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Terrell's 2006 Travel Journal

Part 2 - Turkey: The Eastern Black Sea Coast and Eastern Anatolia

This is the record of a month-long trip I took during the summer of 2006. If you'd like to see Part 1  that took me to London, Scotland and Tuscany start here. The first entry in Part 2 begins in Venice.

Monday July 31 Day 14

I was up early for this travel day. I checked out of the hotel and walked the two minutes to the Piazza di Roma to catch my bus to the airport. I bought a ticket at the window although I needn’t have bothered. I don’t believe that anyone else on the bus paid. I waited at the stop in the “piazza of death.” The whole huge piazza was half parking lot, have whizzing speed lane with no clear differentiation between the two. To wait for a bus, you stood in a painted area as city buses and massive touring buses sped by. I managed to board the right bus without mishap and had a pleasant ride to the airport. The airport, I’m afraid was much less pleasant, being crowded, confused and inconvenient. Passengers were required to wait outside security until the Swiss Air check in desk opened at 9:15. Everywhere there were signs advertising the 30 shops and restaurants inside security while outside there wasn’t even a place to sit down. As soon as the desk opened, huge lines formed instantly and at the front of the line was a couple with a problem that took a solid twenty minutes to resolve while the rest of us just stood there. I finally got checked in about 10 AM with boarding scheduled to start at 10:20 so I dashed inside, found one of the 30 restaurants and bought water, coffee and a croissant. Naturally, the plane left late making me nervous since I already had what I considered to be too tight of a connection in Zurich. A short and beautiful flight over Alpine peaks, lakes and meadows later we landed in Zurich at the B terminal. Oh no, I need to be at the A terminal. The unloading bus speeds us over to A. (Maybe I’ll make it.) We arrive at A1, my flight leaves from A82. Aaah! (I'll never make it.) As fast as I can, without actually running I speed to the other end of the terminal aided by good signage and moving walkways. (I think I’ll make it.) Argh! Another security check. (I'm definitely not going to make it.) Finally I get to the gate five minutes before scheduled takeoff only to find that I have to wait in a long line for boarding. The next time someone tells you that the Swiss always run things on time, don’t believe them.

The flight to Istanbul was great with a nice wide seat and plenty of leg room. The stewards were attentive and there was a tasty cheese calzone for a snack. The announcements were pretty amusing. Since it was a Swiss Air flight every announcement was made in German, Italian, English, Turkish and I think French as well. We arrived almost on time so the only thing I was still worried about was whether my suitcase (my tiny little suitcase well below published size limits that NO ONE will let me carry on) made the plane. The lines were long at the visa window and passport control. Just as I was getting my passport checked, I heard my name over the loud speaker so I knew that the driver from the hotel was looking for me. I had to decide whether to try to contact him or just see if I could pick up my bag and get outside before he decided I wasn’t coming. I opted for the latter which worked out fine. My bag came through with no problem and the driver was waiting as I came out with his blessed little Melitour sign. We had a nice drive in from the airport. At the Ayasofya, I found that I had been assigned a single room on the second floor (yeah!). The bathroom could use updating but the air-conditioning worked great so I was happy. I took the easy way out for dinner, buying chips, water and chocolate from the bodega down the street and retired to bed with my book, my laundry drying all about me.

Tuesday August 1 Day 15

I found Vivian, with whom I traveled on the 2004 Turkey Melitour trip, and her friend Barbara in the breakfast room when I went down in the morning and we were soon joined by Gayle who was on the 2005 trip. We spent an hour catching up and then headed off for some pre-tour sightseeing. Gayle and I went in search of the new Modern Art Museum. I had a vague notion of where to find it and managed to choose the right direction on the tram. We rode across the Galata Bridge and up along the Bosphorus but I wasn’t sure where to get off. Fortunately, Gayle spotted a billboard advertisement for the museum so we jumped off the tram and followed a trail of signs to the modern building right on the water. The collection is a little young to be fabulous yet but there were a few interesting pieces and a nice temporary installation downstairs. By far my favorite part was the permanent installation in and by the museum’s library. Hundreds of paperback books were suspended face down on steel cables in a single layer that stretched across two rooms so that they created a sort of false ceiling. Gayle the retired librarian and I the bookseller had a good time examining the titles. We eventually had to leave the lovely air-conditioning and brave the heat outside. We walked north past the Dolmabahçe Palace hoping to find water, lunch and a cooling walk along the Bosphorus, but alas, it was not to be. We had a rather disappointing meal in a little restaurant and then caught a bus back to the tram stop and the tram back to the Hippodrome. After a shower and a nap I felt restored and hungry and ready to meet Vivian and Barb for dinner. While I was waiting in the lobby for the others, I met Bessie from Chattanooga who would also be on the tour with us. We had to nudge Gayle to come down—she had fallen asleep, too—and then we decided to try the restaurant at the new hotel across the street. It was sort of an odd meal as we were pretty much the only people in the place and the waiter seemed to forget about us toward the end of the meal as he watched a soccer game on TV, but the fish and the French fries were good.  Six steps across the street and we were home again. I went to bed and finished reading my book which left me not only with nothing to read but also stranded in the middle of a series. I had just finished the third book with no hope of finding the fourth.


 

                          

 

left: ancient meets modern in the window of the Modern Art Museum

right: my first meeting with Vivian in 2004--clearly trouble right from the start

 


 

Wednesday August 2 Day 16 Tour Day 1

I saw the ladies at breakfast and recapped the previous day’s adventures. Vivian and Barb invited me to join them on a ferry ride on the Bosphorus but I decided to stick to my plan of making a thorough exploration of the Grand Bazaar so I’d know exactly what I wanted to buy when I got back to Istanbul at the end of the trip (assuming, of course, that I didn’t spend all my money on the road). It took me a little while to find the market but using my usual method of following the flow of tourist traffic got me to the right place. I love the gold shops on the main street of the market. It makes you understand a little why the crusaders went so nuts when they got to Constantinople. All that glowing gold! I wandered around for an hour or so trying to plan future purchases without succumbing to present temptations.

