Days 11 and 12: Last days of Istanbul

Leaving lake Abant early in the morning, we arrives at Istanbul in the afternoon. A quick shower then headed to Istiklal cadessi, then to Marmara Hotel in Taksim Square, where we shared a bottle of white with Houssam’s friend, then had a delicious dinner of Menti.

Last day started with a walk and a copious breakfast by the Bosphorus. Then Zeinab and I met with Houssam at Sultanahmet and went and visited The Blue Mosque and the breathtaking Hagia Sofia. Then we met with Tangor, had lunch and walked through the Grand Bazar. Headed back home, took our luggage and headed straight to the airport, Sabiha Gokcen.

It was an amazing trip, incredible friends and reliable 3o22es. You should come with us next time 🙂

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Day 10: The Lake. Abant the lake.

While we left behind the most beautiful Old city, Lake Abant Nature park with it’s natural reserve, it’s small pensions and Saudi tourists, was waiting for us.

We arrived around 11am, checked into our modest pension, took our host’s offer to drive us to the lake; as the pension was 16km away. On the way there, we passed by his brother’s kiosk, and while it was pouring outside, we had kofte and sucuk sandwiches for lunch in the warm and cozy venue, and then sealed the deal with some smoked tea.

And off to the famous lake…

Abant is a nature park, with forests and a huge lake, with a 7km perimeter. It is a very touristic area, mainly to Turks and Saudis. People go there to spend the day or stay a weekend in of it 3 major hotels. Our fist stop was at one of its major hotels, a pipi pause, then we hit the road to walk the 7 km perimeter. After the first kilometer, we could hear music, loud music, with tambourines and flutes. We went closer to discover a 150-member-family having a picnic besides the lake. They so friendly, invited us to join in, dance, eat and drink with them. They were dancing their local version of our Lebanese Dabkeh.

We bid them farewell, and then went our own way again, going around the lake. BUT there was something missing, we haven’t tried the Abantian version of the 3o22ess, and that was out of the question. We simply had to. And since I was the connoisseur on the matter, I went in head first into the uphill forest and gave it a go. And as usual, it never disappoints us, it stung like hell!!! As bad as ever!  All over my right arm!

We continued, bought from 3 old ladies some hair flowers, had a breathtaking break eating local sweets, and finally made it back to the hotel by the lake. 3 seconds after it started to rain cats and dogs and horses and donkeys! We were saved by the pension’s owner who drove us back in his car after a warm coffee break.

On our way, we bought some honey (bal) and some local kishek. Headed straight to the pension and to our beds.

Day 9: And then there was Safranbolu

The fellowship is now down to 3.

But Safranbolu, the old Ottoman city that we had reached the night before is a satisfying compensation. A Unesco, world heritage sight, it’s a beautiful village that only has old, restored Ottoman houses.

We stayed at the Kahveciler Konagi, an old Ottoman building, amazingly decorated in a traditional way, and with the friendliest staff. We walked around the town, tasted 50 different brands of loukoum from 50 different shops, some with Saffron (d’òu the town’s name) and some with findik (hazelnuts). We visited 2 museums, at both ends of Safranbolu, each standing tall on a hill, with the town in between.

We also climbed the clock tower and waited for the bell to ring (Zeinab thought it was done manually 🙂 ) then hit the HAMMAM! and had a Hammam men ka3b el dist!

The night ended at the local pub, where we watched a drag queen dressed in a man’s clothes singing and dancing and cheering his fans. YES. He had quite few of them!

And then off to our hotel and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Day 8: Sinop, the bluest black

We left Unye by bus, heading to Sinop, and changed buses at Samsun.; reaching our destination at night. We freshened up, and directly hit the road. We walked to the town, since Sinop is actually a semi-island, and our hotel was at the tip, around 7 or 8 km away from the town. We had fish for dinner, cooked the Karadeniz way. We discovered many new tastes with familiar ingredients. It was one of the most delicious and simple dinners we’ve had on this trip.

That morning in Sinop, we missed 2 things, my camera, which had problems with the memory card reader, and an essential member of the fellowship of the ring. Rabih, or otherwise known as 7arkoush decided to ytanneshna, and head to London for “work”; but we actually never saw any contracts to prove this claim. Investigations are still being carried as we speak.

