Things are going much slower than expected with respect to getting the new hotel ready – renovations are still underway, and it’s yavaş, yavaş (slowly, slowly). Although frustrated, I’m not really surprised.
I try to keep busy by visiting new places and researching and writing an information book for guests staying at the hotel, but motivation is low and not much is getting done. Likewise, I’ve been pressuring them to at least get the website underway since I have much of the written material already, but the chain is being dragged on that too. This is not good for ex-Project Manager who is used to making things happen! I had assumed (incorrectly) that there would be many things for me to keep occupied with prior to the opening of the hotel, but that’s just now how it’s done here.
So, what to do then? Play the tourist and do a bit more sight-seeing, of course.
When in Turkey last year, Safranbolu was on my list of places to visit, but alas I got so caught up with the sites in Cappadocia that I never made it. After a false start on the 9 hour bus ride via Ankara (where I inadvertently booked it for 12pm instead of the intended 12am over night bus!) I rebooked for the following night, managed to sleep much of the way, and arrived first thing the following morning. Night buses is actually a pretty good way to travel in Turkey.
Safranbolu – a 13th century Ottoman town
The Turks conquered the town in the 11th century and it became an important caravan station on the East-West trade route during the 13th century, and was very prosperous by the 17th century. Several buildings from that period still stand in the middle of the Old Town today, including at least two mosques, the hamam (Turkish bath) and the caravanserai (Cinci Inn ), all built in 1322 and still in use today. Almost all of the houses now standing in the Old Town were built 200-300 years ago, and after a period of economic decline, restoration of the village commenced in the 20th century as employment was again available thanks to the steelworks built in the nearby town of Karablik. (Try and get your head around how long ago this was – I can’t! )
Coming under UNESCO heritage protection in 1994, Safranbolu is now one of the best preserved Ottoman cities in the world. And a friendly, pretty little town it is! It’s very popular with Turkish and Asian tourists, but not so much with European, Kiwi/Aussies for some strange reason.
Nowadays, many of the old Ottoman houses have been turned into quaint boutique hotels – including the one where I stayed, Bastoncu Pension. I didn’t quite know what to expect from such an old building but I needn’t have worried.
I ended up with the best room in the hotel with lots of windows to let the sun in, giving me great views over the town. The rooms are simply but more or less traditionally furnished. I’m not so sure that they had flat screen TV’s and hair dryers back in the day, but hey, I’m not going to be picky.
What is interesting in these old houses are the bathrooms – basically they are a built-in cupboard at one end of the room.
The bathrooms are rather cosy, but they do the job.
The first thing that I noticed when I poked my head out the window was how close the mosque was.
Now I have gotten used to the loudly broadcasted calls to prayer 5 times a day and during the day, I often don’t even notice it. But I DO try to avoid having one near my hotels/apartment as I don’t appreciate the 4-5am wake-up call. I’m one of those grumpy sorts at that time of morning. :-). This time, I knew that there would be no missing it, and I wasn’t disappointed on the first night. But somehow, I managed to sleep through it on the following two nights. That’s how you know that you have gotten accustomed to living in a muslim country! I should point out that this was only of 3 major mosques in the old town, and is one of 26 in the wider Safranbolu area.
I pretty much just dumped my bags on the bed and headed out to explore.
I have read in hotel reviews that some visitors find that while Safranbolu is nice, nut that there isn’t much to ‘do’. I’m not sure what they were expecting – a theme park? Nightclubs? Hello Kitty characters running around town…? Dunno – but the fact that there wasn’t much to do make it idyllic for me. It was just so pleasant to walk around the historical old town and just take it all in.
Needless to say, I took a gazillion photos of the old Ottoman houses – some of them lovingly restored, and some of them still in their somewhat derelict state, or in various stages of restoration. Most appeared to be lived in.
There was a narrow but deep canyon running through the town with some houses perched somewhat precariously right on the edge.
Further along, the canyon opened up a bit, and I followed the road out of the more touristy area and into the ‘residential’s area. I managed to get a bit lost, but as long as I could follow the river back and see the high minaret of the mosque in the middle of town, I knew I would be fine. And that was how I came across pleasant scenes like the one below.
Next to the hotel was a rather interesting Ottoman house museum (Kaymakamlar Museum) that is worth checking out. It’s relatively cheap, and it is set up to depict life in the Ottoman houses several hundred years ago with the use of some rather scary looking mannequins.
The photo above depicts the harem’s room, where the women congregated and made merry. The 3 women in the middle of the room ”dancing’) were positioned on a turntable activated by a motion sensor, so that each time I moved, the music would start and the turntable would spin around once, apparently giving the impression that the woman were dancing. Not the most sophisticated thing I’ve seen, but entertaining all the same.
The other thing that I found interesting was the whirling closet. Women would prepare food in one room, the put the food on trays in the whirling closet and close the door. The men, in the adjacent room, could open the door from their side, and retrieve the food without having to lay eyes on the women, or more precisely, to protect the women from the gaze of the men.
One of the things that I have learned over the years in my travels, and especially in Turkey, that the best experiences are to be had when you travel slowly, and make an effort to see the out-of-the-places and spend time shooting the breeze with the locals. It is especially easy here in Turkey as they are so hospitable. As soon as I spend more than 5 minutes talking (rather than just window-shopping) the offer for tea is made very quickly, and before I know it, 1-2 hours have gone by.
