In the far east of Turkey, under the shadow of the enormous and legendary Mt Ararat, lies the frontier town of Dogubayzit, the first stop on my brief journey through eastern Turkey.
I arrived in Dogubayzit after crossing the nearby border from Tabriz, Iran on my way to London after having spent the last four months travelling overland from China, across Central Asia and through Iran.
Dogubayzit is a border town with little to interest a traveller but on the outskirts of the town is one helluva reason to visit, Ishak Pasa Palace.
As my taxi made it’s way out of town the afternoon sunlit up the mountains in front of us while dark clouds hung behind. Beneath those sunlit jagged mountains sitting on a plateau perched the palace.
A truly dramatic setting for what isn’t just a palace but is also part fortress and part mosque with an interesting combination of architectural styles of Seljuk, Ottoman, Georgian, Persian and Armenian.
Overnight the dark clouds turned stormy and I woke to a world of white. Drifts of snow were everywhere and the clouds had lifted to reveal how huge Mt Ararat really is!
As I took it in I could see high against the mountains Ishak Pasa Palace was surrounded by snow. I had to go back!!
What was impressive before was even more incredible and well worth a second trip.
In the early afternoon I took a bus west to Erzurum, eastern Turkey’s biggest transport hub and the next logical stop on my journey through Eastern Turkey.
When I arrived in Erzurum at around 5:30pm it was already so dark it felt like the middle of the night. Winter comes early here and that was reinforced in the morning when I woke to outside temperatures of minus elven degrees!!
Not exactly enticing to sight-see but with multiple layers I braved the cold.
A short walk from my hotel was the main street of Erzurum lined with many stone medressas and mosques as well as the city’s citadel built by Emperor Theodosius around the 5th century.
The locals on the street were a mix of conservative looking Muslims and young university students.
It didn’t take long before I felt frozen through and was lucky enough to find a gorgeous traditional restaurant, all wood, little rooms and cushions on the floor, where I discovered manti. Delicious parcels of pasta filled with mince and smothered in a yoghurt sauce – yum!
From Erzurum my journey through eastern Turkey took me north through snow-covered mountains before descending to the Black Sea city of Trabzon.
Trabzon had a young, lively energetic feel to it with a pedestrian street lined with shops. It felt quite western to me, but perhaps that was more a reflection of my travels in the last four months!
I’d decided to detour north to Trabzon to see the Sumela Monastery. A unique Greek Orthodox monastery set deep within a winding gorge with forests cascading down the steep rocky mountain side. In this pretty setting clinging precariously to the cliffs way up high is the monastery. Another truly amazing setting.
Back in town, amongst the hustle and bustle, I sat with turkish coffee and sweets planning the next stage of my trip across to Istanbul via Safranbolou!
A journey through Eastern Turkey is to travel in a remote part of an incredible country with vast landscapes and impressive historical sights. An area traditionally conservative and often avoided by tourists, particularly Western tourists.
All of which combined for a fantastic journey, and I also rediscovered the simple things. Like being able to recognise most of the letters in signs (not possible in China or Iran!), western style of dress and simply being in a country I’d been to before felt reassuring and somewhat familiar.
In Dogubayzit I stayed at Hotel Ararat for 40 Turkish lira and at Polat Hotel for 65 Turkish lira whilst in Erzurum.
In Trabzon I stayed at Hotel Nur for 50 Turkish lira.
All were basic, simple and serviceable hotels with a typical Turkish breakfast included in the price.
For incredible sweets I loved Palet Patisserie in Trabzon.