Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Not-So-Black Black Sea

This time last week I was in pure awe of the wonderful beauty of the Black Sea region of Turkey.  More specifically, my friends and I were in Trabzon.  Now, if you've been reading my blog, you know that I've traveled at lot in Turkey and I've seen most of the major regions.  I've visited the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bosphorus, the south east, and central Anatolia.  I've found most of the landscape to be similar in one way or another.  Perhaps similar is the right word, familiar seems a better fit.  However, when our plane landed in Trabzon, my draw dropped. Everywhere I looked was the greens of my west coast Canadian homeland, the skies were the clear bright blue of places like Montana and the Black Sea was the turquoise of the Aegean or the Caribbean, but there were still the familiar signs, mosques, sounds and smells of the rest of Turkey.  It was breath-taking to say the least.

The view of the city and the sea from the Aya Sofya.

Our first day, we were whisked off to see the Aya Sofya (not like the one in Istanbul, this one is much
smaller and from what we could tell the entire interior was all frescoes at one point). It was simply beautiful and the setting of it overlooking the Black Sea was gorgeous.

The Aya Sofya.

We then lunched on the seaside.  Eating super fresh seafood and the kofte (meatballs) that Trabzon is known for.  The mezzes were beyond delicious and the famous Trabzon bread was unreal!
The restaurant where we had lunch.

After lunch we hopped back into our van and headed out to the fabled Sümela Monastery in the Pontic Mountains. The roads up are twisting and narrow. You can ride in a car nearly to the actual entrance of the monastery but not quite.  You will have to walk on some narrow and not altogether safe trails for about 15 minutes.  Generally the trails are okay but there are a couple of spots that aren't for the faint of heart in the sense that they are slick and with nothing to stop you from tumbling down the very steep hill on one side.  The crazy, narrow road, the crossing of wet river roads, the multitude of stairs and the trails are all worth it in the end.  The monastery was simply stunning inside with more frescoes than I'd ever seen in any location.  And knowing that you are standing on a structure built into a cliff side centuries before has a mystical quality to it.  Never mind that you can hear the roar of the river raging over the rocks far below and everywhere you look is green, beautiful trees.  There is something about being at the top of a mountain, in a place that is so reverent towards nature and the Creator.

the mountain views on our way to the monastery
nearly at the entrance
once we got inside, this is what we saw
I was so happy to have made it inside!
some of the frescoes on the exterior of the church
one of the many frescoes on the interior.  As long as no flash was used, pictures were allowed.
The raging river that ran through the gorge below.
The exterior of the monastery as seen from the road below.
Afterwards we stopped for dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the sea and parts of the city.  It was stunning and the food was delicious.

The view from our dinner spot.
The famous cheese/corn meal dish of the region. Delicious!
After dinner we left to stay at a friend's family home high in the hills surrounding Trabzon. We didn't know what to expect but when we woke in the morning, this is what we saw:

Our breakfast view.

I never got tired of looking at this!
It was simply gorgeous and we were spoiled with a breakfast of farm fresh veggies, homemade yogurt, homemade cheese, fruits and tasty savoury pancakes and potatoes. It was amazing.

The tea farms on our way to the lake.
Our last stop for the weekend was to go out to  Uzungöl, which translates to mean long lake.  Now I'm sure we didn't see all of it, but it really wasn't a long lake at all. It was however beautiful to see this little lake surrounded by huge green mountains.  For some reason it make me think of Switzerland, so I began to call the area Turkey's Switzerland.  It was stunning.  We had a walk and some tasty lunch (the best soup I've ever had in Turkey) before rushing back to the airport to catch our afternoon flight back to Ankara.

Yup... didn't feel like Turkey at all, except for the mosque.
I loved this area!

My traveling companions and our caretakers at the house and our guide. 

