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Exploring Turkey part 3: From Arapgir via Kars to Ordu

by Trudy (2/4/2009)

Arapgir, Kemaliye, Erzurum, Kars and Trabzon




At six thirty we get up, I feel fine again. I say goodbye to Helen after twelve days travelling together. It was great! Helen will go by plane to Istanbul and after that by train to Vienna to explore Europe more and I will continue my travels eastwards. ‘The bus to Kemaliye will leave at five this afternoon,’ the man at the desk in one of the many offices at the otogar says, ‘you can travel already to Arapgir, spend the day there and then go further later today.’ A fine idea, I have seen everything I wanted here in Malatya. Suddenly I see that my luggage is packed in the trunk of a taxi. ‘Seven lira, you said?,’ I ask to be sure. ‘Yes, today we do not have a lot of passengers so we will go by taxi,’ is the answer. On the backseat of the taxi is a little boy, around eleven years old. Urgently he is sent to the front seat. All the way he can ‘sit’ between another passenger and the driver; it seems very uncomfortable to me. The limited luggage space of the taxi is filled to the last inch with boxes full of glassware and my backpack is stuffed in between them, not really gently. Two men get in the taxi, both on the backseat and they have to crouch because all that luggage pushes them almost to the floor. Next to me on the couch in the middle are a young silent girl and a toothless old woman, who is constantly speaking to herself. The passengers are, as usual, curious what a tourist like me is doing in this part of the country. ‘Why do you go to Kemaliye?,’ they ask. And of course there are questions about my age, marital status, children, job and salary. ‘I have heard the nature in Kemaliye is stunning,’ I say. I got the advice to go here from an American mining engineer who works not far from Kemaliye. They point at the word ‘acceptable’ in my dictionary as a reply.


Arriving at the tiny otogar of Arapgir they send me into the waiting room where they offer me coffee and cigarettes. Four men are present, two staff members behind a desk and two passengers. The newspaper Zaman is on a table and one of the headlines says there was another bomb explosion in Istanbul. When I ask if I understood that correctly, one man answers: ‘Yes that is an action of the PKK.’ Erdogan and his AK-party are not very popular here. ‘I am the chairman of the MHP here in Arapgir,’ says the man who just answered my question, ‘we find the AK-party too Islamic. In this village there are hardly any voters for that party.’ ‘However,’ he says with a grin, ‘you can recognise all MHP voters, we all have large moustaches.’ He turns up the ends of his own enormous moustache and the other three men laugh loudly. Indeed, they too have such an impressive moustache.


The Osman Bey Camii is gorgeous, Kütahya tiles, refined wood carving, opulent carpets and shining chandeliers. An elderly man, who is sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, smiles at me while saying many things and pointing at my camera and his tespih. I do not understand him. Does he mean I am not allowed to take pictures or is he asking me to take a picture of him? Time to eat. Alabalik, I read on a sign, thát sounds delicious. ‘We do not have trout, ‘ says restaurant owner Sinan, ‘but if you can wait for a while, I will get it for you.’ He is back after five minutes, the trout is sold out. As a consolation he gives me a piece of sweet honeydew melon. Ok, then I will take kebab, but because of the stomach problems yesterday I prefer it not too spicy. ‘Atesiz, without fire please,’ I ask Sinan. I do not know the Turkish word for ‘spicy’ so I use the negative form of with fire. Sinan understands me perfectly and he has to laugh about my choice of words.


