Thursday, July 10, 2008

Black Sea etc.

As I gear up for a trip to Alanya this weekend, I thought I'd post on the trip we took last weekend to the Black Sea, as well as some other things I find interesting or you may be curious about.

Our trip encompassed mostly the areas just to the south of Trabzon and Rize, and for the large part were nature-oriented. Our visit began after an excrutiatingly long overnight bus ride in a vehicle unsuitably small for the number of people we had. The Sumelia Monastery near Maçka was our first stop. The simple location of this monastery is the most astonishing thing about it. The Monastery seems to have pasted itself to the side of a cliff halfway up one of the larger mountains in the Kaçkar foothills. It makes for a fascinating visual and an interesting tour, as it is over 1600 years old, though it had been rebuilt several times and was occupied as late as the 1920's.

From there we went to the village of Çamlıhemşin where we spent two nights. Hemşin villages nowadays are only occupied in the summer, as winter there is particularly brutal. The people grow their own food and have some of their own livestock in their mountain side hamlets. I found their house architecture very interesting, as they seem to be on stilts, with a foundation that has a smaller base than the rest of the building.

On our way to Trabzon we stopped at the Çaykur tea factory and got a peek at the refining process that produces and sustains my 6-10 cup a day çay habit. From there we stopped briefly in Trabzon to visit the Aya Sofya Museum. This old Greek church from the Commenus Empire has many beautiful frescoes, though only a few of them are in even decent condition.

As for more daily life, this time around I am getting a good deal more adventurous with the food. I have developed a mild liking for a dish called kokoreç which consists of lamb intestine that has been char grilled, chopped fine and covered in a fistful of different spices and served in a sandwich. Also, though I did try it a few times on my last tripi I have grown particularly fond of ciğ köfte. This dish is quite delicious, but not for the weak stomached. It is raw beef kneaded for hours with bulgur and hot spices (it is said to be ready when you can toss it on the ceiling and it sticks)and then eaten doused in lemon juice with lettuce scoops or lavaş bread. Also on my Black Sea trip I got to sample some freshwater fish here for the first time, as trout is in season up there. One thing Turks are not very adventurous about is their fish, they simply gut it, grill it and serve it with lemon and a glass of Rakı. Really, that is the way it should be, it is delicious.

Lastly, many of you have probably heard something about the attack on the US Consulate in İstanbul yesterday. Truly it is a tragedy and is unfortunate that those four young men should take out their political frustrations on their countrymen. Otherwise, things are relatively safe here and I certainly have every faith in the Turkish police force (if anything they are too good at their jobs) and the US Mission to keep the streets safe, particularly in Ankara. While the political situation here is tense, the ruling party may be closed within the month, this is not a totally unusual situation for Turkey and things ought not get out of hand.

That is all for now, more next week after I get back from the Mediterranean.