Monday, 21 November 2011

Erzurum Doings

Everyone I spoke to in Turkey told me not to come to Erzurum. They said it was too high and too cold. Eddie in Ankara said that in winter the snow is higher than the street, two guys who'd grown up there said they'd left cos it was shite, and whenever I told a Turkish person my destination, they shivered to warn me how cold it would be. Mr Turhan, the Honorary German Consulate in Sivas, very subtly and gently tried to dissuade me from going.

I had little choice about going to Erzurum, as I'd arranged to collect my Iranian visa there, but the uniformly negative reaction made me more determined to go and see if it was true.

There's no denying it was cold: from Erzincan where I camped in relatively balmy conditions there was a gradual height gain, and the water was freezing in my bottles as I rode into Erzurum. But what a ride! I was lucky enough to have good weather on the passes (and there are lots of mountain passes) and the views were awesome. The clouds had vanished, so it was all blue skies, pure white snow and crisp air. It was painfully bright.

Sakaltukan Pass, Eastern Turkey

Erzurum itself is quite a pleasant little city: small enough to be big enough. It's compact and easy to walk around, but the facilities are good so I stocked up on food and supplies and talked myself out of getting more camping equipment at the outdoor shop. I checked into a fleabag hotel which was cheap and central and where they weren't bothered about me cooking in my room.

Cobandede Bridge, Eastern Turkey

There's not a great deal for tourists. I did see the sight, the famous citadel which is the symbol of the city, but it was closed for renovation and covered in scaffolding. I was surprised at how small it was. It was far less impressive than Hasankale Castle in nearby Pasinler, a crag-top edifice which I passed under when I left Erzurum.

It had a relaxed atmosphere, and I imagine it would be a great place to come during the summer to escape the heat at lower altitudes and explore the surrounding area. I was going to visit Tortum waterfall at the north of the city, but it was difficult to get to and one of the locals told me that it was not very impressive at this time of year. He was the only person I met who spoke much English and most people spoke none, except maybe a phrase or two.

I suppose it's a difference in perspective. I saw Erzurum as a pause on my route and not the ultimate destination. As a destination there are better places, but as a calling-point on a journey, and somewhere to take stock on that journey, and for the quite special mountain roads which surround it, Erzurum is in the right place.

I left Erzurum the day after I'd arranged my visa, and when I was leaving, a guy in a shop asked me where I was going next. To save a long explanation I simply named the next town, Agri. His face dropped and he shivered to warn me how cold it would be. Plus ça change.

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