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see this part of Turkey.  It is just so different from all the other spots and is such a special place.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

100 Metres

A basic map of the area.
A few weeks ago a couple of friends and I hopped a very late plane (2 1/2 hours delayed) to the Hatay region of Turkey.  It's near the Syrian border but was safe for travel and we felt that it was a must see before jetting out of Turkey forever.  It was meant to be a very fast weekend trip, arriving around mid-night on Friday night and leaving at 7 am on Sunday.  With the delays etc, we didn't get into the city of Antakya until about 3 am on Saturday morning.  With little backpacks, we wandered the deserted streets looking for our small hotel.  A man popped out of another hotel and directed us back the way we came saying it was 100 meters straight on.  So back we went when we came to a fork in the road... which was was straight?  Another man popped out of a closed restaurant and told us to go to the left for 100 meters and we would find our hotel.  Off we trundled and we did find our hotel, which was locked!  Thankfully the night desk man heard our knocks and plaintive sighs and let us in and sent us to our room. 
The river that runs through the city.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny and the sounds of a quiet city waking woke us (well, that and our neighbour arguing on his phone at 8 am might have had something to do with it).  Downstairs we went just before the breakfast finished to eat yet another lovely Turkish breakfast (these people really do do an amazing breakfast), and out into the sunshine we ventured.  We had been given a map but we couldn't seem to find any street names so the map seemed useless, so we wandered taking in the sights of a river that ran through the centre of town and a beautiful park.  Eventually, we wandered upon the museum we'd hoped to see and got to look at huge amounts of beautiful mosaics.  In Turkish museums, they allow you to take photos without flash and you can get fairly close to the artifacts, even touching those that aren't cordoned off, it's amazing.  The museum was gorgeous and small.  We had a blast looking around and then the sunshine beckoned us back outside.
The park
About 100 metres down the road was a little ice cream place and so we stopped to get a sweet treat before following the brown (I think it's universal that all cultural and historically significant sites are given brown signs) signs towards the church of St. Peter.  We walked, we walked and we walked some more before stopping in a hotel to seek help.  The man spoke Turkish and Russian only (and my Russian was TOO rusty to actually ask) so he called a fluent English speaking friend to help us.  They told us that the church was outside of the city and that we needed to catch a taxi.  The taxi stand was about 100 metres up the road. Easily found and our driver may have been the sweetest man alive.  He took us to the church for 10 TL, waited there for us and then took us back for 10 TL.  When we asked him for the BEST restaurant with Antakyan food, he knew just where to take us (it too was supposedly just 100 metres from the taxi stand). 
Inside the museum
One of the many mosaics
Charity, blending in with the artifacts
Me... connecting with my inner goddess

The church itself was breath-taking.  The entrance and several bits of the interior were constructed at the time of the Crusades and the church itself was a cave church thought to have been founded by Luke, even though historians etc believe that Peter and Paul may have preached there.  It's name comes from when Peter was there.  It's currently under the care of an order of Capuchin monks that still operate in the Antakya region.  In fact several different denominations still maintain churches in the area and there seems to be peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims in the area.  It was a thing of beauty to see.

The view from St. Peter's
The entrance
Me, at the entrance.

The interior
Looking back to the entrance

looking out to the hills to the side of St. Peter's

After viewing the church and museum, having a lovely lunch, wandering through the bazaar and streets, we headed back to the hotel for a little break before grabbing some dinner at the same restaurant where the man popped out to help us hours earlier.  We also booked our bus to go back to the airport for the early morning.  Our dinner was delicious and then we thought we'd take a walk to find the exact spot the bus was meant to pick us up (it was supposed to be about 100 metres from our hotel, near a coffee shop).  We went there and a man told us it was on the other side of the shop, so we went there and there were no signs, so we walked the round-about looking for the signs for the bus (we had been told that there would be a sign) and found nothing.  We found another person who pointed us in another direction and told us it was 100 metres that way... no sign, so we asked at taxi driver who gave us another location.  Then after we went back to the hotel we double checked with our desk clerks to be told it was really at the original location 100 metres from the hotel (and they were right!!).  Needless to say, we needed sleep because the mere mention of 100 metres made us giggle.

the best restaurant


All in all, Antakya is a must see for those interested in the early church, history, archeology, and good food!