From the Kapalı Çarsı, I meandered down the hill through the touristy shops and the little stores designed for wholesale buyers. I found a pair of light-weight pants that actually fit me for seven and a half lira (about $5). Towards the bottom of the hill I found some Turkish teaspoons that I liked. I went through the Spice Market that smelled great and then had a good time looking at the cheese shops next to the market. I bought a doner sandwich and a coke and found a shady spot in the park next door to eat. Slices of lamb, pickles, French fries and lettuce all rolled up in chewy pide bread. It was yum.

After eating I walked past the ferry slips on the waterfront and contemplated taking a ride but decided to tram back up to the top of the hill instead. Eventually I just ended up walking up because I was too busy looking in every shop to find the tram stop. I bought an ice cream on the way up but by the time I got to the Hippodrome I was so hot I went straight back to the hotel with only a brief stop to get more water and soda. A cold shower and a nap restored me so that I could enjoy the evening.

I went up to the rooftop terrace about 4 to journal but was joined almost immediately by Jan (Melitour 2005) and we chatted until it was time to go meet the rest of the group in the lobby at 5. Meli was very excited about her news that her son had just gotten married and was expecting a baby. We all introduced ourselves: me, Gayle and Jan from Seattle, Kathy and Sheryl from Houston, Barb and Vivian from Oregon, Terry and Vicki from California, Nancy and Brantly also from California (he’s Gayle’s brother) Bessie and Emily from Tennessee and Emily’s friend Jim from Texas. George and Kay from Oregon were due in this evening and hoped to join us at dinner and the last couple, Colin and Mary from Canada would meet us tomorrow in Trabzon. With the introductions concluded we walked up the hill to the Blue Mosque where everyone had voted to hear a reprise of Meli’s lecture on the building of the mosque. While we were there a couple of curious Turks took the opportunity to talk to us including an elderly gentleman who recited his poetry for us while Meli translated.

From the mosque we continued on to the Blue House restaurant for an al fresco dinner on the roof where Meli’s previous group was also having their farewell dinner. We had a very good pureed eggplant dish but none of 2004’s delicious chocolate pudding. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for a while to watch the light and sound show at the mosque but it was a little dull so I gathered up the remaining first timers and shepherded them back to the hotel leaving Meli behind. We had a very early flight in the morning so we were all ready to turn in.

 


 

             

left: wandering the Grand Bazaar

right: dinner in the shadow of the Blue Mosque

 


 

Thursday August 3 Day 17 Tour Day 2

Thursday morning we were up well before the crack of dawn (breakfast at 4, bags out by 4:30 and on the bus at 5) to make our 6:40 flight to Trabzon. Everything went smoothly, despite a little confusion on the airline’s part, and before we knew it we were descending from the plane in sight of the Black Sea. Colin and Mary met us at the airport and we hiked through the parking lot to find our very large, modern, air-conditioned (thank goodness) tour bus with our driver Kamuran, both lately arrived from Istanbul. I’m sorry Hüseyin (the driver I made friends with in 2004 and 2005) couldn’t be with us this year but his bus is not big enough to handle this group and the bus companies won’t rent a bus of this size without their own driver attached.

We immediately headed off for our first destination of the day, the famous Sumela Monastery. The drive at first took us through a rather industrial part of town, spurring a talk from Meli about road and dam construction in the region and how it had environmentalists up in arms. Outside town, the road followed a rushing river with mountains rising steeply on either side with small patches of corn growing here and there. Meli told us that some of the fields in this region are planted on such steep slopes that workers need to tie themselves to trees to cultivate them. We saw fish hatcheries on the river and a few picturesque stone bridges. We stopped at a bakery for a couple of huge loaves of bread, still warm from the oven, to fill the gap between breakfast and lunch.

Mid-morning we reached the end of the main road and disembarked from our big bus. High above us, through the tree branches we could see the monastery clinging to the face of the mountain. After picture-taking, we got on mini-buses and drove up a very winding, rutted road. At the end of the road we walked up a steep path to the monastery where we had to climb a steep narrow staircase to get into the monastery. If heaven is up, we must be getting close. Meli was impressed at the number of Turkish tourists visiting the sight. She had never seen so many before. The monastery, originally founded in the 4th century though the building dates from the 13th century and was restored in the 18th century, is in the process of being restored again so our tour focused on the frescoes both outside and inside the Rock Church. Meli pointed out that the face of the Virgin Mary and Christ child reflect the ethnicity of the surrounding region since they were painted before homogenizing influences of the Renaissance.

Some of the group returned to the restaurant below by minibus but about half of us hiked down the hill path through the trees, chatting with Turkish teenagers as we went. It was a little harder descent than we had anticipated but everybody made it just fine. Lunch was taken in the restaurant by the riverside and featured the cheese/cornmeal/butter fondue-like dish called (I think) mamalika.

After lunch we got back on the bus and drove back to the seaside, stopping only once to buy the local ikat fabric from a roadside stand. In town we saw the local Hagia Sophia church, now a museum. Like the monastery, this church is part of the region's strong Greek and late Byzantine heritage. From there we drove up into the hills above the city to “Ataturk’s house,” a place he had visited but never really lived in. We had tea and an animated political discussion under the trees in the garden before going inside to admire the house and its stupendous view down to the sea. Back on the bus once more, and everyone drooping a bit by now, we drove back to town and our hotel. Kamuran did a masterful job getting the bus through tiny streets and wedging it into a parking spot in front of the hotel. I was impressed. We sorted out rooms and then met for a dinner of tomato soup and chicken in the top floor restaurant. After dinner, Gayle, Nancy, Brantly and I went in search of cash machines and then made a stop for water. I resisted the local honey for sale in the shop next door. It was in big glass jars; too heavy to carry and way too easy to break. Shower and bed ended the long day.


