Kars was a kinky little surprise that we hadn’t been expecting.
We knew we were up for a gruelling, winding, 9 hour, two bus, trip into the mountains from Trabzon to see Ani, but we figured it was worth it – Correct! We also figured that the scenery on the way in, and later out, would be spectacular. Correct!
Little did we know though that our base town might just trump the lot!
A long trip made longer
We arrived at nightfall and decided to ask the bus company lady about the best way into Georgia for a few days’ time. Soon we were waiting for “someone who speaks English” to arrive. After a wait that felt like ages after 9 hours on the road, four people turned up all ready to sell us a grand tour around Georgia! Um, no, we won’t be doing that.
When you’re tired and grumpy, its easy to feel like someone is trying to take advantage of you rather than helping. Grrrrrrrrr.
We set off to our hotel, feeling the biting cold and altitude, and were greeted by an earnest fellow who was in charge in the boss’s absence. “No problem” he said, which turned out to be his only English.
“No problem!” he said as he refused to return our passports unless we paid in advance in full despite us not knowing how long we would stay.
“No problem!” he said as he bounced ahead of us up the steps to our fourth floor room and we hunched under our heavy packs.
It was “No problem” when the heating in the room didn’t work (it was coooold!), “no problem” when there was no bread at breakfast to have our yummy Kars honey and cheese on (Kars specialties), and “no problem” when he handed us the unwanted phone call from the uninvited English speaking guide who had found out about our arrival almost before we had.
“Yes, Proooblem!!” became our catch cry for our stay!
To No-problem’s credit, all non-problems were always duly fixed in their good time. And, we soon decided after some quick calculations to use the damn guide, who turned out to be great!
The best kebab ever
Coming back to Kars the next day after the high of our trip to Ani, we found the biggest cheapest juiciest kebab yet experienced and nothing but joy existed in that moment! We hoed in!
Our hotel breakfasts were moreish too with fresh Kars honey, cream, cheese and fresh warm bread.
Winter Paradise Surprise!
We had planned to skip country the next day but the bus didn’t leave until the morning after. Thank goodness! The extra day here was one of my favourites on our trip.
There is something about the cold and mountains that is in my blood. It reminds me of my hometown in New Zealand’s Central North Island. The day was freezing cold but sunny which I love.
A fortress on the hill provided the perfect lookout over the town which nestled on a plateau in a cradle of surrounding snowy mountains. A partly iced, and very photogenic river, weaved among old hammams (bath houses), churches since turned into mosques, and new mosques with minarets reaching for the sky like Mexican waves as far as the eye could see.
At the same time, the wide boulevards, Russian architecture and proud Soviet monuments reminded of that country’s time here.
People, Border Changes and an Awesome Video
The town is an incredible mix of cultures and history – Turkmen, Turkish, Azeris, Kurds and Russians, including many descendants of Caucasians (Dagestan and Chechnya, for example).
According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, Kars was once an Armenian capital (before Ani), and later held by the Russians and then the Turks.
Sunni and Shia Muslims live side by side here with each other, and the rest of the community. I felt a bit dumb and hoped not to cause offense asking our outgoing bus company who the not-unattractive man with the battle-ready look and dark far-away eyes in the picture on the wall was. We saw him often and would see him a lot more later in Iran. He was Martyred Shia Imam Ali. I had a lot to learn.
Overlanding is Awesome – and that video
One of many great things about overlanding is that you get to see the merging and changing landscapes and peoples and how they fit together. This creates one vast picture stretching (in this case) from Beijing to Europe and the Southern tips of Malaysia and the Arabian Peninsula to the Arctic. No seas here protecting one group from another and borders are man made lines which change with the tides of power and don’t live in people’s hearts or reality.
I loved this amazing video featured by the Huffington Post (here – which I’ve tweeted before) showing years of European border changes set to music. A must see! Watch this area in particular, on the far right, you might be tested in later blogs!
As noted in their article, this also puts new context on the current issues in the Crimea!
A Cup of Tea on a Hilltop
We finished on the terrace of the fortress having a delicious Turkish tea among the icicles and marveling at the incredible view and the incredible world we live in. Extra photo album here again.
What do you think? Don’t we live in a complex but amazing world!