Three Days by the Black Sea: A Different Type of Turkish Experience

    An hour’s journey away from Istanbul onboard a speedy Turkish Airline domestic flight, the seaside region of Trabzon offers travelers a different type of Turkish experience. Upon landing, visitors are immediately greeted with a majestic view of the Black Sea, which was once considered one of the most important ports during the medieval times for Silk Road traders. Life at Trabzon still draws from the ocean, as city life bustles with the sort of easiness one would expect from those living by the shore. A side trip to Trabzon from Istanbul allows one go site seeing, try good cuisine, and visit the natural wonders in an even-tempered manner that big cities lack.

    A City of Quiet Walks and Good Cuisine

    Top hotels at Trabzon are located at the lively city center surrounded by hilly streets and friendly hawkers. Shopping may not be items from top international brands, but it is still a luxurious experience. Vendors and shopkeepers line the city streets with homegrown items that range from silk scarves, ceramic plates, trendy fashions from local designers, to antique home decorations like pots and copper pitchers. The ride to the hotel from the airport immediately triggers curiosity when observing the colors and textures of the charming city through the car window. When it’s finally time to shop, one can get lost in and around the winding streets for hours on end. Strolls at night are safe and better for those who want cooler weather.

    Random stops at doner kebab stands are sufficient enough to keep trekking through the city of hills. Hawkers stand behind their stalls, which have large mounds of meat hanging on metal poles surrounded by heat panels. This meat is roasted in its own juices throughout the day, allowing for maximum flavor. What is traditionally known as shawarmas by the Middle Eastern nations, the Turks call doners. It is the preferred snack by locals and is the ideal companion for long walks and exploring.    

    For heavier fare, Turkish pizza called pide can be bought to fill cheesy desires. It is quite similar to the Italian favorite, but takes the shape of an oblong and features traditional Turkish ingredients like vegetarian produce and meat that is not pork. It is also interesting to pair pide with ayran, a cold yogurt beverage popular amongst locals. It gives balance by adding sweetness to a very savory meal.

    Sunset and Turkish Tea by the Black Sea

    Minutes before dusk, it is recommended to take a car to the city’s highest point for a view of the sunset. Fifteen minutes away from the town proper, parks facing the Black Sea are the ideal spot for resting the feet and taking in the view of the sun meeting the ocean line. When visiting during the colder months, it is suggested to order a pot of Turkish tea. The dark mahogany liquid is traditionally served in small, narrow glasses and sweetened with beet sugar cubes. The tea plantations at Rize are only two hours northeast from Trabzon, allowing the city to have the freshest batch of tea from the neighboring town.

    A Town of Tea Plantations 

    A short drive along the coast brings visitors to Rize province, home to Turkey’s famous tea plantations. Tea production began in the 1940s and helped the hillside town financially. Most Turkish tea is produced from the plantations of Rize, one of the largest tea markets in the world. Some plantations are very welcoming to tourists passing by. It is possible to walk through the fields and pick your own tea for consumption or purchasing. Shops at the town proper feature a wide selection of teas to bring back home. Walls upon walls of different tea brands sold all over the country are available in a single store for hoarding.

    Gifts to Turkey’s Beloved Ataturk 

    A visit to Ataturk Pavilion is a must when in Trabzon. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the first President of the Turkish people, leading the way to independence and the formation of the republic back in 1923. As a gift, the people of Trabzon gifted the pavilion to him, where he resided whenever he visited the coastline town. Built in 1903, it is now open the public as a museum. Furniture, fixtures, artwork and Ataturk’s personal book collections at the manor are well kept and in pristine condition. It allows visitors a view into history and what it may have been like living there for the beloved President Ataturk.

    The house exterior is painted in an immaculate white coating. Surrounding gardens are managed well and are regularly tended to. Violet, white, red and yellow blooms give a pop of color to the purple and green bushes that surround the property. It is a home of quaint size, but with lavish furnishings and fixtures. Libraries, dining rooms, bedrooms, reading rooms and lounges all have high ceilings with chandeliers. Most pieces in the home pre-date to 1937 and have an old-world elegance to it. Though there are numerous Persian rugs around the house, what’s more impressive is what’s underneath it. The tiles of the home are detailed to look like sharp blue flowers surrounded by warm colors and different shapes to create an eye-catching, intricate design.

    Car Rides to Snowcapped Mountain and Side Trips for Cheesy Turkish Snacks

    Trabzon may be beside the coastline, but drives further south feature natural views worth writing home about. For instance, an hour away is the Sumela Monastery located at the top of the snowcapped Mela Mountain. Though the public may not enter (it is expected to be reopened in 2018), the picturesque structure founded in 386 AD stands in the path of the rocky mountain forest. A view from a mile away can still get the heart to flutter. One begins to wonder and create tales of the history that’s happened in and around Sumela.

    Originally, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Sumela has a rich heritage of legends surrounding it. For instance, the location of the church is said to have been built on the land where two Athenian priests found an icon of the Virgin Mary deep within a cave on Mela. Throughout the years, it has also gone through wreckage and constant rebuilding, surviving different wars and numerous imperial rules of several sultans, emperors and leaders. When Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic in 1923, the monastery was abandoned.

    The surrounding natural views of the Mela Mountain are also points of interests for travelers. One thousand two hundred meters above sea level, it is not usual to see snow covering the mountaintops. The temperature is low enough that a thick jacket is highly recommended during colder months. Waterfalls can be seen as one travels down the mountains. Ask the driver to make a quick stop for a glimpse. Be wary and remember that safety should be priority over the steep, rocky terrain.

    During the trip back to town, stop at a restaurant to eat the region’s favorite snack called kuymak. Similar to cheese fondue, the dish features Turkish cheese melted with corn meal and a generous portion of butter. Served in large, steaming metal bowls, a wooden spoon is provided so diners can spread as much of it as they want on freshly made slices of bread. This simple yet sinful delight does not only make the road trip to the mountains worth it, but the entire trip to Turkey, as well.

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