Sumela Monastery Turkey

Looking up at Sumela Monastery "between heaven and earth"

Sumela window

and looking out a Sumela window at the

 surrounding mountains


 

Friday August 4 Day 26 Tour Day 3

I took my notebook to breakfast but a chatty table made it tough to write. We had bags out at 8:30 and were onto the bus by nine with Kamuran appearing from nowhere as seems to be his habit. We drove a short ways to the Turkish equivalent of a strip mall where we descended to a subterranean level with a clammy smell and a single puny florescent lamp casting a pool of blue light on two shopkeepers, a young woman and a youth with a welding torch. Meli introduced the cast of characters and then the young woman proceeded to demonstrate the silver weaving technique that is used to make the silver bracelets and necklaces that we had seen in local shops. Very fine silver wire is wrapped in tiny interlocking loops and then hammered flat. Next they showed us the filigree method that makes a cheaper decorative product. The young guy bent copper wire into shape and welded it in place, then dipped the piece in an acid bath and then it gets silverized. The patterns of the metal work are very similar to the Victorian paper quilling techniques I learned when I was a docent at Old City Park in Dallas. The poor boy was so nervous about performing in front of so many Americans that his hands were shaking. After the demonstrations a brief buying frenzy ensued but the pieces I liked best were a little pricier than I could justify spending.

Back on the bus, we headed east from town on our way to keep our appointment with the mayor.  When Meli realized from the discussion in Ataturk’s garden that so many people in the group had an interest in politics, she called a friend who called a friend who knew the mayor of the next town up the coast, Iyidere, and arranged a meeting for us. We all trooped up to his office on the third floor of a building at the seaside that doubled as the bus depot. We could hear the mayor’s assistant announcing arrivals and departures over a loudspeaker throughout the interview. The mayor was a nice youngish man who answered questions about local administration, political parties, the position of women in government and many other topics. He said that his biggest headache was transportation. Keeping roads passable in a mountainous region with heavy rainfall is a problem and he was definitely in favor of the new road being built along the coast by Meli’s least favorite politician, despite the complaints of environmentalists.

After the interview, we had planned to go to see the local tea processing plant but the road was blocked by a political procession. A famous former politician who was hoping to become a famous future politician was about to arrive for a speech and the road was lined with cars and buses festooned with flags and posters with his picture. Instead, the mayor and some of his staff took us to lunch at a seaside restaurant. We had a delicious white bean with tomato sauce dish. Vivian and I saw that they had bags of the beans for sale and bought some to bring home with us. From the restaurant we drove back to the tea plant since the political parade had passed. The engineer in charge of the plant came to show us around. We saw how the green leaves arrived by truck from the surrounding fields, got dried on huge conveyor belts, then lightly cooked, shredded and dried some more in big vats and then sorted into various grades. The tea goes somewhere else to be packaged for retail sale. After the tour, we went up to the manager’s unair-conditioned office for a few questions on the structure of the company. Çaykur is a state supported company with, he told us, about 40 local plants. We thought we had misunderstood the number until later when we kept seeing the Çaykur sign everywhere.

The afternoon was devoted to the drive up into the mountains to visit a yayla, the green valleys that traditionally have been the summer vacation homes for Black Sea Turks. We passed through a village, Çamlıhemşin, which is the main winter village on our way to Ayder, the first of the yaylas, stopping occasionally to take pictures of picturesque stone bridges arching over the river next to the road. We drove higher through pine forests until we eventually came to an area of green meadows, with small wooden hotels, restaurants, and open air shops. There were lots of tents and people camping on the grass and a general air of summer festivities. Kamuran drove up to a wide space in the road to turn the bus around giving us a chance to see a spectacular waterfall glinting in the late afternoon sun before we parked at our home for the night, Hotel Vasili. The itinerary had said that we would only have one night at “the very basic hotel” in the yayla but I thought it was pretty nice. The outside had funky plastic rock siding and the lobby smelled of wood smoke, but the room I shared with Gayle and Meli was really nice. As you’d expect in the mountains it was all wood, like something you’d see in Switzerland or Colorado, with windows that looked across green meadows to the mountains above. Nice bathroom, too. Once we checked in, a few people went off to hot tub at the “spa” down the road, but most of us just walked up and down the road, admiring the scenery, shopping and people watching. There were lots of traditional, hand-knit Turkish socks for sale, so I bought several pairs for gifts and then I found a little wooden stool with a woven cord seat that was just what I’ve been looking for for my apartment. I bought it despite the challenge of getting it all the way back to Seattle. We stopped at a bar next to the restaurant where we were having dinner and sat on the porch to drink a glass of beer or wine while we traded funny stories. Eventually we climbed the stairs to the restaurant for our dinner of corn soup and fish.

After dinner, we took minibuses back up the hill to the hotel where we dropped a couple of exhausted tour members and then the rest of us rode further up the valley where Meli promised us we could find people dancing the local folk dance, the Horon. We stopped and had a beer at a little place where a guy was playing a Turkish bagpipe and singing. This instrument seems to have some kind of valve that stops the air differently than Celtic pipes because he could blow into the bag for a while and then play and sing without having to blow more.  When his song finished, Meli got directions to the dancing, somewhere over in the dark. We found a group under a street lamp dancing in a circle around a young piper. One of the dancers would start a call and the other men would join in with the women occasionally answering. The steps seemed a little like Navajo dances with mostly steps to the side but every now and then it would get a little more lively with a cross step and swinging arms. As more people came to join the dance, the piper decided to move to a better, brighter spot, playing as he moved with his dancers trailing after. A group of people watching told Meli that they were from the other side of the mountain and that these guys were dancing all wrong. They joined hands and started a new circle to demonstrate but I couldn’t see any real difference. Meli joined them to dance and I tried it for a moment too, but it was more complicated than it seemed so I decided to just watch.  Finally, at about 11:30 we all piled back into the minivans and went back to the hotel for a great night’s sleep in the mountain air.


