Trabson is in Turkey on the coast of the Black Sea
Turkey is a country you can visit often for it has a generous variety of tours on offer and really gives you value for money. You can soak up the ancient history and culture and enjoy hearty food wherever you go from north to south. Istanbul is a popular travel hub with the only airport in the world that provides endless samples of Turkish delight at the duty-free shops. This sweetens the schlep of baggage processing and passport control. Often an overnight stay in Istanbul is included as part of an overseas trip to Europe, Scandinavia or Russia and that is why we feel so at home in this city.
On our fourth touchdown in Istanbul we decided to tour the area around the Black Sea. We were on our way to Romania and Italy and wanted to take a peek at the eastern side where it is said that Noah’s ark had landed. A dark sense of mystery had beckoned to us each time we stood on the bridge in Istanbul that straddles the Bosphorus that leads to the entrance to the Black Sea. On our 2010 stay in Istanbul we climbed the Gelata tower to try to get a glimpse of the Black Sea. A previous time we took a boat ride along the Bosphorus.
When my husband Jim asked me what we should do this time it was obvious - somewhere around the Black Sea. I leave the travel plans in his capable hands with the help of Phillipa - his favourite travel agent and the internet. The trip began to take shape and after a lot of mouse-clicking he mentioned a place called Trabson. I wanted to know if there was a cave with crystals in it nearby. Click – click: the Karakas caves were included in one of the bus rides that took tourists on outing s to popular areas around Trabson. Then it was the right place – the one that I had a strange dream about a few weeks ago.
The chequered history of Trabson
As far back as 756 BC Trabson was a Greek trading colony on the shore of the Black Sea. During the first century AD the Romans gained control of this area. But in 258 AD it was pillaged by the Goths. This explains why you can buy pasta, baklava and French fries in the same restaurant. In the 15th century AD Trabson was part of the Ottoman Empire. It was an important gateway between Iran and the Caucasus. During the First World War it was captured by the Russians who forced out the Turks. The most gruesome period was during the Armenian genocide when prisoners were sent out in boats to the middle of the Black Sea and then the boats were capsized.
Today only 15 % of the population are Muslim. There are still a few Armenians but most of the people are Christians. Today the main exports are hazelnuts and tea.
From Istanbul a short flight along the North Eastern shore of the Black Sea gets you to Trabzon - a winding city that hugs the coastline along a steep mountain range. Trabzon is the ancient gateway to trade between Europe and the East. As a result of the diversity of nationalities involved Trabson became a unique city - a melting pot of people, politics, religions and customs. The tradition of hospitality is well entrenched in this stopover along the ancient silk route. The food is spicy and a lot of the merchandise on the streets is still made in China!
Gateway to trading from the East - still today with Chinese merchandise!
Trabson is close to the region of Mount Ararat where Noah's Ark is said to have landed. There is also a theory that the Black Sea could be part of the underwater world of Atlantis. Could this area also be the symbolic cradle of the new age we have speculated about ever since the end of 2012? Caves are places that represent the death and birth of an era, or even a Messiah. Jesus Christ and other Masters were born in caves and their tombs were also caves or sepulchres. According to mystics, resurrection or a birth emerges from a cave – a dark womb-like place where the seed of life for the new cycle was planted. In South America it is believed that man came from corn that was planted in a cave. There is a common thread to these legends and for us it was an excuse to add a bit of "zing" to the excursion.
The plastic ladies in the window and our favourite eating place
We found our little hotel that was above the “ladies of the night” apartments. Scantily clad girls were posing in the windows facing the street. But they were made of plastic! A list of telephone numbers had been provided for their fleshly counterparts in the back rooms. We were close to the central plaza that was surrounded by restaurants offering delicious and hearty food. Call them open air dining rooms, frequented by local folk as well as glitzy tourists. Our humble room had a balcony that looked out over a landscape of rusty rooftops and satellite dishes. We took our drinks and gazed out over the vast expanse of indigo water – the Black Sea, at last!
The pristine beauty of Uzungol. See the lake, eat the trout, buy the knives
The next morning we sped off in the tourist bus to the inner terrain, to a mountainous region in the lakeside area they call Uzungol. The large lake surrounded by conifer trees and mountains could have been an alpine transplant from Switzerland in terms of topography. But here some women wore black robes and hid their faces from foreign men. They didn’t yodel and the mosque nearby bore testimony to the Muslim religion. Apart from that, there was plenty of fresh trout from the crystal clear lake and local beer to enjoy for lunch. It was indeed a pristine environment, complete with artificial waterfalls and quaint wooden houses.
The tea plantations are unique to the Black Sea area and unlike Chinese tea, this is a harsh, strong astringent black tea that is even difficult to ingest when spiked with large sugar cubes. But, being rich in caffeine, the black tea is an addictive substance. A welcome traditional stimulant, provided to townsfolk by men who carry trays of small glasses of tea around the cities and towns of Turkey. It certainly is as refreshing as a can of Red Bull and keeps you coming back for more. You cannot leave this area without buying a famous Surmene knife. They make useful souvenirs or gifts for friends and relatives, but do not pack them into your hand luggage. The prices vary, but are usually based on a fancy handle somebody told me.
