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Exploring Turkey part 4: From Amasya to Kastamonu

by Trudy (3/25/2009)

Exploring Turkey part 4: From Amasya to Kastamonu




The first thing I do in Amasya is visit the local museum with eight beautiful engraved wooden doors of the Gök Medresse Camii, Ottoman manuscripts and several sarcophagi. In an annex in the garden there are five mummies on display. One of them is the body of a ruler over Amasya in the fourteenth century. All five bodies are mummified and embalmed without the organs removed, and indeed the first one I look at doesn’t seem very ‘fresh’ anymore. It is not an invitation to go and look at the others. At the end of the room is the mummy of a baby cut in three pieces, my travel book tells me. I’m not that brave and I leave those other mummies aside.


The Sultan Beyazid II Camii is an enormous complex of several buildings. A former hammam, a school, a library, a soup-kitchen and more complete this fifteenth century mosque. The inside of the mosque is impressive with the enamelled windows and the beautiful mimber. Outside next to the entrance a man writes the English translation below a Turkish Koran text on a blackboard He has a very nice calligraphic writing. Inside the rocks high above Amasya there are the graves of several Pontic kings from the fourth century before Christ. After some climbing I visit a few, the paths towards these graves are worn out or subsided. A couple of graves I don’t go to, the path leading to them consists of smooth and uneven stones. Not a good idea to try that with my fear of heights. The graves have been robbed centuries ago. What are left are empty spaces in the rocks. The Turkish government has placed solid iron lattice-work to prevent them from more vandalism. The bars do not prevent the places becoming dirty; behind them I see enormous amounts of litter. Also here the walls are not free of graffiti. Every time I see that at historical places, I get so angry. I would love to lock up the vandal behind these same iron bars!


I get a reply to my text message to Kerem. I asked him to come to Bursa at the weekend I will be there. Bursa will be the closest to his birth town, Sake. Kerem reacts enthusiastically. He would love to meet me again. ‘Can you book a hotel room for me?’, he asks, ‘a double room together with you is fine too if that suits you better.’





Travelling from Amasya to Sinop I see several mosques along the road. Each village has at least one, mostly built in the same style and almost all have the same colour: white, beige or a pastel colour. Once in a while I see a special one, sometimes that extraordinary that I would have loved to take pictures. Near Suluova I see a futuristic mosque with a pyramid shaped roof and projections like a medieval helmet. The mosque of Kava is so ugly painted orange with blue stripes it almost becomes beautiful. In Lala they run out of paint. The building itself is yellow, the dome bright orange and the minaret blue with green. Ten kilometres before Sinop I see a mosque in construction. I apologise for comparing but the first idea I have is the picture of a golden onion on a layer of silvery metal lily leafs. That mosque is not designed by an architect with good taste.


Lazy as I can be at times, I stop by at Sinope Tours to ask which excursions they can offer me. The answer is simple: ‘We don’t have any excursions as there are no groups in town.’ The staff of this tourist agency is very helpful. They get me a chair and I am offered tea. The eight of us are sitting in a circle, seven pairs of eyes looking at me. The real tourist season has not started yet so they have plenty of time for me. I get a map of the town and some English brochures. Ayse, one of the staff members, explains to me how I can go to several places using public transport. ‘Do you like nature sights?’, she asks, ‘if so you should go to the Tatlica Waterfalls near Erfelek and also the fjord near Hamsilos is great to see. Today you cannot go there anymore, it’s too far.’


First I am going to visit the Tarihi Cezaevi, the old prison, before the gates close. The complex offers a sad sight, the cells are tiny and I suspect the luxury of a one-person cell was not available here. The former youth prison did not have cells but large dorm-like rooms. As a memory there is still an old and rusty bunk bed left. The mimber of the Alaadin Camii is made of carved marble, little excisions give it a refined charisma. The archaeological museum is already closed when I arrive but directly next to the building is the excavation spot. I can see there were excavations quite recently, several tools are carelessly left behind on piles of sand. The Pervane Medresse, a former Koran school, now accommodates a small bazaar with shops of handicrafts. The last visit this afternoon is at the Þehitler Çeþmesi, a fountain with four canons – one in each direction of the wind – remembering the death during the Russian attack of Sinop in 1853. The monument has been paid for by the dead soldiers themselves, they used the money found in their pockets for it. At the battlements on the city walls is a little cafe. It is nice resting here after a long walk. Recep, Süleyman and Mertol, three employees of the cafe, invite me for dinner. On the menu today is Iskorpit, the Turkish name for a delicious scorpion fish.


