We left Erzurum early in the morning after a long day to get there from Amasya. Our goal was to reach Kars, where we would stay for 2 nights. We took the long way to Kars and went via Yusufeli, a town recommended to us earlier but upon further investigation probably not worth a layover. However, we had a sneaking suspicion that the ride via Yusufeli would be one not to miss. We were not disappointed. The detour we took was a few hundred kilometers, and most of it consisted of winding roads in pretty good condition, with towering views all around.
As we approached Kars, the country opened up. At one point, we came off a plateau and dropped 900 meters in about 20 minutes, the road winding down into what you see below. The scenery change was quite dramatic. We were still at about 1,800 meters and the temperature was very pleasant.
Kars, like Erzurum, is unremarkable. The main reason we ended up here was to visit the Ani ruins, the remains of the Armenian capital. Back in the 12th and 13th centuries, this was a major trading point on the Silk Road. It's right on the border with Armenia, tightly shut as the Turks and Armenians are anything but friends. Walking to the end of the area, you stand just about in between two watch towers, about a kilometer apart.
The setting is beautiful, as you can see below.
The ruins are not maintained and tourists wander freely between all of it. Some of the structure look like they could fall down at any point, and given a minor earthquake, it looks like nothing would remain.
Inside the church pictured above, the paintings of centuries gone by are clearly visible. Given that everyhting is open to the environment, it's amazing anything remains.
On the way back, we came across a few kids moving horses to different pastures. We saw next to no fences in Eastern Turkey, so goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, horses and other animals wander around freely a lot of the time.
More noticeable than in other areas, the two types of tall structures you see most of in eastern Turkey are minarets and cell phone towers. I guess it's all about spreading a message. The country is trying its utmost to modernize and join the European Union, even mimicking the license plates used in the EU. The driving however, is still decidedly 3rd world. It's a strange place.