When we got up at seven, the horizon was still cloudy. At about a quarter to nine when we set off, the sun had come out from the clouds and it was pretty hot. The journey didn’t follow the valley at the start, but traversed the southern ridges, then descended.
Rhododendron undergrowth alternated with stones to make an unbelievably colourful meadow and ripe bilberries served to slow us down pleasantly. We met up with a touristic expedition and identified at least two of our old Israeli acquaintances from Kirmizi Gedik GeÃ§idi. We saw another artificially created stream fringed with yellow flowers and the pastoral footpath suddenly turned into a passable road in a hamlet, which of course meant less of an inclination, more serpentines, more dust and a longer distance. The dusty road was near a valley stream, around which there were more and more maintained patches and farmed gardens. We passed a lot of hamlets and people; both tourists and locals.
Our distant wanderings ended in the little town of Barhal (Often marked as Altiparmak on the map) at around one o’clock. Our path here converged with the path leading from Olgunlar to the town of Yusufeli, where the paved road had begun. In fact, we had to get to Yusufeli (1050 above sea level) that evening, because in the morning we would be taking a bus from there to the airport. According to Thomas’ information it wouldn’t be a problem, because the last bus shouldn’t leave until three o’clock, but actually everything was quite different. We found out that on that day the bus had only gone in the morning (probably because it was Friday â€“ Friday for Muslims is like Sunday for Christians). The little town was full of minibuses and cars, so we endeavoured to wangle a lift, but to no avail. Fortunately, after a while, one man from Istanbul helped us, as his car had broken down on the way there and he was also looking for transport for his family. In the end he agreed on something for us for four in the afternoon, and he left earlier.
We wanted to have lunch and we settled on the terrace of a restaurant. We were looking forward to another local meat speciality. Firstly we were enlightened that because it was Friday we would have to wait until all the men returned from the mosque. It didn’t take long. We wanted to order something with meat, but again we were informed that because it was Friday they only served food without meat and didn’t offer any beer. Fed up, we at least took stew with eggs and tea.
We still had enough time and we went to look around the unique Byzantine church of St. John the Baptist from the tenth century â€“ the remains of an earlier monastery. It was well concealed and really well preserved because in the third century it had served as a mosque. On the journey back we met with some guys with bags, who asked us about a pension in English. We told them that they were going in the right direction, and I was pleased with how well I understood the foreigners. My suspicions why were, however, confirmed when we met with the rest of their group. They were speaking Czech.
We got to the agreed meeting place on time, but our promised transport hadn’t arrived. After twenty minutes we gave up and set off in the direction of Yusufeli, hoping that someone would stop to give us a lift on the way as it was at least 30 kilometres. After about a kilometre a minibus coming in the opposite direction stopped. The driver remonstrated with us that we should have waited for him in the town. He promised that someone would come and pick us up after 15 minutes. He told us that the trip would be 75 lira for all of us. At a quarter to five, a five person pickup arrived, with a sixteen year old boy driving. An even younger boy and a man were sitting next to him. He explained that we should pay 80 lira, we resignedly agreed, threw our bags into the scoop and climbed into the back seat.
That was really a trip! We hardly went any faster than 60, but on that terrain with the serpentines, it felt more like 180. My hair didn’t turn white, but to calm down I ate all of my sweets, which were originally supposed to be for the plane.
At six o’clock we were set down in “Otogar” in Yusufeli. It was actually a 4000 person “town” with a park, a grid road system and some lit crossroads. We immediately bought tickets for the morning bus to Trabzon for 35 lira per person and went to stay in the nearby Hotel Barhal, by the river. We were lucky as because of a local event, there was only one free room; a three-person room with facilities for 23 lira per person.
With the help of a shower and some clean clothes, we turned into completely new people and we went to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. Despite the beautiful view of the river, we were most captivated by the beer bar on the other side, (considering we were in the mountains in Muslim Turkey) â€“ the second part of our evening programme was decided. At the bar we were served (in Turkey!) by relatively uncovered women. After our drinks we walked around the town, we took something else in another restaurant and we visited the beer bar again, bought water and at around midnight hit the hay.
After packing and eating breakfast we left before nine as planned, perfectly in line at the otogar. Our 25-person bus was full to bursting, as we later understood, the bus didn’t serve only for the conveyance of people, but foremost for things. We were glad that we annexed the last free seat at the back. We tied our luggage on the roof, unfortunately during the seven and a half hour journey it rained for at least half an hour, so by the end everyone’s bag except mine was pretty wet.
The journey was really long; we travelled around 300km through the stunningly located mountain town, Artvin, in the direction of the coast of the Black Sea to the town of Hopa, near the Georgian border and onwards along the coastal motorway through Rize until Trabzon.
Even though Turkey lies between the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the majority of beach lovers only spend their holidays on the Mediterranean coast. Actually, there aren’t any beaches at the Black Sea, at least not in the Eastern part, for which we were headed. There were only huge rocks scattered along the side of the motorway and the occasional man-made calm bay, bordering the open sea with jetties and serving as anchors for boats. We only saw a few people swimming in these sheltered bays. The open sea was very rough and the weather wasn’t up to much either.
