Day 146 to 148 – 12.10.2016 to 15.10.2016
Istanbul

We drove for about 400 kms today through no man’s land for most of the time. Our GPS was guiding us through some shorter routes probably. We had no breakfast or lunch as we had thought we will pick up something on the way, but sadly there was absolutely nothing on the way. We drove through some narrow lanes through the fields and managed to get on to the Bucharest-Turkey highway just a few kilometres before the border. On reaching the border, we exited from the Bucharest side and before entering Turkey, there was a huge Duty free shop and a service area. We first stopped at it and had some lovely lentil soups and then left for the Turkish side. The border crossing was the smoothest we had ever expected. The people on the Turkey side were so nice and welcoming and we were very happy.

We had booked our hotel at Edirne, a small town not too far from Kapikule, but then we decided to drive down straight to Istanbul for about 250 kms as the roads were very good and we thought we will spend more time in Istanbul. On the way we cancelled our hotel booking at Edirne and booked for an additional night at Armagrandi Spina Hotel in Istanbul, walking distance from the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet. When we were closing in on Istanbul, we were caught up in the heavy traffic on the highway leading to Istanbul. Then, we had to drive through the narrow lanes of the old city to reach our hotel.

It was already dark and after parking our car in the Parking area, we checked in at the hotel. The hotel manager at our request arranged for a restaurant vehicle to pick us up and we went for a lovely dinner at a Fish restaurant. The dinner was very nice and after dinner we were dropped back to our hotel.

The next morning, after breakfast, we were meeting up with Mrs Filiz (our tour guide from our previous tour to Istanbul in 2013). She was very excited to meet us up too. She came to the hotel and we walked through the small street towards Caferağa Medresseh, a former medresseh, next to the Hagia Sophia, built in 1559 by Mimar Sinan by orders of Cafer Aga.

It was transformed by the Turkish Cultural Service Foundation in 1989 into a tourist centre with 15 classrooms/exhibition rooms, a big salon and a garden where traditional Turkish handicrafts such as calligraphy, ceramics, jewellery and so forth are taught, made and sold. The restaurant inside that offers a variety of Turkish dishes. We had some Turkish coffee, while we watched the students learning painting etc.

Istanbul is historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, straddling the Bosphorus strait (which separates Europe and Asia) between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives on the Asian side.

We then walked through the Gulhane Park towards the Bosphorous. We had decided to explore the other side of the city for which we had to take a ferry to Kadikoy.

It was much closer to the pier and we had a different experience. We crossed the main street after leaving the ferry dock and after a right and then left turn, we were in car-free streets filled with shops. We then walked through the streets and the daily Kadikoy market. It was a really laid-back place to walk or shop around in. There were plenty of pastry shops, bookstores and cafes with terraces. We walked through the narrow, pedestrian streets crammed with seasonal fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, and mouthwatering deli displays.

Filiz recommended a restaurant where we could get fresh fish. We had to chose from the variety of fish displayed and they would clean and cook it for us. We really relished the lovely meal after which they gave us some Turkish Coffee on the house.

After lunch we walked through various streets and then to a lovely local ice cream parlour – Ali Usta, where they sell very unusual flavoured ice-creams. The place is so crowded that most of the time there is a long queue.

While Filiz went to pick up her son from school, we walked towards the port and then took the Ferry back to the other side and walked through the busy streets towards Sultanahmet. We then visited the Blue Mosque.

Before we stepped into the Mosque, we took off our shoes and put them in plastic bags which were provided at the entrance. Entrance to the Blue Mosque was free. As per the Muslim tradition, I had to have my head covered. The cloth was also provided at the entrance. It was prayer time hence they allowed us to enter through the side entrance. Though we entered through the sides so as to not disturb the people praying, we could get a view of the Mosque from all sides.

The Blue Mosque an historical mosque in Istanbul got its name because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I. Just like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. It is still used as a mosque,

After the Blue Mosque, we went to Hagia Sophia also a great architectural beauty and an important monument both for Byzantine and for Ottoman Empires. Originally a church, later a mosque, and today (since 1935) a museum, the 6th century Hagia Sophia (532–537) in Istanbul (Constantinople) built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great was the largest cathedral ever constructed in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Seville Cathedral (1507) in Spain. Its always been the precious of its time.

We then returned back to our hotel and after a little relaxation, went for dinner to another fish restaurant a few metres from our hotel.

