Trabzon

2 September;

Some time in early hours I left Europe and arrived in Asia. Its’ been a long journey to other side of Turkey. Two continents but one country, same language, same skin tone. Outside it’s biggest city there are improvements in roads, now comparable in standard to other European countries. Coach driving standards are higher than taxi drivers, but that’s not a huge compliment. Coaches are now non-smoking, except for our driver last night.

It’s great when someone starts and completes a whole conversation in Turkish with me, people usually start addressing me in English. Many people pick up that I’m a Cypriot, it seems half the males of this country have done their national service in Cyprus.

I’d like to tell how I love night buses, but after 18 hours and little sleep I’m ready for my afternoon nap.

3 September;

In Trabzon, home to 244,000 people and arguably Turkeys best team outside Istanbul. Noticeably quieter and easier to relax in. 25 years after my first visit I returned to this place, I hope I don’t wait till I’m 75 before I return. We visited Sumela Monastery.

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This has been unused since 1923 when the war between Turks and Greeks ended and the government’s of the two countries agreed that all Christians should leave the new state of Turkey and move to Greece, and all Muslims should leave Greece and live in Turkey. These forced emigrations had an effect not just on the people but on the economies of both nations. Thankfully relations between both nations are better now.

Night buses? I hate to admit but perhaps I’m too old for them now. I love the service stations and I enjoyed a nice liver stew and rice at 2 am. But in future, daytime journeys only.

Turkish language, like any language is subject to evolution. I don’t hear ‘buyurun’ (don’t know if I’m spelling it right, corrections gratefully accepted) so much. Translated into English it means deign, as in, ‘please deign to enter my shop, restaurant, whatever. I prefer it to ‘one question’ spoken in the English language. What happened to ‘ allahais marladik’, despite being in some old guide books I never did hear that word uttered. It means ‘ sorry’. Perhaps no one was sorry for anything they did to me. Like me, for that matter.

Things I reccomend, accepting your limitations and pacing yourself.

Being at peace with other nationalities, even living with them.

Saying sorry, but only when you mean it.

Things I don’t reccomend, carving your name on religious buildings,

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no one wants to know that you were there and who your girlfriend was.

Chips. When did they become part of a Turkish breakfast? Is it a Black Sea regional twist? I’m not adopting this new fashion and I reccomend you don’t, say NO to chips for breakfast.

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4 September;

Today we visited Ataturk’s house,

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set in the hills of Trabzon before leaving it to travel 3 hours westwards to Bulancak (pop. 68,000), near Giresun. Not so sorry to leave the accommodation.

A less than impressive bus service where we were dumped on a dual carriageway. Lesson learnt to buy my own tickets in future and clarify that we’re being dropped off at a bus station. After going under a still to be completed underpass I walked into a cafe and the kind waiter bid us follow him where he hailed a cab from a rank. Having arrived at hotel our spirits were lifted by quality of accommodation, the best yet, where we have a sea view (and also of a dual carriageway). So in one situation, the best and worst sides of human nature.

Last night we ate again at Cemal Usta in main square in Trabzon. Starters, main course, baklava and water ( no alcohol served) for a tenner for the both of us. Dolmus taxis are a cross between bus and taxi, they follow set routes, dropping off and picking up. A journey that we’ve been making by taxi for £4 cost 75p for the both of us. Examples of great value once you get away from the tourist traps along the Med.

After a sober meal we looked for a bar, and kept looking. When I found one on a rooftop terrace I went up alone to check it out, it had a ‘ family area’ and a ‘men’s area’ and seemed OK, women and men enjoying a drink together. I went down to give Penny Yusuf the all clear and I went up again, behind two young women. I almost followed them into the toilets, thankfully my Turkish is good enough to know that ‘ bayan’ ( not a word I learnt in my Turkish Cypriot speaking early years) meant women. I did make this mistake many years ago at a service station on one of my beloved bus journeys. The normal symbols of a pipe and high heels were replaced with this word I was unfamiliar with. You can get away with a lot when you’re a guest in a strange country.

Having found the bar and ordered drinks you can imagine my joy when the disco rubbish was turned off and instead they switched to a channel with the Turkish national team marching onto pitch. After a rousing national anthem ( I didn’t stand or sing, no one else did either), the match started. The Turkish team confused me by playing in red rather than the white I’m used to seeing them in. Latvia were playing in white and I managed to avert a diplomatic incident by cheering for the home side. eventually. They were made to pay for not taking their chances with a 1v1 draw. Penny, I swear I didn’t set up this surprise football watching evening.

The ‘family’ area is mis-named, there were no children and we were the oldest customers, and I’m 50 ( and proud of it), what kind of family is that?

Things I reccomend, Trabzon prices.

Things I don’t reccomend, reversing on a dual carriageway because you passed your slip road, today’s example of bad driving.

 

Whilst visiting Sumela yesterday we met Rodriguez from Chile. He was on a world tour, having started in Spain he was making his way through Georgia, and then on to Russia where he intended to take the Trans Siberian railway before ending his traveling either in China or Japan.

After our unsatisfactory accommodation in Trabzon and more research, we have rejigged our plans and are now staying an extra night in Safranbolu, and one night less in Ankara. Still haven’t entirely decided where we’re going after we leave here, options include staying here longer, going to Sinop. We have considered and decided against Sivas on this occasion.

I was commenting on good prices in restaurant but then learnt something whilst at the bar. Also a small bottle of water costs only 75 kurus (100 kurus to the lira), 1 lira in Istanbul, or 2 lira from the cheeky kids ( some from Syria) trying it on. I persuaded the boy to come back with my water after he started running away, he did, with a smile. I hope he has more to smile about for the rest of his life.

Which brings me to that picture of a drowned child. England has taken in 216 refugees, Turkey has two million. Lebanon, a much smaller country, and also an Arab country also has two million. Cameron boasts about the money UK has donated, be clear about this, he has donated to keep the refugees IN Turkey and Lebanon. Events like this mean I am proud of my ethnicity and embarrassed by my government.

So to sum up, engage don’t disengage, be active not inactive. Raise your voice and demand your country do it’s share. We can’t bring that boy back to life but we can help those that are alive. It’s the least we can do and any less means we are crying crocodile tears.

A footnote about Ataturk’s house. It was built in 1890 for Konstantin Kabayanides, a local banker. Those of you familiar with this part of the world will realise that this was a Greek man and that after the population exchange in 1923 the house became the property of the local authority who then gifted it to Ataturk. When he died it was bequeathed to his sister and when she died the local authority purchased it and declared it a museum. History is the property of you and I and we should guard against the rewriting of history as it is a betrayal of the experiences of ordinary people like you and I. Population exchange doesn’t come close to describing the trauma experienced first hand by the people affected.

Things I reccomend, travel, it broadens the mind, and do it as independently as possible if you can. You get to spend your time with more interesting people and you learn more than just staying in one place.

Things I don’t reccomend, imported whiskey, stick to home produced varieties in Turkey. One glass of whisky, £7.

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