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TRAVEL > A visit to a hardcore destination in the east

Wilco Van Herpen

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Kars + Ani in wintertime x delicious food = a perfect travel plan.

Kars + Ani in wintertime x delicious food = a perfect travel plan.

2014 has newly started and everybody (might) still remember her/his best intentions for this year. (The best wishes for 2014 for everybody…) One of the intentions that might have a slight chance of failing is to travel more around in Turkey this year. During the coming weeks, I want to show you a couple of places that are off the beaten track, but very interesting to visit.

I want to start with a hardcore destination in Turkey; Kars during wintertime. Kars is a beautiful and nice place to visit, but most people prefer to visit Kars during spring. The reason? The weather is milder and if you want to combine Kars with paying a visit to Ani then you will find a place covered with green and flowers. This time of the year has another attraction; snow. Kars can be very cold in January and February (around minus 5 degrees Celsius during the day...) so I advise you to dress warmly. 

City of 2,000 years

Kars is one of the oldest places in Turkey that still carries its old original name. The city is around 2,000-years-old but, there is not much left of that very old history in the city center. Being a city that has been the entrance to the Anatolian part of what is nowadays Turkey, Kars was a place with a lot of ethnic diversity. What remains of this diversity are a couple of Armenian churches and Russian influenced houses. An interesting point is Dutch architects and craftsmen have planned and built the houses. Just walk around a little bit. In front of most of the restored houses, you can find signs that give some information about the history of that building. I personally liked the houses that are not (yet) restored. They are wonderful subjects for taking pictures. 

HDN

The old houses of Kars are famous for their beauty
and majesty. 

Old houses, honey shops


At a certain moment, an old man approached my cameraman Serdar and me. He asked us why we took pictures of those old, ugly, demolished houses. Serdar’s answer impressed me. “Looking at an old amca (uncle) or teyze (auntie), you can see life in their faces. Looking at them, I wonder about their life and want to hear their story. 

Looking at those old houses, you can see time has passed by. Who lived in these houses and what did they do? The house speaks to me and I want to pass this story to people who are watching our programs. That’s why those houses are important for me.” 

While enjoying the beauty of the old Russian houses, you can also visit some shops to see what cheese or honey you like. There are more than 60 cheese and honey shops in Kars, so doing a complete tour in the city might fill your stomach to such an extent that you do not have to bother about lunch. While slowly leaving the city center, you pass the old Armenian Church and a mosque. A little bit further away, on your left, there is a very old bridge. Built in 1579, it was rebuilt 2 centuries later. On the right and the left side of the bridge, you can see two old Hamams. 

HDN

Cheese and honey lovers, you may have found your
paradise...

It is possible to enter the bathhouse at your left; although it is in a terrible situation, it is beautiful to walk around in what once used to be a very popular hamam. From here, standing in the hamam, you have a beautiful view on the river, the bridge and the bathhouse on the other side. The inside of the hamam still has its original colors; beautiful green, yellow and red plastered walls together with bare bricks make walking around an exciting adventure. 

I left the hamam and started the climb upwards to the castle; walking up gives you the joy of slowly rising up above the city. The view becomes spectacular by the minute. Finally, you are there; the castle. There is a mosque, croplands and several buildings of which the purpose did not became clear to me. Because the army has used this castle for many years, the castle is still in reasonable condition.
In wintertime, I would recommend you to eat goose. It is the specialty of Kars. December, January and February are excellent for goose, after that, goose season is over and the goose will receive a heavy oily taste and smell. 

There are a number of small restaurants that make homemade food. Generally women run those places. One of those restaurants where I ate was Hanımeli. The owner, Dilek Adıgüzel is a friendly woman who likes a chat. She serves local Kars dishes and also has some interesting deserts. I would recommend you to try her erişte aşı, kaz, revan köfte, hangel or kete.

January/08/2014

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