Day 12: Kars
Continue reading: →Day 13: Kars → Istanbul
|Modern transportation at the Georgian-Turkish border|
As we've already expected, the road becomes more and more terrible the closer we get to the border. Halfway, we pass the big village Vale. Here we finally notice, that we would have never found the border by ourself. No signposts, no proper street, many crossroads... but not the slightest clue of where the border might be. Not to mention the border crossing. Suddenly the land opens to the south, where we have an excellent vista. How big the sky can be! The border crossing itself is nestled in a valley. Due to the road condition, we almost needed a full hour for the 20 km from Akhaltsikhe. I want to pay the 15 Lari to the driver, but all I have is a 50-Lari bill. The driver hasn't got change, and so I hand over 8 US dollar. Now he's really happy.
It's almost 10 o'clock now - in Georgia. In Turkey, it's 8 o'clock in the morning. We walk to the first small building at the border, where officials tell us, that the border opens only after around one and a half hour. That's what I call bad luck. We walk back a few hundred metres to a petrol station on the top of a small hill. There's also a small café attached to the station, but both are closed. All we can do is wait, but at least we've found a shady place.
|A 2,500 m high pass somewhere in East Anatolia|
We are walking around for a while, trying to find out whether the information about the first building is correct. It is. After a while, an official enters the building. We are the first. He checks our passport and says "That's 3 US dollars each". I'm surprised - I've never paid any fees at the Turkish border. Is it a bribe!? I'm not sure, and so I say "I don't have US-dollar. Neither do I have Turkish Lira". But the official insists on the fee and asks for money. I tell him, that we only have Georgian Lari. Suddenly, the Georgian Benz man intervenes and offers to change our Lari into US dollar. It looks like everyone has to pay. Actually I do have a couple of greenbacks left - altogether 10 dollars or so - and so I hand over six dollar. It was worth a try. Traveling damages prejaduices. But it also enforces scepticism - at least in this part of the world. I've met too many corrupt officials, so that sometimes it's not clear whether the demanded money is a proper fee or just an attempt to earn some extra money.
Next station: Health control. The same ridiculous procedure as at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. A smart looking man asks "Are you okay?", we answer "Yes, we think so", and he slams a giant stamp into the passport. That's all we think, but the border post sends us back to another building. Customs. There we get another stamp, and we even have to sign our own passports. We have no idea what we've signed now... Finally we are released and leave the crossing behind. Two taxi drivers are sitting in their cars lazily, not even offering their service. We prefer walking anyway. And so we walk to the next small village. It's just a very small settlement, and there's no bus stop. We keep walking. Halfway, we meet a group of armed soldiers. I'm not very sure whether we are actually allowed to be here - it's close to the border, and it might even be Kurdish territory. But the soldiers just are just passing by, greeting us friendly. We walk and walk and walk - the landscape is great, but we notice that we won't get far if it goes on like this. And it's quite hot - there aren't many trees, and we are running out of water.
After more than one hour, two cars approach from behind. The first cars to pass by! The first car is the Georgian Benz. And the driver stops. What a surprise. We ask, if they could take us to the next small town, called Posof. The owner says "Yes, of course" and speeds on. A few kilometers later, we have to stop at a military checkpoint. The soldiers are quite surprised when they control our passports - two Georgians, one Japanese and one German in a fat Benz. It takes longer than expected to get to Posof. Shortly before we arrive, the owner tells us that he wouldn't pass Posof directly, because he's heading south to Ardahan. After a quick look on the map, I find out that Ardahan fits well. And the Georgian has nothing against the extension of our presence. The second car is a transporter, which belongs to the Georgian man. Needless to say that the transporter is much slower. And so we have to wait here and there until the transporter catches up. The black car we're in is one of the more expensive Benz, and speeding up the serpentines is real fun - especially because the streets here are in an excellend condition. We continue uphill for some kilometers, until we reach Ilgar Gecidi pass, which is more than 2,500 metres high. There, we are waiting again for the transporter, so that we can enjoy the landscape for more than ten minutes. The vista from there is breathtaking - we can see a large part of the East Anatolian mountains.