The next day, we took a tram and went to one of the most glamorous palaces in the world – Dolmabahce Palace, built in the 19th century, the seat of government during the late Ottoman period, is located on the European shore of the Bosphorus strait, to the north of Beyoglu. It is 600m long and took 13 years to build. It was completed in 1856, and served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire until 1922.

Ataturk during his visits to Istanbul occupied a small room at Dolmabahce Palace as his own. He stayed, welcomed his foreign guests and made a practical center for national, historical and language congress and for international conferences.

It is built with ostentatious blend architectural styles including Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and modern Ottoman, dripping in luxury. The Dining hall has handmade parquet floors carved from rosewood, ebony, and mahogany. The 4.5 tonne chandelier, in the ceremonial hall was a present from Queen Victoria, and is the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier.

A group of people were allowed to enter the Palace at one time and then there was a guided tour of this great Palace.

We walked back to the Tram stop to take us back to the hotel. I then went for a Hammam bath while Louis rested in the hotel. A vehicle picked me up and drove me to this ancient Hammam place. After a lovely Hammam bath returned back to the hotel and then we went for dinner.

Our lovely three memorable days were spent in Istanbul with very few tourists around. The place looked absolutely deserted in comparison to our visit 3 years ago. We felt very bad to see unhappy faces of all business people around. Lot of people had lost jobs because of less business. We were informed that Europe tourists had completed stopped visits to Turkey as it was unsafe. But we did not find anything that was unsafe.

Day 149 – 15.10.2016
Istanbul to Safranbolu

We left Istanbul for Safranbolu after breakfast. We had about 435 kms drive today. The roads were nice, the drive was beautiful and we reached our hotel, Yorgancioglu Konaku – a family run resident apartment hotel, around 1.30 pm.

After we were checked in, they directed us to a lovely restaurant specialising in Kebabs. The food was good. One of the waitress could communicate to us in English so it was a little easy. After lunch, we went back to the hotel. The owner at our request arranged for a cab to take us around sightseeing. He came around 4.00 pm and we left with him in his cab. He first drove us to a Glass Terrace.

The driver drove us first to the Kristal Terras, which wasn’t that far by car and it was worth visiting. It was bright, when we visited besides being quite busy. The views over the canyon from the glass floored terrace were stunning, and also from the top floor of the cafe, where we could get a refreshing drink. Only a few minutes walk away and we could see the aqueduct quite close up and also follow the stairway down into the canyon, which was cool and welcoming in the heat of the day. An enjoyable visit and something different to see, nearby Safronbolu.

Safranbolu is a town and district of Karabük Province in the Black Sea region of Turkey. It is about 100 km south of the Black Sea coast. The Old Town had many old buildings preserved, private museums with lot of artefacts, several mosques, tombs, and historical fountains. It also had Turkish baths, caravanserais, a historical clock tower, a sundial and hundreds of houses and mansions. Also there were mounds of ancient settlements, rock tombs and historical bridges. The Old Town was situated in a deep ravine in a fairly dry area in the rain shadow of the mountains.

The name of the town was derived from ‘saffron’. Safranbolu still grows one of the best saffron’s in the world at the village of Davutobası 22 km east of Safranbolu. It consists of well-preserved Ottoman era houses and architecture.

The taxi driver drove us to Bulak Cave with a total length of 6042 meters and formed of 3 floors. The sun was about to set and we had to climb several steep steps to the cave. As we entered the cave we were welcomed by the refreshing coolness. After we reached the main gallery we could see a small underground river with magnificent colors, a waterfall and two separate lakes.

We then got out of the caves and walked to our parking cab and he took us back to our hotel. We requested him to drop us to a restaurant so we could have dinner before heading back to our place of stay. No one could speak English and when we asked for an English menu, some people seated at the next table found it funny and started giggling. I was very upset when I saw them giggling at us. Anyway Louis a as usual tried to pacify me. We then ordered a nice meal after which we walked a few metres to our home stay place.

