Van Again

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Van Province,
Sunday, July 5, 2009

My first day on my second visit to Van was pretty much a wasted day.

I got in around noon, concluded it was too late to try and backtrack the few miles for a visit to the island of Akdamar after checking in to a hotel. So I first went to the Archaeology Museum, which had been closed on my last, brief visit to Van. It was small, and most of the exhibits are devoted to the local Urartan civilization that inhabited the area in 9th to 6th century B.C.

Upon walking out I paused at the gate to put on my sunglasses, and was engaged in conversation in English by a carpet dealer from across the street. Not directly about carpets, of course, but in the general way of all new meetings.

Spying across the way a nice looking one (to my taste, at least) I went with him to his shop to see what else was there. I remember visiting a shop in Erzurum three years ago. And if I can generalize from these two visits--and really knowing nothing at all about carpets--I'd say the carpets and kilims I have seen here in the east are more interesting. That's the only word I can think of right now. They are perhaps cheaper, too. I don't know, because I don't price them, always telling these fellows I have no intention to buy anything. In fact I'm now joking to them that I've seen so  many carpets in Turkey that they  ought to be giving them away as souvenirs to tourists.

After some more chat over tea I said I'd be on my way. I left with two or three repeated invitations to return in the evening for a beer.

My next objective was to see a Van cat. Van cats are a unique breed in the world. So that was the reason for me to seek a cat, which I normally  would never do. But the Van cats are white, and have one eye which is blue and one eye which is green. I saw one last May in my quick first visit to Van. It just wasn't the postcard picture perfect one seen all around. This one was a scruffy, dingy alley cat, which I got to face my camera by goading it into clawing my hand and biting my knuckles.

The carpet seller guy had suggested I go to the Kampus of the local university. I don't know  why there, but, ok, it  was the only  clue I had. So I got a mini-bus and headed went out to the far-out-of-town campus.

I forget the name of  the  university. But the campus seemed a lot like other university campuses I have seen in Turkey. A vast space punctuated by randomly placed buildings of no particular,  distinguishing, unifying style, the large intervening spaces being either a sort of weed infested wasteland, or a once haphazardly developed landscape now left largely unmaintained. I walked around that landscape for perhaps an hour and a half.

And, no Van cats to be seen.

Back in the city I went to where I had seen the cat previously, in a  tea garden at the base of the Van Castle. No luck there  either.

The objective of the following morning was to visit the Akdamar Island with another of the iconic sights of Turkey, the 10th century Akdamar Kilisesi (Church of the Holy Cross). I  first wasted some time looking for a mini-bus stand at which the LP book indicated transportation could be found. But I couldn't find it. And no one I questioned seemed to have any firm knowledge either. So I did what I should have done in the first place, just go to the otogar and take a major line headed in that direction and get off at the boat landing. Which I did. (Furthermore, knowing now what I know, I should have done just that on the bus trip up from Tatvan, then after the island visit, caught another major bus on into Van).

On the boat over I struck up a conversation with a young Aussie traveler from Canberra. A nice chap, an international law student. But once on the island we went about the place at our own pace. Forgetting to ask at the boat how much time we had on the island, I later tried to ask some young Turkish fellows, but couldn't get my question across, nor understand their response. So I just went off, keeping my eye open for any movement to the quay.

But I finished my rounds before any apparent urgency for departure. So I went to the boat to wait the return trip. I lightly napped until the engine was fired up for the trip back to the mainland. When we got back I was surprised that the Aussie was not on board, nor was the group of Turkish picnicers who had gone over. Only the three fellows I had sought to question were on the return. I don't know where everybody else had gone, including the Aussie. The site was just not that large or involved.

In any case, once back across the highway I was just standing by the roadside to wait for a bus to appear, when one of the three Turkish fellows approached me and offered a ride back to Van.

On the way back we stopped for tea. The two older fellows were elementary school teachers of Turkish language. The young fellow was the brother of one of the two. The teachers had been classmates at the university campus I had visited in Malatya, Fırat Universitesi. An invitation was extended to continue on with them and overnight a the apartment of one in the town of his teaching post, ÷zalp, east of Van, almost to the border with Iran. The plan was then in the morning to return to Van and drive north to Erciş to visit the family of the same fellow. This seemed a unique opportunity, and I accepted.

Back in Van we first went to my hotel to get my gear and for me to check out. I figured I'd have to sacrifice the second night's room charge since I was checking out in the middle of the afternoon. But when I handed the desk clerk a 100TL note he returned 60TL, about which I wasn't to complain.

The next task was to visit a men's clothing store. The ÷zalp teacher was apparently going to return home the next day and impress the home folks with his new suit.

There needed to be the usual alterations, so it was decided to see a movie down the street while the alterations were being done.

The chosen movie was "Buz Divri 3" (I believe "Ice Age 3). But we had an hour to kill before the next showing. So how do you kill an hour in Van? Go bowling, of course.

Caglar had  never bowled before.  Jakup had  done so twice, I believe. They hoped I would teach them more about it. Ha! They both skunked Jim, the old jock. I couldn't do anything right. Too cerebral, I concluded. They just threw the ball.

After the movie we headed east out of Van for ÷zalp. The teacher's apartment reminded  me of a Peace Corps volunteer post in South America. Pretty dingy digs. There wasn't much to the experience, except for seeing some new scenery in the morning on the return to Van. I might as well have stayed in the hotel.

Nevertheless, the three of them were next to go from Van north to Ercis, where  the family of the ÷zalp teacher lived. I guess  the new suit was to impress  the folks. They were expecting  me to go there and stay that second night with them, too. But my time in Turkey is running out and  I didn't want to try and squeeze that in. So I asked to be left out at the highway junction north to Doğubayazıt, my next objective.

Even though I had been saying so in advance, they seemed taken aback when, as we passed the turn-off I spoke up to make my point.

Well, they pulled over; then decided to  drive me up the way to the town of Muradiye where I could catch a mini-bus onward. I wanted to wait at the junction for a large bus, but didn't insist on that. It gave them an opportunity to see the falls at Muradiye (a big deal around here, I guess), and take their posing pictures before them, then take me to town.

They found the mini-bus stand with the appropriate mini-bus. But it was only going as far as «aldıran, the next major town, and from which I would have to transfer to another mini-bus going on all the way to Doğubayazıt. I had about an  hour to wait for the mini-bus to fill with customers; or for customers to come before the departure time. I don't know which.

Once in «andıran, when I got out I was hit upon by taxi touts. And I could not make out any definable mini-bus station. So I just made a quick decision to start walking out of town and get clear of those guys. Any passing bus would stop, I figured. Basically I was eventually standing just outside of town hitchhiking; your "sounds like you're having a great time" old guy standing by the roadside sucking diesel fumes and dust, hoping something might happen. Like a bus coming by.

But, for an hour it seemed only local traffic was passing. I was having my doubts. But finally--as I  say, after about an hour--a mini came by and stopped. Oh, did I not mention that in the meantime an even more grizzled old guy, missing the lower part of one leg, had come to  stand beside me? The mini took us both. I got a seat in the front of the passenger compartment, next to a young nordic-looking guy who didn't seem interested in communicating. So I let it be.

And on we went to Doğubayazıt.

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john on

this is one of the oldest churches in the world...islands original name is ahtamar.this church is rebuild by unesco heritage funds...unfortunetly turke y isdenaying the armenian genocide and the historical is very strange that you are not mentioning this facts in your article...hmmm

Oldrover, author of this blog on

Some cranks use every opportunity to push their agendas. I say to them, get over it. Move on. Be a peace-maker rather than a pot-stirer

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