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The beauty and the beast of Van
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 30 May 2008 Fri 09:27 pm

Few things are harder to believe than what you encounter in the eastern Turkish region of Van: Cats with each eye a different color that love to swim, a 15-meter-long lake monster, suicidal sheep and the most incredible breakfasts that can be enjoyed until late afternoon

Dorte Huneke
VAN - Turkish Daily News


The 17th century Ottoman travel writer, Evliya Çelebi, was mesmerized by the magic powers of Lake Van, the largest lake in Eastern Anatolia.

In his famous travelogue “Seyahâtnâme,” or The Book of Voyages, he wrote, “Those that live near the lake never use soap when washing their clothes in the lake water and they get snow-white results.”

When crossing the lake to Akdamar Island – a small limestone cliff that is home to Akdamar Church, a famous Armenian church built in the 10th century under the name The Church of the Holy Cross – however, you should look out for something other than snow-white linens: The famous Lake Van monster. Alleged sightings of the beast were first reported in the mid 1990s. Amateur photos and videos have been collected that show something long and dark moving in the middle of the lake. And Unal Kozak, a teaching assistant at Van University, wrote a book about the creature that includes drawings of the monster based on the descriptions of some 1,000 witnesses. According to Kozak, the creature is about 15 meters long.

Just as hard to believe, but sufficiently proved, is an incident that needs no embellishing. Three years ago, a herd of 1,500 sheep were peacefully grazing along the southern shore of Lake Van until one of them tried to jump to another rocky plateau but fell into a ravine 15-meters deep – and all the other sheep, like lemmings, followed. 450 died. The other 1,050 experienced a softer landing. This is not a joke. One can ask any taxi driver in Van about it. If one comes to Van, expect the unexpected.

Frequent dolmuşes – shared minibuses – take one to the lake, where one can also find the Urartu fortress, Van Kalesi, or Van Castle. It is often simply referred to as the “Rock of Van” and contains the rock-hewn tomb of Argishti, an eighth century Urartian king. From the castle one can enjoy a magnificent view of sunset over the lake, while those who take in the opposite view, from the lake up toward the castle, can let their thoughts fly high. “The Van castle, on top of these rocky heights, resembles a seated and loaded camel, with a huge and fearfully chaotic appearance,” wrote Evliya Çelebi. “A steep cliff surrounds the castle, which made ditches unnecessary.” During summer, the shores of Lake Van are inviting places for swimming amid the sightseeing excursions one should take to the Urartian city of Çavuştepe and to Hoşap Castle.

Van, situated 850 meters above sea level and today the capital of the Turkish province of Van, developed from the ancient city of Tuşpa, the capital of the Kingdom of Urartu, which flourished from the ninth through sixth century B.C. The Seljuks began to dominate the city after the Malazgirt battle in 1071 and the city became part of the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century. The historical ruins of Old Van (Eski Van) lie about four kilometers from modern Van, today a city of approximately 400,000. Van was established as a new city after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Located on a plain extending from the shores of Lake Van, at a distance of about five kilometers, the region is, today, one of the often forgotten magical beauties of Turkey's East. Historic structures from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods can be seen and touched in Old Van; while some amazing Urartian artifacts found in the region are part of the remarkable collection at the Archaeological Museum in modern Van.

A more vivid attraction in the region – apart from the lake's monster – is a cat with a snow-white coat, colorful head and tail and different colored eyes, called a “Turkish Van.” Some call them “swimming cats” because of their unusual fondness for water. Others call them "dogs in a cat suit” because Van cats are very attached to their owners and like to follow them around. To the eye, their most striking characteristic is their eyes, which are each a different color, one amber and one blue. Tourists love them. “For a long time we needn't know the cats' value,” said Hüseyin, 51, a Van local who has had a Turkish Van cat in his house for as long as he can remember. “You pay about 100 Turkish Lira for a cat. But wait for the summer, then you just ask around on the street and you can get one for only YTL 5. People need to make money, so they will find you one,” he said. Sadly, Turkish Vans are an endangered species and under the protection of the Turkish government to ensure their survival.

The better, and just as decorative, souvenirs to bring home from Van are hand made. Among the most famous regional specialties are kilim carpets, made with natural dyes and traditional artifacts from silversmiths. Most of the jewelry has been made to satisfy needs relating to religious beliefs. Some are supposed to protect against the evil eye or are used for incantation.

Before setting out to explore the handicrafts and natural heritage of the region, however, one should experience the culinary traditions of the city of Van and start the day with an ample breakfast. At some of the many distinguished breakfast places (kahvaltı salonu) this meal can be enjoyed until four o'clock in the afternoon. Apart from tahin and pekmez (sesame paste and grape molasses), bal and kaymak (honey and cream) and karakovan balı (beehive honey), there should be gül reçeli (rose jam) on the table, as well as otlu peynir (cheese with herbs), fresh hot bread and, of course, gallons of tea. Van breakfasts are an unforgettable treat.

Amid the rocky mountains, the old and the new are continually intermingling. International brands are starting to discover the city, only 180 kilometers from the border to Iran. Tourism is still scarce, but people are friendly and welcoming. It shouldn't come as a surprise if one is invited to homes. Soon enough one will find oneself in socks on their sofa, drinking tea, eating homemade cake or cookies and listening to the most fantastic stories – all of which are supposedly true. The acute observer, Çelebi, wrote, “The young men of Van mostly have round faces and alluring eyes. They are courageous and humorous. I haven't seen any women but I have heard from friends that they are very pretty and pious.”




2.       catwoman
8933 posts
 30 May 2008 Fri 10:02 pm

Roswitha!!!! Where have you been?!

3.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 30 May 2008 Fri 10:38 pm

Just returned from a 3 weeks vacation in Turkey, Catwoman. As always rewarding and educational.

4.       catwoman
8933 posts
 30 May 2008 Fri 10:46 pm

Good to see you back!

5.       bydand
755 posts
 30 May 2008 Fri 11:01 pm

Quoting Roswitha:

Few things are harder to believe than what you encounter in the eastern Turkish region of Van: Cats with each eye a different color that love to swim, a 15-meter-long lake monster, suicidal sheep and the most incredible breakfasts that can be enjoyed until late afternoon

Dorte Huneke
VAN - Turkish Daily News




We have all of this in Scotland as well.

6.       sonunda
5004 posts
 02 Jun 2008 Mon 03:25 pm

İ was just in Van-İ loved it but İ dıdn't see one of the cats until İ got to Batman last night-it was gorgeous!

7.       catwoman
8933 posts
 03 Jun 2008 Tue 08:06 am

Quoting bydand:

Quoting Roswitha:

Few things are harder to believe than what you encounter in the eastern Turkish region of Van: Cats with each eye a different color that love to swim, a 15-meter-long lake monster, suicidal sheep and the most incredible breakfasts that can be enjoyed until late afternoon

Dorte Huneke
VAN - Turkish Daily News




We have all of this in Scotland as well.


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