Turkey and the Black Sea Coast
Autumn 2013 and we were pondering on options on how to celebrate our Golden Wedding in October 2014 when our post brought forth the 2014 GB Privilege Brochure with a brand new tour of Turkey taking place to coincide with our Golden Wedding The tour visited Italy and Greece before reaching Turkey, and then travelled through the Black Sea region with its natural harbours, bustling cities and tea and tobacco plantations. It travelled to historic Silk Road towns, and to the Kalkan Mountains to visit the extraordinary monastery at Sumela. Then South to Mt Nemrut its summit peopled by gigantic stone statues of the gods dating from the First Century BC.It then crossed the Anatolia Region and visited the UNESCO Hittite cities of Hattusa and Yazilikaya before finally spending time discovering the rich architectural and cultural heritage of the city of Istanbul. As Turkey, the Black Sea Region and Istanbul were on our wish list of places to visit we decided to book it.
Throughout the tour a mixture of basic campsites (there are no proper campsites in the areas we visited) and Aires were used. Many of the drives were simply stunning, from the coastal roads and mountain passes to gorges and valleys, some demanding a confident driving technique and at times extremely challenging especially on the unmade roads. This Tour would only be enjoyed by those with a sense of adventure and an open mind.
The following is a report taken from my daily log of our journey and of the email “Postcards” sent home to family and friends. Although the Tour started in Kent travelling through France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, for the purpose of this report I have started from Ancona in Italy.
Day 7 the 9th September. We drive to Ancona to catch the overnight ferry to Greece. After boarding the Ferry (more like a cruise ship) we spend the time on the sundeck and enjoy a good meal in the restaurant. We sleep on deck in our motorhomes a truly exciting experience. Mileage to date 1,331
Day 8. 10th September. Docked at 8.30am Igoumanista Greece. Set off to our first campsite on a beautiful motorway . Arrived campsite very pretty but mainly statics and poor facilities. But lovely setting overlooking the sea a good restaurant with terrace overlooking beach and an excellent swimming pool. Had paddle in Aegean and swim in pool. Beer in restaurant watched the sunset.
Day 9 Alexandroupolis. Excellent Beachside Campsite. Spent two days on beach, swimming, walking, big shop Lydl. The following day we cross the border into Turkey
Day 14 “Postcard from Safranbolou” Mileage to date 2,250
Well we have made it to Turkey, can’t say it’s all been easy! The roads vary from excellent surface to rough potholes, unmade surfaces and the inevitable roadworks. The scenery changes from huge industrial areas ugly concrete tenement blocks uninteresting towns to beautiful coastal scenes and rugged mountains. Small pretty fishing towns where we have just come from are delightful and a step back in time. Our Motorhomes are a source of amazement to the locals who are not really used to foreign visitors. There is nothing in English anywhere which makes navigating quite difficult and very little English is spoken. We had a bit of fun trying to change money in a local bank, they have a ticket queuing system, ok if you know which queue you are meant to be in, buying stamps from the PTT (post office) was another challenge the clerk insisting that he put the stamps on our postcards which we did not have! Next was trying to buy mosi cream from the chemist we were doing noises like a mosi (we thought) he kept pointing to fly spray. Eating out is fun, we ordered an all day breakfast for lunch and received an assorted of inedible cheese, olives, tomatoes, chunky chips, an egg type dish made with oatmeal and stringy cheese, chopped aubergines and small pancake type rolls with various fillings, rolls, bread honey and of course Turkish tea. We have had some lovely group meals as part of our tour.
Today in Safranbolou a preserved Ottoman town and UNESCO World Heritage site we had a guided tour of the old town with its cobbled narrow streets lined with fascinating little shops, Hamam, and the old Karavansary (merchants Inn) then in the evening a lovely traditional meal beautifully served in the old camel quarters of the Inn now fully restored. Tomorrow we are going for a guided walking tour, visit to historic Ottoman Houses, lunch at the campsite Hotel, and a visit to Druce Canyon and it’s extraordinary flying glass platform over the gorge . Afterward we will walk the two hours through the Canyon back to the campsite. The “campsites” are unbelievable! At the last one we were on the lawn of a Hotel, we had electric but all on splitters and packed in quite close. We had the use of rooms in the Hotel for showers etc. Tonight we are all squeezed up on a terraced hillside the track to drive up was steep, stony ruts, many did not make it and had to park at the bottom nr the road. Again we used the Hotel facilities. All good fun! Don’t think our Pilote Owners Club Members would think much of it! We travel with another couple taking it in turns to lead, this works well and most people do this the rest go in convoy behind the Tour Leaders. Time for bed now been up since 6am on the road at 8am. Tomorrow lie in till 7am! Back to the coast on Thursday.
