Talking to English Teachers who are Turkish:
Turk: “What are your plans for today?”
American: “We’re going to the bus station.”
Turk: “You can take buses from campus. You do not need to go the bus station.”
American: “But we want to go to Kars this weekend.”
Turk: “You don’t need a car, there are buses that go everywhere!”
American: “Yes, we want to take a bus…to Kars.”
Turk: “You do not need to take a bus to rent a car!!”
American: “Yes, but we want to go to Kars.”
American: “The city in north-eastern Turkey.”
American: “North and west of here. In Turkey. Kars.”
Turks: “Ohhhh, Karss!” (pronounced to rhyme with farce)
Americans: “Yes!! Karsss!”
Turk: “Why would you want to go there?” (nearly as confused as before)
Yes, that’s a good question to start off with. Why would I want to go to Kars? 1. The book “Snow”. 2. Ani: ghost capital from the 10th century.
Some of you may have heard of Orhan Pamuk’s book “Snow“, it won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. As a result of taking International Extemp in Lakewood Debate excessively serious, I read an article about this in high school, and that Turkey had won a Nobel Prize seemed intriguing. I read it soon after. It’s about a rather depressing man named Ka and his experience with Islamic radicals, a blizzard, a love story, Kurdish tensions, and a coup with magical realism undertones.
“Snow” (“Kar” in Turkish) takes place in Kars, Turkey. It was my first exposure to Turkey. And I loved it! As a teenager, Turkey was a far away place I hoped to visit one day — Kars a small city far from the beaten path. However, Kars is only a couple hours (and about $10) away from where I now live. It made sense to me to visit.
Kars is a city of 70,000 located within 100km of the tense border with Armenia. It is the one city in Turkey that actually has blocks, because it was rebuilt by the Russians who controlled it between 1877-1920 (shout out to Mr. Mehlbach – Russo-Turkish War of 1877. I also learned recently that Mehlbach was a Fulbrighter). Kars, the city still has a 19th century Russian setting and a great deal more alcohol than Erzurum. Main site on the “Snow” Tour was the Snow Palace Hotel, where Ka and Ipek stayed.
Other sites in Kars include the Kars Castle, built in the 12th century by Armenians and rebuilt in the 15th by Ottomans. On my way there, took a wrong turn into a school yard amongst kids playing dodgeball. They were overjoyed to get to speak the English they’d learned in school and 10 or 15 of them quickly swarmed to ask questions in Turkish and English. They got the principal/teacher to unlock a gate of the schoolyard that led to the road to the castle. While on top of the castle, a group of Armenians were filming something. They were very excited that foreigners were there to see this Armenian city and everyone wanted pictures with us. So I took a picture of Korey with one of them. One of the Armenians informed me that the black church below was built in the 900’s as an Armenian Church, then turned into a mosque with the take over of the Ottomans. Then for 40 years 1882-1920 it was a Russian Orthodox Church. After the creation of the Republic it became a storage space and just in the last 20 years was reconsecrated as a mosque.
On the way from Erzurum to Kars, I started talking to a woman named Zeynep who was moving to Kars to be close to her boyfriend and teach elementary school English. As soon as she found out we were going to Ani she started calling people, telling us there was no public transportation and trying to find us a good deal on a taxi. She gave me her phone number and texted me everyday we were in Kars, to ask how things were.
We checked Lonely Planet and they agreed there was no public transport. If you wanted to go, they gave the name of a guy and his phone number. We got off the bus, and a guy says in English, “Hi, do you want to go to Ani? I am in your travel book.” I’m talking to Zeynep while others are talking to Lonely Planet dude. Him, “Very special price only 50TL a person.” Zeynep finds us a taxi for 30TL and that changes Lonely Planet guys story, “Very special price, just for you, 30TL, do not tell anyone.” He speaks good English (though isn’t the one to actually drive the bus), and he’s in Lonely Planet.
So Ani. It’s an Armenian ghost capital, once called the city of a thousand and one churches. Once over 100,000 people lived there. It was at it’s height in from 961-1064. It’s past a bunch of houses that look ancient, where people still have grass roofs (though also satellite dishes) and within site of the Armenian border. Pictures say more than I can. I love running around and climbing on ancient ruins. Makes my travels.
I did take pictures for an Armenian tour group, and I counted off in my badly accented Turkish…because I didn’t know where they were from. They thanked me in French. I don’t think they knew quite what to make of me.
Also met an Italian couple in their 60’s who’d had free tickets to Antalya (decent-sized/modern city on the coast of Turkey). They said they had enough Mediterranean and decided to come to Kars and Ani instead. I like them, they’re awesome. I hope I’m like that in 40 years.
Also met a German guy (we called him Hans) who just got his PhD in biochemistry(?) and was traveling toward India. Hans had been waiting in Erzurum for an Iranian visa and letter of invitation. He wanted to spend awhile in Iran and Pakistan. Han’s eyes got big when he learned I was spending a year in Erzurum. I felt hardcore.
Honey, cheese and butter are the specialties of Kars. The honey and cheese, highly delicious. Found a Fulbright from 2008 that lives in Kars and does honey tasting tours etc. Contacted her and she was in Azerbaijan at the time, but excited that there’s new Fulbrighters nearby, hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back and meet up.