzurum
The Erzurum otogar seems to date from the seventies and I think its toilets were last cleaned around that time as well.
I was allowed to sleep for another hour on a bench in one of the restaurants in return for buying a breakfast and sumptuous çay afterwards.

At 8 o'clock I ventured over to the ticket offices to find myself a bus to Trabzon for tomorrow. It looked like there weren't all that much passengers for Trabzon, as I got 5TL discount on my ticket. However, the 25 TL I had to pay was all I had left. I asked if I could pay by credit card instead. This wasn't possible. Then I asked where I could find an ATM. I was directed to the other hall of the otogar, only to be directed back again by someone there.

Yakutiye Medrese, a Mongol theological school which now houses a museum (which was closed for refurbishment)
As it turns out, there is no ATM in this Otogar. So far everywhere I have been in Turkey there have been ATMs on virtually every street corner. But not here!
I tried again at the ticket desk and was directed to the taxi stand outside. Ah, perhaps the ATM is outside? Not so, the idea was that I would leave my luggage at the ticket office and take a taxi to the nearest bank. No way, that ride would cost me more than the whole ticket. I asked several taxi drivers but they all said I would have to go to the centre to find an ATM. It was beginning to feel like Izmir all over again. This place is certainly a world apart from the kind and gentle Kurdish area I had visited the past days.

I decided to bluff and took 5 TL out of my wallet (needed that for the bus into town) and gave the guy at the ticket office my remaining cash: 21.

inside the Ulu Cami, Erzurum's grand mosque
35 TL. He agreed that it was an acceptable fee for the ride to Trabzon and he gave me my ticket. Haggling for bus tickets - I didn't even know it was possible.

Next came the challenge of finding the address of my host for tonight. I could not find his street on the map, so I asked around. No one seemed to know. As my e-mail had had trouble displaying the Turkish name, I wanted to log on to the internet and try to find it on Google Maps, But, unlike every other otogar in Turkey, there was no Internet café in this one (Even tiny Kahta had had internet facilities at its otogar!).
A friendly policeman walked me to one of the bus agencies which had a secured wi-fi access, but none of the staff there knew the password. It really was as if I had travelled 10 or 20 years back in time.

inside the Ulu Cami, Erzurum's grand mosque

Don't get me wrong, I quite liked the whole experience. I mean, this is all part of travelling. But  what I missed somewhat were the flocks of helpful people all around me. Apart from the policeman no one really seemed to care or willing to help me (well, apart from the taxi drivers of course). This was so different from elsewhere in Turkey.

So I phoned up Ahmet, my host for tonight. He offered to come and get me at the otogar, but I asked him for instructions on which dolmuş instead. I never get lost and didn't want to admit defeat just yet. So he gave me two bus numbers I could take and the stop where I had to get off. But once again, no one at the otogar seemed to know where the dolmuş stop was. It certainly wasn't at the otogar. Again, the Izmir comparison - there is no proper public transportation between the otogar and the city centre!

I had to walk a steep 600 metres to the university campus where buses and dolmuşes plough the main thoroughfare.

Çifte Minareli Medrese, Erzurum's most famous landmark
But even the dolmuş driver didn't know where I was going! Other passengers had to come to the rescue and figure out which stop I had to take.
15 minutes later I was dropped off in a suburb of Erzurum. Here I found out that the address Ahmet had given me wasn't so much a street address, but the name of the apartment block. Now which of the 150 apartment blocks was his?

A shopkeeper saw me wander up and down in front of his shop and decided I needed some help. But even here, people did not have a clue where the Ahmet's address was.
Not before long three or four old men had gathered around me, offering me a seat (guess my backpack looks heavy and I looked tired), tea and they called Ahmet for me, telling him to come and get me. Turns out he only lives a few minutes away, but I never would have been able to find his place, as the name tag on his apartment block has been removed long time ago.

the courtyard of the Çifte Minareli Medrese

Don't get me wrong. None of this whole experience had bothered me. I loved it! It is the kindness of strangers that really made my day here, even if that kindness was much farther in between than in Urfa and Diyarbakır

Ahmet is a veterinary student who lives with some fellow students in a large apartment. He apologised for not being able to entertain me today, as he had to study for a test for tomorrow. We agreed to have contact at the end of the day to see if we could meet up for a drink or a bite to eat later on in the city.