I am sitting in the shade in a tea garden for a while when Nihat and two friends show up. None of them speaks English so the following conversation is not so easy and many times we do not understand each other. Nihat suggests he can be my guide. I think he feels that I need a protector because he stays at my side all afternoon. He is twenty six, married and father of two children. His wife and children live in Kirgizstan and have been waiting for three years now for a visa. The Netherlands is not the only country making problems about immigration, it seems. Nihat has been waiting for me while I was checking my mail in an internet café. ‘Do you want to see a very old house and an old mosque?’ he asks when I return, ‘we can go there by taxi, and it is only five kilometres from here.’ The specific house is about hundred and fifty years old and in a terrible state. The Sakir Pasa Çobanli Camii dating from 1892 is not much better. The last hour before I leave Arapgir I spend with Nihat at the otogar. The staff members are not the same as this morning but Ali, who is on duty now, keeps talking at the same speed as the men this morning did. Ali and Nihat give me information about political parties in Turkey. Words like nationalism – with quite another meaning than in my country – religion, state and laws are explained. In Turkey being a nationalist means, they say, being proud of your country. In The Netherlands the word has a negative connotation. We see it as a word for ultra-right wing extremists. Also here they look very surprised when in the discussion I say I do not have any religion. ‘Are you really not a Christian?’ both men ask astonished. Nihat wants my hotmail address to be able to chat with me. ‘We will chat in English, you know that,’ I say smiling, ‘so you have to practice a lot.’ ‘No problem,’ Nihat answers, ‘I will use my dictionary and you can be my teacher.’


The slightly sloping landscape looks like a patchwork quilt. High shining golden wheat next to red (coloured by minerals) ground, bald grey rocks, green fields, and forests. I see little villages with names like Yaylacik and Dutluca. It looks like a very large hand scattered these villages very loosely in this area. I have a fantastic view over the Euphrates, down deep in the gorge next to the road. The bus driver has been told by Nihat to drop me off at a good but not too expensive hotel. In Kemaliye, a village of 2200 inhabitants, I am welcomed by a man who takes me to hotel Bozkurt.



Kemaliye is built against the slopes of the Mountains. Steep roads go up and down. Walking through the village I hear the sound of little falling stones or something similar. I look around to see where this sound is coming from. It turns out to be a large mulberry tree with a complete family shaking its branches to get the mulberries down. A canvas lies below the tree, many mulberries on it. While I am standing there and looking at what this family is doing, they call me: ‘Gel, gel!’ Within a few minutes I have my hands full of sweet mulberries, called dut in Turkish. They are very sweet, much more tasteful than the ones I ate last year in Erzurum. The whole family comes towards me and I am invited for coffee. My being there is a break for them. They are all sitting on the stone stairs but specially for me one of the men gets a chair from the kitchen. As always, we try to have a conversation and in a second I know everything about the family relations, who is married to who, who has children and who not. They give me directions to a picnic area higher up in the mountains where I can have a nice view and we say goodbye. Along the road there are about thirty five signs with Turkish texts, I assume they are proverbs or parts of poems. Looking over the valley I have a magnificent view of the houses, the slopes, the Euphrates. High up in the mountains I see a mosque in decay, the building looks like it could collapse just right now. Only the date is still readable: 1051. I cannot always see clearly the difference between a public road and private areas. Many times I find myself walking towards a house, immediately turning around when I see I walk wrong. Almost all trees are fruit trees, most of them mulberry trees. A very old woman with many wrinkles is sitting squatted next to the road side. She nods at me wordlessly and then points with her walking stick towards the trees behind her. She gives me her walking stick and makes it clear to me that with that stick I can grab the branches of the trees to get the fruit. I take some of it and I thank the woman. She nods approving but also seems to indicate that I should take more. Didn’t I take enough? My hands are filled with fruit though.


It is absolutely understandable that many Turkish men are sitting all afternoon in a tea garden. Between one and four PM it is simply too hot to do anything at all. I also seek shade in the communal tea garden opposite my hotel. It is a pity though that there are no women; they have to work, heat or no heat. ‘Can I go into that tea garden?’, I ask the hotel owner, ‘there are no women present and there is also no sign with aile bahçesi, is there another one in this village maybe?’ ‘No,’ is the answer, ‘the other tea garden is closed but you are allowed to go there, that is no problem.’ Still, something happens in this tea garden that I have not experienced before. I sit alone at a table and I am neglected, for almost half an hour. The waiter, while serving the men at all other tables, acts as if he does not see my raised hand and if he cannot hear me. Ok, no problem, I think and I take a bottle of water from my bag. At that moment a man with a grumpy look on his face says something in a very sharp tone to the waiter who comes immediately to me and asks what I would like to drink. It is what I call unexpected help.