 

Silver shop Trabzon Turkey          

Barb's beautiful photo of the silver weaving shop             


 

Saturday August 5 Day 19 Tour Day 4

We had breakfast at the hotel—Vivian and Barb showed up wearing head scarves that the girl at the shop across the street had tied in proper Black Sea style for them—and then got into two minibuses to drive up to the higher yaylas where the people go for just a couple of weeks when the weather is really warm. The road was narrow, steep and very rough, but our driver was good. We stopped first to see the bee hive barrels placed high in the trees to collect the honey that is famous here and then at a beautiful little cascading stream. Eventually we came to a meadow that was the second yayla where we stopped just long enough for Meli to arrange lunch for later. We continued up the bone-jarring road to the top yayla, a broader, flatter area with houses made of wood and stone. We stopped at the bar and found a (young, good looking with gorgeous hair) guy to show us around the settlement. He took us inside one house and then showed us how they used a system of little water channels to wash out the barns under the houses. The government doesn’t allow new construction in this yayla but if an old house falls down you can rebuild it if your chimney is still standing. We saw a group of hikers getting ready to head up into the high mountain passes with a couple of donkeys to carry their packs. After a glass of tea and a funny Meli story about mountain pipers, we bumped back down the mountain past lots more picnickers and campers. Just as we were getting close to the second yayla and lunch, we turned around and went on another road (bump, bump) back up the mountain. The driver wanted to show us “his” yayla. I’m glad we went because this one seemed more the way a real yayla should be: no campers or tourists (other than us), a few wooden houses, a lady gathering some of the ubiquitous purple wildflowers to feed to her cow. We met the driver’s wife and puppy and examined his ridiculously clean barn (my bathroom should get such cleaning). It was quiet and sunny and peaceful. Back on the road (bump, bump) we descended to the second yayla for a lunch at picnic tables under a canopy tent. We were served the cornmeal-cheese fondue dish again and this was the best version we had had. Meli says it’s due to their superior butter. Next came a minced meat and vegetable spicy dish served with fabulous hot flat bread that was really delicious. Desert was yummy sticky dough balls soaked in honey, kind of like donut holes but gooier.

After lunch we returned to the hotel in Ayder for a bathroom stop before loading all our new purchases onto the big bus (Kamuran appearing out of nowhere again) and starting back down the mountain to the sea. We stopped in Çamlıhemşin for a little more shopping before continuing down river to our hotel in Rise. A quick excursion out to a place that made beautiful cotton fabrics was our last tourist stop of the day. Back at the hotel, Gayle and I shared a triple room with an air-conditioner that had two settings, on or off. I found the oddly shaped bathtub/shower combination difficult to negotiate but she liked it. Dinner was at the hotel with another round of tomato soup, chicken and rice.


 

Yayla in Turkey           

left: up in the third yayla

right: a photostop on the way up

 


 

Sunday August 6 Day 20 Tour Day 5

I went out to buy water in the morning and found that the old coins I had brought with me from previous trips didn’t work anymore. Fortunately I had enough of the new ones that the shopkeeper seemed happy. We boarded the bus for a rather late departure this morning and headed east along the water toward the Georgian border. Meli told a long story about meeting some guys who raised bugs to hunt birds with. When we got to the town of Arhavi, we stopped to see if there were still any bug/bird hunters in the region. Meli went into a little working man’s restaurant to see if anyone could tell her something and the very first guy she talks to says, “Oh, I’m a member of the club. If you’ll wait until I’ve finished my lunch, I’ll take you there.” So she replies that we’ll all have lunch at the little restaurant, which we proceeded to do.  It was interesting seeing the guys who came in to eat. They had a very different body type than the western Turks and Kurds that I am more familiar with and would not have looked out of place among Brooklyn’s ethnic Italians. The man Meli had spoken with then joined us on the bus and directed us to the Emeroğlu Ali Baba Hunt Club (kid you not). A bunch of old guys were sitting around playing cards, smoking, and, of course, drinking tea while the blue-eyed mustachioed proprietor told us all about hawk hunting using props from the walls of the club to illustrate while we listened and, of course, drank tea. First you find the bug eggs and carefully raise them to hatch. Then you use that bug to catch a bigger bug that you keep in a cage. Then you use that big bug to catch a small bird (there were examples in small cages on the walls) and train it to fly in circles while tied to a string tied to a stick. Then you use the small bird flying in circles to lure a hawk and trap it with a net. Then you train the hawk to hunt pigeons. Seems like a lot of work for a pigeon. Meli thought it was absolutely hilarious that guys would spend so much time on this whole process. After the description of the process was over, the proprietor took us to the lot next door where he had a coop for his hawk. There was also a calf that really wanted to head butt us and some large biting flies.

Our guide from the restaurant next offered for us—seventeen perfect strangers—to come use the bathrooms at his house. He took us to his beautiful two story apartment overlooking the sea and then left us there and disappeared. A little while later he reappeared loaded down with bags and bags of fruit that he had run out to buy for us, apologizing profusely that his wife was in Ankara and he was unable to provide us with a meal. We took a tour of his apartment, ate as much fruit as we could handle and then left him with loud thanks and a new sense of how hospitable Turkish people are.

Leaving Arhavi, we drove further east along the coast all the way to the Georgian border where there was a lot of truck traffic. Meli said this was a new thing and that she had never seen so much trade through this border before. We turned around and drove back along the coast a ways before turning south to begin the climb up into the mountains on our way to Artevan.  We passed a smallish new dam and then marveled for the next two hours as we drove past mile after mile of construction and destruction supporting this little dam. A new road above the water line, gravel  and cement plants, the drowning of towns, the destruction of Silk Road castle ruins all seemed a high price to pay for what Meli says is an unnecessary dam. As we climbed the steep winding mountain road up into Artevin, Meli pointed out how high the water was planned to come, flooding the lower parts of this mountain town.

The narrow winding streets of Artevin seemed way too small to accommodate our huge bus but Kamuran managed to maneuver through, backing the bus into a tiny spot in front of the hotel, almost overhanging a drastic drop off which earned him a round of applause. Kamuran says no place is more difficult to drive than Istanbul, something like this is a piece of cake to him. The hotel rooms seemed oddly unfinished but the air-conditioning worked so I was happy. We had an early buffet supper on the terrace where we watched the waxing orangey moon rise over the next mountain top. A stroll in the park across the street after dinner and we were ready for sleep.


