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black sea

    Ottoman Bridges and Hagia Sophia Trabzon

    After a cozy night by the wood burning stove, we left our cabin, said goodbye to Ayder, and stopped by three more bridges on the way back to Trabzon. Our flight was supposed to leave that afternoon.




    Cow in the road


    Rize river


    Sunny day and Ottoman bridge




    Turkish cay fields


    Because we were in the mountains, we drove through a lot of tunnels. The Ordu Nefise Akçelik Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Turkey at just over 2.3 miles:


    Rize tunnel


    This bridge wasn’t as old as the Ottoman stone bridges, but the wisteria was so pretty:


    Bridge with wisteria




    Broken bridge path


    David walking on an old bridge


    David and Leah on a wisteria bridge


    This was the Taskemer Köprü. People road zip-lines under its arch!


    Ottoman bridge path


    Girls on a bridge


    Bridge with Turkish flag


    Drying plants


    Back in Trabzon, we made one last stop at Hagia Sophia. One of our friends visited the 13th century church a couple of years ago. We were disappointed to find that it had been converted into a working mosque. Large panels covered the majority of the frescoes.


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon


    Women were not allowed to enter the prayer area:


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon


    A few of the frescoes were still visible. I would have loved to have seen the church without all of the panels.


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon


    Hagia Sophia Trabzon art


    To add to our adventure, we received a text that our flight had been canceled. After walking around Hagia Sophia, we headed to the airport to drop off the car and figure out a new flight. Three other flights had been canceled and there was a mob of people by the Turkish Airlines desk. We finally made it to the front and found out the next flight didn’t leave until the next day, Monday. We didn’t think our boss would appreciate five teachers being out.

    We decided to rent another car and drive the 10.5 back to Ankara. Fortunately, our original flight was early enough that we left Trabzon at a decent time of day and made it to Ankara by midnight. (And even though it added extra time, we ended up saving money from the flight refunds!)

    I will never forget our mountain adventure with our wonderful friends!



    Batumi, Georgia

    Because we were so close, and because we could, we visited the country of Georgia. We had no idea what to expect. We read an article from someone who crossed from Georgia into Turkey but couldn’t find much information about the other way around. It made us a little nervous navigating a border crossing!

    There was plenty of parking available. We opted for a “closed” lot that cost 2,50TL an hour. (You cannot take a rental car from Turkey across a border.)

    From there, we got in line. This was a classic Turkish experience. I took us around two hours to get through customs.


    Turkish border crossing


    Waiting in line in Turkey does not follow the Western way of thinking. Lines follow the waterfall principal. If there is a space available, fill it. There was a lot of pushing and cutting attempts. Prepare to shoulder up. Our group of five created a nice wall across the line. Some Turkish people were very irked with us because we left some space in front of us to breathe. I decided to combat people pushing into me by leaning back. If was going to wait in a long line, I might as well be comfortable! Everyone seemed to be either Turkish or Georgian. We got a lot of stares. There was a group of about 10 older men who deliberately cut at the door. We threw out a couple of çok ayıp!‘s with the rest of the crowd.

    Isn’t this border gate funny? It reminded us of Snoopy:


    Georgia border crossing


    Turkish customs took about an hour and 15 minutes to get through. Georgian customs took another 45 minutes. There were more lines open on the Georgian side. While we waited, there were three ladies who kept looking back at us and whispering. I told David to cross his eyes the next time they stared at him. He did, and the two younger girls had a good laugh and stopped staring so much. The customs lady must have never seen American passports before, because she didn’t know what to do. She called over to a buddy who said to let us through. (We did not have to buy a visa for our short stay.) She was very thorough matching our passport photos to our faces.

    Once across, we exchanged a small amount of money and walked a short ways down to an Orthodox church. (Tip: Don’t exchange money RIGHT at the border crossing. There are other exchanges a short walk away with slightly better rates.) My friend Dale took this photo of a church, the border crossing, and a mosque on the other side:


    Church, mosque, border


    Church door


    We walked back to the border area and hired a taxi for 20 Lari to take us into Batumi. He dropped us off at the flower district. We didn’t find many restaurants, but grabbed lunch at a pastry shop. Nobody spoke English, but we were able to charade and write our way through the exchange. (It’s been a while since we’ve been in a place where we didn’t know at least a little of the language!) One of the pastries had pork, which was a treat.

    We realized none of us had done any research on the city before our trip, so we spent some time walking around. Batumi was interesting. Some areas were VERY modern and nice (some almost European), while others were in pieces. There was an even starker contrast between the rich and poor than what we’ve seen in Turkey.