There is only one bus a day from Kemaliye to Erzincan at the very early time of six in the morning. Happily for me there is a mail bus at nine o’clock to the station of Bagistas at twenty eight kilometres from Kemaliye. There I can get on the train to Erzurum. They say the train is much slower than the bus; still I am curious because at long distances Turkish trains consist completely of luxurious Pullman cars. Waiting at the bus stop a young man approaches me. ‘Do you speak German,’ he asks. ‘I am Fatih, the bus driver. We will leave half an hour later because the train is delayed,’ he tells me. While driving to the station Fatih tells more. ‘I study in Augsburg, in Germany. I am now on holiday for forty days and I help my father with delivering the mail. But the real reason I am here now is the big sport event that took place here last week. Have you seen that?’ ‘No,’ I answer, ‘I was only here for two days.’ Suddenly Fatih confesses: ‘I will be happy to go back to Germany, my village is nice, that is for sure with all my friends and relatives but I really miss all the possibilities Germany offers.’


Though the station of Bagistas has a sign ‘tickets’, there is no one around and I buy mine on the train. Looking for something to eat I try to find the restaurant car. The narrow space next to the compartment is almost completely filled with luggage. Boxes, parcels and big bags are piled up. It looks like these passengers are emigrating. The car before the restaurant car is the couchette department. The not so fresh air tells me that people are staying here longer than just one night. The restaurant car had its best time years ago. Table cloths have more holes than fabric and mice will have a great dinner of everything on the floor. Still, the bar and the tables look clean enough so I take a seat. The menu is quite extensive though prices are twice as high as normal. The train does not go very fast so leaning out of the window I can take very pretty panorama pictures.


To be able to recognise my seat in this packed train I had left a few pieces of paper on my chair. Nothing special, just some notes about cities I have been to. When I come back after one hour, the papers are gone. They have not fallen on the floor; I see when I quickly glance. Two Turkish women in the opposite seats see me looking around and they ask what I am looking for. I explain it to them. ‘We were asleep,’ the women say, ‘we have not seen anything.’ Some time later three conductors come by, checking everything from automatic doors to windows. One of the women tells a conductor that my papers are gone. Immediately there is some disturbance. ‘What was it? Was it important?’ I am asked. ‘No, it was nothing special,’ I answer. I believe this answer is only half accepted. If I understand the conductor correctly, I am lectured not to leave anything behind without supervision.


The only reason I go to Erzurum is to break up my travelling. Seven hours by train is more than enough. Erzurum has nothing more to offer than I have already seen last year. Walking to my hotel I pass by an erkek küaför ‘Erkan’. Two young men who see me come outside and ask me to come in. ‘Why? I am not a man, I do not need a haircut,’ I say. ‘No, we want to practice our English. Do you want tea?,’ they answer. Sipping on a glass of tea made from Kaçkar Mountains tea leaves they are delighted to hear I am from The Netherlands. ‘Fantastic,’ hairdresser Neset says, ‘I have a girlfriend in Amsterdam, can you write some Dutch texts for me please?’ Of course I can do that, as far as my Turkish allows, because an English translation is not very well understand I find out very soon. Fifteen minutes later Neset has a list with Turkish-Dutch expressions of which ‘seni seviyorum’ is the most important… Adem, a friend of Neset, sees my diary and he asks if he is allowed to see it. ‘Sure you are,’ I say, thinking ‘you cannot read a word’. ‘How old are you?,’ Neset asks, ‘then I can tell my girlfriend you are not a threat to her. Hmm, that does not really sound as a compliment.


Last year in Erzurum I met two policemen in the courthouse, Ahmet and Haluk, and I took a picture of them. I have that picture with me and I go by the courthouse to give it to them. When I enter the building I see two policemen sitting. One of them looks very surprised, stands up in a rush and comes to me, laughing with his arms spread out: ‘Trudyyyyyyy!!’ It is clear that Ahmet still recognises me. His first and usual question is ‘Çay?’ Then he tells me: ‘Haluk does not work here anymore but I will give the picture to him.’ We talk for a while and then I leave; I am hungry so I head for a restaurant.


