In an otherwise unremarkable 24 hour coach hopping journey from Tbilisi in Georgia to Van in Turkey, the road leading to the Turkish city of Erzurum astounds. Suddenly we find ourselves driving through a landscape of mountains with only beautiful, untouched snow stretching out for miles in every direction. For 30 minutes all we do is continue to stare out the window as each new permutation of landscape is presented to us.
Later on we would do our research, an it becomes more clear as to how fortunate we've been. This is an area used to relative extremes of weather. A month later and most of the snow would have melted, a month earlier and we may not have taken this route due to road closures.
Lake Van provides a day's perfect camera fodder, before we head out to a popular Kurdish bar for the evening, only to discover we are there on a quiet night and - save the manager's friend - are the only people there. It's becoming an upsetting trend on this trip, despite our efforts to the contrary.
The next day Simon wanders off south of Van to attempt some mountain hiking, whilst I stay in town. My decade old walking boots have become progressively more painful, and I can't possibly face a hard day in them. Instead I spend the day shopping.
Van shopping receipt
New shirt - ₤4
Haircut (long overdue) - ₤2.40
New waling boots (from the only shop in town that sells them) - ₤32
Chicken kebab - 80p
An hour's internet access - 40p
Meanwhile south of town, Simon has successfully traversed a snowy mountain, but has attracted uniformed attention on the way down. Some police are giving him very confused looks.
The area, it seems, is one in which the PPK is active, and Simon ends up being detained for 30 minutes and questioned under suspicion of terrorism. They part on friendly terms though, and before getting a minibus back to town the whole village excitedly comes out to meet him.
On our last night in Turkey we decide we should fit in an authentic Turkish bathhouse (called 'Hamam') experience after all. Wearing just a towel we are ushered first into the sauna room. Simon is in his element in this kind of heat, but I am less comfortable. I stick out the heat as long as possible, aided by Simon's goading, but when I have to leave it becomes clear I've left it a little too late, and back in the main room I nearly faint, cannot stand up, and three Hamam staff have to prevent me crashing into various marble fixtures.
One tea-aided recovery later, and the experience continues. An attendant scrubs seemingly four layers of skin off us, douses us with a bucket of water from the cold tap, then one from the warm, then we lie on a marble slab whilst two middle aged men massage us with levels of intimacy beyond which either of us are comfortable with.
From Van we set out coach hopping to the Syrian border, stopping for a couple of where the Turkish officer attempts to levy us with a fictional 'departure tax'. It's the fourth time in three days that somebody has tried to overcharge us (to varying degrees of success), and it has spoilt our otherwise very high regard for the Turkish people. Talking our way out of that, we walk forward and cross the border into Syria...
Wish you were here,
Photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=66273&id=282401058&l=ab25ed7210 (no login required)
Turkey rating: 7.2/10
Friendliest person met: A guy called George who helped us with the Tbilisi - Van journey a lot
Scariest moment: questioned under suspicion of terrorism
Most beautiful sight: the road to Erzurum
The Soundtrack: Royksopp - Junior
Still to come: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Glastonbury festival.