Erzurum: Turkey’s freezer

Full set of photos from Trabzon to Erzurum and Erzurum itself.

We met Nuri on the corner of the main street in Erzurum near the old castle and the double broken minaret mosque. The latter are major landmarks in this, the coldest town in Turkey, which is surrounded by tall snow covered mountains. The Russians come here to ski and as a result, the shops are full of gaudy Eastern European style furnishings.  Nuri asked us where we were from and when we said Australia he mentioned a professor from Melbourne that he had shown around the many archaeological sites around town.  He proposed giving us a tour of the area and invited us back to his carpet shop for a glass of tea to discuss it in greater detail.  Normally we don’t accept invitations from strange men but Nuri’s grandfatherly manner put us at ease, we had some time to kill before dinner, and it was bitterly cold.  Nuri is in his sixties, slightly hunched and with a head that looks uncannily like the father from Six Feet Under from the top of the head to the eyes, and like Leo from The West Wing from the nose down.  He has dark lashes as though a light kohl had been applied and spoke decent English along with Turkish and his native Kurdish.  Once in the tea shop we explained that we don’t drink caffeine which, to a man drinking 30 cups a day, took a while to sink in.  We got orange tea instead, which is not as nice as it sounds, more like very hot, overly-sweet orange cordial.

Nuri showed us photos from previously happy tour customers and, after sleeping on it overnight, we decided to do a six day tour with him.  He got a good rate on the rental car and $50 more a day for his services.  He was to prove slightly annoying in many ways but as he repeatedly told us, “honestly, I am very honest”.  As with many of his statements this was a slight exaggeration (he said we were part of his family on the first morning) but he gave us a good tour in the end.

Erzurum is the largest town in this region of Eastern Turkey.  It has the feeling of a place used to enduring long and cold winters.  They really only get two warm months in the year.  During the height of winter it can reach -60 celcius.  We were there in early spring so it was only mildly freezing.  The wind blew in from the icy mountains and sent us scuttling through the streets to try and reach our destination faster. On that first night we went to the Erzurum Evleri restaurant, although it feels like partly an Ottoman museum as well.  They have taken five Ottoman houses, connected them together and decorated them with Ottoman-era bric-a-brac.  The result is a labyrinthine maze of rooms done up in different styles with cushions on the floor, raised rooms and little cul de sacs.  Walking through the place is an adventure in itself.  We eventually settled in an old fireplace near with a stove around the corner heating the place where we had yoghurt soup and kebabs with rice.

The next morning brought a bright and sunny day and we walked through town, past all the shops selling massive tea urns, and into the hills.  We took a shortcut through a field full of goats tended by an old man and walked up towards the old fort which overlooks town.  There was no-one else around other than a random guy who assured us with sign language that it was fine to walk up the road despite a threatening looking military sign posted next to the gate.  When we came back down he had locked the gate behind us so we had to gingerly climb over the barbed wire fence.  The view from the fort was fantastic and we were the only people up there.  Quite a modern structure, it was flat and built into the hill – but climbing on to the grass roof gave us a lungful of fresh snowy air and an amazing view of the surrounding mountains.

The trip south from Trabzon on the coast to here was similarly spectacular as we wound through wide mountain roads with our hearts in our mouth occasionally since the bus driver veered into the opposing lane to cut corners, a particularly Turkish driving habit.  We were held up at one point as bulldozers cleared the road of debris caused by the melting snow loosening the scree.  Eastern Turkey was shaping up as a journey off the typical tourist path in Turkey and the chilled early Spring air made a refreshing change from the humidity of Africa.

Full set of photos from Trabzon to Erzurum and Erzurum itself.

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