Erzurum is a very religious city. Nothing to do except for a handful of restaurants and pastane. Whereas in other places, Urfa being an exception, I could count the number of women in chador on the fingers of one hand, here at least twenty five percent of the ladies are totally in black. Only the eyes and a very small piece of their faces are still visible. I find it an awful sight, that complete covering. Is it my interpretation and prejudice or do almost all these women have dark circles of being tired under their eyes?


At Erzurum station I can only get tea at a dingy büfe. Goods of all kind are piled up at sixes and sevens. A pair of children’s boots stands brotherly next to the biscuits. A duster would bring a miracle here. The owner is very friendly and without hesitation gives me a little stool. I can take off my backpack and drink my tea while sitting. Erzurum is not a small town in my eyes. There are 362.000 people living here and still there are only four trains a day. It is logical people cross the tracks and children play between them. Train travellers in Turkey do have to have enormous patience because every day trains have delay. Also today: my train is two hours late. It reminds me of what Fatih, the bus driver yesterday, said: ‘German people are very impatient and they are making calls after only ten minutes, here in Turkey people start doing that after two hours. And yes, I see people look at the station clock with regular intervals but there is absolutely no sign of visible irritation.


In the Erzurum Express train to Kars I notice I have left my diary. It upsets me a lot. Not only are there all my notes of the last two weeks in that diary but also several email addresses, phone numbers, distances I have travelled, hotel names. I cannot recollect all that detailed information. The diary is of such importance for me that I decide to go back at the first station we stop. I am pretty sure I have left it at the hairdressers’ saloon, the only place it was out of my bag. The emptiness of the Turkish landscape and the small villages we pass I normally find idyllic but now I curse at the absence of any village of noticeable importance. Fellow passengers tell me the first station the train will stop at is Pasinler, at sixty kilometres from Erzurum. I hope I can take a train, bus or even a taxi back. They see my confusion and one goes looking for the conductor to ask if the train can stop earlier at a small village. How sweet of him to do that for a woman he does not know. Unfortunately, the train cannot stop. I have to be patient. I never thought an hour could pass that slowly. Then we arrive in Pasinler. I see a train headed in the opposite direction. I think I have bad luck because my train slowly rides into the station when the other train starts to ride as well. There I stand, in between two moving trains. I think I have just missed the train when the conductor nods at me and yells something that sounds like ‘jump on it’. It is easily done and I get seated. Knowing I will be back in Erzurum in just one hour for my very precious diary, I have to cry a little, just because of all the stress. Right at that moment the conductor comes; he notices the tears on my face and tries to calm me. ‘I do not have a ticket,’ I blubber a bit. ‘Where is your other ticket?,’ he asks. When he sees I already have a ticket to Kars, he frowns a little. ‘Why are you going back? You were on the other train, weren’t you? Anyway, you do not need to buy a new ticket.’ When he hears my story, haltingly and using my dictionary a lot, he says: ‘Tonight I go back to Kars and also then your ticket is ‘on the house’ do not worry.’ I smile again; this friendliness and concern is very comforting. The stress slowly goes away.


Back in Erzurum I want to leave my heavy backpack at the station. That is easier said than done, because there is a luggage forwarding department here, but no lockers large enough for my backpack. I look somewhat disappointed; I do not want to carry it all afternoon. The expression on my face is successful; I can leave it in the office of the station manager. ‘Your backpack is not heavy,’ the man says when he replaces it. ‘You are a man, you are just a lot stronger than I am,’ I answer. His ego is satisfied with this remark I think, he looks very pleased. Entering finally the hair dressers shop, I immediately see my diary on a table. What a relief, all this fuss was useful in the end. I do not think Neset and his friends understand my relief. Neset has a question. ‘I want to marry my girlfriend but her parents do not accept me,’ he explains, ‘that make it difficult for me to obtain a visa for The Netherlands. Can you maybe invite me for a holiday?’ When I invite someone it also means that I am financially responsible for my guest, so no, I will not do that,’ I answer. The exact regulations for getting a visa are much more complicated but right now I think this is enough.


The train leaves and I find myself a seat. Suddenly the compartment is full of people, all chairs are taken by dark men who – that is my feeling – look at me suspiciously. I hear the name Dogubayazit often. Help, it makes me scared. More than two hundred kilometres away from Cetin must be enough to be safe. I must be getting paranoid to think that one of them recognises me from last year and would call Cetin. ‘Stop it,’ I say to myself, ‘to think that is nonsense, he is not waiting for you.’ The same nice conductor from this morning enters the coupe to check the tickets. When he sees me, he waves his hand, meaning ‘it is ok.’ Of course I did buy a new ticket. Not only to avoid possible problems but also because I did not want to misuse his friendliness. Then I see from the corner of my eye that a man in front of me is changing his clothes. He only wears long white underpants and socks. His trousers are next to him on the couch, he takes another pair out of his luggage. I always thought there was a culture of shame for these kinds of things in Turkey. One does not change in public, do you? Other passengers see it happen as well, but no-one reacts.


On the balcony – directly under the no-smoking sign – I smoke a cigarette. Like other passengers I have permission to do so given by the conductor, there is no smoking compartment on this train. The number of cigarette butts on the floor is enormous; I think every passenger is a smoker. Nowhere in this train is there a litter can and passengers leave their garbage behind when they get out. The conductor has a simple solution for it: He opens the door while the train is moving and he throws it all outside. I see the empty plastic bottles fly away in the wind before they disappear in the dark night. Turks are so proud of their country, how can they pollute it that much? Of course I have worried too much, nobody is waiting for me at Kars’ station. A taxi takes me to hotel Güngölen where the owner asks me three times in a period of five minutes if I want to book an excursion to Ani.



I came to Kars because though I went last year with Cetin to Ani, I have not seen the city itself. The city is famous for the mix of architectural styles: Russian, Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish. I have to admit I do not know enough about architecture to see all these differences.


A visit to the office of several bus companies tells me there are only two buses a day to Trabzon. Neither of them is a night bus. Pity, because travelling ten hours to Trabzon would have been nice to do that at night, now it will cost me a complete day. Compared to the heat in Malatya and Kemaliye it is cold in Kars, only twenty degrees. My jacket is very welcome when I walk up the steep hill to Kars Kale. Though the castle is a ruin, parts of it are pretty well conserved. This castle from 1855 was a battlefield during World War One. Russians, Armenians and Turks fought over the city. Looking over the battlements I have a magnificent view over the town as well as over the splendour of the hinterland. There is not much litter but the grass is knee-high and there are many weeds as well. That seems to me a nice duty for Turkish urchins as a punishment. They can make historical places like this one clean and neat. Has nobody ever thought of a solution like that? A Turkish family of fifteen people is coming up the stairs, each of them yelling there are thirty eight steps. They see me sit and one of them says ‘Hocam!’ That means ‘my teacher’. Why? Do I look like a teacher? Out of one of the many enormous shopping bags they carry they get a pack of sunflower seeds of at least a kilo. They offer me some too. When the family leaves after twenty minutes, the floor is full of empty sunflower seed covers.


At the foot of the castle is the ruin of the Ulu Camii. A little further I see the Kumbet Camii, the former Armenian Church of the Apostles built in the tenth century. Since the sixteenth century the building has been in use as a mosque. In my travel book it says it is a museum now but at a quarter past twelve a man in casual clothing arrives. He opens the door and says: ‘Hello, I am Mehmet, the imam.’ Mehmet explains to me that there are twelve windows, one for each apostle. He points at the walls; there I see somewhat blurred ornaments of a bull, an eagle, a man and a woman. The fence between church and altar, so typical for orthodox churches, is almost completely intact. ‘Which languages do you speak?,’ Mehmet asks me, ‘do you speak Kurdish?’ ‘No,’ I answer, ‘I only know two words in Kurmanci: Spas and rojbas.’ He has to laugh. ‘I speak four languages,’ he says not without pride, ‘Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and English.’


Forty five minutes walking takes me to an outside area of Kars. Criss-cross through narrow streets and alleys in a neighbourhood that looks like a slum to me. Finally I find the museum I am looking for but it is closed! I console myself with a visit to Kilicoglu pastane where I indulge in Kadayif Dolmasi, Saray Burma and Küsgözu, three delicatessens with syrup and pistachio I wish Turkish bakeries in The Netherlands would sell them as well. Kilicoglu pastane is crowded with youngsters. The murmuring around me is difficult to ignore. Groups of girls, boys but also couples occupy almost every table present. Kars’ youth is dressed in a more casual and modern way than the average pedestrian I saw. Is this the future of Kars?


Kars is a dirty and dusty city, litter is present everywhere. Heaps of sand and remains of concrete blocks obstruct the pavement. The wind blows the sand up into the faces of passers-by. The streets and sidewalks – if present – have more holes than a fishing-net. The municipal public cleaning department, in other cities not to ignore, is nowhere to be seen here. Also different is the larger number of begging children. In other places I stumbled once in a while on an elderly begging woman at an otogar, here I see smutty hands stretched out while asking for money every hundred metres. Is this together with the awful infrastructure a sign of great poverty in this part of the country?


Ocakbasi Restoran offers the regional dish. Ali Nazir, lamb with eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Nice but spicy. I haven’t been inside five minutes when two girls sitting at a table behind mine ask if I would like to join them. Tuba speaks good English and she asks permission to write in my diary. She does that also for her friend Gülsah who does not speak English. ‘Hello, I am Tuba. Nice to meet you. You don’t forget me; we will be a friend always. I am Gülsah, nice to meet you too.’ Both girls study at the teachers college in Kars. They tell me they have chosen this because they are very fond of children. ‘Do you have children, Trudy?,’ Tuba asks. My denial brings up the next question: ‘Why not?’. They are astonished when I say I do not like children that much. Apparently that is unbelievable to someone who says she is a teacher. ‘Everyone likes children, don’t they?,’ Tuba says. There is a moment of silence and then I ask them for a nice cafe. ‘A cafe? With alcohol?’ They shake their heads, I should not go there, that is not ok.





At the bus company Dogu Kars the employee sends me with a gesture back to my seat. ‘No,’ she says, ‘the bus waiting outside is not the bus to Trabzon; I will warn you when it has arrived.’ The bus I am waiting for is more than half an hour late, which was why I asked. People come and go in this tiny office. The amount of luggage seems to increase by a cubic metre every minute. Two telephones are ringing constantly; the employee answers them several times simultaneously while also talking to a passenger at her desk.


We ride along through many little villages like Mezra, with houses made of mud with roofs covered with grass and farmyards. Most houses are made of hefty stones or rocks, gaps stuffed with clay. Some houses are partly built into the hills, they are low and I even see houses without windows. Degirmenlider seems to be built of loose wooden planks and corrugated iron. It must be really next to nothing to live in a place like this. I see many herds of cattle, where I haven’t seen many cattle along the other parts of my travels I see here fields full of sheep, goats, cows and horses. For kilometres there are gold coloured flowers, I don’t know if it is for harvesting or just nature being exuberant. Along the road there are several signs of the jandarma, the policemen gesturing cars to stop. Our minibus can drive on. Grey clouds interrupt the blue sky; their sight is a little threatening. It will be raining soon I guess and these clouds keep me from taking pictures.


Fifteen kilometres before Göle we are stopped by a Kurdish family. There is an injured woman who needs to go to the hospital. I hear they are discussing the fare but finally an elderly man, a child and the woman are getting on the bus. Looking at her face and the way she supports her leg, she must be in great pain. They give five lira to the conductor who throws the note with a haughty gesture on the dashboard. Is it my vivid fantasy or does the conductor not like Kurdish people a lot? In Göle they drop the woman off at the hospital. The unpaved road in this little town seems more like a moon scenery than an ongoing road. It takes quite some driving experience and good suspension to avoid all the potholes in the road. On the street I see men, almost all dressed in Mao-like blue clothing, in their hands the inevitable tespih. A little outside Göle the jandarma stops us, identity control, my first this year. The landscape changes dramatically. The road goes through forests with huge conifers growing up the slopes of the mountains. Little swirling rivers appear out of nowhere and vanish at the same speed. Almost every village has a graveyard. The inscriptions on the tombs are of recent dates, often less than two years old. Still almost all tombs are overgrown with weeds. My friend Abdullah once told me that during the remembrance ritual mevlut people pray for the deceased, mostly in the presence of an imam. Also the grave will be visited than. The first mevlut is forty days after the death and then each year. Seeing all these weeds I wonder if the ritual is not also meant to maintain the graves?


Before Yusufeli I see a small sign with ‘Ishan’, a reference to the old church high up in the mountains. It hurts a little. Last year I was here too, but the circumstances were very different.


Between Artvin and Borçka suddenly all green has disappeared. The barren mountains lean over to each other so a narrow cleft comes into being. The water of the Çoruh river next to the road is brown coloured, probably somewhere upstream soil is thrown into it. The river is fierce, white headed waves. Rocks in the river cause whirlpools and height differences cause rapids. After passing Borçka it is literally going downhill fast. In less than thirty minutes we go from a height of six hundred metres to sea level. In Hopa I see the Black Sea directly next to the road. Left of it the mountains are majestically high and several small waterfalls come down. The sea is blue-green with a slight greyness; there is just a little clouding too much for a really nice blue brilliance. All the ghostly stories I have heard about the quality of this coastal road appear not to be true. The asphalt is new and smooth. Everywhere a river ends in the sea the water is brownish. It seems there is a division between the two colours, like it was made on purpose. I hope that water does not contain any oil; else Turkey has a huge environmental problem.


In Rize the bus stops, I am the last passenger and it is not profitable anymore to go on. With a lot of yelling and pushing the conductor stops a dolmus and I find myself a spot between seventeen other passengers. In Trabzon I have to change dolmusses to Atatürk Alani, Trabzon’s central square. There I quickly find hotel Nur, the hotel I stayed at last year. Too bad, it is booked up. Nuh, the very friendly receptionist, calls other hotels in the same price category for me. Finding a hotel myself, like I usually do, I do not dare here. Many hotels in Trabzon are occupied by ‘Natasha’s’ and serve as a brothel as well. Nuh finds me a place in a hotel nearby, Belli Plaza, a dump where I can stay on the seventh floor in a vapid smelling room without a toilet. No thanks, as a solo travelling woman I do not like that, I would rather not meet strangers outside my room in the middle of the night when searching for the toilet. You never know if that becomes dangerous. The other possibility is hotel Sagiroglu, a two star hotel with the price level of a four star. For just one night it is ok, after tonight I can stay at hotel Nur Nuh assures me.


The Aya Sofia Church from the thirteenth century has recognisable Seljuk and Byzantine influences. During the Russian occupation the church has been in use as ammunition storage and hospital. Only in 1960 it has been restored. It is gorgeous to see, even though many frescos are severely damaged in older and more recent times. Next to graffiti of recent Turkish origin – Ahmet loves Ebru 2005 – there is also graffiti in ancient Greek. Even then there were vandals who had no respect! The frescos show Biblical pictures: Jesus’ baptism, the Last Supper, curing of the lepers and the crucifixion. A frieze above the entrance shows pictures of Adam and Eve in paradise and the Fall. The only other two visitors early this morning are Nancy and Bob, two Americans with history as hobby. Like me they take many pictures. Bob lives in Istanbul each summer and he speaks Turkish very well. He convinces their guide to open the clock tower and Nancy asks if I want to come along. ‘Normally this clock tower is closed,’ the guide says, ‘the steps of the stairs are only thin bars and that is too dangerous. We are afraid visitors might get hurt.’ You are just afraid of legal claims, I think to myself. The three of us are allowed to go up to the first floor to see some other frescos.


Trabzon is not as religious as cities like Urfa and Erzurum. Still, on this Friday afternoon I see men put their praying carpets on the streets before midday prayer. They prepare themselves for the call of the imam. The shops in these streets are closed for half an hour so the praying men will not be disturbed by shopping public. It is a special sight, these bowed backs, the many colours of the carpets. Sneakily, I look from round a corner. It is amazing this openly religiosity. I cannot imagine this kind of thing in even the strictest Christian communities in the Netherlands.

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Uzungol, Tirebolu and Ordu

1. Arapgir, Kemaliye, Erzurum, Kars and Trabzon
2. Uzungol, Tirebolu and Ordu

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