Hi everyone! How are you? I am still traveling in Kyrgyzstan. During the past 2 weeks I traveled in the country side climbing many mountains and visiting beautiful lakes. I have met really really nice travelers from Latvia and Czech while trekking in a 3800m mountain. I traveled together with them even after the mountains. Now I feel very sad and lonely that everyone left to their homes in the past few days. I thought I got used to saying goodbye but I guess not.
I am currently staying in the home of my couchsurfing host Jahangir’s flat in Bishkek again. It feels quite lonely since all of the familiar faces are gone. Actually even Jahangir himself left to another city for business so I am all alone in the flat. Now I am trying to catch up with my blog about Turkey.
The train rolled into Kayseri station after 1am. The first few cars were sleeping cars but ours wasn’t. I guess I was stupid to expect a bed for a 13 hr train ride which we only paid 9 USD for. I had once taken a local train from Izmir to Selcuk when I traveled to Turkey 2 years ago. I remember the very old interior on that train but this one was brand new. We were impressed with the comfy seats and automatic doors. Alyona and I sat across from each other. I put my feet on the side of hers and suggested her to do the same but she politely declined my offer.
Despite the fact that it was far past midnight, the whole train was active and loud. From across the aisle from our side, there was a Turkish family who laid their sleeping baby on a towel on the floor. We tried to sleep but because our seats were right next to the automatic doors that separated the cars, there was a lot of traffic and I had a hard time sleeping. Many people talked in loud voices and made lots of noise while going up and down the aisle; they didn’t care that it was sleeping time for some others. We suddenly heard someone shouting from the next car and 3 guys came running in full speed chased by a train officer. They must’ve been fare cheaters. I wore my eye-mask and my ear phones and went to sleep after 3am.
Next morning, I woke up around 9am. Despite of the noisy surroundings I slept quite well. Alyona was still up already working on her laptop. She spent a lot of time with her computer either with her translation job or writing a travel diary. She always worked really hard to fund her travel and studies. The train was running through rocky mountains and deserted valleys near Sivas. I loved the scenery from the window.
While Alyona worked and worked on her laptop, I basically did nothing but looking outside and listening to some music. I always think that smart people are the people who make the most out of these transportation times. Me not. My favorite time during traveling was looking through the windows while long busses and train rides so I didn’t take out my PC even though there were piles of things to do.
The train kept running for a really long time. Sometimes I checked my GPS, but it seemed that we were running late. Alyona bought some bread and fruits for breakfast which she shared but there was nothing for lunch. Gradually the landscape was changing from mountains to vast fields. The sky was grey and cloudy. The big apartments disappeared and small huts appeared. From the tin roofs and concrete block walls, it was obvious that these regions were the poorest parts of Turkey. How different it was from the big luxurious houses I saw in Bodrum and Kas. It looked like another country; in fact it was. This was Kurdistan.
Kurdistan is an eastern part of Turkey where many Kurdish people lived and wanted to build an independent country. Kurdish people are the biggest group of people in the world who doesn’t have their own country. They were originally nomadic people but many of them settled down to live in the cities in the modern times. I was very interested to see their country.
Our train finally arrived to Erzurum station with a 2 hr delay at 4pm. The first thing we wanted was food, so we walked to the main street with a lot of passion. However we found none. Something that looked like a restaurant was closed. “I guess people in this area are so conservative that they usually eat at home” I said. Then we walked into side streets for our food quest. After walking for 5 mins we realized that it was because of Ramadan.
We asked some guy for a restaurant and he pointed very very far away. We followed his direction and walked for 15 mins. We couldn’t believe that Ramadan was such a big thing here. Nobody was practicing that in western Turkey and even in Cappadocia where people did practice, restaurants were still open. We entered a restaurant but the owner said it only opened in the evening. Fortunately there was one open next to it so we entered. Nobody was eating inside and even the lights were turned off. We ate an overpriced bean soup and bread. I expected that prices were much cheaper in east Turkey so I was disappointed to see the price almost 3 times more expensive than Istanbul. I could eat a main dish, soup and some rice in Istanbul for less than $4USD, but that never happened in any other city.
After lunch we decided to eat an ice cream. It was my first time to see the ice box locked with a padlock. While walking on the street with an ice cream in our hands, we attracted the attention of the whole city. Some people gave us cold looks, some whispered to their friends and some laughed. We realized that eating in public during Ramadan wasn’t a smart idea.
Our couchsurfing host in Erzurum was working at a veterinary control so we went there. On the way we found a large square packed with plastic tables and chairs. It was a free eating place during Ramadan. I learned from an Egyptian friend before that rich people donated money to feed the poor people during these holidays. It was the second to last day of Ramadan so I wondered if we can also eat here tonight.
