We left Ayder the following morning with the sun shining – this would have been a great day to go to the Yayla – but our trip was planned out and we couldn’t easily deviate. We were on our way to Georgia, a country which we didn’t know much about but which we were planning to spend the next two weeks exploring.
We took a dolmus down the mountain, waited at the Otogar and then caught a bus to Sarp. Actually our bus terminated in Hopa, the last major city in Turkey, and we were then bundled into a van for the last 20 minute drive to the border.
We reached the border around noon and crossed into what had once been the most touristed part of the former Soviet Union – Georgia.
BLOG ON OUR TRIP TO GEORGIA WILL FOLLOW THE BLOG ON TURKEY.
We spent an incredible two weeks in Georgia – it was nothing like we had expected, and it was certainly an adventure we won’t forget.
Leaving Georgia, we spent a night in Sarp. It felt incredible to be in Turkey again – back in the first world, a place where things worked, where we could understand what was going on, what we were eating etc. We ate our first Turkish dinner at the border cafeteria with all the Turkish border guards and our hotel was very comfortable – though throughout the night there was a raging thunderstorm outside and the power went off for a few hours in the middle of the night.
After breakfast and check-out we walked along the main street of Sarp trying to find out where the dolmuses left from. I also had to exchange Georgian Laris into Turkish Liras. I eventually found the moneychanger, sitting at a desk in a grocery store. We waited for the dolmus and were soon making our way to Hopa, where we picked up a bus for the three hour drive to Trabzon. It was now Ramazan (Ramadan) in Turkey, and it was quite clear that we were the only people eating and drinking – they didn’t offer anything to eat or drink on the bus this time – something that would have been automatic a few weeks previously.
Trabzon is a city that I had been to 18 years before – it had been grey and we had stayed in a very budget (ie terrible) hotel. We didn’t have good memories of Trabzon though we had seen the fabulous Sumela Monastery at the time, which had been a real highlight of a long trip through the country. This time we arrived on a bright sunny day and our bus dropped us off right in the city center. We had left Georgia a few days earlier than planned and so we did not have a hotel booked – still, I had done my research and had a couple of places in mind. I had originally planned to go to the new Novotel, but we had driven past it on the way into the city and we had seen that it was far out of the city center. So we scrapped that idea. We traipsed into the Hotel Usta but my feeling was that after they saw us arrive with our backpacks they decided to declare the hotel full. Nearby was Hotel Horon – a 3 star effort – nothing special, but they had plenty of rooms at a reasonable price. Settled, we began our explorations.
Trabzon is a great city for walking – not too big, with a pedestrianized street downtown. Our hotel was just off the large and very leafy main square, and directly opposite our hotel was a wonderful delicatessen – with regional specialities ranging from cheese and meats to olives. Opposite was a wine store – which we were quite surprised to see in what is regarded as quite a religiously conservative city, but it was there nevertheless. On the corner was a simple restaurant where we ate lunch – the servers were delighted to see us since it wa ramazan and nobody else was eating, and they were typically friendly. We ended up eating most of our meals there. Afterwards we walked around the streets, tried to find somewhere to serve us something in the main square, but being Ramazan, the tea houses were closed. We walked through the new and old town – at one point we walked past a cafe full of men watching soccer on TV. We peeped in, and the next thing we knew we were invited inside to watch with them. Hilit and Gal were probably the only two women who’d ever stepped foot in there. After about ten minutes we thanked them and left – we hadn’t realy planned on spening the whole afternoon watching soccer. On our way we saw a big valley where preparations were going on for what was obviously a big event – we asked around and learned that every night during Ramazan there are festivities with singing, snacks, shows and a fun fair, so we decided that we would go there later on. We walked down to the seafront – interestingly, Trabzon is a city by the sea but seems to totally ignore the sea – there is really very little to do at the seafront, nor any services – its almost there as a side thought.
We noticed that every pastry and sweet store was packed with people buying baklava and other sweets by the kilo as well as tubs of ice cream. It is customary to end the fast every day with sweets, and so the sweet stores do a roaring trade during Ramazan. We found a great store – Lokma – with wonderful sweets – but they requested that we take our food away – clearly they didn’t feel right having people actually eating on their premises during the day.
By 7pm everything had changed – the square was full, people were out shopping, the restaurants were clogged and eventually a horn blew announcing the end of the fast for that day, and the festivities began. It was as if Trabzon had woken from a deep sleep.
We ate dinner at our now favorite restaurant, which was full of patrons but they again seemed very pleased to see us. Afterwards we took a cab to the fairgrounds – it was very busy, but we didn’t or couldn’t really appreciate the show that was in Turkish – so we walked about, the kids went on some fairground rides and then we made our way back to the hotel. On the way we popped into a Migros supermarket – where I bought a paid of flip-flops for TL2 – just over $1!! Then it was back to the hotel and bed.
We had a shock when we flipped through the TV channels – they included hard porn channels, for free, and they were just there along with the news, sport, family shows and other stuff. We had to be really careful about letting the kids handle the remote control. I have never come across anything like that in a hotel before!
PS: These day I am planning great family trips to Turkey. Click here for more info.