Kars and Ani

Full set of photos for Kars, Ani and Igdir

Kars, the biggest city we had been in since Erzurum, is the setting for Orhan Pamuk’s novel titled Snow.  Kar means snow in Turkish, which might just be the author’s play on words.  The Turks don’t seem to think of Kars as being called Snow City or anything like that.  After another excellent breakfast in the brand new hotel, so new that they were still trying to impress people, we headed off to walk around the conveniently clustered sights of Kars.  Yes, another castle, but this one on a more grand scale and one that we could get inside and wander around.  There were a couple of local high school boys who called out ‘hello’ and seemed struck with mute awe when we replied ‘hi’. We could understand – thinking back to language classes at school, it did always seem like an abstract art to learn foreign words – not something that you might actually communicate with. Sarah invited one of them to have a photo with us, while the other ran away in fright.

There was a tea seller in the castle (of course) selling samovar tea and for once I got a glass, pretty sure that my travel fatigue would counteract the minuscule traces of caffeine by bedtime.  It was tasty black tea and I drank it with sugar in the Turkish style, sugar cube held in my mouth while I sipped the hot tea through it.  The other sights, a mosque, hammam and old bridge could be taken in from the sunny ramparts while we drank the tea so it didn’t take long to head off for the real reason for being in the area, the Ani ruins.

This is yet another place we had no idea existed before doing research for this trip but the photos immediately captured our attention and we earmarked it as a ‘must-see’.  But before we got there Nuri had a detour for us to see an “ah-maizy” red church.  It wasn’t looking so good when an hour later we were still trying to find it after driving through three identical looking villages, getting directions by following a tractor, and harassing a gang of Turkish turkeys.

We eventually stumbled across the right farm which has a one thousand year old church made from red stone just sitting in their backyard.  They use it as a storage shed for farm equipment and sacks of grain.  It sure beats corrugated iron as a talking point but the unique setting was really the main point of interest – that and avoiding the snarly farm dogs.

So on we went to Ani which has a special aura about it.  This abandoned city was the capital of the Armenian kingdom and dates from the 9th century.  It is literally a stone’s throw from the modern day Armenian-Turkish border.  Guard posts are framed against the sky on the surrounding small grassy hills.  The old city itself is amazing.  You enter through the still impressive stone gates and have a smorgasbord of gothic churches and mosques to wander amongst, through the grass and crumbling rubble.  It’s so quiet that we only saw one other couple and the overcast sky was just the right mood for this abandoned capital.

We stopped for the night in the town of Igdir.  Its only redeeming feature was the breakfast which, for once, lived up to Nuri’s hype.  There were three types of cheese, one of which is a speciality containing mountain grass, beautiful jams, halva, fresh bread, olives, honey with halva melted into it, honey with labneh mixed in, sour cherry juice and sweet black tea.  It was tops.  Rolling past on the street were open-air trucks filled with household items, goats and donkeys, often with Grandpa balancing precariously on top as though auditioning for the Turkish version of The Beverly Hillbillies.  These were families heading off for their summer house in the mountains to graze stock and take advantage of the cool weather and peace up there.

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