Day 18 20th September “ Postcard from Sinop” Mileage 2,516
Hi All, now on day 18 of our Turkey Tour. We have arrived at this beachside campsite situated 4 miles out of Sinop and are parked right next to a beautiful sandy beach sounds wonderful but its pouring with rain! We have lost the lovely weather it is warm but with heavy showers. The last two days we have had the most challenging driving experiences along a coastal road clinging to the side of steep cliffs with continuous hairpin bends. The first day we left Amasra, a beautiful seaside town where we had parked on the harbor side for the night, the first section of road was so steep some had a tow up, and then it continued like this for 90 miles, zigzagging up and zigzagging down. Passing through tiny fishing villages and small farming communities we are the subject of great interest to the locals as we pass by and get lots of waves. We finally arrived at Donganyurt a small fishing village and not geared up for tourists, once again we are parked on the harbourside and the mayor and police chief arrive to welcome us, also lots of children and families all very inquisitive and friendly. The journey today of 108 miles started zigzagging but then went inland where it was almost like England it being much wetter and greener in this part of Turkey, the roads then became much easier apart from the unmade bits.
There are no smart campsites in this part of Turkey this one is about as good as it gets and apart from its location is pretty basic. The electric is never more than 3amp and very hit and miss, the water is definitively not for drinking, the toilette facilities are worse than basic apart from the hotel sites and there is no such thing as the 10m rule! No toilette paper can be flushed and has to be put in a pedal bin. The Wi-Fi is usually free but a bit hit and miss and of course we have no TV. Some phones do not work. The country farms are very basic with perhaps two or three cows usually grazing alongside the road tended by an old lady in traditional dress, a few hens and a few crops. There are packs of dogs and cats everywhere often lying in the road fortunately they are all pretty streetwise. The farmers main means of transport is a small agricultural cultivator often with a trailer on the back to carry the family around in, not good to get stuck behind one of these up a steep hill. Most towns have a street market and today we took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of one just did’nt know which way to turn, fortunately the locals guided us out.
Tomorrow we are going on a city tour of Sinop (we made the headlines in the local paper) and hopefully if the weather is better a boat trip with lunch on board the following day.
The group meals have been interesting usually starting with Meze an assortment of small cold dishes, potato salad, stuffed vine leaves, chopped aubergines, soft cheese, set yoghurt and a chili mixture. This is accompanied by bread and a large salad. Then the main course which is usually grilled mixed meats or fish both served with rice. Then plates of melon and desert of small pastries or Turkish delight or a plain cake soaked in honey. Then tea or coffee. Sometimes a drink (soft) is included or we buy our own. The van is holding together despite the rough roads we have heard squeaks and rattles we have never heard before! Poor thing must wonder what we are doing to it.
Day 24 Friday 26 th September “Postcard from Unye” Mileage 2,926
Hi everybody, since my last postcard we have had some interesting journeys and stayed at two lovely places. The journey from Sinop was very different with very good quality roads and little traffic. This area is mainly agricultural and we first passed through paddy fields the area being a glacial type valley with high mountains and huge river and lakes. In the mountains we saw may small farming communities not many towns, we then came to miles of sweeping fields that had contained crops which had been harvested we think it was tobacco plantations. We then entered an area where at the side of the road were piles of onion and potatoes ready for collection next came acres and acres of fruit trees and hazel nut trees finally pine forested mountains with evidence of logging, not good news following a logging lorry up steep mountain roads. We finally made it to Amasaya for our night stopover. The local Mayor, Museum Directors and Director of Tourism was there to greet us and parked us up in front of the city museum alongside the riverfront. In the afternoon we went on a guided history tour of the town seeing the 14th century Mosques, Hamams, restored riverside houses and the remains of the Pontiac Rock Tombs. It was here during the Ottoman Dynasty that the Sultans were educated and there is very famous library and we were very privileged to be allowed to view some of the centuries old books including a 1000yr old Quran. This town was very clean and quite westernized being a favourite Tourist Site. At night the main buildings alongside the river and the fortress walls and castle walls on the tops of the surrounding mountains are floodlit with changing colours affording a spectacular night show. The following morning we set of for Unye on the coast and another day of beautiful mountain scenery and agricultural landscapes. We came across herds of goats the usual small herd of cows and a man on a horse herding water buffalo. Bird wise we saw plenty of ravens and buzzards and at times bee eaters. On this day the roads were not good extremely bumpy, rutted and at times narrow, so we shook rattled and rolled on our way here. Our heads were buzzing after a 140 miles. This campsite is very basic but situated right on the beach with lovely views of the Black Sea. The weather today has been lovely after a heavy storm in the night, which woke us up together with the cockerels crowing and the Amman calling everyone to prayer at 5 in the morning (don’t think we would ever get used to that)! Today we went into Unye with 10 of our group for a visit to the Hamam (Turkish Baths) this one is a very traditional Hamam and a beautifully restored Byzantine Church.