 

       

left: Meli listens in disbelief to the bird hunting story

right: the last view toward the sea on the way to Artevin

 


 

Monday August 7 Day 21 Tour Day 6

Breakfast was enlivened by the presence of a large group of young Israelis on a river rafting tour. Later we had to wait for them to pile in their SUVs before we could move our bus. Then it turned out that they had taken out some taillights from the parked cars as they passed by which made the locals less than their usually accommodating selves as we tried to maneuver out of the parking area. Meli had proposed a walk in a local canyon as part of yesterday’s drive but the visit with the hawk hunters had taken up too much time so we made it our first stop today. We drove down a narrow canyon by a rushing stream. A small sign and a metal handrail marked the entrance to the hike. I climbed in a little ways but soon reached my limit and returned to the road for a walk along the stream while the others hiked in to the end of the box canyon.

From the canyon we ascended to the mountains of the Lonely Pine Forest. There were very few trees so I could see why it would be lonely. We passed through several yaylas, although in this part of the country Meli says they are known as mesras. These houses were more wood and less stone than the ones we had seen in Ayder.  At the top of a high open pass we stopped to take a group picture at the altitude sign that showed we were at 8580 feet. As we descended through green meadows dotted with cows that reminded us strongly of Switzerland we stopped for lunch and (thank goodness) bathrooms at an isolated country restaurant. The wooden building had a lovely covered terrace at the front where we ate our lunch. Although the sign for the restaurant advertised live trout (my Turkish was improving) and we could see the cement fish pools from where we sat, we feasted on delicious lamb chops and kebab served with a wonderful yogurt eggplant salad.

Continuing on down the mountain, we stopped at another mesra boasting a truly impressive set of dung heaps to take a picture. Meli of course found a woman to talk to which brought out a pair of girls who opened up their trousseaus to show off some beautifully stitched scarves.  Passing through the little town of Ardehan (yes the names are confusing) we stopped to shop for dolls dressed in traditional outfits. Vicki and I went in search of public bathrooms at the park, where I managed to stumble which resprained my bad toe and tore a gash down my right shin. I went to wait for Kamuran to open the bus and when he arrived and saw my plight he immediately leapt into action with gauze and antiseptic from his first aid kit.

In the late afternoon we arrived at an unusually hot Kars. Driving through the town, things seemed in  a little better shape than last year but it still was easy to see why Orhan Pamuk chose to set his depressing book, Snow, here. I took a nap before we had dinner in the downstairs dining room. Sleeping was difficult that night with no air-conditioning and a large number of gnats invading if you opened the windows.


 

                         

left: I took pictures of rocks while other people climbed them near the Coruh River

right: a mesra on the way to lunch

 


 

Tuesday August 8 Day 22 Tour Day 7

After a buffet breakfast that featured French fries, we began our visit to Kars with a trip to the local museum. A bunch of kids were hanging around outside and gave us the usual chorus of “Hello, what is your name?” They followed us inside and threatened to be a bit disruptive but Meli pacified them with the promise of a story if they would be quiet. The museum’s collection contains some Neolithic pottery and other local artifacts downstairs but the part we liked best was the ethnographic displays upstairs with examples of embroidered clothing, tent hangings, and military souvenirs including a rifle that’s about 5 feet long.

From the museum we drove a short distance to an old Ottoman bridge for a look at the Ottoman era fortress. More interesting, though, was the horse-drawn cart that crossed the bridge at a smart clip, on its way to deliver a couch to someone with the driver perched on the couch. Next we went to visit the old Armenian church, now a mosque, with its conical roof. The imam was there and let us in which Meli said had never happened before in all the years she had been visiting. The frescoes inside had been whitewashed over but everybody except me claimed to be able to see shadows of angels and saints bleeding through. We had a nice talk with the imam and then went to reboard the bus. In the thirty steps between mosque and bus Meli had managed to find a little boy who wanted to tell us the history of Kars, which he proceeded to do, Meli translating. He told her he had learned the history from a book. After the church we stopped to do a little shopping in town since Meli had promised her daughter Aslı that she would bring home some of the local cheese. Back at the hotel, we had lunch and a little rest before the afternoon trip to Ani.

We left about 3:00 to drive out to this ancient Silk Road Armenian ruin with three Polish college students tagging along.  It’s not easy to get from the city to Ani without private transportation so they were happy to get a ride from us. Once Ani was one of the biggest and busiest cities in the region, rivaling Istanbul, but now it’s just a ghostly collection of stones on a windy plateau. Before going to the ruins, we stopped to visit Meli’s friends at the last house in the village. The baby who had not been born yet last year was now almost a year old, but Meli brought the traditional gift for a first visit to a baby, a little gold coin. We had tea and homemade very salty cheese and a nice talk. Meli and I stopped into a smaller room at the house to pay our respects to the old grandmother who is now bedridden and then everybody walked over to the site. Meli left us to wander around and explore for an hour or so while she went back to visit with her friends some more. I love the eerie quality of the light and wind up on this high plain with its soft colors and rounded hills so I took off by myself for a quiet ramble and then rejoined the group when it was time to collect our students and head back to town. Meli made the kids get up and tell us who they were, where they we traveling to and what they were studying. The girl who spoke the best English was the shyest so the guy wound up doing the talking.

We were back at the hotel by six where we had a dinner of meat and potatoes by Jim’s request. It was a little odd, but not bad. Another hot night trying to sleep with the gnats.


