Van, My First Trip to the East Turkey
East Turkey always attracts my attention for some reasons. For its mixed culture between the Turks, Kurds and Arabs. For its beautiful landscape that I just could see from my friends’ Instagram. Or for the facts that the places are not well known for many travelers that make it even more irresistible to visit. Eventually, in this winter break, I could actualize my dream to visit Van (read as ‘One’), one of the cities in East Turkey bordering with Armenia and Iran. First of all, I would love to express my high gratitude and thanks to my beloved sister who had sponsored me (she said that this is her little present for my good attitude in the last school semester) for taking this beautiful journey.
From Istanbul, I took the flight in early Thursday morning from Sabiha Gokcen airport. Thanks God, I arrived earlier than I should. Since the winter break has begun for the most of the universities and schools in Istanbul, the airport was really full with family and children to travel somewhere. It made a long queue in check in counters. However, the airport staffs were efficient and we didn’t have to wait for hours for the whole process. The trip itself was not that long. In the next two hours after taking off, I arrived safely in Van. Extreme cold weather greeted me when I stepped my feet out of the plane. Even though there were no snow flakes, big amount of snow were still left from the last snow fall. To get into my hotel located in the city center, I took taxi from the airpot that costed me 25 TL for one way. My hotel was good for the price I paid, the staffs were nice despite their limited English. I presumed that foreign tourists didn’t come to this hotel so often.
Furthermore, I took some rest once I got into my room and had sleep for two hours to replace my sleepless previous night due to worries that I might be late to come to the airport. Then, I took some walks in hotel neighborhood, while looking for a good place to get my dinner. Van is a city located on the eastern shore of Lake Van. It was a large city and capital during the rule of Urartu Kingdom since the first millennium BC, which later it became the center of Vaspurakan Kingdom from Armenia. Today, Van is a home for Kurdish majority and sizable Turkish minority. Additionally, sitting on the largest lake in Turkey and second in the Middle East, Van is also known for its splendid natural beauty. In order to get around in the city, there are municipal bus serving passengers in the city, but not covering many areas. For areas which couldn’t be reached by bus, many dolmus (mini bus) are ready to carry passengers to different destination.
I didn’t go out that much on my second day. The rain fell for almost whole day with temperature reached -4 made me choose to spend most of my time in my hotel room. As I didn’t want to spend my time useless, I used my free time to continue my ongoing thesis project. Nonetheless, in the afternoon, the sun started to shine, then I decided to see more parts of the city. Well, my treasure for that day was Kervansaray restaurant, one of the famous one in the city, which recommended by many travel bloggers. Despite the facts that the food looks almost the same as I found in other part of Turkey, I loved my experiences in the restaurant. What distinguishes it is the taste which is more spicy compared to the foods from other region. For me, as Asian who loves spicy things, these foods are perfect. My favorite one in Kervanseray was their beity döner, the spicy kebab which is wrapped in lavash bread and served with the yogurt.
On my third day, I visited Van Castle. Apparently, there were dolmus that could take me there, but I required to walk around 2 km to reach the castle entrance from the main road. Found that Van is not really familiar with foreign travelers, and the number of people speaking English are not that much (most of them speak Kurdish and Turkish), I decided to take taxi from the Cumhurriyet caddesi, the main road of Van. Hakki, the taxi driver, gave me his business card in case I need his service in the future.
The Van castle or also known as Tushpa is fortress and settlement built during the reign of The Urartian Kingdom that ruled Eastern Anatolia Transcaucasia and North West Iran between 9 – 7 century BC for more than 200 years. During early 7th century BC, the castle fell into the bands of Assyrians when the Urartus were defeated and fled from the region. The castle took important rules in the next centuries, under the rulers of the Selçuk, Karakonyulu, Akkonyulu and the Ottoman eras. The castle also has mosque built by Sultan Suleyman.
I read from some information sources, in order to get stunning photograph, I must climb up to the hill, where I could see the Lake Van from the top. During summer, that wouldn’t be a really tough job. But in the winter, with footpath covered by snow, that was definitely difficult job for tropical person as me. After climbing half way, I realized that coming down would be so slippery, then I decided to to come down and took some snaps only from the flat land. Eventually, the total time I spent in the castle was less than one hour.
I still didn’t know where I would go afterwards. Knowing that I won’t let myself walking to the entrance, I called Hakki and asked him to pick me at the castle. Thus, I remember that Van is famous with its special cat. Cats from Van are different from other cats in the world. With their pure white fur, the cats have one eye blue and the other chamber. In addition to their special eyes, the cats are also fond for swimming. I am not a cat person. But I definitely wouldn’t miss the chance to see the most unique cats in the world. Therefore, we headed to the House of Van Cats, where 10 km away from the castle.
Here, the cats are placed inside a house, while some male cats are put inside the big cage. The admission is 1,5 TL only and you can stay as long as you want. I tried to get some photos of the cats, but they seemed to know that I am not a pet lover. They kept put their face away once I tried to capture some pictures. One cat even kept closing his eyes anytime he saw me. Apparently, I felt like a bad human.
I returned to city center after spending less than 30 minutes in the house. My next destination was Museum of Van. Due to its location closed to my hotel, I preferred walking to using taxi. I arrived there, and was disappointed when knowing that the museum was closed since big earthquake occurred in 2011. Later, on my way back to the main road, I passed Ulu Camii, one of the famous one in the city. Unlike other mosques in Istanbul with splendid interior architecture, Ulu Camii looks more ordinary. In the main road, I found free entertainment in front of one building where a group of men played some musics with the clothes from Ottoman times.
On my last day in Van, I wanted to visit Akdamar island, the biggest island located in the middle of Lake Van with ancient Armenian church on the top of the hill. The island itself located 50 km from Van. To get there, I must take dolmus from main bus station (after asking everywhere with my poor Turkish), to Gevas. The dolmus doesn’t run frequently. It seemed the driver waited till he had enough passengers before heading to Gevas. After waiting for 30 minutes, we left the station. To reach the harbor where the boat taking passengers to the island, it requires around 40 minutes driving from city center. I didn’t know where the harbor was, but the driver remembered my request so well. He stopped the dolmus right in front of port gate. Two other young men were also out, and I found that they also wanted to go to the island. But once we arrived at the port, we didn’t find anybody. One of the guy asked the man running a restaurant nearby. The owner of the restaurant told us that the boat won’t go to the island unless it has 10 passengers. Not long after, a couple came and waited with us at the port. I was freezing, therefore I decided to wait inside the restaurant. The owner of the restaurant gave me a cup of Turkish tea, and refused when I wanted to pay. He said it’s gift for visitors.
After waiting for almost one hour, I didn’t see other people coming. Two guys who came with me had disappeared, then I decided to return to Van. The couple who came later were also there. We waited for 30 minutes on the road but we didn’t see any signs that the dolmus could pass anytime. I saw the couple tried to hitchhike. I was desperately freezing and the only way to be out from this place was hitchhiking. I asked the couple, lately I knew that they’re dentist students from Adana, if I could join them, and they were happy to have me. Eventually, a car stopped in front of us. The couple asked the car owner if we could join him to return to Van, and he allowed us to come inside. We headed back to city center and I couldn’t thankful more for kindhearted man who saved us from becoming snow men.
Even though I couldn’t visit the island, but the journey to Gevas itself was not that bad. Seeing from the bright side, I could have the photos below that I snapped along the way.