On Thursday 21st we head into Sarıkamış to present ourselves to the Kaymakam and the Mayor.

We are actually staying a couple of miles outside Sarıkamış which is around 35 miles from Kars, the provincial capital.  On Thursday 21st we head into Sarıkamış to present ourselves to the Kaymakam and the Mayor.  This north eastern corner of Turkey was ruled by Russia from 1877 to 1917 and they left lots of impressive stone buildings behind which stand out architecturally from their Turkish counterparts.

The Kaymakam seems very young to us, but then everyone looks young when you’re hurtling towards 60.  He spent eight months in England ten years ago learning the language which, he initially says, he has now forgotten but, during the time we spend in his office, it starts to come back.  He is clearly delighted when he understands something without translation.  He tells us that the Minister of Education is expected in town later that day and will be dining with local education officers and head teachers at the Toprak Hotel that evening.  Maybe we could perform at the dinner?  We can perform anywhere, anytime – just give us an hour to don costumes and get ready. He promises to contact us later and we leave the Kaymakam phoning the organisers of the evening’s event and drive round to the Belediye. 

{mosimage}This is located near to an old Russian Orthodox church which has now been converted to a mosque.  The Mayor greets us in his skiing costume, having already attended a breakfast meeting on the slopes, and launches into a talk on the local skiing tradition.  He tells us the first primitive chair lift was installed in 1933 when skiing was a sport for the locals only.  In fact local children would strap two short planks of wood to their feet and have instant skis.  Now it is an expensive sport which Sarıkamış is hoping can provide employment for the young people of the town.  Currently 60% of the ski instructors are locals and they plan to open an instructor training facility at the site of the original ski lift – the ski slopes in use now are on the other side of the town.

{mosimage}The mayor gives us all souvenir hat, gloves and scarf sets and, after the obligatory group photo in his office, we all troop down five flights of stairs for a second photo opportunity in the snow in front of the Atatürk memorial.  We are then taken on a tour by minibus around the town, which includes a tantalising view of an old Russian hunting lodge built for the morganatic wife of Tzar Nicholas II, and known locally as ‘Empress Catherine’s Hunting Lodge’.  It has been locked up since 1917 when Turkey regained this area and we would all love to get inside.  But at this time of year, short of wading through deep snow drifts, we can’t even get nearer than the road about a kilometre away.

Instead we opt to explore the local shops, pay a ritual visit to the pastahane and then return to our hotel for rehearsals and afternoon naps.

In mid afternoon the Kaymakam phones to say we are to perform two songs at the official dinner that evening.  We rehearse for a small audience of hotel staff and they think we are ‘super’.  Dinner is eaten at a very early hour in order to get into costume and arrive at the Toprak Hotel for 7.30pm.  We are to perform in the smallest space imaginable -–7 of us can just about fit standing still and dancing is not easy.  But the room full of politicians and head teachers (men in suits and one woman) loves it.  Afterwards a delighted Kaymakam appears to invite us back for a performance on Saturday, when we will have a decent space and can do the full dance routine as well as the songs. 

{mosimage}We arrive back at our hotel at 9pm, change and meet in the bar.  Our hotel, the Kardelen, has only been open three months and is only the third hotel in this embryonic ski resort.  The 5-star Toprak where we have just danced has been open three years and is located right by the main ski lift.  Finally there is the ơmkar next door to the Toprak which opened fifteen years ago – more of this hotel in the next episode.

We are almost the only guests at the Kardelen and the barman, who works in Bodrum in the summer, is very pleased to have people to serve.  We are pleased to have a warm place to stay with excellent food.