|The city centre of Kars in East Anatolia|
There's a canteen inside the bus station. Already a few kilometers behind the border we were running out of water. That's why we are very thirsty as well. The staff at the canteen is nice, but the food is just terrible. But we ar too hungry and can't resist. After the "meal", we start looking for a bus to Erzurum, the closest big city. The bus network in Turkey is very dense and extremely useful, and so we have no doubt that there will be a bus to Erzurum. They let us have a seat in the office and treat us to a sweet tea. We are waiting and waiting, just to hear after more than an hour, that there won't be another bus to Erzurum. Which is quite strange. But they offer us to take us to the city centre of Kars for free.
We have no other chance than to accept the offer. After arriving there, we first walk to the train station in order to get train tickets for the next day. Halfway, numerous kids follow us, shouting "Hello Mister!", "What's your name" and "Money!" repeatedly. We will here the same a hundred times or so during the day. We arrive at the train station at five past five in the afternoon. Just to find out, that all counters close at 5 pm. Plan B: Keep standing in front of the counter, pulling a helpless and confused face. It always works. Only one or two minutes later, a friendly man comes to us and tells us to wait. And he really opens the counter for us. He neither speaks German nor English, so buying the right ticket proves to be difficult. But he's really patient and issues the correct tickets. Departure: Tomorrow, 07:10 in the morning. Distance: 2,000 km. Travel time: 39 hours.
We are really exhausted now and start looking for a hotel. In the centre, many people offer a tour to Ani, an old Armenian town with many ruins of Armenian churches. Ani faces the Armenian border. We don't have time for visiting Ani, but we've just been to Armenia, which is some kind of comfort. But Ani really seems to be worth a visit. After a while, we could find a hotel and explore the centre of town. There are many construction sites in Kars - the whole city is in transition! I guess, a few years later Kars is going to be a lovely place.
Somewhere in the pedestrian zone we find a restaurant, which is called "Pastane". We haven't had pasta for ages, and so we think that having some spaghetti would be quite nice. Of course, "Pastane" has nothing to do with pasta. Actually, Pastane means "café". The place turns out to be a real good restaurant serving traditional Turkish food. Our dinner consists of lamb filled dough with a spicy sauce and Turkish yoghurt. Which is just great food. But we've also ordered Pide, some sort of Turkish pizza, which is really bad - at least at this place. Still, it's a great place for eating out. Today was a very long day - and due to the time difference even two hours longer than usual. And tomorrow we would have to get up at six in the morning... So much about a relaxing holiday.
Continue reading: →Day 13: Kars → Istanbul
- It's not easy to cover the 20 km from Akhaltsikhe to the border crossing. It looks like there's no public transport. Which means that you have to take a taxi or walk. Be aware that it's heavily secured borderland and that there aren't any signposts. A taxi costs around 8 US dollar resp. 15 Lari. Note that the border crossing doesn't open before 11 am Georgian time (9 am Turkish time). Bringing your own vehicle means that you are likely to spend a couple of hours at the crossing.
- If there's public transport between the border crossing and the closest town, Posof, then it seems to be rare. Or nothing. It's a good idea to organize a lift at the crossing. Posof itself is a very small town, so I presume that there aren't many buses or marsrutkas to other places.
- For the train connection between Kars and Istanbul refer to →Day 13: Dogu Express.
We'd chosen the Hotel Temel right in the centre of Kars. It was a little bit hard to find, since
the main entrance is in a small alley. The hotel was under reconstruction in 2002, but I guess it's okay now.
The rooms are spotless clean and feature a nice bathroom. The equipment is appropriate and everything's
modern. However, it's a comparatively expensive place. A double room for a night costs 35,000,000 TL (around €22)
incl. breakfast. Well, actually € 11 per person is not what I call expensive... No idea what the breakfast is like -
breakfast starts at 7 am, but we had to leave earlier.
Address: Kazımpasha Cad. No. 4/A. Tel.: (0474)223 1376.