Turkey is so many things.
I can’t really think of any other way to say it. It always surprises me.
One of our goals for this school year has been to explore more of the places in Turkey that are off the beaten path, particularly in the Eastern part of the country.
We are fortunate that our school gives us a couple of days off to celebrate Christmas, in spite of the fact that school is still in session for students. It is a difficult time to be so far away from home and family, and I’m always grateful for the time to get away and reflect and try to celebrate in my own way.
We toyed with the idea of going abroad to really experience the Christmas atmosphere, but after having visited Belgium and Germany and making an unexpected trip back to the States all within a couple of weeks, I was feeling pretty tired and burnt out. We decided it was a good time to stay here and explore something new in Turkey. We settled on Kars because it is known for being cold and snowy, which at least gave us a little dose of the Christmas spirit.
We were thrilled to see a skyline full of snowy mountains and a healthy layer of snow on the ground when we landed at the airport in Kars. Better yet, it was a short 15-minute ride to our hotel from there, so we lost no time getting started on our short adventure.
Our taxi driver – a former Istanbulite – pointed out that much of the architecture in Kars was left over from a brief period in the 19th century when it was occupied by Russia. Turkey is well-known for it’s hodgepodge fusion of cultures, but I knew right away that Kars was going to take it to a new level.
The remnants of Russian architecture throughout the city were indeed fascinating and it was nice to see that the buildings were still in use and were not just being left to rot. One of the most interesting examples of the Imperialist style was Fethiye Mosque, which at one time was an Orthodox church.
Kars was also once the medieval capital of Armenia and a few examples of that architecture can be found there as well. One of the hallmark symbols of the city is a 10th-century church which is also now a mosque.
One of the highlights of Kars for me was climbing up to the top of Kars castle. The castle itself is not particularly interesting, but the views of the city from the top are incredible and admission is free.
After walking around all day in the snow, I was pleased to find an abundance of cool cafes and even more pleased to discover a new type of Turkish coffee called menengiç kahvesi, which is made from a type of wild pistachio. Unfortunately, it does not have any caffeine in it, but the taste more than made up for that.
I was totally charmed by our first adventure in Eastern Turkey and cannot wait to experience more.