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“Alexei, get off Instagram. Did you see that a bomb went off in Turkey yesterday?!”

“Really (continues Instagramming), whereabouts?”

“Van, at a police station!!”

“Oh Van, yeah we’re going there tomorrow”

“Erm should we really still be going there? Maybe we should cancel?”

“Nah, we’re supposed to be doing ‘yolo’ stuff. Let’s just go and I promise we won’t hang around around the police station!”

So, hello Van! Van is located in the southeast of Turkey and is predominantly lived in by Kurdish communities. Immediately you feel the difference, young boys pass by offering rides on donkey carts, the streets are filled with kind faces of women wearing traditional head dresses and apparently there are some snow white cats with different coloured eyes (creatively called the Van Cats), but we only saw this on every single tourist souvenir. Oh and despite being a tad bit dangerous feeling, it has a really relaxed vibe with lots of young people due to a university being located there.

Apart from terrorist bombings, Van is also famous for their lake (creatively named ‘Lake Van’). The largest in Turkey, it is filled with alkaline water and has no outlet due to volcanic eruptions which happened donkey’s years ago.

Our trip to Van was full of little surprises – we climbed up to an ancient fortress on a big hill, visited the island of Akdamar which is home to a charming Armenian church… and we accidently made friends with a murderer! YES, THIS REALLY HAPPENED!

Van Fortress

Akdamar Island and an Armenian church stranded on the island….

It all started after Akdamar island, fresh off the boat and safely back on the mainland, we headed over to the minibus to get us back to town. It was empty so we knew we were not going anywhere soon but assumed and hoped more passengers would turn up. Two hours later, only one other couple turned up and whilst the driver had disappeared his mate had assured us we should be “going soon soon”. “How soon?” and suddenly his mate didn’t speak English. Another half an hour later, we decided not soon enough! The quickest way to get back would be to hitch hike. After Alexei wasted 10 minutes trying his best to flag a ride, we ignored our hitchwiki knowledge and I immediately got a ride… ah we should be back in no time!

“Hey, thanks for giving us a lift!”

“Nooooo problem”

After that, silence. Amazing I thought, these two guys don’t even want to talk to us. I love not having to make small talk.

But ten minutes later, “So, which country you come from?”

“England, you know London?“

‘Ah Lon-don, we thinking you are Iranian. He (pointing to the driver) don’t want to take you because we not like Iran people- bad people, bad Muslim. Not Muslim, hate these people”

Not sure what to say, we just smile politely like idiots, wondering why they picked us up if they thought we were Iranian and they hate Iranians.

“Soooo, you like turkey?” asks chatty man 1. “Yeah, amazing place, very good people“.

“You know Amrika? You know Amrika and British no good. Boom boom, make bomb every where. Bomb all Muslims. Not good people. I don’t like.”

Err nervous laughter, did he just forget where we said we were from?! Not wanting to get into politics, Alexei changed the subject, something neutral and very British – wow, the weather is very hot today! This distracted chatty man 1 and relaxed the atmosphere. The driver remained silent.

Somewhere on a motorway in the middle of nowhere… “We stop for tea, yes? Please, you must drink tea. You are friend now”.

Aaaah, I really didn’t want to but what could we say, thanks for being kind and giving us a lift but stuff your tea because you freaked us out a bit with the bomb chat?! So against all sensible logic, we said yes but made it clear we needed to get back asap. We stopped at a local park with views of the lake, it was a really nice place and lots of local families were out enjoying the sun, something I was secretly grateful for.

The infamous cafe where we were stuck with a murderer. Nice view though!

While we waited for our tea, we tried some normal conversation again. “Where are you guys from?” we asked. “From Batman, very hot phwoooaar!!!” said Chatty Man 1 as he pretended to take his shirt off several times. I am guessing he was trying to tell us it is very hot there! Next question.. “do you work or study here?” “Yes, I work teacher in sport and he (the driver) is student”. “Oh cool, hope you don’t mind us asking but your friend (silent driver) looks a bit older. Did he work before or something?”

Some mumbling in Turkish, then an answer – “Oh no, he in prison”

“Oh righty then” thinking people must go to jail all the time for minor offences

“…for murder a man” (accompanied by a throat slitting action)

Alexei and I just stared at each other. Both desperately hoping we misheard the translation, did he really just say he is a murderer?!! At the exact moment the driver friend finally broke his silence and shouts out in English “but I innocent, man say bad thing and do fighting me”. So it turns out the murderer does speak English, but only about his case.

At this point there is silence for about 10 minutes, drinking tea. Both of us dying to leave.

Random photo of the famous Kahvalti breakfast, speciality of this region and I think you can tell, an amazing thing to wake up to each morning!

The two blokes could sense the atmosphere had changed so murderer thought it would be nice to lighten the mood by showing us some of his art work from when he was a prisoner. I think he wanted to show off his gentle side. There where some interesting paintings with green landscape scenes, religious scripts and naked women in interesting poses….

I decided to switch off at this point and let Alexei enjoy the work of this budding prison Picasso.

I kept my eye on the tea pot praying there would be no tea left but it just kept on pouring. Then out of nowhere Chatty Man 1 asked Alexei “Is she (pointing to me) flirtatious???”

“Sorry what?!” Murderer shoved his phone in my face where he had a translation app up and began winking and pointing at Alexei and me. ‘Is she flirtatious’ is what it said on the phone.

Suddenly my mind flicked back to that hitchwiki guidance. Sometimes in Turkey even when a couple are together, the men will test to see how serious the man is about the woman and will make comments to see if he is happy for her to sleep around. I panicked, is this what was happening??? Quick think what did hitchwiki say to do? I vaguely remember it saying if you approached with unwanted attention boldly tell them that you’re a virgin as this is very respected. I looked around the park, I didn’t particularly fancy shouting “virgin, virgin!” out loud in public so went with my own plan instead. Put my sunglasses on and looked the other way. It seemed to work!

After what felt like a lifetime, the teapot was dry and we could finally leave. We got back into the car and didn’t speak for the remainder of the journey to Van. As we approached the city centre, they asked which hotel we were staying in. Still feeling a little uneasy we lied and convinced them to drop us off at the bus station as we needed (fictional) bus tickets. Even then we couldn’t quite get rid of them.

This blog post is pretty long, so here, look at some tasty ‘Muhlama’ – an amazing melted cheese, cornmeal and melted butter dish 

“You have hotel address?”

“No hotel”

“Ah we take you nice hotel”

‘Actually yeah we have a hotel but can’t remember exactly where it is”

“Ok, have Whatsapp?”

“No” 

“Facebook?” 

“No” 

“Instagram?” 

“No” 

“Email” 

“Err, it’s not working at the moment so we’ll take yours and will email later.” 

“Phone?” [Phone magically has no battery all of sudden]

Finally, after hanging around the bus ticket office and carefully checking to make sure they’d driven off… then turned and ran to the safety of the hotel (via a kebab shop). What a weird day!

More healthy Turkish food … and you’re wondering why we look a bit fatter?!

Back at the hotel we decided to have a quiet evening, ate some dinner in our room and then settled to watch Netflix. 

“Alexei, did you see that? Something’s moving”

“Where? Shit what is that?!”

“I think there is a bird in here!!” 

“Why’s it going round and round… wait, that’s a bloody bat!” 

Yes, that’s right. To end an eventful day, somehow a BAT had managed to get into the hotel room and was intent on harassing us as we tried to relax! The hotel staff did eventually manage to remove it for using a coat hanger and plastic bag, although this did involve Alexei having to do a funky chicken impression at the hotel reception before they understood what was happening.