Our first contact with Turkey, Van surprised us by its modernity. Bright streets full of people, most women not wearing head scarves (a strange feeling for us after Iran), modern and international shops, all surrounded by beautiful mountains…
But first, we have to tell you about our most epic border crossing! To come to Van from Tabriz in Iran, we decided to cross the border in Kapikoi. It was just halfway of the road between Tabriz and Van. We heard there was a direct bus to Van and regular buses to the border. In Iran there had always been a bus to take us anywhere we wanted to go at anytime. So we didn’t bother planning which bus we would exactly take. The direct bus crossed the border at Gürbulak which is in the North of Iran, but it looked like a detour to us. On our last morning in Iran, we went to Tabriz’s bus station, ready to board on the next bus to the border. First we were told there is no more direct bus to Van which we expected. So we took a bus to Khoy. I have to say in my overconfidence, Kapikoi and Khoy sounded the same to me so I couldn’t imagine the bus would drop us in the small city of Khoy, different from the border of Kapikoi. Arrived at 2pm in Khoy, we looked at the map. We were about 50 kilometers far from the border. In the bus terminal, taxi drivers harrassed us to take us to the border. We asked for the next bus to the border but we were told there was no bus!! We couldn’t believe that at only 2pm there was no other bus to go to the border with Turkey. We were not very confident with the staff at the bus station who looked like they were too good friends with the taxi drivers. So we decided not to be in a hurry and ask all the buses where they were to. After an hour without finding a bus, we thought about hitchhiking but we were not sure on which road to start. Someone at the bus station offered to help us book a taxi to the border. We started to negotiate with taxi drivers. They told us to hurry as the border closed at 5pm. It was 3.30 pm, we were still good, we thought. Finally a driver accepted our price and took us in his car. He didn’t speak English. He started to drive fast. We realized the road to the border was a mountain road zigzagging all the way to the border! Our driver kept looking at his clock. We passed a few checkpoints. We thought that maybe the driver was stressed out because there might be some traffic jams near the border. Finally we arrived at the border gate at 4.28pm. There was no traffic jam, only a lot of people waiting and camping on the side of the road, like it was a refugee camp. The driver jumped out of the car to talk to the officer at the gate. When we arrived with our backpacks, the officer just said “the border is closed“. That’s how we learnt the border actually closed at 4.30pm! We insisted saying that we had still 2 minutes to go. The real border check was actually 500 meters away from the gate. The officer looked at us, let us pass and said “Run!“. We were in the middle of nowhere, we ran like crazy, taking a shortcut through barbed wires. At the office, the Iranian officer welcomed us, went to the exit and asked the Turkish side if they were still open. We heard him saying to the Turkish officer that we were French. And the Turkish officer accepted to wait for us! The Iranian officer stamped our passports and we walked through the exit door. The Iranian and Turkish officers shaked hands and locked the door just behind us. Pfiou we had made it to Turkey!
After a warm welcome from Turkish officers who were not used to see foreign tourists, we jumped onto a minivan to Van. The border crossing was really in the middle of the mountains and the road down to Van was beautiful. We arrived in this modern city and it was like we were in a totally new world, very different from Iran. We found a room in Van Backpackers Hostel, met three friendly French people cycling the silk road and ate our first Turkish food: Iskender kebab! During our all stay in Turkey, Iskender kebab would be our favorite food ever: thin strips of kebab meat, served with tomato sauce and yogurt on a grilled pita bread. We also met by chance friendly men who let us try the Çiğ köfte they were preparing: raw meatballs made of bulgur, tomato paste, spicies and ground beef.
The most beautiful site to see when in Van is the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Akdamar island also known as Akdamar Kilisesi. To go there we took a minivan and a boat. The trip was beautiful and the island was absolutely stunning!
For a first contact with this country, Turkey, its landscapes and people had already won our heart!