The trains from Turkey to Iran run 3 times a week. I neither wanted to rush through Turkey, nor did I want to spend too much time in Cappadoccia, which is why I decided to stop in Malatya.
After the enlightning discussions with Karl about the Turkish way of communication, I felt like I should have no problem finding my way to Malatya on Friday. I knew, I had to be persistent and ask as many people as possible about a way to go. My first test took place before I even got started in Göreme. All buses to Kayseri were full, or at least that is the information I was given. The only recommendation I got, was to go to Avanos, since it lies on the main road to Kayseri, which should make it easier to catch a bus. The bus to Avanos had just passed and another one was not due for about an hour.
The bus ride to Kayseri was the first one in which I had to wear my rain coat inside the bus. Snow lie on the roof of the bus and was slowly melting and unfortunately, the roof was leaking just above my seat. Additionally it was the first time I saw people standing on a long distance bus.
I arrived in Kayseri at 1:30pm, the exact time when one of the buses to Malatya leave. I ran up to the bus to learn, that it was full. Been there, done that. I started asking around for connections to Malatya. I was successful, though I was not given a departure platform, instead I was asked to show up near the main entrance of the bus station at 2pm. So I had a few moments to write an e-mail and go to the bathroom.
Around 10 minutes too late, the started collecting the passengers for Malatya and we had to follow a fellow across the bus station, passing the buses parked at the platforms, leaving the bus station to finally stop behind a mosque. A minute later a dolmus arrived and we all hopped on. The Mercedes Sprinter was full except for one passenger seat, even all the luggage somehow fit in the vehicle. So we drove off to get those more than 350 km behind us.
In all these bus rides, I made one observation. Never sat a man and a woman next to each other. The people kept swapping seats until males and females were well separated.
The ride to Malatya was alright, even though we only stopped once for 15 minutes during the 5.5 hour ride. Unfortunately it soon was dark outside such that I could not take pictures of the blizzard and the white surroundings.
Since I arrived in Malatya after dark, I took a taxi from the bus station one of the hotels listed in my guide book. Another first: the taxi driver wanted to have less money, than what the meter showed.
One room was available in the hotel, such that I immediately could bring my luggage up to the room. In front of my room, there was a small common room. On one of the chairs sat an older man. He immediately asked me, where I was from and whether I could talk German. Atilla lived in Germany for a few years but has since moved back to Malatya. I answered his questions, whether I had already eaten, with no. He suggested we go find some food together.
I happily accepted his invitation, since I was now in Malatya and not in Istanbul anymore, such there was no risk in accepting such an invitation. We went to a friend of Atilla’s who is a retired mechanical engineer at the Turkish air force. I was served the specialty of the house, which is lamb marinated and cooked for a day with rice and salad. For dessert I was served a nice cake on ice cream. A delicious meal!
Early on Saturday morning, I started walking around by myself to find money and to inquire for bus connections to Van. Finding an ATM was no problem, but a bus connection for Sunday night was going to be a problem. Back at the hotel I met Atilla again and we out to eat breakfast together. Since he knows the city, I got a wonderful Turkish breakfast with lots of honey.
I explained my plans for my journey. We ended up asking for bus and train connections together. He was exceptionally helpful, but to no avail. We did not manage to get one positive result. The quest for information was started in one of the many tea saloons, where Atilla met his friends and played a game of backgammon. His friends were quite surprised to see a foreigner in their tea house. They did a lot of discussion and made a few phone calls, but especially for the trains there was no really helpful information. So I told Atilla, I wanted to go to the train station and find out, whether I could get a ticket from Van to Teheran in Malatya. Unfortunately the reply of the clerk at the train station was negative, I can not buy a ticket from Van in Malatya. As far as the bus is concerned, I got the information that there would be a night bus on Monday.
I spent the afternoon alone, updating my blog and discovering the city center of Malatya by myself. This feast led to three invitations for tea, two times baklava tasting and one invitation to a tea house to watch the men playing cards.
Before the celebration of Bayram, which took place on Sunday, all the locals of Malatya were shopping. One particular target were all kinds of sweets for dessert. All bakeries had their baklava piled up to the ceiling. Add the regular Saturday market into the mix and you get some sort of anthill in the city center, in which one could perfectly get lost.
The owner of the Internet Café where I was on Saturday introduced me to a fellow, who apparently would be able to help me with my bus ticket to Van. I just had to be at the bus station between 7:30 and 10:00 on Sunday. Since this was my only choice to find a bus connection on Sunday, I left my hotel around 7am on Sunday for the bus station. I happened to be there early, which is why I start inquiring by myself. Most of the bus companies had a connection sometime between 7:30 and 8am leaving Malatya. Unfortunately I had told all the people I wanted to take a night bus, such they did not come up with the idea, that such a connection would be alright as well.
The fellow from Metro Turizm told me, his bus was leaving in about an hour. So I rushed back to the hotel, packed my belongings and headed back to the bus station. After about 50 minutes, I was back at the bus station and the young man told me, the bus had just left. I immediately grabbed his telephone, called the bus driver to wait at the side of the road. Fortunately, a German speaking fellow stood right next to me and loaded me with my backpack in his car. We caught up with the bus a few minutes later and I loaded my backpack in the luggage compartment and boarded the bus.
The advantage of traveling during the day definitively is, that one can see the beautiful landscape passing by. On Sunday we crossed a couple of passes, passed a few dams and even a ski resort was in the program. The dark soil, the white snow and the blue sky made for a beautiful color combination. At dawn, I arrived in Van, where I took the servis to the city center. In the darkness, I could make out the first traces of the recent earthquake. In a few backyards of the houses stood the tents one had seen on TV. During dinner, I met a group of Americans who supported the relief efforts by assessing the current situation. From their stories, I can tell that the people are quite creative to improve their situation. Since the tents are quite cold during this time of the year, a lady found the heating wire of an old hot plate and connected it using wires to the socket outlet. She laid the whole construction on a brick. Apparently many people are suffering from a bronchitis from the smoke of the fires in the tents.
The relief efforts apparently are rather slow and especially the civil engineer assessing the quality of the homes of the people has yet many places to visit.
My next job is to organize a train ticket for the train to Teheran and to explore the city of Van, famous for its pastries. This is going to be another interesting day. Hopefully there will be more life in the streets than on Sunday during Bayram.