November 5th: To leave Batumi, we used Taxify (like Uber) to get a ride to the Turkish border in Sarpi, a 20 minute drive away. We walked across the border and looked for a bus to Hopa, where the bus for Kars would leave from. We didn’t see a bus and hopped in a cab. The cab drove right past the bus we were looking for! Oops. The cab driver dropped us off at the bus station in Hopa and we waited for the one daily bus to Kars. We arrived in Kars before sundown and checked in to the Güngören Hotel. Long travel day…
November 6th: We arranged for a ride out to Ani with Celil, a tour guide recommended in Lonely Planet. He seemed to know everyone in town. When I emailed him from Batumi, he had asked where we were going to stay in Kars. I told him the Güngören Hotel. He responded with, “On which site did you make the reservation I am at the Güngören hotel they told me has not yet made a reservation request.” It’s a small place.
Anyways, back to our day…. Celil drove us out to Ani and waited while we walked around for almost three hours. Ani was the Armenian capital with a population of almost 100,000 people from the mid-10th century until the 13th century when the Mongols cleared it out and an earthquake severely damaged it.
November 7th: We walked around Kars and saw the Kars Castle, mosques, hamams, and a stone bridge from the 16th century.
We bumped into Celil outside our hotel and he recommended going to the new History of War Museum, so he drove us out there on his way home. It had very little english but it was still capable of conveying the impact of war on the area – mostly grief over loss of life but also a little pride in successes.
November 8th: We were up early to catch the 8am Doğu Express, the 24 hour train from Kars to Ankara.
We got a first class sleeping compartment that had a fridge, sink, table, and two beds. It worked out to $60 total!
November 9th: We were expecting to arrive in Ankara at 8:30am but it pulled into the station at noon, making it an almost 28 hour train ride. We were hungry and tired from eating junk food and not sleeping due to noisy neighbours. Luckily for us, Ankara was easy to navigate and we soon checked into Otel Mithat. It was directly across from a huge and beautiful mosque. We walked around to find food and to check out the citadel.
We ended the day with a desert that came highly recommended – künefe. It was DELICIOUS!! It’s a crunchy, cheese stuffed, syrup soaked pastry(ish) that is unlike any other dessert I’ve ever had.
November 10th: This was a day where a little research into Turkey beforehand would have been useful. We set off from our hotel at 9am to go check out more sights and walk the streets. At 9:05am there was a siren kind of sound and it seemed like all the traffic stopped. We looked around and most pedestrians had stopped too. We were confused. Maybe it was a parade? Or an important person driving through? We shrugged and kept going as traffic and normal city sounds resumed. We were heading to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum and museum for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the beloved “Father of Modern Turkey”. We were stopped by a blockade at the bottom of the hill, us and hundreds of other people. It occurred to us then to read about Atatürk.
We learned that this day, November 10th, 2018, was the 80th anniversary of Atatürk‘s death. We also learned that many Turks treat visiting the mausoleum as a pilgrimage of sorts and that his death is acknowledged every year at 9:05am. The road leading to the mausoleum was blocked as Turkish officials visited it for that special time. The road opened shortly after and we marched up the hill with thousands of people singing and chanting and waving flags. It was interesting how many young people were celebrating. Even though Atatürk has been dead for 80 years, he is still very much present.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in at a barber to get Les’s hair cut. Things were going along normally until right near the end. Without asking, the barber dunked a little stick thing into some honey-like fluid kept in what looked like a slow-cooker, and then stuffed it up Les’s nostril, and repeated for the other. I figured it out before Les and lost it laughing. The honey-like fluid was wax and Les was getting his nostrils waxed!
Well I laughed and laughed and laughed til I cried. But then the barber motioned for me to get in the chair. No thanks. But there was a lot of pressure from him and Les.
What a day.
November 11th: We woke up early and caught a bus from Ankara to Göreme. It took most of the day to get there and we arrived in the early evening.
November 12th: Göreme is in the Cappadocia region and is famous for its valleys full of hoodoos and for the sunrise hot-air balloon trips. Equally as popular as the hot-air balloon trips are viewing all of them take off before sunrise. We allowed ourselves to sleep in the first morning, not realising how particular hot-air balloons are about weather conditions. We saw a couple balloons on their way back down as we were getting up. We spent the day exploring Red Valley and Rose Valley. The area around Göreme was a refuge for Christians from the 4th to 11th centuries and is strewn with rock-cut homes and churches.
November 13th: We woke up early and hiked up to the viewpoint for 6:30am to see the hot-air balloons take off. Unfortunately, there were low-lying clouds and too much wind so it was called off for the day 😦 We walked up to the Göreme Open-Air Museum, intending to go in. Shocked by the hordes of people and the steep entrance fee of ₺45, we decided to explore the rock houses across the road. It was a great alternative!
November 14th: We again hiked up to the viewpoint for 6:30am and were again disappointed by cancelled balloons due to crummy weather. It was a grey and cold day so we opted to use this time to plan parts of our trip and drink tea. The sun came out in the afternoon and we went for a walk around the steep and windy cobblestone streets.
November 15th: We hiked up to the viewpoint for 6:30am for the third day in a row and were rewarded with balloons taking off. It was beautiful! I’ve never seen anything like it! The künefe of views if you will 🙂
And with that we hustled to the bus station to catch a bus to….Mersin? Kizkalesi? Taşucu? We weren’t sure how far we wanted to travel or how easy/difficult it would be. We’d figure it out as we went.