We did not know what to expect but as it was just our group we were allowed to wear our swimsuits. The Hamam interior is all marble rooms and very hot like a sauna. We first went into cubicles to change and then given traditional towels to wrap around us. We passed into the main room and lay around on the marble slabs chatting, there are jets of cold water to stand and cool off in. After a while we were taken in pairs by the “boys” to another room where we were first washed all over, then scrubbed, then our hair shampooed and scalp massaged, then covered head to toe in an enormous amount of frothy foam, next a body massage then finally rinsed off. Felt like we had been in a car wash! Back to the main room for cold shower then we were wrapped in hot towels and given tea! It was great fun and we really enjoyed the experience. We then had a typical Turkish meal in a local restaurant 3 courses including a drink (always soft) £6 each. So a really good day. Now early to bed for an early start on day 25 of our Tour.
Day 28 Tuesday 30th September. “Postcard from Trabazon”
Hi everybody, we are now on a campsite nr Trabzon on the road to the Sumela Monastery. The “campsite” is at a restaurant and very crowded as it is the ony one open at this time of year. There is a large group of Dutch Motorhomes and also a small group travelling to Singapore via Iran and Pakistan!! Trabazon is a busy place and life here is changing drastically for the local Turkish people. The old traditional buildings have been pulled down and replaced by modern tower blocks, this is still ongoing. Much of the land is being bought and developed by wealthy Arabs so there is strong Arab presence in the city. We can’t help but feel that the peaceful Turkish way of life will become changed here. Our city guide was very sad about the changes to his home town.
Yesterday we visited the 12th century Sumela Monastery set in 4,000ft high cliffs in the Kalkan Mountains. We went part way by mini bus and a steep climb up steps to reach the top. It was an amazing place. It was founded by two Greek monks in AD 385 when it was just a cave the present buildings date from the late 12th century and contain many frescoes. It fell into disuse in 1923 when the Greeks and the Turks split. In 2006 a full restoration program was started to restore the Monastery. In the afternoon we had the option to join Kevin our Tour Leader on a 6 mile walk to a mountain village, and as the sun was shining we decided to join him. It was a long hard slog uphill for 3 miles but well worth the effort as the mountain views down to the valley were stunning. We reached the village just small cluster of houses and farms of hazel nut trees one shop a café/bar (no alcohol) and the usual mosque. The local village leader (also the café owner) made us all very welcome and we all had drinks for 1 Tr about 30p. In the café there are the men of the village playing cards dominoes etc and chatting (no women).
Today we went by coach to Rize another large town along the coast . Rize has a strong Arab presence and the women were out in force today buying clothes and gifts for their children as it is an important Muslim festival holiday for 4 days at the end of the week (Kurban Bayram). There was certainly no shortage of money with many many gold and jewelry shops. Rize is the main area for the production of tea (the national drink) and we visited a tea plantation, a tea museum where we had a traditional lunch and a tea factory where we had tea. An interesting insight as there is very little alcohol in Turkey, tea is the main drink followed by Turkish coffee. Tea is usually black served in small glass cups we prefer it with sugar. Turkish coffee if very strong and sludgy again served in small cups. Tomorrow is a rest day so we are going to take a taxi into the small market town of Macca to do some shopping as tomorrow we leave the Black Sea Coast and cross the Kalkan mountains heading towards Mount Nemru National Park by the weekend. No more shops for a while and very few facilities. JenArt
Day 31 Friday 3rd October Postcard from “ Mavigol Lakeside Hotel” Mileage 3,438
In the middle of nowhere! Hi all, first many thanks to you all that have sent cards for our Golden Wedding we sat in bed this morning at 6am opening them.