At about half past eight we got off at the bus station in Trabzon, caught a dolmus to the centre and after a while we were back in the central AtatÃ¼rk park. There was a really lively, big town feel here, with a lot of people in the cafes and also on the streets. Not many women wore the hijab. Into the bargain there were a lot of greedy Natashas, about whom we had been warned in the mountains, because Trabzon is such a well known port with a direct boat link from Odessa to the opposite coast.
The time came for us to split up. Thomas went to buy his family some presents and Jack and I took a peek down at the sea. A promenade full of people stretched out along the shore below the fortified citadel. There was a huge outdoor bar with the Efes logo at the very beginning of the promenade. We bought the foamy vintage in bottles and took it to the stone bank nearest the sea, becoming hypnotised like true dry-land lubbers.
We were disturbed from this peace only by a speedy emergency policeman on a motorcycle, who politely explained, in well-mannered English, drinking alcohol in public is not allowed in Turkey, sending us to the bar 20 metres away, where we had bought the beer in the first place.
All three of us ate a Turkish speciality for dinner in a garden which was part of the pedestrian zone near the centre and then we returned to the sea. We spent the rest of the evening in a sports bar in the centre, one of the small establishments which were still open after ten in the evening. We had to wait until the end of the transmission of an international football match however, as a local team from Trabzon was playing. It was only thanks to this that the bar was open at all. Interestingly, they had a different beer from our usual Efes…
At a quarter past midnight we had to leave the bar in the centre of Trabzon so that we could catch the last dolmus to the airport. The packed Boeing 737 took off at four in the morning and we landed in Istanbul at six.
We had about nine hours to tour the town before us and our luggage was checked in all the way to Prague, which suited us just fine as we didn’t have to look after it.
We took the metro till the second terminal in the direction of the centre and then walked to the bay of the Golden Horn, where the best known sites are situated.
We got to the Mosque of Suleyman (SÃ¼leymaniye Camii) too early, but we met some lovely cats in the areal. The New Mosque (Yeni Camii, from the year 1597) was already open. First we took a look at the impressive two storey Galata bridge across the bay of the Golden Horn. There were unbelievable possibilities for catching fish from above and below us we found a fish restaurant. The fish there would certainly be fresh…
Naturally we couldn’t avoid giving some attention to Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya â€“ the largest Christian Church from the Byzantine period, following the Turkish overthrow it was converted into a mosque and in the twentieth century turned into a museum at the behest of AtatÃ¼rk). The church looked completely different from what I had imagined from my lectures mainly because it was unbelievably huge and quite devastated, particularly when compared with the mosques, where the entrance was free.
We confirmed this during our visit to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) opposite â€“ the most important of the mosques in Istanbul, proof of which is the fact that it is the only mosque with six minarets in the city. Here there was a special entrance for tourists, and despite what was at first glance a massive queue, we got in quickly. The service for visitors, including borrowed accessories for veiling, was managed by employees and volunteers. Part of the mosque is also an information centre about Islam.
A short walk away, it is well worth seeing the famous Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi), the largest underground reservoir in Istanbul, constructed in case of siege in the times of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. We finished our cultural enlightenment with a short snooze on the grass in a park in one of the courtyards of the sultan’s palace of Topkapi. We weren’t alone. We were fairly exhausted because even with the pleasant sea breeze it was still 40Â° in the shade.
We took the air conditioned tram and metro back to the airport. The packed plane, an Airbus 320 for a change, took off at a quarter past four heading for Prague…
“So, how was it,” everyone asked.
“Yeah, great. Easy. Actually I kept having to wait for the boys somewhere, but otherwise it was fine.”
“And did you cope with it? It wasn’t too demanding for you?”
“Far from it. The others sometimes ran aground, but I tried to make some breaks for them occasionally. Still, they didn’t last long. But I wouldn’t mention that to them, they’re quite touchy about it.”
No provocative questions could ruffle me; me â€“ an old scout, who at 10 years old comfortably climbed ZlatÃ¡ Studna (Golden Well â€“ 1265m high peak in central Slovakia) with a bag bigger â€“ and not much lighter â€“ than myself! I had taken my faithful axe, pot, tent and sleeping bag, which certainly wasn’t like the lightweight stuff of today. An aluminium flask, instead of one from PET – there were available only plastic bottles from vinegar or distilled water, instant goodies and light cans were a total luxury.
A year ago I would have had no idea where Kackar was, and I didn’t realise that there were such high and beautifully green mountains in Turkey, so close to the sea.
The fantastically coloured meadows at such a height above sea level really impressed me, not to mention the virgin nature, which is practically untouched even during a time in which (mainly organised) tourism is growing.
Kackar is indeed a little further than the Carpathians whether from the Ukraine or Romania, but the transport possibilities are really plentiful and in particular the tourist planes are very comfortable and relatively cheap.
Turkey is a highly civilised country, which is very friendly and open to tourists. The 2009 expedition to Kackar was great and I can only recommend it….
Originally written for http://www.tichota.cz/kackar