 

          

left: This little girl wasn't born yet when we visited this family in 2005

right: the Turkish-Armenian border at Ani

 


 

Wednesday August 9 Day 23 Tour Day 8

After a quiet breakfast at the hotel with far fewer guests today we set out on one of the long drives that would zig zag us across Eastern Anatolia. A backroad through a high plain led us to the village by the lake where we had visited the schoolteacher last year. This year we stopped to watch some men try to right a huge load of hay that was slipping off the back of a truck where, naturally, Meli struck up a conversation with someone which led to an invitation to tea at one of the rectangular, flat-roofed, white stone houses. Our hostess turned out to be a young girl, still almost a newlywed and with a new baby. As she served tea without a moment’s notice to seventeen perfect strangers in her spotlessly clean modern-looking living room, I could only reflect with shame on my own housekeeping and hospitality. She told us that she and her husband had eloped to Kars to get married because her father didn’t approve of the match. In fact, although they both live in this tiny village, she hadn’t seen her father since her marriage. Her sister, a student, helped her serve tea. They told us that it had been a bad year agriculturally with too little rain. Gayle and I had already observed that everything seemed much drier and browner than last year with none of the wildflowers we had enjoyed so much.  Being at this house gave Meli a chance to talk about the difference between urban poor and rural poor. These kids didn’t have much money but they still had plenty to eat and a decent house because they raised their own food and the animals provided dung for winter heat. In the city, the urban poor have given up this self-sufficiency in the quest for cash and consumer goods.

We traveled on from the village in search of bathrooms which we found at a new building at the end of the lake. There was a dock and boats at the shore, which surprised me since we had seen no evidence of pleasure boating last year. The building turned out to be a “sport” complex built by the government for Turkish youth where they could come swim and sail and paddle in the summer and ice skate in the winter. They also rented out rooms. With ensuite rooms at ten lira a night, a restaurant and sparkling bathrooms, Meli immediately earmarked it as a future Sierra Club tour possibility.

The drive continued through beautiful, largely empty landscape. We ate our picnic lunch on the bus as we drove. In the afternoon, we passed through the canyon that I had thought was so beautiful last year. It was still magnificent with craggy towering rocks, but it lacked the soft greens I remembered. As we descended to the plains, we first saw some faint remnants of last year’s wildflowers, then several villages, and then the really remarkable number of car dealerships and repair shops that marked the entrance to Erzurum. There has just got to be a lot of money in this city to justify this many dealerships.

We arrived early at the hotel, so after checking in most of us went out to wander around the neighborhood, looking for supplies and internet cafes. Gayle and I went to look for a beer which took a while. On the way we found an interesting herb shop that sold mostly for medicinal purposes, I think, and an internet café that advertised itself as being available to both men and women. Erzurum has a rep as a conservative city. This sign and the scarcity of beer certainly seemed to bear this out. Back at the hotel we opened all the windows and doors to try to get a breeze going and cool the room down. Gayle and company had happy hour in the little seating area in the hallway while I watched soccer on TV.  At dinner downstairs, they had set up a big screen TV so I got to watch the end of the match. During dinner Meli asked me what I would like for lunch at the hotel the next day and I said, “Aren’t we going to that place?” And she said “Oh of course! That place!” so arrangements were made to repeat the lunch we had in Erzurum last year. We left the door chained and cracked open that night to keep a little breeze going, probably not real safe but certainly much more comfortable. I slept pretty well despite traffic noise. I had pretty much reached a point that the call to prayer doesn’t wake me up anymore no matter how loud it is so I barely even noticed it at dawn. Meli says she never hears the call at all unless someone points it out.


 

        

left: Colin, Mary and Bessie listen to Meli's translation as  the girls talk about their lives

right: my canyon, still beautiful if a little browner

 


 

Thursday August 10 Day 24 Tour Day 9

I tried to write at breakfast since my journal was getting way behind. Fortunately I can check with Bessie’s notes for the day’s major events and then fill in the details from memory. She’s very conscientious about keeping up. We began today’s touring by taking a ride out to a village outside of town that is fast being encroached on by the city’s expansion. Already the villagers are getting rid of their animals in anticipation of being hooked up to the city’s natural gas grid next year. No need for dung if you've got gas. We stopped into a house to visit and were served ayran (no matter how I try, I just cannot like that stuff) and offered hand-knit socks for sale. We then walked through the village waving and chatting and seeing that many more of the stone houses seemed unoccupied as people move into the city. One of the ladies demonstrated how to wear the fancy go to town traditional garb. First a layer of fine white cloth, beautifully woven, is wrapped as an underdress and then a brown cloth that, at first glance, looks like burlap but on closer inspection is actually gorgeous natural colored wool woven with subtle patterns and glinting gold highlights. We had seen women dressed like this in the city and our natural Western female reaction was to be rather horrified. It was very instructional to hear that this woman felt that she was beautifying herself by wrapping up in these covers not trying to hide herself like the fundamentalists do.

We returned to the city for lunch at Caj Kebap for a meal of a special kind of kebap. Thin slivers of lamb are sliced from roll of lamb grilled over a wood fire and presented to us on long metal skewers along with stacks of very thin bread, tomato sauce, yogurt, green peppers and onions. You wrap everything up in the bread and presto, you’ve got Turkish fajitas. After lunch we moved on to the Tas Han, a caravanserai built in the 16th century where they carve locally mined natural jet into jewelry and prayer beads. I considered buying some kilims in the little antique shop downstairs but they weren’t quite what I was looking for.

The next two stops were the winter medresse with its ethnographic museum featuring beautiful embroidered dresses and the two-towered summer medresse. Both buildings had a close relationship to Central Asian architecture with thick minarets, carvings, and at the winter building, inlaid turquoise tiles. Next stop was the Ulu Cami or principle mosque where we had a brief altercation with a man leaving the mosque who muttered things about us having our heads covered (which naturally we did once inside). Meli was upset by what she considered to be his bad manners. Inside we admired the stepped wooden beam dome and got a lesson in Islamic prayer from an obliging worshipper. Before we left, a Turkish tourist asked if she could take our picture. From the mosque we walked through winding streets to one of our favorite stops from last year, the Erzurum Evleri or houses. Some enterprising soul has strung together a collection of old houses, stocked them with every kind of carpet and late Ottoman era antique and opened up a restaurant tea house. We were shown to one of the large rooms in the very back where we had tea and delicious süt laç (rice pudding).

We finished the day with dinner at the hotel which none of us were very hungry for—no football on TV tonight—and another night trying to sleep through the heat wave.