We have had a wonderful two days. Since leaving the Black Sea area the beautiful weather has returned it is now 5.15pm and we are sitting outside the van overlooking the lake in shorts and T-shirts. Arthur has been swimming in the very nice Hotel pool. Tonight we have a special meal in this very smart hotel which will be a good way to celebrate our anniversary. Thursday we had the best drive yet over the Kalkan Mountains on a panoramic new road which went up and down and through the mountains it was like being in Switzerland with the snow capped mountains then we were in Dartmoor with rugged granite outcrops and finally a desert like landscape with dry arid mountains. Everywhere looks brown and yellow from the sun and is tinder dry. Last night we stayed at a trout farm in a small farming community the farmers were bringing their herds of cows down from the mountain pastures, they had been walking for 3 days. We had a group meal of rainbow trout in the restaurant it was delicious. This morning we set out at 7.45 for another exciting drive through the Tunceli Gorge. The road was good but very narrow with steep sided cliffs. We usually stop for coffee in a village café and today was very special as the owners (a Kurdish family) made a great fuss of us. We showed them on our maps where we lived and where we had travelled. Now it is time to get ready for our Anniversary Dinner. Tomorrow we make the journey to the Nemrut National Park for a 3 night stay, a highlight of our trip. This weekend is like our bank holiday weekend so all shops, businesses, schools closed and locals will be partying. It is a very important time for the family a bit like our Christmas. JenArt
Day 36 Wednesday 8th October “Postcard from Kangal Mileage to date 3,748
Hi Everybody, we have now reached this place for two nights. Since my last postcard we have had an exciting few days. It would be impossible to tell all of our experience in an email so will give just a few of the highlight. The evening of our golden Wedding was special. We had an excellent meal with champagne and fancy cake from friends. The Hotel had pulled out all the stops to make the evening one to remember. Then the next day a drive into the Kurdish region, volcanic rock scenery poor villages desolate landscapes people still using mules and donkeys I did not feel comfortable. No waves. Better when we crossed the Euphrates on a small ferry dramatic change in scenery dry sparse mountains no big towns just little villages clinging to the side of the mountains it was like stepping back to another century. Here the locals were extremely friendly and helpful. That night we camped up the side of a mountain in the Nemrut National Park one of the best places we have ever wild camped just a carpark small café and souvenir shop run by the villagers and basic facilities. The views were amazing and the night sky and stars stunning also the sunset and sunrise. It was touching 30c so very hot. We were taken by mini buses the next morning to visit the archeology sites and in the afternoon up a long scary tortuous stony track up to 7,000ft to the summit of Mt Nemru.
We then had a 30min climb up steps to reach the amazing site of the stone statues surrounding the tomb of King Antiochus, Emperor of the Commagene Kingdom around 50BC, which had lain undiscovered for 2,000 years until the 1890s. The statues are now headless (various theories on why this is) and the heads lay in front of the statues giving the whole area a surreal feel. In the evening we had a group supper laid on by the villagers followed by entertainment from the village band great fun! The following day we went by mini buses, first stopping to view the mighty Ataturk Dam, to Sanliurfa the Prophet’s city reputed to be the birthplace of Abraham. A pilgrimage town where there is a famous mosque cave place reputed to be the birthplace of Abraham and a lake full of fish reputed to be the descendants when King Nimrod had Abraham catapulted from the Citadel to fall into a pile of burning wood. Happily God intervened and turned the fire to water and faggots of wood to fish. Being a Public Holiday it was heaving with people many of them Syrians as we were just 50 miles from the Syrian border. We also spent time wandering around the Bazaar a fascinating insight to Turkish life. We did not experience any trouble although we had been warned to be careful and a few of our group were nervous of the current political problems. On the return journey our mini bus was hit by a flying stone from a speeding car which shattered a window so had to stop at a garage to get it fixed this made for a very long day. Then yesterday we had our worse drive it started off ok but then we hit roadworks the surface had been removed so we travelled for at least 30 miles on stones, with huge rutted pot holes all very dry and dusty. The van was shook to bits, it’s a wonder it’s still holding together. We finally arrived at the Kangal hot springs Fish Spa which is a health spa for curing people of psoriasis. Guests stay in the hotel and visit the pools (indoor) everyday for treatment. Therapy starts through healing water rich in minerals and healing fishes which nibble at your skin. The spring water is 37 degrees and the healing fish are unique to this area.
