As an around-the-world traveler, you tend to hear a lot of the same questions: What are your favorite countries? How much does a trip like this cost? Where do you do your laundry? But every once in a while, you’ll get a query that really stops and makes you think. Do you become blasé about amazing sights because you see them every day?
Well shoot, that’s a good question. Do we?!?
I’ll admit that some of the places we’ve visited have not seemed as impressive as they would have had we visited under different circumstances. I’m sure I would have been blown away by Ephesus or Krabi or Xian had we visited straight from SF.
But we’ll get back to that in a second. For now, let’s cut to Ani, the former capital of Armenia. Ani is a site in eastern Turkey that is literally yards away from the Armenian border.
The closest town to Ani is Kars and frankly, there is not much reason to go there except to visit Ani. A run-down, Soviet-style town, Kars is pretty far off Turkey’s beaten path…so much so that within an hour of getting off the bus, the guy who is mentioned in our Lonely Planet as a reliable guide finds us, along with pretty much every other tourist in Kars (there were 10 of us). Still, Kars grew on us, despite the dilapidated buildings and the uninteresting city plan (a Soviet-style grid).
It’s a 1.5 hour long ride to Ani from Kars, and the 10 of us tourists hopped in a van to visit these Armenian ruins. Along the way, we got to know our fellow travelers: 4 older Brits, an American, a Spanish guy, and a couple from Switzerland. And despite the fact that Jeremy and I were a bit “ruined out” at this point in our Turkey travels, we were still excited to be visiting Armenian-style ruins that so few visitors to Turkey get to see (indeed, our bus contained the only visitors to Ani that day). We pay our 5 TL entrance fee and wander through the old city walls:
And this is when the Spanish guy says:
“Ahhh! This is SHIT!”
Uh, excuse me, Spanish guy? Really?!? THIS is shit? Apparently our Spanish friend was a big photographer, and the lighting conditions at 11 AM were unacceptable to him. The first 10 minutes of our visit to Ani was narrated by Mr. Wet Blanket: “This isn’t Ani! You should look on Flickr if you want to see real pictures of Ani! I should have come at sunset!”
Quickly deciding that the Spanish guy was harshing our buzz, Jeremy and I lost him and wandered around Ani’s vast, empty grass plains on our own.
It really was a beautiful place. The cows grazing in the fields, the rugged valleys, the intricate stonework, and the panoramic views to Armenia…all of it colluded to make us believe that Ani was somehow magical.
And to answer your question: No, I don’t think we’ve become blasé about amazing sights.
Transportation from Ayder to Kars: First, the bad news: our first bus driver stuffed about 25 people in a van made to seat 15, we had no idea if we would actually make it to Kars due to the language barrier, and our third bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. Twice. Now for the good news: the trip from Ayder to Kars was the most breathtaking bus ride we’ve taken so far on the trip. We traveled from the lush greenery of the Kaçkars’ Black Sea side to the dry, rocky landscape of the south side. And then it was on through verdant pasture lands, mountains with ramshackle stone houses built into their sides, little boys herding cattle through dry, golden steppes, and whole families riding home in donkey carts after a day of working in the field.
Due to MASSIVE CONFUSION as a result of the language barrier in this region, we have no idea how to advise you on getting from Ayder to Kars. Just know that (1) you can do it (we didn’t even know that much before we got on the bus), and (2) it will cost you 55 TL (US$35) each for the entire trip.
Where we slept in Kars: Though the Güngören Hotel (50 TL or US$30 for a double ensuite) is pretty rough around the edges, so is the rest of Kars. It’s not much to look at, but the rooms are pretty big and the staff is nice.