 

                  

left: the lady in the village shows off her "Sunday go to meeting" clothes

right: inside the summer medresse

 


 

Friday August 11 Day 25 Tour Day 10

One more breakfast at the hotel and then we hit the road for another all day ride with only a brief stop for picnic supplies on the way out of town. As we drove, I could see we were passing the field that last year had been ablaze with purple flowers, now occupied by just brownish dried grass. A ways further on we stopped by the stone bridge that Meli says spans the headwaters of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers. The rest of the day was devoted to the long drive with only a stop for picnic lunch in the shade of some roadside rocks. Perhaps the long trip was beginning to catch up with me, but I’m afraid I found today’s scenery less than compelling. I certainly miss last year’s flowers. In mid afternoon we arrived at the little tea house with the great view of Ararat. Meli tries to time this arrival so that sunset is not far away but Kamuran’s big bus has gotten us here way too early. We stop for tea and cool, sweet melon that the proprietor pulls from a cave in a large rock. Sitting in front of the door to the cave feels almost like being in front of an air-conditioner. We were amused watching one of the café owner’s kids, a little boy about two wearing only a t-shirt, play with Colin’s sunglasses.

We arrive rather early at the hotel so we took showers and rested, resisting the temptation to open the window since we had been warned about mosquitoes. Dinner was in a separate building and was very good. I made sure to grab a chocolate pudding early just in case they ran out. After dinner Meli talked me into a game of backgammon which I hadn’t played since Hüseyin taught me to play on last year’s trip. I won two games and then refused to tempt my luck further.  Most everyone went to bed early since we planned to be up early for sunrise. Gayle and I turned off the lights and then opened the window, keeping the gauzy curtain closed hoping to avoid both mosquitoes and suffocation. It didn’t work. We had an energetic bout of mosquito killing in the middle of the night and then kept the window closed.

 

Saturday August 12 Day 26 Tour Day 11

The alarm went off a little before 4 AM to rouse us in time to see dawn touch the snow-capped peak of Ararat. Meli has told us and I have read other accounts that say there is often a little cloud that sits above the mountain that catches the first red rays of the sun before the gold light spills down the side. Last year, we mostly got clouds when we attempted this viewing but I’m game to try again. Gayle and I joined a few other brave souls out on the balcony, clutching cups of tea or coffee as we waited for the sun and listened to semi-trailer trucks speeding towards Iran. We didn’t have clouds this year, not even the little one on top. The golden light arrived but not the spectacular show we had been hoping for. I went back to nap for a while before breakfast.

Arising a second time, we rode our big bus out to a rendezvous place where we transferred to two small buses and rode up to the top of a nearby mountain where we visited with a Kurdish family and talked to a lady about the proper way to make dung cakes. We went part way back down the mountain and stopped at the Noah’s Ark national park where we tried to convince ourselves that the vague outline on the hillside could be a remnant of the most famous boat in history. I wandered off by myself and found a peace pillar someone had planted here, a white post with the words "May there be world peace" written in several languages. There’s one just like it in Chautauqua. Back on the big bus, we went to visit the Iranian border and mail some postcards but the post office was closed. A local man offered to take them and mail them on Monday. We continued on to see the nearby meteor crater which is so close to the border that it is inside a protected military zone. The crater was bigger than I remembered but still not particularly interesting. Fortunately, two soldiers came over to see what we were doing and we got to chat with them about their military service and where they were from. This was the one activity that Kamuran joined in on on the whole trip. He even had his picture taken with the soldiers before they got called by walkie talkie back to their watch tower. Every Turkish male has to do military service and it seems to be an incredible bonding ritual for them.

After lunch we checked out and headed west, stopping to explore Ishak Paşa’s 17th century palace near Doğubayazit. It must have been a beautiful place in its prime with a variety of architectural styles and a wealth of carved stone. Meli had fun testing the stone “loud speaker” that channeled sound from the prayer room inside to the courtyard outside. It really worked. From the palace we set out in earnest for Van stopping only for a bathroom break at the beautiful waterfall we saw last year. You have to cross a suspension bridge with rather unreliable looking boards to get to the restaurant and bathrooms. I took a picture of Meli in front of the falls that was almost the same as the one I took last year. She says she has it done every year. We finally arrived at Van in time for sunset by the lake. Gayle and I were rather disappointed to find we had been assigned a room on the street side with no view of the lake and gaps in the screen that we had to stuff with towels to avoid a repeat of the mosquito killing episode.  Apparently the hotel was totally full and there was no other room to change to. Oh well. We went to the lake to watch the sunset and have a beer with Nancy and Brantly and then joined the others for an extensive buffet dinner by the indoor pool.


 

             

left: my best shot for dawn on Ararat

right: the peace pillar near "Noah's Ark" with hidden Ararat and little Ararat in the background

 


 

Sunday August 13 Day 27 Tour Day 12

Despite plans to journal sitting in the chaise lounges by the lake before breakfast, I got nothing written as has been the case lately. The breakfast buffet by the pool was huge but I think I had just about reached my eating limit for the trip. Our first sightseeing stop of the day was supposed to have been the Van Museum, which we had seen in 2005, but it was closed for renovation so we got to go to an ancient Urartian site call Cavuştepe outside town instead. I had asked Meli if we could stop at a Migros at some point and the way out of town ended up being the point. Migros is the Walmart of Turkey but it is fun to shop there. I like seeing all the everyday things like detergent and canned goods. We bought lots of snacks and funny little things and then reboarded the bus.

The palace we went to see was built around 760 BCE after the fall of the Hittites so we were going back a ways here. There was a live-in guide who was an expert on the ruins. He showed us around explaining how many people had lived here, where they stored the grain, even how the plumbing system worked. He said that he was one of the few people in the world who was able to read Urartian cuneiform and showed us some examples that he translated. It was extremely hot, probably over 100 degrees and the climbing around was too difficult for a couple of our tour members so we didn’t stay very long, but it was very interesting.

