Trabzon and surrounds

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April 30th 2014
Published: May 21st 2014
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28th April

Suse and Nat left at 06:30 for the trip into Trabzon to the Iranian embassy while we waited to hear from them whether we'd have to follow them in or not. Breakfast was a lazy affair next to the truck with Alex huffing and swearing at the dog. Having slept under the verandah with his clothes outside his swag, the dog had obviously gotten bored in the middle of the night and strewn his clothes all around the damp camp ground. My flip flops were found other than where I'd left them outside the tent and Alex returned them before I got up and was still annoyed with the dog when I arrived for breakfast, each giving the other a wide berth.

After the phone call to say we weren't needed, a few of us still didn't move. Scott and I sat on the old swing set, swinging slowly while I warily eyed the structure for any sign that we were about to fall. We did make it into the orchard next door with its slippery steep slope to the cliff edge where we could see the rushing water only metres below. Trying to read and write was impossible with the dog who had followed us and eventually we gave up and Scott returned him to camp to find other playmates.


29th April

We were much more energetic today and managed to flag down a taxi and squish Quinn and Talbot in the boot with Nat in the front and Steph, Scott and I in the back to head up to Sumela monastery. Our lovely taxi driver Hassan with his clean car and kind face offered to wait for us and bring us back to the campsite for 60TL which we readily agreed to.

The scenery was just incredible. I'm running out of adjectives for this country. Every day I see something which I think is amazing/incredible/beautiful and that it can't get better. But then it does. The rushing water zigzagged from the left to right side as we climbed up through brilliantly green forest. Steph was the first to catch a glimpse of the monastery which seemed precariously balanced high on the side of the cliff and a little further on, Hassan pulled over at a viewpoint to allow us to take photos.

We parked the taxi at the bottom of uneven stone steps that climbed for one hundred or so metres before evening out. Purchasing out tickets and passing through the turnstile, it was one last staircase up the side of the cliff and through the doorway from which we could look down on the monastery. It was definitely an impressive sight and we all wandered off to explore doorways and small rooms with windows overlooking the valley below. Not all of the buildings were open but I found the kitchen with its huge 'pizza' oven and the library with its long empty shelves before ducking into the main room. The frescoes were again beautiful; detailed paintings of saints and Mary with her son and many unidentifiable people who had been defaced. I do understand that as new religions swept through that this was a common practice but it was still sad, even just from an artistic view. In this room though they were apparently quite lazy, only defacing those that could easily be reached!

We stood in the courtyard watching a group of young Muslim girls giggling over a group of boys and commented on their scarf wearing and colour combinations. It was then a climb back up the stairs as a large group of Turkish tourists arrived, bringing with them more noise than the place deserved. Hassan was waiting for us in the cafe and came down with us, pointing to a path leading off down the side of the mountain. After a brief look, all decided to go back to the car except Scott who took off down the path. The driver didn't seem fazed so we assumed we were picking him up somewhere below and sure enough when we got to the small village below, he was already waiting for us. It had taken less time for him to run and jump his way down three kilometres of stairs than it did for us to drive there.

We dropped camera and other non-essentials on the truck and Hassan drove us to Maçka, the closest town to the campsite. We found Neil and Alex and when we were invited to have tea with Hassan, we went and sat with him, also ordering food. I wasn't very successful with the gluten free explanation and had flat bread on my plate but that was easy enough to avoid.

From there we took a bus into Trabzon where Quinn, Alex and talbot went to the men's hammam and Steph and I were taken around the corner to the women's entrance. Once inside we were given a towel and a locker to put our bags and clothes in and spent several minutes discussing what undergarments we were meant to leave on. The women reclining on the sofas had nothing on and so we followed suit. But once inside the wash room, I noticed that all the women had underpants on so I mimed my question to one of the staff. We were quickly ushered back out to put ours on! When we returned, she peeked under my towel and gave us a satisfied nod.