There is a group bathe tonight, but we just dabble our feet in the water to experience the nibbling fish, it’s a bit strange! There are also huge Wolf dogs patrolling the area they are there to keep the wolves at bay, we can hear them howling at night. Tomorrow we cross Central Anatolia to visit the Hittite sites before making our way to Istanbul. So far it has been a wonderful experience and we are both well. JenArt
Day 43 Wednesday 15th October “Postcard from Greece” Mileage to date 4,597
Hi everybody, have been without Wi-Fi for a few days if you are missing my emails. We have now completed our tour of Turkey and back at the seaside resort of Alexandropoulos in Greece for 2 days. Since the Fish Spa and 1 night camped in a forest area we have been camped nr Istanbul for 3 nights. It would be impossible to describe in a short email what a fabulous city it is and well worth a visit for a few days if you ever get the chance. A number of us from our group made the decision to book a Hotel for one night to make the most our time there as the coach trip could take up to 2 hours in the horrendous Istanbul traffic. We had experienced this on our way out and again it was just as bad on our way back at the end of the tour very frightening at times but Arthur drove brilliantly and we came through safely. The first day we went by coach with our toothbrushes in our rucksack and on arrival set off to find our Hotel. After boarding a tram to the centre to our delight our small Hotel was right there and with a rooftop terrace overlooking all the main sights. We then spent the morning exploring and taking in the Istanbul experience, sounds, spice smells, the crowds of cruise ship passengers the street vendors the very colorful shops the amazing buildings and architecture. We met up with the rest of our group at 1.30 at the Galatta Bridge where we had enjoyed a leisurely lunch watching the cruise ships docking and the ferries scuttling back and forth.
We then went on a one and half hour cruise on the Bosphurous and around the Golden Horn which was one of the highlights of our tour, as many of the most beautiful buildings are along the waterfront.
Afterwards with an excellent guide we visited the amazing underground water system, the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome.
The day ended with an excellent meal in a very upmarket rooftop restaurant and views of the city. At night the square with all the main buildings and fountains was floodlit, it was so beautiful.
Next day after breakfast on the terrace we set off to visit the Ayah Sofia converted from a Byzantine church to a mosque in the 15th century, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. What an experience! That took most of the day so we were once again back on the coach to the campsite before meeting up in the evening for our Farewell Group Dinner in Selimpassa a fishing village with a very famous fish restaurant. This is where we went. Champagne and canapés to start and 11 courses, of various types of seafood, the usual melon and a selection of desserts. The meal also included wine which was unusual for Turkey. As this was our last organized get together various prizes were awarded to members of the group and a spokesperson thanked Kevin and Nurcan our Tour Leaders who had looked after us all so well and made the holiday so memorable. JenArt
Day 47 Sunday 19th October “Postcard from Ancona Italy”
Hi All the ferry journey from Greece to Italy was very smooth. After boarding at midnight we had a good nights sleep a very nice lunch in the ship restaurant with our travelling companions Cheryl and Roy said all our goodbyes to our new group of friends and finally docked at 6pm in Ancona. This was the end of the GB Privilege Tour. We felt that GB Privilege had done a good job considering it was a first for such a large group of Motorhomes especially with the lack of campsites, and with so many meals and excursions included in the price, good value for money. To date we have driven, navigated and negotiated 5,049 miles and visited some exciting and sometimes overwhelmingly beautiful places. Travelled with a Group of likeminded people all in search of “that something a bit different”. Camped in places that we never would have thought possible. We managed to avoid all the conflict but we know that there has been troubles near to some of the places we visited. Now on our way home via Florence, San Remo in Italy and Provence. JenArt
I hope that you enjoy my “Postcards”. It would take too long to describe in detail our journey but I hope this has given you a taste of our experiences. If you have a sense of adventure, enjoy seeing places that you would never dream of going to and be prepared to use your own facilities most of the time then why not give it a try? Arthur and I would be pleased to pass on any relevant information and I have made a DVD Movie of the Tour. Our total Mileage from Home to Home including our time spent after the Turkey Tour was 6,700 miles.