At the institute, our host Omer welcomed us. He was a 29 yr old guy originally from Izmir, a large modern city on the Aegean coast. He was doing his PhD at a university in Erzurum. Izmir is said to be the most international and open minded city in Turkey, so we asked him if he finds any difficulties living in Erzurum. “Of course I do. This is the most conservative city in Turkey. There is hardly any nightlife and I can’t even walk with a girl. I’m trapped here for my studies. That’s why I like couchsurfing. It lets my mind escape Erzurum while hanging out with all the foreigners. ” On the way home we mentioned about our ice cream incident which he gave us a terrifying reply. “In this city, people are crazy. I have seen a guy getting beat up on the street for eating something in public during Ramadan. ”
In his flat, Omer had 1 bird and 8 hamsters. He loved these fluffy little creatures and was breeding them to sell to a pet shop. He was also very interested in North Korea and put up a photograph of Kim Jong-un in his bed room.
I suggested Omer to eat dinner at the Ramadan square, but he said no. “I don’t like Ramadan. The whole purpose of it is to understand the situation of poor people by fasting, but every night people make a huge feast and eat like crazy. They’re missing the point, you know. Also the free dinner is aimed for poor families. Many people go there to eat free food but I never do, because I don’t deserve it.” I understood his point very well and thought that Omer is a very smart person. I felt ashamed of myself wanting to eat free food and experiencing the last nights of Ramadan with thousands of local people. I am such a shallow tourist.
We went to a big super market to buy groceries. I accidentally carried my Swiss knife with me so I got caught at the main entrance and had a hard time getting my knife back. Omer generously paid for our groceries and wine. He was such a nice person. He looks pretty tough with his skin head, worked out body and a huge Biohazard tattoo on his leg but had a very good sense of humor and loved cute things like hamsters.
For dinner Alyona made some Russian style fried potatoes. I remembered that I had some pork sausages that I bought from Kasterollizo Island in Greece so I grilled them in a pan. Alyona and Omer strongly suggested me to throw it away because it had been out of the fridge for over 2 weeks. They both majored in science so they said I will get sick and even die from bacteria. I only trust my nose when it comes to dated food. If it doesn’t smell bad it’s ok. Despite of their strong opposition, I ate everything and nothing happened to me the next day. I think too much knowledge could be poison. Human instinct is strong and there are many things science can’t prove so I only take science as one source of information.
Next day Omer gave us a tour of Erzurum. Erzurum was an important city during the Seljuq Empire (1037-1194) so there are many buildings from this time. The architecture style is very different from the rest of Turkey. They use a lot of dark colored bricks and the building is very big and dark that it reminds one of Soviet architecture. I imagine that the region’s weather has some influence on it. This region is always dark and gloomy with lots of clouds and rain. We saw old Muslim schools, mosques and fortresses. At the fortress we were hit by a thunderstorm so we hid under the brick gate for a long time. The pointy roof reminded me of old Armenian churches. This place belonged to Armenia a long time ago. I thought about the many soldiers and sultans who went through this same gate hundreds of years ago.
We went back to the flat to make lunch and then departed again to go see a big fortress on a hill. On the way we walked through a slum area. Wall bricks were falling apart, showing the shabby houses that barely stood inside. Children wore rags and laundry fluttered in the air. The hill of the fortress was mostly occupied with a military base so we had to make a big detour to reach the entrance. It was quite late when we heard from a local that we needed to walk 3 hrs to get to the top, so we decided to go back to the city.
While walking in Erzurum, I noticed that I was attracting many people’s attention. More than 5 times I clearly heard people saying “China” at me. Some laughed and some gossiped to each other. I could never get used to this.
We wanted to go to a café to have some nice tea, but it was impossible due to Ramadan. “There is just one place where it’s possible” Omer said, and took us to the top floor of a shopping centre. There was a food court where some families ate their Domino Pizza lunches and whoppers from Burger King. It was a secret haven for all the people who wanted to escape Ramadan. I was somewhat relieved to see them. Omer took us to a fancy café where the menus came in digital tablets. We were surprised by the gap between this fancy café and the slum that we saw just now.
We walked home passing through the Ramadan square. It was the last day of Ramadan and the sun has set already, so hundreds of people were eating their free dinner. A guy came up to us and invited us to join but we declined. I was still so curious about what they were eating, but I remembered Omer’s words and told myself that I wasn’t qualified for this meal. I wasn’t even Muslim. The streets were completely empty. Omer said everyone went back home to eat. The silent city reminded me of New Years day in Japan. It was the new beginning. Everything was crisp and clear.
After dinner, Omer took us back to the city. The city was alive than ever. People came back from their homes to celebrate the Ramadan holidays. Food was everywhere again. Omer took us to a traditional tea house where they combined more than 6 old wooden houses into a cozy café. I loved the interior of the place. It thought me more about this region’s traditional life style than the cultural museum we visited the day before.
Alyona and I decided to visit Mt. Ararat, the highest mountain in Turkey the next day and went to sleep.
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