Updated: Jun 13, 2019
We had a drive of about 4 hours to a city called Sivas. This is a fairly non-descript sort of place – about the size of and with maybe the same architectural charm as Coventry. We chose it really as it was nearly halfway to Trabzon. We had to pass through Konye to reach Sivas. This (Konye) is one of the most conservative Muslim cities in Turkey, and a key seat of power of the current President.
Even there and around there, the investment in roads and building is extraordinary. We passed what looked like entire new cities of brand new, high-rise apartment blocks. It is the contrast between modernism and proudly held cultural values (coupled to strong patriotism) which are so fascinating to observe.
It’s a very interesting time to visit Turkey. It’s also extremely cheap to visit. A reasonable 3-4 star hotel costs about £40 a night (and less in country areas), petrol is about £1/litre and a simple evening meal is about £5 per head. Some restaurants (and hotels) are alcohol free so this tends to reduce the costs of eating out!
Now onto the hotel we stayed at in Sivas. Its website gushes about its ‘concept’ (oh, I can’t bear hospitality places that talk about concepts). The concept is Aladdin. This means Turkish coloured lanterns everywhere (even if it makes corridors too dark to walk through), excessively stylised wallpapers and furnishings (anyone for metallic powder blue and flock borders?). Obviously, dressing staff in bolero tops, satin hats, harem pants and curly slippers would complete the concept perfectly, not. It was quite simply mad. All very comfortable mind but also devoid of guests. The manager of maintenance (or similar) met us outside as we arrived. He was a German Gastarbeiter (guest worker) in the 1970s and we exchanged a few words in German. Part of the hotel included a spa – gym, sauna, massage, pool etc. He asked me if I planned to go there later and then gave me a violent blow with his elbow in my ribs and let out the dirtiest snigger I have ever heard! He even introduced me to the owner who, rather embarrassed, shook my hand (he spoke no English, or German). I got the feeling Daddy was very wealthy and had given a wad to beloved son and heir to see what he can do, building a large hotel.
There were hardly any other guests. Maybe they were all in the spa!
We were recommended a restaurant a bank busting £1.20 taxi ride away. It was quite remarkablle. Called Has Doner, it's a fast food concept (ooh, sorry) that has no menu. It does doner kebab, salad and chips. It is served by waiters. No queuing here. I'm slightly wary of doner. This was excellent, incredibly quick and surpringly good value. It's not a chain but it was more efficient than McDonalds.
At breakfast, in a vast dining area, there were just Keith and me. Actually one other guest arrived, drank some juice and left. The buffet spread was enormous. More sausage and cheese than I’ve seen. The headscarf wearing staff member put on some music, just for us. The first attempt was Turkish music, played so loudly through the speakers that my boiled egg (and my eardrums with it) nearly exploded. After a few moments, the volume was adjusted and several minutes spent testing a variety of different CDs for a few seconds each. Then, she settled on the interesting choice of 'Je t’aime'. When Jane Birkin reached a certain sort of crescendo, the staff member seemed not to be about! Just as well the next track wasn’t the more recent song ‘Soixante-neuf’ and Dean Martin’s That’s Amore followed it instead.
There was a great ‘win’ in the morning. I was trying to find out if I could get the wheel bearing changed on the car. The Night Porter was a good English speaker (just back from 2 years in Watford!). Within a moment of my explaining the issue, he said that he’d get back to me after his shift finished.
Sure enough, at 9am, he was driving us to an auto parts shop to pick up the bearing. Then, he drove to a cousin’s workshop where they had been briefed to expect us.
There was a huge amount of hammering involved and the 16 year old bearing took a lot of sweat to budge. Eventually it did and two and a bit hours later, of two men working solidly, the new part was fitted. A bit of welding was needed and someone just popped in with 3 minutes notice and did the job.
The labour cost in total was £35. I felt guilty and upped it to £50. The kind night porter, who had been with us throughout, as translator, was slightly offended when I offered him some money. I threw the money in his car, saying he should buy his wife a nice dinner. What a delightful, generous guy. Not me, him!
We waved goodbye to our three helpers and hit the road. Another long day to Trabzon, on the northern Black Sea coast. The landscape was so beautiful – like driving through Scotland, but at 28deg. The driving was quite hard work with sharp, winding bends. We hit nearly 7000ft peaks and mist/fog where visibility was only a few metres ahead.
I received a message via this site asking about whether the distances and driving times are proving exhausting. No, not really. With 2 of us driving, it’s generally about 2 and a half hours each, mostly. Depending on where we are going (or leaving), we either leave early or a bit later. It hasn’t felt rushed so far. We’ve driven over 5,000kms, mainly to get to Turkey and see some of the sites in the vast country. For a few weeks now , I’ll be on my own so the car’s daily distance total will reduce – otherwise, yes, I would flag. Also though, road quality will deteriorate soon so I may do fewer miles, but take longer to achieve them.
Trabzon was chosen because it has an airport for Keith to catch a domestic flight to Istanbul, then on to London. There is apparently a remarkable cliff-top monastery nearby but I forgot about it when we arrived! The place, or at least the quarter where our hotel was located, was grim. Very grim.
It was a vast area where cars go to die, or to be given another lease of life. There were hundreds of workshops and half completed projects, half roofs of cars, wings, axles, the biggest wheel hub shop I've ever seen. Our hotel fitted in wonderfully in this environment. I lost my sense of humour a bit. The sheets were un-ironed, curtains didn’t close, a basin set at a height for 8 year olds. Electrical faults...I could go on. Not good and very pleased to leave.
I’m sorry to say goodbye to Keith. He’s been a stalwart – flexible, good driver, amiable. It’s tricky being in a car for hours (and sharing a room) with the same person for over a week. Bye Keith. Thanks for your help. I do hope you enjoyed it. And thanks for the extra pics of Trabzon!
Tomorrow it’s Georgia.