Taken to a stone 'sink' carved into the wall, we were told to pour the water over ourselves and rinse then through into another room to the sauna. Unsure how long to sit there, we needn't have worried as one woman came in after ten minutes, put her top on and ushered us out. Then the scrubbing began. Oh. My. God. The amount of dirt that came off us was embarrassing, especially when my woman kept pointing at it and shaking her
Rock chapel frescoesRock chapel frescoesRock chapel frescoes

You can see the damage at the bottom where the frescoes have been chipped away
head. By the time she dumped water over my head and soaped me up again, I was two shades lighter than when I arrived and was ridiculously smooth-skinned. Then it was time for the massage. It was awesome. For the finale she borrowed shampoo from another woman and shampooed and massaged my head while I fought to breathe the amount of suds and keep them out of my eyes. And all of this for 30TL! The women sang while they worked, pointing to the star tattoo on Steph's foot then towards the sky and the acoustics of the room with its dome-shaped ceiling suited it perfectly. It couldn't have been a better way to pass an hour.

After reclining in the chairs with a soft drink and drying our hair, we went to find the guys. The sky was looking dark as Steph and I stepped into a clothing store, emerging half an hour later with clothes that would be suitable for wearing in Iran to be greeted with rain. And the guys were gone. We hurried towards the marketplace and bought a scarf for our heads, all the while keeping an eye out for the others. Eventually Steph suggested we check the pub above the hammam and there they were. Of course.

Being on cook group and with the weather we didn't hang around long, altering our plans and shopping in a supermarket rather than the market or in Maçka. With a full kitchen available to us, we decided on roast chicken which would be a rare treat and zucchini and eggplant fritters for the vegetarians. With the staff hovering and watching our every move, we pulled it off and had a great meal, followed by Game of Thrones on the truck.


30th April

We Aussies and Kiwis were up early to head into the Iranian embassy for our visa applications. Walking almost the entire way to Maçka, we then took a bus into Trabzon and sat in a cafe until the embassy opened. It was the first time Steph and I had seen our passport photos wearing the headscarf and we looked oddly similar...

The embassy didn't open right on time but there was nothing to do but wait. Once inside, it was an easy enough process filling out the paperwork while Suse tried to find out why it was so much more expensive here than at the embassy in Baku. The problem was, we could risk going to the embassy in Baku only to be refused as our authorisation codes were for this embassy and no one was willing to take the risk. We were given the name of the bank where we were to deposit the $USD150 and bring back the receipt after 4pm to collect our passports.

From there, Suse, Scott and I sat in a cafe all day and made the most of the wifi, sorting and uploading photos and emailing. The staff were friendly, filling us up with complimentary tea and coffee and chatting to us about our travels. I also got talking to a local woman who looked more New York than Trabzon in her fitted jeans, tank top and cropped jacket. It was embarrassing just sitting next to her dressed as I was! But we had a fascinating talk about life for women in Turkey and her own mother's view on what she wears and what she thought of her government. We swapped stories, I showed her photos of Africa and basically didn't get anything done that I'd set out to do. But I wouldn't miss an opportunity to chat like we did for anything.


21st May 2014

Turkey is a wonderful country...
I'm still in touch with my Turkish colleague from my NATO days. He was from Trabizon. I'm looking forward to your blogs from Iran. I thought your itinerary took you across the Caspian Sea to avoid Iran, but am pleased this is no so. Are there any difficulties for Americans to get into Iran?
21st May 2014

Hi Bob!
There are no Americans on this trip so I'm not sure. We met some today at the Turkmen embassy and they're avoiding it but hoping if the sanctions continue to lift that they'll get there one day. I'm trying hard to keep up with the blog! All the writing is done, it's having the battery power to upload, edit and and download photos for it! We'll be in Iran probably Friday so we're all very excited!
22nd May 2014

Keep on blogging
What a wonderful trip and we are thrilled to be traveling along with you. The rock chapel frescos are simply amazing and divine. I can see why you are running out of adjectives. You are on an amazing trip and we are ready to read more.

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