Day 150 – 16.10.2016
Safranbolu to Sinop

The next day morning we woke up, got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. The family had prepared a wonderful breakfast which we had and then we stuffed our bags back into the car and left. We were directed to go towards left. After going a little ahead we could not find out the right way. Our GPS pointed to a narrow lane and we were not sure whether we could take that. We saw another couple getting ready to leave in a Polo Car, and we enquired with them about the exit road and they asked us to follow them as they were also heading to the main road. We religiously followed them through the narrow lane onto the main Street after which they bid us goodbye and went in the opposite direction. Of course before leaving probably they had taken picture of our car and later posted it on our Facebook page reminding us about our encounter in the narrow lane of Safranbolu. That was quite nice of them to write to us on Facebook.

That was the end of our experience of Safranbolu and now we we were heading towards Sinop another beautiful city on the Black Coast. We were again driving through the coastal towns on a lovely highway and after about 4 hours drive reached Sinop around 3.00 pm. The hotel was facing the beautiful sea and we had to park our car in front of the hotel on the road. We were hesitant initially but were assured by the hotel staff that it was absolute safe. The street was very busy with continuous flow of traffic.

After parking our car and checking into the hotel, we went to the room from where we had the full view of the sea. After a few moments of relaxation we went down to explore this new city. We also wanted to have some coffee and some snacks. So we went to a local restaurant where we were served Turkish Gozleme (Stuffed Paratha with lamb mince) and coffee. We had ordered for one plate which consisted of 2 portions of Parathas. We requested them to give one empty plate and they presumed we had ordered for one more plate of it. Oh what confusion. But they readily agreed to take back the additional plate.

Jutting out into the Black Sea on Turkey’s north coast, we observed pretty Sinop to be a water-lover’s retreat with its expansive sea views and picturesque harbor, bobbing with boats. It’s a gem along this stretch of coast, its idyllic setting boasting a small-town yet cosmopolitan atmosphere and, beyond that, a whole lot of living history. We walked the crumbling city walls, dating to around 72 BC, and we were in for a beautiful view. We also found a lot of people including women and children catching fish with their fishing rods.

Multiple Fishmongers at the coast caught fish and brought their fresh fish to the little restaurants on the streets around the coast made a lovely meal for us at night.

We had a lovely dinner in a small restaurant next to the hotel we were staying. We were served freshly grilled Hamsi / Turkish Anchovies Fish and Green Salad with Turkish Bread.

After a small walk down the street we retired for the night as we had a long drive the next day to Trabzon.

Day 151 – 17.10.2016
Sinop to Trabzon

Today we drove to Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast of northeastern Turkey and the capital of Trabzon Province, located on the historical Silk Road, a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries and a trade gateway to Persia in the southeast and the Caucasus to the northeast. The Venetian and Genoese merchants paid visits to Trabzon during the medieval period and sold silk, linen and woolen fabric.

We checked in at the Real King Residence Hotel, a nice luxurious apartment hotel. After which we went around siteseeing and dinner.

On the way we saw Sumela Monastery nestled in a steep cliff at an altitude of about 1,200 metres, a site of great historical and cultural significance.

The monastery was founded in AD 386 during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I (375 – 395). It became famous for an icon of the Virgin Mary known as the Panagia Gorgoepikoos, said to have been painted by the Apostle Luke. During its long history, the monastery fell into ruin several times and was restored by various emperors.

We were informed that the monastery was closed to the public from 22 September 2015 for the duration of three years. It is scheduled to reopen for tourists and pilgrims on Assumption day 2018, for restoration.

The picture below is a traditional rural Pontic house in Livera village belonging to an ethnically Greek group who traditionally lived in the region of Pontus, on the shores of the Black Sea and in the Pontic Mountains of northeastern Anatolia. Many later migrated to other parts of Eastern Anatolia.

We visited the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon (today a museum) with its bell tower and the Black Sea coast in the background.

The former Church of Saint Sophia now the Saint Sophia Museum, is a former Greek Orthodox church converted into a mosque in 1584, and located in the city of Trabzon. It dates back to the thirteenth century when Trabzon was the capital of the Empire of Trebizond. It is located near the seashore and two miles west of the medieval town’s limits. It is one of a few dozen Byzantine sites still extant in the area. It has been described as being “regarded as one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture.

The Trabzon Castle is a fortress located in the city of Trabzon, constructed on foundations dating back to Byzantine era with cut stones from former structures at site, the castle stretches from a hill on the backside of the city to the Black Sea shore.

After exploring the city of Trabzon while it was drizzling and cold, we went to a nice little restaurant specialised in fish. After dinner we walked to the hotel. We had to leave early the next morning as we had to cross the border to Georgia.