wandered down to the station from the hotel, picking up some fruit and water on the way for the journey. I had no idea how long it was going to take as had been given widely varying times from different officials at the station. And of course the train arrived more then 2 hours late. It seemed to stress many of the passengers but again was told this was normal.
My sleeper compartment was comfortable and was given a pack with clean sheets and pillow. While wandering down the train I realised it was me who stopped to let people pass in the corridor, not one person recognised with a nod of thanks, I wouldn’t go as far to say the Turks are rude they are just indifferent, and I suppose if you have been invaded that many times in your history then ‘ thank you very much for coming’ isn’t high on their list of etiquette.
It was a pleasant journey with many stops for work on the tracks.
The train traversed the endless treeless plain far from roads, and as we crossed small rivers there were small villages and at last some green trees to break the visual monotony. These small villages reminded me of Slim Memed, as the Turks call the book we know as Memed my Hawk, as so little would have changed out here from the time Yasar Kemal set his great book in the Taurus mountains some way south of Kayseri.
There was a very good and inexpensive dining car serving great kofte and salad. I was quite happy with the delay as the now expected arrival time in Kayseri was around 4 in the morning and that meant less time waiting at Kayseri station for the hotel to open.
We did finally arrive at about 5 in the morning and there was a little café just opening where the owner gave me free tea and biscuits.
There are not really tourist hotels here but business hotels, probably a little like the sixties in Europe to cater for the pre computer technology sales reps. So no one spoke any English but luckily for me the porter and general dogsbody actually spoke French having wotked in a ‘Club med’.
Kayseri is a large town and capital of the famous Cappadocia province, and once known as Ceasarea as a tribute to Tiberius, it survived as a Byzantine and Christian city until 1067 and after being under the control of first the Mongols and Crusaders it eventually fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1515.
Due to its strategic importance there has been a fortified castle and citadel for nearly 2,000 years and today’s fortress, which is slap bang in the centre of town was built in 1224.
Kayseri was once the most important of Armenian cities and although Erzurum was one of it’s capitals Kayseri is still to Armenians what Mecca is to Islam. The Armenian Basil the Great was bishop here at the beginning of the 4th century. Todays Armenia lies about 200 miles to the east.
Most of the more attractive and solid of the old buildings in Kayseri are Armenian. In front of my hotel was a sort of wasteland, with the extinct volcano, Mount Erciyes ,as a backdrop. This wasteland apart from a few feral dogs (and children) has a smattering of solid but now decaying stone buildings and a few boarded up church complexes.
I was constantly drawn to this area, with its tumble down houses, weeping willows and many now partly inhabited by corrugated iron makeshift dwellings in the middle of these old large, probably merchant houses, sometimes with 2 or 3 satellite dishes. I have a notion that many of these were gypsies.
The city was restoring some of these buildings a few of which were the size of a palace. One of the stonemasons who was proud to tell me he was not only an armenian but also Christian, took me on a tour of one of the nearly restored buildings but the Turkish gatekeeper would not allow photographs inside…state secret or was it just anything to do with the Armenians is a touchy subject.
After Ezurum, which partly due to the climate, Kayseri was a relaxing place with much outdoor café life and around most of the old town, in cafes and outside many businesses, people were playing backgammon, and a game with numbers with something like a scrabble letters holder and of course drinking glass after glass of tea.
Most nights I ate at a kebab restaurant, is there anything else, near the hotel with a meal, drink and a tea for around 3 euros, and it was good if simple.
Takeaway kebabs from about 1 euro, there were no tourist prices as there were no tourists. Now there is an airport in Cappadocia for tourists to fly to, so there was no need to visit Kayseri. Which makes it so much more interesting for those who do.
The square in the centre of town by the Fatih Mosque, the citadel and the Bazaar complexes was the natural home for the hawkers and the carpet sellers, but as there was a dirth of tourists there were only a couple of guys carrying out this ancient of Turkish professions. the young guy who spoke excellent English, and only just made it to 5 foot, was off the following week to do his 18 month army conscription. The older guy not only had a slightly menacing look really couldn’t sell anything.
With the great cities like Istanbul, one has seen photographs, it has been written about extensively and appeared as the backdrop to many movies, one has nearly fixed ideas about it rather cemented in ones mind even before you visit; but with somewhere like Kayseri with over 5,000 years of history, where there is so much of interest and wonder one doesn’t quite know how to place it. There is a wonderful little museum, and very large covered bazaars, an unrestored and still used Caravansari right in the centre of town and a few great mosques, and it was the most important town on the Silk road in Turkey, and it was well known in the trading cities of Europe 500 years ago but forgotten now. I was reading V.S. Naipaul’s An area of Darkness and I thought this ‘No city or landscape is truly real unless it has been given quality of myth by writer, painter or by its association with great events’ rather summed up my thoughts on Kayseri’ *
The little museum was interesting but rather small. I think there were more store rooms than display areas, but with a pair of Hittite lions outside and one of the cutest little clay letters inside a clay envelope I had ever seen to, it was still worth a trek out to the suburbs. This also gave me the chance to see some of the 200 odd mausoleums scattered around.
The City is a real mix of the very old and the modern. The 800 year old citadel is being renovated to accomadate a few more shops, cafes and green space, while in between the two great mosques and the madrassa the modern tramway runs with open air elevators to take you from one side of the square to the other.
In the exceptionally beautiful caravansary the carpet seller Mahir Kaplan has his own website and the hatmaker is learning English from the BBC.
The downside though is I couldn’t understand a word he said in English and the carpet seller doesn’t have a computer, but progress must start somewhere.
The covered bazaars with arches and domes are full, selling mainly clothes, shoes and gold jewellery but the newly built funky shopping mall, with roughly the same shops one gets all over Europe, was a little empty.
Although I had spent a few Friday’s in Turkey here it was really a Friday prayer day. As by now I had rather lost track of what day of the week it was, there isn’t a day when everything stops, there was a buzz in town by about 11 in the morning, and it dawned on me it was the important Friday prayers.
So many people were standing around in groups or sitting in cafes with their prayer mats, and there were itinerant prayer mat sellers wandering around hawking these small carpets.
There were queues for the washing areas and many were sitting around well before time, on their own mats or the large ones provided by the mosque, chatting or doing a last bit of business on their mobiles, before the call to prayer started.
There was a call from the mosque and suddenly all was quiet. The whole ceremony, carried out under the trees in the square by the mosque, in beautiful autumn sunshine, and that half hour of near total silence it was all rather impressive.
Kayseri is a very pleasant and relaxing city and with great things to see and I am still surprised that everyone I spoke to told me that hardly any tourists visited.
* An area of Darkness VS Naipaul’s travel book on India 1964…I am travelling around India from August to October this year 2014 and if any one who has read this far in the blog has any friends in India who might advise, converse or even put me up Please let me know !
Some more images of Kayseri