Erzurum, Turkey: The City in the Sky

Erzurum was initially billed as a stopping point towards the beauty of Lake Van towards the Kurdish South East. However, both time and funds meant we decided not to go too far off our linear route east, and spend the night in Turkey’s highest city.

As has become customary, we set up camp within the bus station due to our early arrival with the altitude giving Erzurum a more chilly feel than previous stops. After a short nap we were awoken by a police officer who told us to move somewhere else to sleep. Soon after we moved on he found us asleep again. With a short nudge he waved both his hands in the air quite comply and shouted in a pure American accent ‘Ow My God, you guys!’ a few times (this is how my memory recalls it, but may just be how I want it to have happened…I was in a sleepy daze).

Since we had been banned from napping in the coach station we got the first public bus towards the city. Fletch spotted the tourist information sign and we jumped off at the next stop. When we walked in we found a police officer surprised that Erzurum had any tourists at this time of year (as Erzurum is surrounded by snow capped mountains in the winter and is generally regarded as base camp to a ski resort).

We got nothing except a map from the tourist information and decided to walk around the small city in search of a toilet to wash and a tea to drink. Beside the largest mosque in the city we found locals drinking cheap tea outside. We joined them. As we drank we took it in turns to freshen up by washing our feet at the toilet basement beside the mosque. Our feet needed a clean and we both knew it.

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As we prepared to walk on we spotted 3 tourists with back packs. We hadn’t seen this since we left Istanbul and approached them for a chat. They seemed just as happy to see us. It turned out that they had just hitch hiked from Armenia and Georgia towards Erzurum and gave us some useful advice about our next intended destinations.

The 3 of them spoke English as a mutual language but were from Italy, Romania, and the Netherlands. They invited us to join them for lunch once their Portuguese friend arrived. At this point the 6 of us had some Turkish soup at a local restaurant where we were able to consume as much bread as we wanted.

The 4 of them worked together for an English speaking organisation in Turkey and had planned to visit Trapzon in the evening. As we had not seen much of Erzurum and were not travelling in that direction we left our lunch mates behind.

We headed towards Erzurum’s crowning glory, the double minaret building with a mountainous backdrop, only to find it covered in scaffolding. This was quite disappointing.

However, one of the reasons we chose Erzurum as a destination was its height at city level, about 2000m above sea level. This gave us even more reason to venture even higher, into one of the scores of mountains surrounding the city.

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We decided to head towards Palandoken. We got a short bus beyond the city before hitch-hiking towards the base of one of the mountains. At this point we were able to get a ski lift about 400m higher. No one else was using the lift as there was no snow and the man in charge was confused about our intent.

When we reached the half way point of the mountain we surveyed the terrain for a suitable place to pitch our tent. We wanted somewhere flat but with a wind shield. We didn’t walk far to find a place partially shielded from the wind but also on a very limited incline. We were used to being pulled down hills in our sleep. This made for a good enough sleeping place.

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We quickly assembled the tent and loaded it with anything we had that was either not valuable of not required for a hike. This left us with a small bag containing passports and water. We made it our mission to reach the peak of one of the hill tops before sunset, and set about walking towards one. It was quite strange to see no other human up in the mountains as it seemed to us as though it would be quite an attraction to both locals and tourists. The views were incredible.

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In order to reach the top of the mountain we had to walk off any obvious path and walk across rock and shrubby land. The altitude made the walk harder than it would have otherwise been and we found ourselves to be breathless. Every few minutes we stopped to admire the views. Yet, the best view was found at the top.

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When we eventually did reach the top we had a perfect aerial view of the city below. It was similar to the view of a city you get from a descending airplane. It was then time to make our own descent before sunset. I was so happy that some hiking had been done in the Turkish mountains, I would have been a little upset if we hadn’t done any.

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We got back to our tent in good time to watch the sun set as we played cards outside. We were the only people around and this made for a great sense of freedom.

Once the sun escaped behind one of the peaks we began to feel the chill and wind of the night. It quickly became dark and we retired to our tent to eat out food. We had really budgeted today and found ourselves dipping bread in chocolate spread for dinner. We both stopped when it became sickly. Our bodies must love us right now.

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As the mountain was dark, the food eater, and the people inside knackered we found ourselves wrapped in our sleeping bags and wrapped up before 9pm. When planting the tent I got my angles slightly wrong which meant gravity pulled our feet into the corner of the tent during the night. I think Fletch got a bit concerned about how close this meant we became during the night. At one point in the night I had t brave the cold for a wee. This gave me an opportunity to admire the starry night sky.

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We did not wake up until 8am the next morning. Even though we felt like we had a good, and needed, night’s sleep we were aware that it wasn’t totally smooth.

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We had a short trek to the ski lift before making our way back to the town in time for some soup and bread. This gave us ample time to reach the bus station for our final Turkish leg: Hopa.

This meant that we spent very little time in Erzurum City, but more time in the mountains. I know that this would have been my choice anyway. A trip through Northern Turkey can not be complete without a hike in its abundance of mountains.

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