    Georgian Lari


    Georgian flag


    Raddison tower


    Old building in Georgia


    Old car


    Batumi park

    Batumi courtyard


    We found a really nice park with a beach along the Black Sea. We sat and threw rocks for a while and watched dolphins play.


    Georgia Black Sea


    Sea glass


    Georgia Black Sea rock tower


    Black Sea friends


    David found a carnival game in the park and was excited he could say he’d shot a gun in Georgia:


    Batumi gun game


    Batumi buildings, old and new


    We bought a few more pastries for dinner. These girls were very sweet and curious about us. When we asked for a picture with them, they said “Ah! Supermodels!”


    Pastry friends


    Sarpi good luck


    After that, we took a taxi back to Sarpi. I like how the sign above says “Good Luck” instead of goodbye. We felt it was appropriate as we neared the border. Re-entering Turkey was a lot easier than crossing into Georgia. We breathed a sigh of relief once we were safely back “home.”

    It was a fun adventure and now we can add Georgia to our list of countries visited!



    Fırtına River Stone Bridges

    After visiting Sümela Manastırı, we drove through Rize towards Çamlıhemşin and the Fırtına Valley. This Black Sea region is filled with winding roads, lush mountains, and fresh air. Everywhere we looked – even behind buildings in the city – we saw çay field after çay field. (Turkey produces over 6% of the world’s tea!)


    Çaykur sign


    Çay fields


    Rize mountains


    Our goal was to see Ottoman bridges. We weren’t sure how to find them, but it ended up being super easy! We just followed the road along the Fırtına River. The bridges were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, but some may be older. The 1700’s are nothing in comparison to other historical sites in Turkey, but we still got a thrill out of finding the bridges and walking across them. There are around 20 bridges still standing. We stopped at three on our first day and three more on Sunday.

    Every bridge felt like a scene out of Narnia or Lord of the Rings. The bridges had high arches and most of the them didn’t seem to lead to anywhere in particular. It was evident herders still used some of the bridges to take their animals over the river.

    This was the Kadiköy (Özenkit) Köprüsü. The sign said it was built near the end of the 19th century by Ahmet and was repaired in 1999:


    Ottoman bridge


    Ottoman bridge with David and Leah


    Plant growing in bridge


    Bridge path


    Randa in cay plant field


    Girls on a bridge


    Dale on a bridge


    I missed the sign for this bridge… or maybe it didn’t have one:


    Ottoman bridge


    Arching bridge


    Bridge path




    Several of the bridges had mini cemeteries near their bases. We wondered if perhaps the builders were buried close to their bridge?


    Gravestone by bridge


    The third bridge we stopped at was called the Şenyuva Köprüsü and was built in 1696:


    Bridge 3 with steps




    Bridge plants


    Rusted bridge


    Rize mountain house


    The people in the area made their living from rafting tourism, forestry, farming, beekeeping, and herding animals. There were a few roadblocks along the way:


    Goats in road




    Just before dark, we drove to Ayder, a small tourism village within a national park. It was a strange little town set in the middle of the countryside. We did not see any other Westerners – most visitors seemed to be Turks or people from countries east of Turkey. We stayed at Dolunay Guesthouse, which was way overpriced for what it was. However, it had a wood burning stove and an amazing view. (Bring your own towels; they do not have any even for rent.) We ate dinner at Zümrüt Restaurant, which included the most amazing Black Sea cheese fondue called mıhlama. It was SO GOOD!


    Ayder clouds


    Ayder cabin


    More on our day trip to Georgia and a few more bridges soon!



    Sümela Monastery

    Though our blog may appear otherwise, I promise our life is more than travel excursions! Things have been crazy here as we prepare to close the school year and our time in Turkey. I’ll try to share some of that soon, but our travel photos are a lot more fun and I want to write about these memories before I forget the details.


    Sumela Monastery


    We had a long weekend the first weekend in May. David and I traveled with three friends to the northeast region of Turkey on the Black Sea. (The area is called Pontus in the Bible and is mentioned in Acts 2:9 and 1 Peter 1:1.) It was an incredible weekend away in the mountains. We love to explore cities when we travel, but there is something so refreshing and special about the countryside, especially in Turkey.

    We left Ankara after school on Thursday and stayed the night in Trabzon at Anıl Hotel. Another thing I love about Turkey: there is always someone looking out for you. We booked two rooms for the five of us. When we arrived, there was some confusion about sleeping arrangements. They apologized not having the correct room configurations. After some back and forth in our limited Turkish and their limited English, I realized the hotel man was trying to put the four girls together and David in another room (which would have been fine if a 4-person room was available). I told him David and I were married, and all was made right. It was sweet of him to consider our virtue.