Healthy Happy bees, pristine (sometimes toxic) honey
We were left to wander around the lake as advised by the tourism brochure: “the lake is almost charming people with its beauty and unique scenery.” We were impressed by the beekeeping enterprises. Real live bees! No pollution, electromagnetic confusion or unnatural enemies. The honey vendors had live beehives on display behind their stalls, if anybody wanted a genuine organic bee sting! At some times of the year, depending on if honey is sourced from certain flowers it can cause honey intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting but only if large quantities are consumed at one sitting. the local folk regard the effects as being medicinal in small quantities and recommend it as an aphrodisiac. (Not that those symptoms would turn you on!)
Sumela monastery high up in the mountains
The next day our bus tour took us up to the steep high mountains, to the Altindere valley where the historical Sumela monastery is situated. Although a relic from medieval times, the building is still in use by monks who have a library, chapel, kitchen and living quarters that cling to the steep cliffs perched 300 meters above a deep ravine. We climbed the hundreds of stairs to the entrance above the luscious forests. The monastery has a good collection of frescoeson the chapel walls. The chapel is housed in a large cave and the walls have been decorated on the inside as well as the outside.
On the plateau opposite the monastery there is a sacred place where the ancient Highlands Festival is celebrated by men and women of all ages once a year. They climb up for the week and enjoy song and dance and other festivities. They walk hand in hand to form large circles on the fields in commemoration of ancient rites. We had lunch at the beautiful Zigana mountain resort at an altitude of 1700 metres above sea level. That is a steep transition, being only 50k m away from Trabson at the coast. A dual carriage tunnel passes through the mountain range to the next valley where the Karakas caves are situated.
The Karakas Caves are impressive because they are on top of a mountain range
These caves are part of a honeycomb network of subterranean caverns. They have an impressive range of stalactites and stone curtains that hang from the ceiling. The robust stalagmites rise from travertine pools below and the two formations meet to form giant columns. It is a huge and eerie space – dark, muffled and dank. One is reminded of the endless cycles of life and death that have taken place on earth. Could the age of Noah and the flood have something to do with all the water that may once have gushed though these rocks and carved out the ghostly halls?
On the way back to Trabson we stopped at yet another pristine alpine village to sample the famous rice pudding of Hamsikoy. It is sold in an earthenware dish and the milk comes from cows that are said to eat mainly flowers. It tasted wonderful and is gluten-free! It is worth trying to make at home, albeit with milk that is from cows that eat grass and other oddments. (In India the cows dine out on piles of street litter. I saw one chewing the cover of an English dictionary.) So, you can mix and match your milk tastes! But hazelnuts and honey are not to be missed. Neither are the dried fruit dainties they make in this region. A nut paste is wrapped in a sheet of dried fruit made from mulberries, peaches and other fruit. It is unique and the flavours are refreshingly natural – straight from the trees.
Famous rice pudding and fruit sweetmeats from the area
Amble through Trabson for a day
We had a day of “free time” in Trabson and took a walking tour by ourselves. After all, shopping is my favourite pastime and Turkish delight and leather wallets had been requested by the family. Trabson is not a flat town. It rises at a steep angle from the harbour and stretches all the way up the mountain. Shops and food markets twist and turn past houses and apartment blocks. The main roads run across the length of the city and there are beautiful parks and gardens to welcome you at regular intervals. From new shopping malls to local produce markets, the place is a retail paradise. You can buy hazelnuts and organic tomatoes, taste as much cheese as you want to and bite into warm figs, kissed by the sun.
At the top of the city where most people live we wandered through narrow steep little streets and were greeted by friendly inhabitants. Old men and women stopped to smile and wave, shopkeepers peered at us from behind towers of fresh fruit and homemade bread. These boys asked me to take photos of them posing with Jim. Cool dudes!
Around the next corner a car was being prepared for a wedding. Here you see the doll being tied to the bonnet of the vehicle. I hugged and congratulated the man who was soon to be married. We made ourselves understood by waving arms, pointing and flapping hands and saying: “matrimony.”
I love the intimacy of a place where you can amble around and feel like part of the family. You can share the sights and sounds, sample their food, laugh and take as many photos as you like. There is no trash and the inhabitants keep their streets neat and tidy. This is a far cry from darkest South Africa where we come from. Back home most of our black people are surrounded by their own filth and live in fear of each other. The example is set by the tyrants at the top who they voted for. Everybody expects something for nothing and helps themselves anyway. Our small towns and villages and especially some of the cities are too dangerous for tourists to wander through. So thank you God, for places like Trabson.
We flew back to Istanbul and the Turkish delight tasted better than ever. I was filled with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment. Trabson, the caves and the Black Sea – been there, done it and loved it. Now you can watch the movie for 8 minutes in Trabson. Warning: this is infectious and requires a box of Turkish delight, some walnuts and a creamy dish of rice pudding.
Other places at Info Barrel to explore Turkey:
Trabson and the Black Ses zone
Take a good guide book and study it beforehand