Black Sea Days

Our walking was over, but we still had a few days left in Turkey and our plan was to spend it on rest and recuperation at the Black Sea city of Trabzon.  The Black Sea was always one of those mystery places that, for us, belonged to the realm of Jason and the Argonauts – it was time to rectify that. After spending a foggy night in Ayder, we set off by car in the morning sunshine to head off down through the deep richly green forested valley that led to the coast.

Our first glimpse of the Black Sea was less than mysterious – it lay there, dark and calm, stretching out to the horizon, but a modern 4-lane highway ran along its edge in both directions. We turned left and followed this highway past the many coastal villages and towns, through impressive tunnels that cut beneath the mountains plunging into the sea, past the hills of Rize covered in tea plantations and on to Trabzon. As we drove along the rocky shoreline, we began to wonder whether our dream of a swim in the Black Sea might remain just that.

Just before reaching the city, we headed 45 km inland to visit the Sumela Monastery, over 1000 years old and built into the side of a rock face in a deep and leafy gorge. It was only abandoned in 1923 and, despite some serious vandalism, the murals and setting remain impressive. It is apparently a must-see destination for local tourism. If we ever had any doubts that the Turkish population was in holiday mode, they were dispelled at Sumela, where busloads and carfulls of tourists jostled through the monastery site and lunched in the gorge below.

As we leave the sun shines on Ayder

The leafy setting of Sumela Monastery

Inside the 1000-year old monastery

Sumela Monastery in its lofty perch

The interior courtyard of the monastery

An example of the many wall frescos

The painted chapel built into an overhang

Trabzon and the Black Sea (from our hotel window)

Reaching Trabzon, we checked into our hotel, overlooking the Black Sea (and the highway). That night  (and the next) it also overlooked a Turkish wedding in the courtyard below, some free entertainment that we had not counted on, with Turkish music and dancing. While in Trabzon, we checked out the Aya Sofia church, a 13th century Byzantine building, converted to mosque and then museum. It had some wonderful intact murals and it was a great spot to sit and escape the bustle of city life in Trabzon (of which there is plenty).

The interior of Aya Sofia

Aya Sofia (13th century)

An intricate ceiling fresco in Aya Sofia

Black Sea and black sand

Dull day at Pasha Beach

At last ... a dip in the Black Sea

Fishing boats in a Black Sea harbour

What lies beneath the surface of ...

... the Black Sea

A little checking revealed that 15 km down the coast there was an area where we could swim, at Pasha Beach, a short stretch of black sand between highway and sea, lined with plastic lounges. The day was overcast grey and warmly humid and the black on grey of beach, sea and sky was far different to the white on blue we were used to at home – the Black Sea is clearly not the Mediterranean. Still the water was warm and the numerous jelly fish were friendly, so we had our swim in the Black Sea at last. It felt good, our mission was completed - tomorrow we would head home with a sense of satisfaction and a touch of sadness at leaving this diverse and fascinating country.