Kars for Ani

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

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Flag of Turkey  , Kars,
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Following the inspection of the Ishak Pasha Palace in Doğubayazıt, and the hike into the hills above, the next goal in my close-out of iconic Turkish sites was the ancient Armenian capitol city of Ani, about 25 miles to the east of the northeastern Turkish city of Kars. I had been to Kars once before--in 2002--and for some reason failed to make the trip out to Ani. Too cheap, I suppose.

I have to admit of these latter locations that I am adding to my list of Turkish touristic objectives they are primarily just that, touristic objectives. Locations in the west of Turkey that I have visited usually had an association with some history that I have been interested in. But the sites in the east are, once again, iconic images of Turkey (like for the U.S. the Washington, D.C. monuments, the Golden Gate Bridge, and so on). The places in the far east of Turkey, if they are historically significant--and Ani is surely such a place--are of a history that I haven't spent really any time in reading up on. However, there is this in common, if I ever should read of their histories, I will now have experiences, mental images and my own pictures to call upon to contextualize the histories.

I still faced the problem of how to get to Ani without suffering the expense of a taxi trip, or even a commercial tour for that matter. Ani is just beyond a "dead end" village, and crowded against a river gorge that forms the closed border between Turkey and Armenia. There are no mini-buses to that village.

I arrived in Kars by bus from Doğubayazıt in good time and easily walked to a hotel listed in the LP guide. It was a different hotel than I had stayed in in 2002, which was memorable. Late in the evening of that night in 2002, in that hotel, I had been watching some satellite television of the French Open tennis tournament. After the match I was brushing my teeth and flipping channels. To my utter surprise I came across two channels of pornography, one hard core and one soft. I was pretty confounded as I thought that region of Turkey would be very "conservative." But, maybe that was the reason.

That hotel was seven years later a three-star hotel, and at least the front looked a lot different. And, so, for that matter, did Kars. I had last been there in. . . . it must have been May. But this time, July, it seemed a much more lively and colorful town. Not identifiable was the dingy internet cafe with the grungy keyboards. One whole street I couldn't identify. Well, I think I did. But it had completely changed. Too much to explain. A bank, where in 2002 apparently there was the only ATM in town, and the line to it which I had to somewhat in a panic crowd my way into my place, it was now a vacant building. With no sign that it was ever a bank nor had an ATM, of which there are now plenty scattered around town. And clean internet cafes, too.

Now, immediately as I was checking in to this hotel of 2009 the desk clerk was trying to get me to commit to a tour to Ani. But I put him off for the present, as I had a couple of other ideas to check out first. I thought I'd at least take one day to search alternatives.

I got on the internet and found there to be in Kars three members of the social network for travelers that I have frequently mentioned before. To the most promising I sent a request for lodging. I reasoned that if I could contact a local without commercial interests I could get a true story of my options for visiting Ani.

Fortunately, this first query produced a quick and positive response, and I made plans to meet Índer the next day and transfer from the hotel to his lodging offering.

Índer is quite the guy. He is the Projects Coordinator for KuzeyDoğa Derneğı, an environmental NGO the society
has been monitoring and ringing birds at Aras and Kuyucuk Bird Ringing
(Banding) stations in northeastern Turkey's Kars and Igdir provinces. Better explained on its web site (in English):


Índer's  living quarters is really a sort of community center. He slept in the bunk bed across from me.

Índer is also a member of a second travelers' accommodation hosting scheme. And in that role early the next morning was to also to host for a night four young history students from Moscow University. There then being five of us Índer felt was reason enough for a trip to Ani.

Of course this all worked out wonderfully for me. The four Russian students were a wonderful companion set. All four spoke English, and most quite well. Índer's English is very good, and thus it was the common language. Also, Índer is a very knowledgeable guide; knowledgeable about everything. Really a neat guy.

So we had a wonderful excursion to Ani on a very fine day. It was cut a little short (we had to bypass the far extremity of huge Ani, once a city of an estimated 100,000)by having to return the vehicle with some daylight left for another unrelated excursion purpose.

Well, I went on that excursion, too. A few days after my limited visit there was to be some days of classes in botanical illustration in watercolor medium, something even at home I have considered from time to time. The instructor was there in advance, and I saw her portfolio and that of one of her returning students. Both their pictures simply blew my mind. They were beautiful. The images were exquisite, as was the most intricate detailing as well as the most subtle blending of colors. The one thing I didn't understand was that after so much concentrated, exquisite attention to detail, neither of them seemed to know how to finish off the piece with a decent title and signature!

I was really pained that finally my free-ranging of Turkey had reached its limit, and I could not now stay around to attend the classes. Nor was I able to coax the instructor for just the shortest demonstration of her painting technique. Maybe she just didn't understand what I was getting at. The above mentioned excursion was to collect a botanical sample for the class.

On the third day I took a bus to Erzurum. That provided a minor travel tale.

Índer had meanwhile left on a plane to Istanbul. I walked down to the bus company office that he had indicated, and bought a ticket to Erzurum. I then had an hour to have a breakfast while waiting for the "service," the transportation that takes one from the city to the outlaying inter-city bus terminal.

Unrecognized by me was the fact that the fellow in the office sold me a ticket on a bus company other than that of the company whose office I walked into. I don't know why. And I didn't notice. As a consequence at the terminal I got on the wrong bus. I got on the bus with the same name as on the ticket office. No one noticed. The bus wasn't full and I didn't have to sit in the assigned seat. I could sit at a window seat--my preference--and enjoy the wonderful northeastern Turkish scenery.

Well, no one noticed my errant ticket until we were well underway. A fellow checking the passenger manifest took my ticket and without a word went off to the front of the bus. I didn't give it much thought.

As we were some way out of Erzurum the bus pulled off to the side of the road and a family was ushered off the bus and onto another bus that had also stopped beside the road. This is not usual, but not uncommon either, as they, perhaps, were going to a trunk destination not visited by the present bus. Who knows?

But, a short time later the same scenario took place. Only this time I was bidden to dismount the bus and get on another one.

Shortly the bus boy came to converse with me. He spoke English. Not as well as he thought, though, when in a pique at my failure to initially understand him he haughtily informed me he had lived in England.

Well, it eventually soaked into my consciousness what the story was. And, he informed me, this bus had waited a half an hour for my appearance in Kars, so they were behind schedule.

As a result, the bus arrived in Kars about a half hour behind schedule. The service to the city was long gone. And, no one seemed interested in giving me any helpful information on getting to the heart of the city. I, however, was at my fourth time in Erzurum, knew the layout of the place, and had a map. So it was about a mile and a half walk with my gear to the hotel.

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