Having ventured up to Erzurum for some fun in the snow, there was still just enough time to take in the major sites and have a few interesting experiences. After spending Saturday on the mountain, Saturday evening and Sunday were spent getting to know the city of Erzurum a bit better. What a neat place! This is the furthest north and the furthest east I have ventured in Turkey thus far, and though most every town in Turkey comes with a wealth of colorful history, Erzurum’s is more alluring than most. A great group of people live here, and I enjoyed experiencing a completely different climate (said to be the harshest in all of Turkey) as well as a few other rarities.
Of course, food is one of the most important aspects of a place. I am glad the Erzurum crew are so fond of their local specialty, but I must say, I am also glad it’s not the specialty of my region. I dined on cağ kebab twice, and got my fill. Lamb meat as well as excessive tail fat are marinated in a special spice blend, stuck on a spit (cağ means “spit” in old Turkish) then roasted horizontally over an open fire. A single portion is skewered and served on a plate, to be paired with ultra-thin lavash (a type of flat bread), yogurt, salad and onions. While it is quite tasty, the excess tail fat that makes it so just doesn’t suit me a whole lot. I am sure it helps keep the body warm and combat the frigid cold they experience in these parts, and therefore serves a very important purpose, which I appreciate.
Erzurumites—aka Dadaşlar—are also known for taking their tea with kirtlama, a hard piece of sugar. Due perhaps to the cold, or possibly the meager economic state of some folks in the past, the “Northeast method” for sweetening tea is to hold the sugar cube in ones’ mouth while sipping the tea. They also take lemon in their tea, which is not generally done across Turkey. I am fond of finding such unique nesses!
There are a number of historic structures scattered throughout town. Having served as a center of Seljuk culture in the 1100 and 1200s, several important monuments remain. The Byzantine walls are still standing, though the city limits have expanded over the years. We ventured up to the Three Tombs after dinner, and in the dark, surrounded by snow, the large stone tent-like structures evoked a sense that we were in another time.
You can’t miss the Çifte Minareli Medrese, or Twin Minaret Madrasa, which appear on Erzurum’s coat of arms. This structure, now under construction, was built in the late 1200s and is said to be the largest madrasa in Anatolia. Another madrassa by the name of Yakutiye is located in the city center and houses the local museum on ethnographic history. Atatürk University, where my friends teach, is one of the larger universities in Turkey and has been in operation since the 1950s.
The hot item in Erzurum is Oltutaşı, or black amber, a type of jet. It’s also called ‘Erzurum stone’ and is mined around several villages in the province, including Oltu. My friend Wyatt, who lives nearby in Bayburt, was in search of a set of tespih, or prayer beads, made of this material. We visited the Rüstem Pasha Kervansaray, now known as the Taşhan, an entire market dedicated to jewelry, the majority of it made of Oltutaşı—or at least material that resembles Oltutaşı. This place used to serve as a meeting point along the Silk Road. Booth after booth displays rings, brooches, necklaces and prayer beads. After browsing a while, Wyatt was successful, and even had his set engraved.
Sunday evening Emily, Wyatt and I stopped in to see Emily’s carpet merchant friend, Necatin. Emily had a particular rug in mind, and she ended up walking away with it that night. Very exciting! Wyatt also found a nice rug of goat’s hair he was keen on and purchased. I got to converse with the shop owner in German, and we all enjoyed several glasses of tea, as well as a hot orange drink.
My last night in Erzurum was well-timed. Helen Marie’s birthday occurred a few weeks before, but since everyone was away, this night was deemed celebration night. Elizabeth cooked up some scrumptious veggie fajitas. Korey supplied some legitimate hot sauce brought from Arizona. An avocado was found and shared, and the Erzurum crew found a perfect gift for Ms. Sevier-Berg: a Bariş Manço shirt that suited her quite well! After dinner, in traditional Erzurum style, we all did the Wobble. This is a dance you might be familiar with. If not, just visit the Fulbrighters in Erzurum and you’ll get it down in no time. Maybe they do it to stay warm, perhaps just to fill the time since the nights are so long… but really, it’s just an incredible bonding experience and almost too much fun.
I awoke before dawn on my last morning, and so did my good friend Emily. She walked me several blocks to catch a ride to the airport just as the sun was rising. It snowed the entire night, so we waded through piles of snow, creating new trails for others to follow in. I hope to get back to Erzurum to do some more exploring in the region. It’s a smart jumping off point to Kars and even Georgia. If you get a chance, don’t miss “Paris of the East”!