After a quick shower and a clean set of clothes we took a dolmuş to the centre. Ahmet went to the library to study and I went to explore Erzurum.

Did you ever hear me saying any town looks handsome with a few snowcapped mountains in the background? You must have misunderstood.

façade of the Çifte Minareli Medrese
I never could have said that. Erzurum lies in a stunning location a mere 5 kilometres from some of the best ski resorts in Turkey (and the slopes were still open!) but this doesn't make the town any more attractive! In fact, it is a horrible place, with ugly buildings and hardly any interesting sights at all. How did I end up here?

Well, I tell you how I ended up here. Four years ago my colleague Hendrik travelled with his wife on a motorcycle through Turkey and Iran to India. One of the places they had been to was Trabzon (my next destination) which they both hated. From Trabzon they travelled to Erzurum, which they really enjoyed. It was their recommendation that made me include Erzurum in my itinerary. Hendrik described the city as very Middle Eastern, with a nice old city and many mosques sit in and watch life go by, and hamams to relax at.

Inside the Erzurum Evleri restaurant
It dawned on me that he may have mixed up two cities here. His description is a perfect description of Diyarbakır, the city where I was yesterday!

There was no old city here, only two mildly interesting old mosques and no hamam to be found. Hendrik had been wrong. Erzurum is only interesting to visit in wintertime, if you want to go skiing or snowboarding. Or you can use it as a base to explore the nearby Georgian valleys, provided you have your own transportation.

To make matters worse it had started to rain, no pour. As I sheltered in a restaurant which served excellent coffee and even better cakes accompanying that coffee, I contemplated my options. It had been a mistake coming here. Not that I mind a day without doing a lot of sightseeing, but it was more that I felt I was pressed for time.

Inside the Erzurum Evleri restaurant
I had lost a day, and because of my stupid Azeri visa this was a day less to spend in Georgia or Armenia. Also, I could not have picked a worse day to stay with a couch surfer. Had I stayed in a hotel I probably just would have gone to bed, or perhaps I would have checked out and taken a bus to Trabzon already.

I felt sorry for Ahmet as well. He was trying to be the good host, even though he had absolutely no time for me and I on the other hand was stuck in this city just because of that. With him studying in the library and his apartment way out of town it was impossible for me to get my stuff and leave even if I wanted to.

I decided to make the best of it and took my refuge in a restaurant, Erzurum Evleri. A maze-like semi-original/traditional place with a mind-blowing décor full or Ottoman artefacts.

taking a break at the Erzurum Evleri restaurant
A tourist trap if there ever was one. Only, there are no tourists here, only locals (or national tourists) and they all flock to this place, dressing up in traditional costumes and relaxing lying on cushions in small alcoves, drinking çay and smoking nargileh.
Hmm, çay and nargileh, I think I could manage to spend an afternoon here.

Ooh, lying down on comfy pillows when you've only slept a few hours in a bus. Bad idea. I had trouble keeping my eyes open. Not sure if the nargileh had been the best of ideas either. I really need to cut down on the smoking. If I want to do some hiking in the Himalayas in two months time I really need to be fitter than I am now.

The dinner or drinks with Ahmet never happened either - he was too busy. So in the early evening I returned to his house where I met some of his nice flatmates. It was a rather uneventful ending to an uneventful day.

 

Biedjee says:
Hi Marius,
Are you planning to go to Eastern Turkey at all? Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa are worth it and should make a nice break on the way from Cappadocia to Trabzon. Otherwise you could head north from Cappadoccia and visit Samsun.
Posted on: Sep 07, 2010
Marius1981 says:
thanks for the blog. so i guess i'll try to skip erzurum. couldnt find a cheap accommodation either.

biggest worry for me is that i'll have to figure out where else to go from cappadoccia on my way to georgia in t'bilsi. and erzurum seemed a good pitstop on my way to georgia.

what do you reckon: should i try to go from cappadocia to trabzon or what other place? i'm clueless here...
:)
Posted on: Sep 06, 2010
edsander says:
> I never get lost and didn't want to admit defeat just yet. < Just read in an article that this is very common among us males. ;-)
Posted on: May 22, 2010
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Erzurum
photo by: monitoringmedlow