Lake Van, in eastern Turkey, hosts stunning scenery, a great boat ride, four islands, and an Armenian cathedral turned museum. It’s well worth the visit.
Summer is the best time to vist the Lake Van area of Turkey. It’s elevation is about 5,400 feet, so it’s dry and can be quite cold most parts of the year. In June, the flowers are popping everywhere and the trees and ground are much greener than later in the summer.
One of the most fun things to do is to take a quick 20 minute boat ride to Akdamar Island to visit the old Armenian Cathedral, and hike around the island for the day. It’s got a beautiful beach, fantastic walking trails, and of course there is a souvenir shop and cafe on the island as well.
The day we went the sun was high in the sky, and beating down on us. Thankfully the boat has covering or we would have been burnt to a crisp in no time. It was a nice respite from the sun, with the wind in our faces. It costs about 7 Turkish Lira for a round trip, and you can stay on the island until the last boat leaves.
The highlight for me was visiting the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The Turks and the Armenians have had a tumultous relationship for many years. Because of this, the restoration of this cathedral met with opposition from many sides. It is still wrought with controversy, but when we were there the tourists were all Turkish except for my small party of four. I think that is a good sign.
Armenian churches are always highly decorative, usually with beautiful frescoes. This one had frescoes, but it also had stone reliefs adorning the outside walls depicting various Old Testament scenes. I have never before or since seen anything like it.
The interior of the cathedral does have some frescoes with the gorgeous blues in them, but it is obvious that there has been vandalism and distress inside. It is not as obvious outside.
Walking around the perimeter of the church, there are many gravestones and markers that depict the cross, and have a religious significance. Many of them are standing or laying where they were found.
The scrub trees and pinon-esque trees lend the landscape a sort of scrubby look. The walking paths are mostly uncovered, but the area around the cathedral is well shaded and very comfortable.
If you are adventurous enough to head to eastern Turkey, do not miss the chance to go to Akdamar Island. It is a fantastic day trip that I will remember for a long time.