I will make two or three posts about my weekend trip to eastern Turkey, because there is so much to say that otherwise I would be writing one voluminous and cumbersome post. The subject of this first post is the first day of the trip.
I had to meet the other students in my program at 4 AM Friday morning to go to the airport. I did not sleep the night before, so I soon found myself on a plane at 7 AM on no sleep at all. It wasn’t actually that bad.
It takes about an hour and a half to traverse Turkey by plane, so we arrived in Van around 8:30. Van is quite famous for 1) a local breed of cat, the Van Keddi, and 2) its delicious breakfasts. So the first thing we did was go to a restaurant for breakfast. Here is the exterior of the restaurant:
The first thing I saw upon entering the restaurant was a statue of the Van Keddi. This breed of cat is known for its completely-white coloring, having different colored eyes, and having a strange attraction to water. The Van Keddi is everywhere in Van, with statues and pictures of the cat ubiquitously popping up over the city:
The owner of this establishment, thrilled to have a group of 40 people eating at his restaurant, was extremely enthusiastic to meet and serve us. As we entered the restaurant, he shook every single person’s hand, and in a loud, welcoming voice, said Merhaba, hoşgeldiniz! [Hello, welocme!] to each of us. The interior of the restaurant was very colorful and crowded with both people and eclectic items from the region:
The food was absolutely sumptuous. It consisted of copious amounts of bread, and then all sorts of different jams, cheeses, and spreads to dip it in, as well as eggs and meat:
As we ate, the owner walked around to all the tables, giving little gifts to every person there. Women got scarves and earrings, and everyone got magnets of the Van Keddi and other trinkets. It was indicative of the famous Turkish hospitality I’ve read so much about. Gift-giving is a vital part of social interaction.
Next, we visited the Van Times, a local newspaper printed in four languages (Turkish, Kurdish, English, and Farsi). Because Van is close to the border, it has a very diverse population. The Van Times is trying to distill some of the tension between different ethnic and social groups by creating a medium which contains all four languages. We met with the editor and staff of the newspaper, and in the tradition of Turkish hospitality, they served all 40 of us tea and pastries.
After going to the Van Times, we visited VAKAD, the Van Women’s Association, and we heard from the director about domestic violence in the region.
Next, we went to Van Lake, Turkey’s largest lake. In the middle of the lake is an island, on which lies a 10th century Armenian church, the Church of the Holy Cross. We took a boat out into the lake, and explored the island and church:
The facades of the church are covered in pictorial representations of Biblical stories, as well as scripture in Armenian:
If you look at the image of Jesus, you can see scripture written in Armenian, chiseled into the wall:
Inside of the 1100 year old church, faded frescoes adorn the walls:
Next we had some time to wander around the island:
Next we visited the Fortress of Van, a huge citadel built in the 8th century B.C.E. by Sarduni I, when Van was the capital of the Urartu Empire:
After visiting the fortress, we left Van for Doğubayazıt. That will be the subject of my next post. Just as we were leaving Van, I looked up and saw, of course, another giant statue of the Van Keddi: