Friday, 06 September 2019

So far we have struck it lucky with reasonable departure times.  We were picked up at our hotel at 08:00 for the transfer to Istanbul’s other airport, Sabiha Gokcen, which is way out to the East over the Bosphorus and against the morning rush hour traffic coming westward.

We are flying to Trabzon which is in the far North East corner of Turkey on the Black Sea and close to the border with Georgia.  It was only a 1.5 hour flight but in Economy that is about equivalent to the 3rd circle of Hell when you have a table flicking toddler in the row behind and a screamer in the row opposite.  We are flying Pegasus airlines whose internet address is which always looks like “fly pigs” which would seem unlikely in a Moslem country.

Our guide for the next few days is Hasan, a very pleasant 28 year old young Kurdish man.  We got to talk quite a bit over the next few days and heard a little about things from a Kurdish perspective.  They really have had a hard time of things, spread over Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia but with no country of their own to call home.  Particularly galling as the Kurds are thought to be the descendants of the Medes, a civilisation that pre-dates most other civilisations of all of the abovementioned countries.


By the time we had checked into our hotel and had a quick lunch there was time to look at Trabzon’s Hagia Sofia (built in the 11th C by the Komnenos dynasty of the Eastern Roman, or Orthodox church).  It had some recently restored frescoes in one porch of the church which were very good but who knows how much due to the original artist or due to the modern restorer.  It was quite small, almost chapel size and the main part was still closed off for restoration so the visit did not take long.

We returned to the city to wander around the bazaar for a short while.  We also wandered into the small Santa Maria Catholic Church which was built around 1850 to 1865 for foreign citizens.  Since then the church is still being used for worship by foreign citizens and visitors.  It was founded by Italian capuchin monks who arrived in Trabzon after they were expelled from Tbilisi in 1845 by order of the Russian Tsar Nicholas 1.

For some unknown reason the city is extremely busy.  Apparently it is a holiday destination for Saudis and they were greatly in evidence.  We dined at a simple seafood restaurant and had stuffed mussels (a Turkish speciality) and prawns cooked in a hot pot.

Saturday, 07 September 2019

Our first stop on today’s drive was the Sumela monastery, one of those kooky places where a bunch of Middle Age monks tried to cut themselves off from the “real world” by building a monastery into the side of a cliff.

Fortunately it was not far off our route for the day as it was extremely disappointing.  The view from the car park at the bottom was as good as it got.  Private vehicles are (wisely) not permitted on the steep switchback up the mountain and you have to take a shuttle mini bus which takes you to an upper car park.  Then it is a few hundred metre walk through forest to the ticket booth and the final steep steps up to the entrance.  Through the entrance and onto a viewing area and what do you see? A lot of scaffolding and a few monastery outbuildings of no interest whatsoever.  What a waste of time!  Our guide said it had been in this state for about four years.  One wonders why the guide books and travel blogs rave about it as a “must see”.  It is, apparently, the biggest attraction in the Trabzon area which was borne out by the hordes that were arriving as we were leaving.


We had a longish drive to Erzurum after the monastery, first of all up the green Northern side of the Black Sea Mountain range which looked a bit like Switzerland or Austria, but with mosques instead of churches, then down the Southern side which was dry and sparse with scenery reminiscent of inland Australia in summer.

We stopped for a pide lunch at Bayburt and arrived in Erzurum by 17:00 still with plenty of time to look at the attractions which comprised: four burial tombs, the Ulu (grand) mosque built in 1179, the 13th century Cifte Minareli madrassa which has an open courtyard and twin brick minarets, decorated with small blue tiles and the Yakutiye Madrassa (1310) which has a closed courtyard.  These historic buildings in Erzurum were mostly of the Seljuk dynasty which was the first wave of invasion of Turks into Anatolia from Central Asia so the architecture and decoration were similar to some of the buildings we had seen in Uzbekistan three years ago.

We dined with our guide and driver at a doner restaurant next to our hotel.  It specialised in doner, one kind, you could either have it or go somewhere else.  Apparently Erzurum is famous for doner!!  Fortunately, we like doner and it was good too.  It was served with a couple of side salads so we weren’t going to die of scurvy.  Our hotel is small and local but very comfortable.


© Cheryl & Clive Miller 2019-20