Beautiful gorges, wide open steppe, alpine valleys and mostly good roads. We were expecting something more barren! Powered by a tail wind we flew east from Erzurum along a big but quiet road heading for Kars. We turned off at Horasan following a river valley which gradually narrowed into a gorge.
We camped by the river in a beautiful spot. The next day we climbed up to the steppe and enjoyed a long downhill to Kars.
Kars is an interesting and cosmopolitan town with a lot of russian buildings dating from the 19th century when Russia had control of the city.We bumped into Cihan an english student who was keen to practice his english. He fixed up for us to meet his english class that evening. We had a fun time, Kars university has nearly 20,000 students from all over Turkey. They must be a hardy bunch to survive the very cold winters with snow for 5 months and temperatures down to -30c.
We visited Ani, a medieval Armenian city from the 10th century, wiped out by Genghis Khan and his hordes as they swept west. It still is an impressive site perched next to a gorge in the middle of a vast steppe. One of the many parts of the Silk Road passed through this city which rivalled Byzantium in it’s day, wth a population estimated at 100 000.
From Kars we headed north to Lake Cildir sitting at 2,000 metres. we passed through small villages and were surprised to find that cows were the main farming stock at such a high altitude. The small houses had bricks made from cow pats drying outside for their winter fuel. The wind was picking up and it had become very hard work trying to cycle into it. We managed to find some shelter among some trees by the lake and camped early.
There were new roads being built everywhere we went in Turkey and as we headed for the border sure enough they were road building again. This usually consisted of digging up the old road and replacing it with something a lot wider. Whilst the road was being built you were expected to cycle or drive over compacted gravel and grit. As lorries went past you were engulfed in choking clouds of dust.
We had to cross a 2,500 metre pass to get to the border which proved to be an ordeal with steep gradients and a strong headwind. We ended up walking a lot of the time. We were rewarded with a 1000 metre plunge down to Posof with a mixture of road building and bumps. The scenery was fantastic as we dropped back into a beautiful alpine valley filled with blossom and green trees.
Posof is a nice town set on a steep hillside with a few hotels and eateries and was our last stop in Turkey. We celebrated by booking into a hotel and had a hot shower. The next day it was a short ride to the border with Georgia.
We had spent 2 and a half months exploring Turkey and had grown to love the country and the people. The scenery is awesome and so varied. Almost everybody we met were consistently friendly and welcoming. We had been worried reading some blogs regarding the dogs and the risks of camping wild. We found the dogs a nuisance especially some of the big Kangal dogs who would launch themselves at us from some of the farms. Getting off the bike and then talking calmly to the slavering beast did the trick. They would soon get bored and wander off. We never had any problems camping and even in the remotest spot would often bump into a goat or cow herd who were always friendly.
Although we loved Turkey I don’t think we could live there. Mainly because of the dogs. There are so many strays around, often all they wanted was a bit of affection. Pip would usually give them a stroke. We would end up being followed back to wherever we were staying. No if we stayed in Turkey we would be over run by dogs in no time!