A bus takes me to Erfelek where I get off at the central square. I look around, what now, where to go? A man of about fifty comes to me. ‘Can I help you?’ he asks. He points at a large yellow building across from the bus stop and nods at me. I follow him, curious where I am going and what I will see. The building turns out to be a state building and the man is ‘milli eðitim müdürü’ a kind of regional educational inspector. If I understand correctly he is quite a big shot. He invites me to his office and offers me a drink: ‘Yakup,’ he introduces himself, ‘do you like something to drink?’ He asks an assistant to get ayran and tea for us. Yakup explains to me that I can only go to Tatlica by taxi because there is no public transport. ‘Unfortunately I don’t have a car available right now,’ he says, ‘my deputy is on a working visit. Else I would have taken you myself. But I can arrange a taxi for you, if I ask the price will not be so high.’ We talk for a while and then Yakup takes me to the taxi stand. He waves goodbye when I leave.


The taxi driver does not know any English but it doesn’t stop him from talking constantly to me. Every now and then I understand a few words and the rest of my contribution to this ‘conversation’ exists only of ‘Evet’, ‘Hmmm’ and shrugging. Hopefully I didn’t say ‘yes’ at the wrong moment! The first ten kilometres of the road is paved, after that there is no asphalt anymore. The taxi jolts on the road, it cracks as if it could tear apart any minute. I can see that in this apparently deserted area people still do visit. On several rocks there are party slogans in white chalk and I see names of candidates of the secular political party CHP. After about another two kilometres we arrive at a dam of DSI, Devlet Su Iþleri, a department of national maintenance of bridges, roads and dikes. This dam is absolutely not as impressive as the Atatürk dam near Adiyaman. Quite common I would say in a country with so many mountains.


The taxi driver accompanies me everywhere. That is not only very kind but also nice when I like to have a picture of the waterfalls with myself in front. We climb over a narrow path to the first of twenty eight breathtaking falls. Step stones over shallow but ice-cold streams and differences in height of more than a metre are nothing special. At waterfall number three I have a dilemma. If I want to go on I need to stand on the bars of a rickety step ladder and lift myself up on a thick rope attached to the tree growing above it. A kind of Tarzan in miniature. I am not that heroic nor do I have a perfect condition but I manage. Right behind us a family arrives, from grandmother to grandchild, and they all go the same way. They have to laugh about my plodding and fear of heights but at the same time they are concerned about my wellbeing. Many hands reach out to help. These first five waterfalls are stunning, so gorgeous I can hardly get enough of them. At number six I stop. That one is only accessible by balancing over a seven metres long and twenty centimetres broad edge of a rock. Call me a coward but when I see sixteen year old boys shuffle slowly with sweat drops on their forehead as if they walk on barbed wire, I am very happy I did not try that. Back in town I drop by another beautiful Ottoman house, the Aslan Torum Bey Konaðý. Decorated to the last centimetre, painted and restored with an eye for detail. The doors of the built-in closets have refined designs, the rooms are filled not to say crammed with antique vases, lamps and other artefacts. The interior designer did a great job. The staff has to laugh about my exclamations of admiration. Also here I must say that the decoration is a little overdone for my taste. At home I must not think of all this but here, in this old house with its history, it is marvellous.


I get on the dolmus to Hamsilos, about fifteen kilometres east of Sinop. Halfway twelve students get on the dolmus as well, they are returning from the local university. One of them asks where I am going. My answer ‘Hamsilos’ causes some upheaval. First I do not understand it until one of the students explains that this dolmus is going in the direction of Hamsilos but it will end at about two kilometres from the place I want to go. A heated discussion between the students and the dolmus driver is what follows. The result is that the students persuade the driver to drop me off at the desired spot. They do not mind some extra kilometres, they will go back into town. The driver grumbles a little but does as he is asked to. To me he says ‘the two kilometres back you have to walk.’ When I get of the dolmus many thumbs wishing me good luck are raised. It is quiet in Hamsilos. Three families are preparing a meal but the rest of the area is for me only. The idea ‘fjord’ must not be seen as the ones in Norway with rocks. Here it is a side arm of the bay next to the sea, surrounded by trees, completely unspoiled as nature should be. I sit on a tree stump and look at the water. It is nearly as smooth as a mirror and very blue. The dark green of the forest around it is contrasting. Nice! This way I like to see many more places. After forty-five minutes sitting in this quiet, silent vicinity I start walking back to town. After at most two hundred metres a car stops. A couple with two daughters on the backseat offers me a ride. I said it before, I can be lazy so I accept this offer with pleasure. One of the daughters is a girl of about fourteen years. She has beautiful long black hair and dark eyes one can drown in. That promises something later with boyfriends. The girl is extremely shy when I awkwardly make an effort to start a conversation. Suddenly she takes of her necklace and gives it me. I thank her but I refuse, I did not deserve that. The girl is insistent, she takes my hand, puts the necklace in it and closes my fingers around it. Again I thank and refuse and then the mother interferes: ‘She likes you. You really may keep the necklace. It is made in Sinop.’ I feel a little uncomfortable but then I accept. The wooden green necklace with a painting in golden lines fits my T-shirt very well. ‘Thank you,’ I say to the girl, ‘that is very sweet of you.’ She smiles. A couple of minutes later I am at my destination and I say goodbye. ‘It was our pleasure,’ the father responds and off they go.