    Trabzon at night


    Even though Trabzon has over 1.2 million people, it was not a super modern city. We didn’t spend much time there. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove to 30 miles south to Sümela Monastery. The drive along the Altındere valley was gorgeous. We loved all of the green and the mountains!

    The Greek Orthodox monastery was first built into the cliffside in 386 AD. The hike up the mountain was just over a half a mile long with a rise of 820 feet. Whew! Entrance cost 15TL or was free with the Müze Kart. Only a small portion of the monastery was open to the public. The views were incredible and the Rock Church frescos (dating back to the 1300’s!) were amazingly well preserved. After exploring the monastery and hiking all the way back down, we drove up a winding road to a lookout point.


    Black Sea mountains


    Purple flower


    Steep walking path


    Sumela Monastery


    Sumela Monastery stairs


    Sumela Monastery


    Clay roof


    Sumela Monastery


    Leah at the Sumela Library


    Friends in Sumela




    Rock Church frescos


    Sumela frescos


    David in Sumela Monastery


    Plants growing out of rocks


    Sumela Monastery


    After Sümela, we drove back through Trabzon and then east through Rize towards Ayder.



    The Black Sea: Çakraz & Amasra

    Friday, August 30 was Victory Day in Turkey, and we had the day off of school. We decided to take advantage of the long weekend and planned a trip north to the Black Sea.


    Ankara to Çakraz


    Five of us rented a car and David braved driving in Turkey. We left around 6 am to avoid as much traffic as possible, and it worked really well. Once we got out of the city it was smooth sailing. The drive was absolutely beautiful with mountains and trees. It took us about four and a half hours to get there.


    David driving


    Our friend helped us make hostel reservations. We called several places, but hardly anyone spoke English and if they did, it was super limited. (Surprisingly, we were asked several times if we spoke German.) We ended up staying at Deniz Motel, which was right on the beach!


    View from our hostel


    Çakraz is a tiny town nestled in a cove between two bluffs. Most of the action is on the “brickwalk” area by the sea. There are several hotels and restaurants and a few bakkals. I don’t think we ran into any English-speaking tourists, though there were a lot of Turks on vacation. It was much more a vacation spot than a tourist spot. We loved relaxing in such a chill atmosphere! Our hostel even had lounge chairs for us to use on the beach.

    There were several gözleme stands by the restaurants. Gözleme is kind of a cross between a crepe and a calzone. There’s different fillings you can order. We love the potato kind. The beef ones are also good – they have finely ground meat with spices and onion. Our favorite is the honey and walnut gözleme. The gözleme only cost 2,50TL and we ordered about 12 between the five of us the first afternoon.


    Gözleme stand


    After some beach time on Friday, we drove twenty minutes over to Amasra to meet up with some friends who had also traveled to the Black Sea for the weekend. We stopped just outside of Amasra for some pictures:


    Outside Amasra


    How’s this for the view next to the parking lot?


    Amasra, Turkey


    Our friend who made our hostel reservations recommended that we eat at Canlı Balık, a popular fish restaurant in Amasra.


    Canli Balik restaurant


    There were 12 of us. We had a super long table right next to the sea.


    Seaside table


    The Black Sea region gets a lot of rain and is well known for its produce. This salad was as tasty as it was beautiful!


    Amasra Salad


    Our table ordered several plates of fish. It was all fried and included hamsi and at least one other type of fish I didn’t get the name of. Hamsi is apparently known as the European anchovy. I avoided the bones and heads, but a several people ate the little fish whole!


    Hamsi fish


    We walked around Amasra for a bit aftewards. Amasra was a hopping little town with plenty of shops, restaurants, and touristy things. They had some really yummy street food – we got mussels, ice cream, and fried spiraled potatoes on a stick. We’re glad we got to check it out and say hello to our friends:


    Group shot


    Back in Çakraz the next morning, we went on a little hike.


    Seaside old dock


    We started on the left of our hostel and climbed around on the rocky bluff.


    Climbing rocks


    The Black Sea


    Then we walked through the town to get to the top of the bluff on the right.


    Overlooking Çakraz


    That night we ate at the restaurant connected to Özmenler Otel. The food and service was even better than at Canlı Balık. Plus, the waiter spoke some English. We ate family style and ordered some delicious meze – calamari, eggplant with a garlic yogurt sauce, a vegetable dish, and a cheese plate. We ordered hamsi again and another fish they recommended. This time, the fish was not fried and it was so good. They also gave us free fish eggrolls and a beautiful fruit plate. The entire meal was less than 35TL (around $17 USD) a person!


    Fruit plate


    Also that evening, we bought some paper lanterns from a street vendor and set them off over the water.


    Lighting a paper lantern


    After the Turkish breakfast provided by our hostel, we drove back to Ankara on Sunday. We loved the Black Sea!