In the middle of the old town, I walked through the Shoemakers Bazaar (Yemenicilik9 pazar), once famous for its shoes, but now selling various souvenirs. I can only imagine how nice it is later in spring once the vines are covered in leaves. It was very quiet when I was there, and many of the shops were closed unfortunately.
However, one shop that was open was owned by a nice chap who painted portraits by burning the picture into wood. After a brief conversation he invited me in for a tea. Not long after, he asked ME to make a sign for HIM. Eh? What happened here? My artistic talents are pretty much zilch – why would he want me to make a picture? After a 30 second demo on how to hold the burning ‘pen’, he sat me down and let my artistic flair come forth.
And the finished result:
That’s supposed to be silver fern in the bottom corner in case you can’t tell! (For non-NZer’s reading this, the silver fern is a popular symbol of New Zealand). And just to prove that it wasn’t going to be added to the pile of firewood, he hung it on the wall along with other the other guest artist’s pieces.
During the course of our conversation, I explained to him that I would be working in Cappadocia, and he said that he was considering moving his business there as there were far more tourists (and therefore more money to be made). By the time I left his shop, he took my photo and said he would ‘paint’ (burn) my picture and post it to me – at no charge, because we were now ‘friends’. I was a bit taken aback by this – but then, this is Turkey, and this is what they do. We’ll see if it arrives!
I also met the local baker who baked his bread in a wood fired oven. He invited me in to take pictures, then to sit down at the table outside the shop for yet another cup of tea and a simit (fresh baked bagel). We chatted for awhile, mostly via charades and my limited, broken Turkish.
I left after a while to continue with my exploration, but each time I passed the baker again, he’d invite me in for another tea, and hand me another freshly baked freebie. Fresh bread is served with every meal here – breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I go out to eat, I often send the bread back – I just don’t need or want it. It was getting a bit embarrassing, and in the end I had to walk the long way around back to the hotel to put an end to the bread offers.
I carried on down to the metalworking side of town – where the blacksmiths worked, and there were a few interesting shops selling silver, copper and bronze knick-knacks. I was taking a photograph of the armoury outside one shop before this nice chap started to chat, and… you guessed it.. offered me a tea. (As a confirmed die-hard coffee drinker, I cannot believe how much tea I have consumed in the last year!)
He showed me through his three antique and metalware shops, and his somewhat ragged collection of airline and home decorating magazines, showing how internationally famous he is. He also told me he used to be an actor years ago and was in some Turkish movie. I jokingly bowed down to him in awe and he got rather flustered!
He did have some quite beautiful items in his shop, and yes, I may or may not have succumbed to buying something! But that was after he generously gave me a silver ring, albeit not an expensive one – the gemstone fell out of it by the time I got back to the hotel that evening!
When in Cappadocia, I live in an apartment, and tend to cook most meals rather than go out. However, while in Safranbolu I got to enjoy some very delicious local specialties. starting with various saffron dishes. The town name of Safranbolu derives from ‘saffron’ and the Greek work ‘polis’ (city) and back in its day, was a major centre for growing saffron. Nowadays, it is grown about 20 kms out of the area, but it is considered to be the best quality in the world. Safranbolu only in recent years has started taking advantage of that history, and nowadays many saffron products are available: saffron lokum (Turkish delight), soaps and tea to name a few.
It seemed appropriate at the end of the day to enjoy a cup of saffron tea in the Museum garden, watching the sunset over the town while listening to the mosque’s call to prayer. Saffron tea is essentially a spice tea made of a couple of strands of saffron, cloves, cinnamon, honey and a slice of lemon and served in an ornate tea cup.
While the tea was nice, the food was better! Starting with peruhi, a hand made pasta in a yoghurt sauce, with a bit of chili oil drizzled over the top.
And then there was Yayim, the very simple, but incredibly tasty pasta topped with walnuts.
And the beautifully presented and very tasty Etli Sarma (meat-stuffed vine leaves).
I just love that Turkish food!
Day trip to the Black Sea coastal town of Amrasa
From Safranbolu it is only an hour and half by bus to get to the Black Sea coast, so I decided to stay an extra night in Safranbolu, and head up to a small coastal town of Amasra for a few hours. Several people had recommended it, and it’s popular as a holiday spot for the Turkish. Admittedly this was the low season and the town was very quiet, but even taking that into account, I struggled to see what the real attraction was, other than to visit on of the numerous fish restaurants.
It was pleasant enough but it just seemed a bit lacking in something. Maybe it’s one of those places where two hours just wasn’t enough to have an appreciation for it, which is fair enough.
I wandered around town for a bit before succumbing to hunger pains and finding some where to eat. I debated with myself whether to go to one of the waterside fish restaurants, but given the relatively hefty prices, decided against it and instead found a nice little roadside cafe. Listening to music by Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse and Etta James, and eating a dish with french fries, I temporarily forgot that I was in Turkey. I felt like I could have been having brunch on Ponsonby Road!
All in all it was a very pleasant few days away from ‘home’ in Cappadocia. The weather gods played nicely giving me a couple of absolutely gorgeous days for getting out and about which was very welcomed after the recent wet and cold weather in Cappadocia, and I discovered another part of Turkey. The day that I caught the bus back, the skies opened up, so I managed to pick my days well!