Day 12: Kars

Continue reading: →Day 13: Kars → Istanbul

Ox cart near Akhaltsikhe
Modern transportation at the Georgian-Turkish border
We start this day quite early as well - at around 8 in the morning we leave the hotel. Later we will find out, that we could have slept two hours or so longer. All cafés and restaurants are still closed, and so we walk to the bus station without having coffee or any other form of a breakfast. At the ticket counter, we ask for buses running to the border or at least to a place near the border. Nothing. Nada. No bus and not even a marshrutka. The man behind the counter explains, that we might try it at the bus stop beneath the fortress. But there's neither a bus or a marshrutka nor something like a timetable. All we can see are old Ladas, loaded with dozens of water melons, so that their headlights would only light up the moon. I ask around, but no one can help us. Except for the taxi drivers, of course. One driver offers to bring us there for 10 dollars, but I refuse. Which is something like a bad habit. Before we go, I want to buy at least one souvenir. But there aren't any souvenirs. But I know that one or two bottles of Georgian Vodka will do. Of course, I buy the most expensive one - which costs 3 Lari. Since we don't have another choice, we opt for the taxi. The driver wants 20 Lari, but finally we agree on 15 Lari. We spend the time in the taxi chatting with the driver. He has only two fingers left on his right hand and comes from Armenia. And he gets really friendly when we tell him that we've just been there.

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.

Eastern Anatolia
A 2,500 m high pass somewhere in East Anatolia
After more than one hour, two trucks and one car show up. They are waiting in front of the gate. At half past ten, we give it another try and go to the borderpost. But the guard is quite rude and tells us, that he would let us know early enough when they are going to open the gate. Several minutes later they finally open the gate. After passing the first checkpoint, we enter a big hall. Obviously, only cars pass this crossing in the middle of nowhere. While we are waiting, I have a short conversation with a pretty rich Georgian, crossing the border in a new Mercedes Benz and employing his own chauffeur. The passport control is a question of a few mintes only. We proceed to the borderline, secured by impressive fences and several watchtowers and a small stretch of no man's land inbetween. The maximum security doesn't come as a surprise - this border has been the border between the NATO and the Soviet Union for a few decades. The border itself is not open yet, but we can already see, that there are many cars with German numberplates waiting on the other side. That's what I call an interesting distribution system! Our last stop in Georgia is at another small building, where they stamp our passport. After that, border officials from Georgia and Turkey shake hands at the border and finally open the gate. But they only let through one or two cars. And us, of course. So leaving Georgia was no big deal - no bribes, not even an attempt. There are many smaller and bigger buildings on the Turkish side, which looks quite confusing. Someone tells us to go to a small building. No one's inside, but a very friendly man comes to us and offers some tea. Welcome to Turkey (part III)!

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
With more than 100 km per hour we continue, passing mountains and valleys and flat houses with grass-covered roofs, which look like nomad dwellings. 60 km or so later, we arrive at a crossroad near Ardahan. The Georgian tells us, that he wouldn't enter the town but only pass by, heading to Kars in the south. And that we can also go to Kars if we want. Why not. Another hour in the Benz. Today we want to go to Erzurum, one of the main cities in East Anatolia. But Kars is quite big, and so chances are higher to catch a bus or a train to Erzurum. The Georgian doesn't talk a lot. The only thing he tells us is that he is the owner of a construction company. His mission is to get some construction material from Turkey. We shortly talk about Georgia and mention, that we have around 100 Lari left - we couldn't change back the money in Akhaltsikhe or at the border. He offers to change the money. Shortly before we arrive, he repeats his offer, and I answer "if you want we can do that". Actually I wanted to say "If it's okay with you", but now it's too late - he's a little bit angry now and replies, that he wouldn't care whether we change the money or not. It's him doing us a favour, and he's right. I tell him that I'm sorry and that we would indeed appreciate it if he could change the money. We pass the bus station, which is out of the town, and enter the centre. But the transporter doesn't follow. And so we're driving back, looking for the transporter. The Georgian is upset now. At least we can leave the car at the bus station - after receiving 45 US dollars for the 100 Lari, which is just fair. We feel sorry for the trouble the Georgian has now. We are really thankful - it was a great pleasure to join him. And we are really hungry now.

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.




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