Yet, life goes on, new memory cards can be bought, and new fellowships made, like our new found friend: Erdogan. He drove us to town, offered us coffee and took us to the top of the hill that looked over all Sinop.

Then we hit the museums, the Ethnographic museum, and the Archeological museum. Then the old Madrassa, which became a small artisan souk. We visited the old town prison, the statue of Diogenes, and the one of the towers of the surrounding walls of the city. There we met 2 friendly guys, and one of them was, still to be proven, a coffee cup reader. The day ended with a walk by the sea, and a bus ride to Safranbolu, w safranna la ben ma wselna!

Day 7: The peak at Unye

Unye was the first city we visit on the Black Sea. It’s a peaceful small town that barely sees any tourists throughout the year, besides few Turks who want to get away from Istanbul’s tourists during the summer.

Our day started with a walk around town, a visit to the local fresh market, and a ride to Unye’s old castle, dating back to the Pontus era. The minibus dropped us at the bottom of the hill, and we started our way up to the top. On the way, we met a lovely old lady, that told us a 20 min story, in Turkish, that to the moment, we have no idea what it was about. Then she sold us a kilo of hazelnut, for the most expensive price, and in a plastic bag that smelled like puke. PUKE. But the story sounded very exciting, as far as we were able to tell.

And the walk up continued, till the top. Pushing ourselves (mainly them pushing me) through rocks, 3o2ess again (it was Houssam’s turn to get a taste of it 🙂 ) and sliding slopes. But the view at the top was worth every second of. We could see 360 degrees around us, we could see all of Unye, it’s mountains and its shore (Uzunkum – the longest beach on the Black Sea). And when we couldn’t climb any higher, we jumped up and reached our own top.

Lunch was very well received, along with a nap in the restaurant’s hammock, if it wasn’t for a HUGE bug, I may have been still there till this moment.

At the end of the day, we grabbed our luggage and headed off to Sinop. Farewell our Unye!

Day 6: On the way to Unye

And we left çamlıhemşin…

We took the minibus to Rize and there we took the bus to Unye. We discovered on the way the rituals of enrollment of young men in the army: their family and friends gather at the bus station to bid them farewell; the young men start singing a local song, and throw the soldier-to-be in the air, the women in the family start sobbing, and the rest who don’t get the throw him at the bus station, follow the bus he’s on, speed up, and suddenly stop in front of it, giving a mini heart attack to the 56 passengers on board. Then they throw the poor guy in the air.

We reached Unye, after a 6-hour bus ride, at 3 in the afternoon. We checked into our hotel, Sebil Hanim Konagi, a charming old hotel, in the middle of the town. We put our luggage, freshened up, and hit the shore of the Black Sea. It certainly isn’t a place for swimming, but more for walking and fishing. And so we did.

We walked on the sand, hit the outdoor public gym, played some basketball with some Unyian boys and walked around town. At night, we stopped by Iskele, had a delicious Black Sea fish dinner and went to bed with a big smile on our faces.

Day 5: The Fern forest

We woke up in Moyy mini hotel to the most colorful breakfast. It was almost too beautiful to be eaten! Then Uğur Biryol, our guide, met us and drove us to the starting point of our hike. And there, and to our surprise, we discovered what moyy meant. Moyys are tiny wild strawberries (the size of a pea!) but has the concentrated taste of a fully grown ripe strawberry.

We passed through fern forests (fougères) that looked like something out of King Kong movie. We passed by the river, old houses, tea plantations and met the most theatrical characters. And then, it was lunchtime… We stopped at a house where the owners, a young married couple and the wife’s parents, served us mushroom and lentil soup, mushroom pizza, omelet and bean stew. And no good meal in Turkey is ever over without our friend: the çay.

The hike continued with a slower pace; a pace dictated by the home grown shitakee mushroom pizza, and the sudden narrowness and steepness of the path. As much as it sounds fun now, our lives were at stake! And the 3o22es didn’t help 😦

The day ended with herbal tea (thyme, melissa, ginger and few other herbs we didn’t get), chocolate brownies and a warm comforting dinner.