So, we traveled to eastern Turkey and didn’t tell our families.
We told them afterwards, of course. But we didn’t want them to worry while we were there. Van was on our friends’ bucket lists before they moved back to the States. We had a long weekend and decided it might be our only chance to visit. I knew it was “out east,” but didn’t realize how far until I looked it up on a map. It’s really close to the border of Iran!
Our group of seven left Ankara on Friday morning. The Van airport was very tiny with only one gate. While we stood by baggage claim, it was glaringly obvious to us and everyone around us that we were foreigners. With two blondes, a redhead, and an Asian, there was no possibility of trying to blend in.
We decided it would be best to rent a car considering how many of us there were and the places we wanted to see. One of our friends is taking language lessons and has amazed us with her Turkish. Between her and the guys, they bartered a great price.
We got a kick out of the road signs to Iran:
The city was unlike anything else we had seen in Turkey. Van had a massive earthquake in 2011, and the damage was still very evident. Many buildings had been rebuilt and restored, but there were even more that were still abandoned. We think it was because of the time of year, but the air smelled awful, perhaps from people burning coal and who knows what else to keep warm.
We stayed at Otel Side. We were surprised how nice the accommodations were in comparison to some of the buildings surrounding it. The hostel was very clean and included a free breakfast.
After a quick lunch at a kebap restaurant, we drove to the Van Castle. The fortress was conquered by Xerxes in the 5th century BC.
We were already over 5,300 feet above sea level and it was a steep walk up the path. At least that was my excuse for breathing so heavily.
The view at the top was worth the little hike. On one side, you could see the town and the mountains in the distance.
And on the other side was Lake Van. It’s the largest lake in Turkey and is 74 miles across at its widest point.
We ate dinner at Yakamoz Restaurant. The food in eastern Turkey is cheaper (and saltier!) than Ankara. Yakamoz included a free meze of salad, çiğ köfte, and salça. They also brought us free dessert!
Since we had a car and the time, we went down to the harbor. We didn’t stay very long because it was super cold.
Here’s the view of the fortress from the harbor:
We decided to turn in earlier that night because we had quite a bit of driving we wanted to do on Saturday. More on that soon!
I have to say, I probably wouldn’t recommend Van as a vacation spot. I’m so glad we went, but Van is not for everyone. It’s a good thing we rented the car, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen half as much as we did. Their public transportation did not look as easy as what we’ve seen in other cities. Also, knowing at least some Turkish is really important out East. We had to call and get translation help from our Turkish friends a couple of times.
» Read about day two in Doğubayazıt here.
» Read about our last day at Akdamar Island here.