Day 1 and 2 Istanbul, Trabzon and Sumela Monastery
Wednesday and Thursday August 2 & 3, 2006
Submitted by Terrell
The tour officially began Wednesday evening. We met Meli in the lobby of the Ayasofia Hotel and introduced ourselves. Kathy and Sheryl from Houston, Gayle, Jan and Terrell from Seattle, Vivian and Barbara from Oregon, Emily and Bessie from Tennessee (Bessie’s husband was unfortunately not able to join us on the trip for health reasons), Emily’s friend Jim from El Paso, and Vicki and Terry and Nancy and Brantly (he’s Gayle’s brother) all from California. Two more Oregonians, Kay and George, would be arriving later in the evening and our final couple, Mary and Colin from Canada would meet us tomorrow in Trabzon.
With the introductions made and Meli having told us her big news about her son getting married, we headed up the hill to the Blue Mosque. Many of us on this trip were repeat Meli-ites and had done this before, but everyone voted for a reprise of the experience. We arrived at the mosque shortly after the call to prayer, sat in a group on the carpet and listened to Meli’s story of the building of the mosque. A couple of curious Turks came over to talk to us, the old man reciting his poetry as Meli translated.
We went on to dinner at the nearby Blue House Hotel where the rooftop restaurant belonged mostly to Melitour since the group that Meli had just finished leading was also there to have their farewell dinner. We had an excellent pureed eggplant dish and enjoyed the view of both the Sea of Marmara and the Blue Mosque.
On the way home we paused to watch part of the sound and light show at the mosque, but we had an early flight scheduled the next morning so most of us soon left to make our way down the hill to the Ayasofia.
Dinner under the Blue Mosque
picture by Vicki Oldberg
Political Discussions in Ataturk's Garden
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.
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. 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 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 to see the local Hagia Sophia church, now a museum. 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. A few of us made a quick foray out for cash machines and water and then showers and air-conditioned sleep ended the long day.