Things To Do In Van, Turkey

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Turkey

The far eastern part of Turkey, close to the border with Iran and Armenia holds many attractions. From the snow covered volcanic cone of Mount Ararat, Turkey’s highest mountain, to the vast expanse of Lake Van with its (rumored) monster and Akdamar island to many important historical sites, not to mention the very different and colorful culture and lifestyle of the Kurdish people—the avid traveler who doesn’t mind finding things by himself will be richly rewarded and discover a Turkey which is a far cry from the tourist centers of the Aegean Sea and the beach resorts of the Mediterranean. Many people would love to watch vlogs capturing highlights of the trip on Youtube. Guaranteed higher engagement on your account. Here’s how to accomplish it: buy youtube subscribers.

Lake Van and Akdamar Island

Naturally, I couldn’t resist to see for myself and went on a four day trip to Van from my temporary home town of Didim near Bodrum. As usual I went by coach on this cross country journey which took about 27 hours. Turkish coaches are very comfortable and stop frequently for loo/coffee/food breaks and your co-passengers with hardly any foreigner among  them, are highly entertaining. If you can’t face such a long bus ride, you can also fly into Van, which I used as the starting point to further trips.

I stayed in the beautiful  Merit Sahmaran Hotel in Edredit, a village 15km from the center of Van on one side and 20km from Gervas on the other. Gervas is where the boats to Akdamar island depart. A dolmus or minivan stop is right outside the hotel entrance which made it easy for my daytrip to Van. The hotel is located right on the shore of Lake Van with fabulous views across the water and the high mountains surrounding the lake.

Pool and terrace of Merit Sahmaran Hotel

My first stop in Van was at the tourist information center  in Kisla Caddesi to get a map and enquire about how to reach the many things to do in Van, i.e. the Cathouse, Van castle and the Seven Churches. As I said, Van is a destination for travelers as opposed to tourists, who expect and are used to guided tours. There aren’t  many of those around here which makes visiting Van attractions all the more fun.

I wanted to know about the famous Van cat, a very special breed of cat, all white with different colored eyes and absolutely crazy about splashing around in water. They are bred in the ‘cathouse’ (kedi evi) which is located within the campus of Van University.  A minibus which leaves from the far end of Cumhuriyet Caddesi and is clearly marked ‘Kampüs’ takes you there. Then, an armed guard takes care of you and accompanies you to the cathouse. And there they are: hundreds of cute white woolly balls, cavorting around in their enclosure and staring at you with one brown and one blue or green eye. Or royally  ignoring you!

Van cats in the cathouse

Back in Van, I went in search of the archaeological museum which is located right behind the town hall. Entry is free and the most spectacular find were 12 stelae which are exhibited in the courtyard. They have been discovered in Hakkari , date from the 11th century BC and are unique in Turkey. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the lifelike expressions of these stone carvings.

One of 12 stelae archaeological museum, Van

Next I wanted to visit the mountain village of Bakracli with its ruined medieval Armenian monastery of Varagavank, also known as Seven Churches. You can only get there by taxi and you are well advised to negotiate the price in advance with the help of the English speaking lady from the tourist office which has a taxi rank outside. We settled on approx. Euro 25 for the 20km return trip. The narrow road climbs higher and higher up into the mountains and you get a fantastic view of the lake and the city of Val down below.

Then, you find yourself in a tiny village with stone houses, Kurdish kids came running to look at the blond haired foreigner in their midst, a young girl equally running for the key to open the gate and then entering church after church, built into the mountain side with well preserved frescos but the entire site rather ruined and without any of the facilities which normally surround – and mar- historical sites in Turkey. With a bit of imagination, I felt as if I was the first visitor to look at this testimony of the Christian Armenian past. Plans are underway to restore the churches and make them more accessible to culture tourism, but I liked it just fine as it was.

Armenian monastery ‘Seven Churches’ in its present state

Van has a huge castle too which you can reach by dolmus, then climb up and around, but I didn’t feel like too much hiking that day. Instead I needed to replenish some travel outfits and was delighted to find that Van doesn’t have any of the designer rip offs you find so often in the west of Turkey. Instead there are plenty of smaller department stores in Maras Caddesi with good quality clothes at very reasonable prices. Nobody hassles you, nobody jumps out at you, it’s even a pleasure to go shopping in Van.

Also Read: Why You Should Stop In Kayseri Turkey.