We drove down to the southern end of the lake for lunch at the same lakeside restaurant that we went to last year. There were once again dancers on the beach but no male dancers this year and they looked so hot in their long dresses in the bright sun I felt a little bad for them. Several tour members did get up to dance this year including me of course so that was nice. After lunch I used the restaurant bathroom as a changing room to put on my bathing suit and then we all went to get on one of the boats that shuttle people back and forth to Akdamar Island. We climbed up to the top of the hill to see the Armenian church but it is not only still blocked off for renovations, they have now built a building next to it so it’s hard to see the stone carvings of biblical scenes on the outside. Those of us with bathing suits climbed down to the water and enjoyed a cool swim in the soft alkaline turquoise water. Nancy and Kathy and I found some comfortable underwater rocks to sit on and had a nice conversation before Meli called us back to shore to go meet our boat.

Vicki and Terry were still on the boat (they never got off) as we had hoped and we had a nice cruise back to shore drinking tea under a shady awning. We changed back to real clothes at the restaurant and then boarded the bus for our last stop of the day, Urartu Halı, the carpet and kilim cooperative. Our guide showed us some weaving techniques and then did the carpet show, unrolling dozens of beautiful rugs at our feet as we sipped tea and rakı. I had some notion of buying one of the door hangings with long strings that are designed to keep flies and dust out but it didn’t seem to be my day for buying. Most of us returned to the hotel by bus but a few people including Vicki, Kathy and Jan stayed behind to make purchases. Vicki was a little shaky when she showed up for dinner that night, worried about how much money she had spent, but her later emails make it clear that she felt she had made a good purchase and that the carpet fit perfectly in their home.


 

  

left: Melitour members dancing on the beach at Van

right: the water is so alkaline that in some places it is white

 


 

Monday August 14 Day 28 Tour Day 13

We left the hotel around 9:30 for the airport where we bulldozed our way through some construction to get close to the front door unlike the French tour who had been playing leapfrog with us the last few days. They all carried their huge sport duffels through the construction zone while we rode in comfort. We said goodbye to Kamuran who would spend the next two days driving the bus back to Istanbul and then fought our way through the crowds inside the airport. Meli had to use the raised index finger (it’s frightening when she does that) to beat back the throngs of young newly discharged soldiers who were trying to jump the line but she managed to get our bags checked and obtain our boarding passes. An easy flight brought us back to Istanbul and another bus identical to the one we had left behind took us to the Ayasofia where we dropped off some of the group while the rest of us went to shop the Covered Bazaar under Meli’s aegis. We attacked a vendor selling scarves and then rifled some Afghani shops before splitting up. I wandered first with Gayle and Nancy and Brantly and then with Emily trying to make up my mind about what I really wanted. I still had one more day to shop so I decided not to make any hasty decisions. We returned to the hotel for showers, naps and to dress for tonight’s farewell dinner.

We left the hotel as a group and climbed the hill to the Hippodrome, old Turkish hands by now, and made our way to the tram stop. We were a little worried about keeping together on the crowded tram but we managed to get everyone off at the right stop next to the Galata Bridge. Our restaurant was on the west side so we had a view of the sun preparing to go down. We were unfashionably early by Turkish standards so we had the place all to ourselves. We had a drink and reminisced about the trip. Meli handed out pairs of miniature ladies bath slippers made out of the silver work we had seen back at the beginning of the trip that she had been hanging on to since Trabzon. We took pictures of the setting sun and then enjoyed a dinner that featured excellent (as Meli would say) calamari. A walk along the water looking at the street vendors and then another tram ride finished the tour.

Back at the hotel I lured Meli to the lobby by reminding her that I still needed to settle my accounts with her. We talked about her summer’s travels, her plans for the next tour in Mongolia and her son’s upcoming second, more public wedding while I waited for Vivian, Barb and Kathy to arrive. We had gone in together to buy one of the traditional gold coins for her long awaited grandbaby and when the others arrived we presented it to her. She immediately called her new daughter-in-law to tell her. I hope the girl is up to having Meli as a mother-in-law. Lots of kisses and hugs later we were off to bed.


 

Sunset over Istanbul from the Galata Bridge


 

Tuesday August 15 Day 29 Post Tour Day 1

Breakfast was quiet since several of the tour members had left early to fly home. During the morning Kathy realized that she should have been one of them, having mistaken which day she was scheduled to fly. Getting a flight home turned into a very expensive ordeal. So easy to do and such a horrible mistake. I went back to the Covered Market by myself to really shop. I found the copper shops just outside the main market and bought one of the harem bath bowls that Simone had asked for and then got snagged by one of the rug salesmen who remembered me from the day before. He had some embroidered suzanis that were interesting and after sidestepping some classic sales techniques like an offer of marriage I wound up buying two, one for myself and one for Matthew and Alison since they had insisted (well she insisted) on paying for everything in Scotland.

Gayle and I invited Meli to dinner that evening but she had another commitment so we had a quiet evening instead.

 

Wednesday August 16 Day 30 Post Tour Day 2

Gayle had left very early so I had a very quiet last breakfast at the Ayasofia before the hotel driver took me to the airport to catch my flight. Since the “bomb plot” in London had been exposed just five days ago, I wound up having to check both my regular bag and my packable bag. I was worried about things getting broken or stolen on the way home but fortunately I had a couple of extra locks with me. They at least let me have my day pack with me on the plane which was a big step up from conditions a couple of days before. Once through security and then security again, it all seemed a little silly when the woman next to me pulled out a huge bottle of cologne from her purse. How, exactly, did they miss that? Heathrow also had put on more security although not as much as I had feared. The lines getting from one terminal to the next were fierce and slow moving but again they let me keep my pack and my book so I was happy. We had all been picturing 9 hours on the plane with nothing to do but sleep or stare at the walls.

Once back in Seattle, I caught the bus home and then had a minor drama concerning keys to the apartment that owed much to me being really overtired. Finally after being rescued by relatives, neighbors and the apartment manager I got my long awaited shower and crashed in my own bed. Amen.


 

"The Group"


go back to London, Scotland or Italy

see my list of suggested reading for Turkey

The fabric used as the background on this page is a traditional ikat design commonly used on this part of the Black Sea coast