Sumela Monastery from below
It's really hard to get a good shot of the sight without a helicopter, which is probably why the postcards are so expensive...
The bustling border crossing at Hopa was nothing like the sleepy, rural, countryside post I had crossed to enter Georgia two days earlier. Tractor trailers, vacationing Russians, and a much more official (border-ish) mood filled the air, and made it rather unpleasant. To the left, handsome tall green Turkish mountains rose up to towering heights. To the right, the Black Sea stretched out coldly under an ominous, cloudy, late evening sky. We were routed between barbed wire and chain-link fencing, as the crossing is under heavy construction. Presumably, this means trade between Turkey and the Caucasus countries - 2 outta 3, that is - is enjoying healthy growth, and that the border is being expanded to accommodate the resulting traffic.
It was a push-your-way-to-the-makeshift-kiosk type of queue for immigration. With a few questions in Turkish and a few giggles at my answers, I was stamped back into the country. I had this strange feeling that I was sort of coming home, even if I was only going to Ankara. Well, there were still more than 24 hours left before I had to think about that. I had made wonderful time! Nitivia's friend thought I could possibly make it to Kutaisi
in Turkish, English, and Russian...
by 6:00, if I was lucky. I checked the time as I re-boarded the bus and saw that it was 5:50! (It was technically 6:50 in Georgia, but I still made really good time. Cheers to red sweater guy for fearlessly hurling us down the highway...)
The bus ride was interesting as it was a theater of funny people. In front of me sat two large Turkish men, clad in fitted mafia suits. Their intimidating presence was offset by the dainty bag of sesame sticks that they shared and washed down with orange Fanta. Across from me sat a Georgian man who knew nearly-passable Turkish as well as nearly-passable Russian, but only enough of each to make for awkward, broken conversations with everyone around him. He was the kind of person that probably would seem out of place no matter where he was.
Behind me sat two Russian women, probably in their late forties. They mistook the few words of Russian that I remembered for fluency and acted as though I was mentally handicapped for not being able to act as a translator for them when they wanted to communicate with the flight attendant or with the other
view from my hotel window
passengers. (The mafia guys thought this was really funny, and so did I.) They made themselves utterly at home, laying down across the back seats and taking all sorts of foods out of their bags. They likely continued their journey through Turkey bewildered by the fact that the country's population is so hopeless as to have not learned Russian... the people's language.
The young flight attendant himself seemed very overwhelmed by the situation. He spoke at length with the mafia guys and I took advantage of his distracted state to get extra drinks from him. He proved to be utterly useless when he failed to explain to me that we had reached the final stop in Trabzon, which I thankfully figured out on my own. This meant that I was dropped off in the dark, on the side of the highway, with the Black Sea on my right and the highway on my left. I walked at least a few kilometers before I even found a place to cross the highway and head into the unfamiliar city.
During that walk I passed several parked cars with their engines running, and their drivers (I assume) waiting for whatever unsavory
I met this lovely couple on the hike up.
services that the seedy port town has to offer. It was not the ideal introduction to Trabzon.
Nevertheless, I made it to a street with a little shop open and the woman working there explained to me where I could find a dolmuş to the part of the city I wanted to be in, which I promptly did. It was a different world. We climbed a road decorated with strings of white lights which spilled into a lively open square filled with flashing lights, people, activity, and a pleasant, festive spirit in the air. It seemed to be not so much a seedy, debauchered port as it did a relaxed, upbeat seaside community.
I made my way to a hotel were I was warmly welcomed and given a reasonable student discount. After checking in I wandered back towards the square and found a tasty dinner. That's really about it for Saturday night. I was knackered from a long day of travel.
Sunday morning started off wonderfully: another breakfast buffet! I slowly ate copious amounts of cheese and honey and bread and olives and other typical Turkish stuff in the company of a wonderful Aussie couple. After that
I was feeling fairly lazy and was leaning toward just wandering aimlessly around Trabzon for the afternoon. Though, I had heard nothing but rave reviews about the Sumela Monastery, not far out of Trabzon, so I decided it warranted at least the minimal amount of looking into.
I went to one place, which had a cheap tour leaving immediately - it really couldn't have been any easier. I met an İstanbullu businesswoman named Şukran ("thank you" in Arabic) waiting for the same tour and initially mistook her for another foreigner. She made for good conversation on the way there as our van weaved between lush green mountains and near a mountain river.
The climb up the path to the monastery's entrance was steep and seemingly endless. Near the top a Black Sea fiddler was playing Black Sea music for a bunch of young people who were doing Black Sea dances, hand-in-hand, with lots of shoulder shaking and kicking and swaying and laughing and stuff. They must of been on their way back down as those of us climbing up were too out of breath to even think about dancing.
The tree cover is thick enough to obscure
the entrance to the monastery until the last moment. All of a sudden the path opens up to, well, stairs going further upward. I got in for free with my Turkish university ID, hooray!
Inside, the monastery is an interesting thing to behold. Much of it is still being renovated, but the main church is open and well-decorated with many frescoes. Unfortunately many of the frescoes have been vandalized over the years by locals and tourists from all over, "proving that idiocy is indeed international" (Lonely Planet Turkey 555). Inside the church, I found Stefan, who I had met at Ani three days earlier. We talked about meeting up for a beer later in the evening and never got around to it.
Anyway, more impressive than the complex itself, is its outrageous location, way up high in the face of a cliff. It's another one of those places that would've made a fine Star Wars set. In stark contrast to Ani and Vardzia, Sumela was swarming with tourists, and for very good reason. After having my fill of the monastery, I continued upward on a path that I don't think has an end. There were no tourists there
and I eventually wore myself out and went back down - enough beautiful mountain and forest hiking for one day. Exhausted, I waited next to the river for our van to return to the city. It would've been a big mistake to skip Sumela, having come all the way to Trabzon.
Back in town, I found that I had worked up a fierce appetite. I decided to search for "kuymak," a Black Sea dish that my guidebook mentioned. It turned out to be a big, greazzzy pan full of fried cheese (proper stodge, mates), all of which I ate. Fearing an imminent heart attack, I settled my bill and decided it would be best to walk off some of the oil and fat. Trabzon has plenty of lively pedestrian streets and I was able to busy myself for a few more hours.
Eventually I made my way back to the hotel to pick up my bag (the front desk was kindly babysitting it). In the construction site that is the entrance area, I sat with the hotel owner and chatted over several teas.
7:00 was approaching, so I made my way to a bar with a big
screen, to watch the Fenerbahçe/Galatasaray game. I sat at the bar and drank .7L beers with a schoolteacher and the bartender. Quickly it became apparent that I was more of an outsider for being a Fenerbahçeli than for being an American and my new friends were pleased to offer all sorts of commentary on Fener's lousy performance. It was all in good fun. I had to dip out before the end of that miserable game, perhaps fortunately. I made it to the tiny, but crowded airport in time to catch my flight back to Ankara...
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