My dinner tonight is in Saray restaurant, a fish restaurant on floating pontoons in the harbour. Uður, the manager, comes sitting at my table. It is quite busy tonight but apparently he has time, we talk for almost two hours. Uður is thirty-five years old and very goodlooking. He is quite liberal in his ideas and mocks a little about religion. He says he uses the first prayer call in the morning as a sign to go to bed, before that he can’t sleep anyway. He is the first Turkish man not asking if I am married or if I have children. He rather wants to know what I think of Turkey, cultural, political and religious. Still he tells me that he is not married. Does he find the same question to me rude? I don’t think he is that shy. His food taste is very Turkish. He would like to travel in the future but he shivers at the idea that he can’t eat his favourite Turkish dishes. ‘Is it not possible in Europe to eat Turkish food?, he asks. ‘Of course there is, ‘ I tell, ‘but I think the choice in big cities in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands is wider than for instance in Ireland and Portugal.’ Uður sighs and says: ‘Well, I guess I need to learn to eat other food as well.’ I laugh. For a moment he is silent and then he takes my hand from the table. He holds it for a couple of seconds and I raise my eyebrows. What does this mean? He immediately let it go, blushes a bit and smiles apologising. He looks at me up and down and says: ‘With your long-sleeved T-shirt you are much more conservatively dressed than many Turkish and Russian tourists here. It is so obvious you Western women on this coast do not want to attract attention.’ He laughs out loud. ‘We Turkish men like less conservative as well, we like to give attention.’ He winks at me. ‘Don’t worry, I do not mean anything, I was only joking.’ Then he continues: ‘You all look better than the ladies in black, I do not like their dressing. I still don’t get why they wear black in summer. Black attracts the sun.’ I shrug. ‘I don’t know,’ I say, ‘You should know, I assume you are Muslim.’ ‘Not too much,’ he says, ‘I’m not that religious.’ He pushes his seat back and towards the table again. Then the chair goes backwards and he stands up. ‘I have to go, I need to work. It is great fun talking to you but I work every night until two o’clock and if I do not continue now it will be even later.’ I get a hand and he goes back to his place behind the pay desk. Working until two o ‘clock in the morning? I intended to offer him a drink after work but I surely will not wait that long. Maybe a missed opportunity but then that is just bad luck.





On my way to Kastamonu I pass villages with funny names: Çay, Ondokuzmayis and Soðuksu. Translated these names mean: Tea, May 19th and Cold Water. May 19th is a reference to a national holiday, the day of Youth and Sports. Well, in the Netherlands we have our own varieties of funny names: Mouse-still, Hungry Wolf and Number One.


One of the reasons I came to Kastamonu is to see the completely wooden mosque Mahmut Bey II in Kasaba at about seventeen kilometres distance. There is no public transport but the room maid of my hotel knows a solution. Her husband appears to be a part-time taxi driver. Arriving in Kasaba we head straight for the mosque. It is under construction, on each side of the building there are jetties. I feel disappointed. Is this the beautiful fourteenth century mosque with painted wooden pillars, my travel book recommends? Only the wooden doors are worth seeing. If I had known this I would not have come, it is definitely not worth a taxi trip of thirty lira. I guess the taxi driver sees the disappointment on my face and without asking he takes me to several other places. The kale, reachable through a steep road, is now easily accessible. Together with the taxi driver I go to the former han, now a place where local women sell embroidered cloths. We visit three mosques and he shows me a medresse. There is a group of young boys of about ten years old present. They have lessons in Arabic so later they are able to read the Koran in its original language. The kids react cheerfully when I come in. They all talk, a lot of cackling, a lot of noise. I don’t understand a word they are saying but that is not so important it seems. I make a gesture towards my camera. A picture? Of course, they all sit up straight on their school benches. The two teachers look at all this uncomplaining, for now they can’t teach, the kids won’t pay attention. This is really a spot I think that being a woman alone I could not have visited. The help of the taxi driver makes it possible, quite an experience.


Kastamonu looks like a ghost town at night. Street lighting is scarce. It gives me the chills. I intended to visit some cafes but when it’s so dark, I don’t go. My hotel is in a former city hall. The room is huge, the high wooden walls and the built-in wooden bathroom reinforce the feeling. While checking in the receptionist tells me that once Atatürk slept in room 205 in this place. I look at my key ring and yes, I have room 205. The receptionist winks and says: ‘You see you are important.’

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