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Turkey By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Black Sea

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” –Jacques Yves Cousteau

Black Sea, Turkey

Black Sea, Turkey

A world of wonder is what you find at Turkey’s Black Sea.  The region is rich in heritage, in sights, in culture – from stunning landscapes and natural wonders to World Heritage sites – here in all its ancient and mesmerizing glory. Standing on top of Al-Petri Mountain, one may wonder why such an iridescent blue sea is called the black sea.  It’s thought that the name was given to it by sailors and pirates who were struck by its dark appearance when the sky turned leaden with storm clouds. Known by another name as well, the ancient Greeks called it the Scythian Sea as they plundered shipwrecks and made wine goblets from sailors’ skulls. Happily, on a recent visit I enjoyed my wine served in a pretty crystal glass as I gazed out over a perfect Blue sea. Reasons to make this your next go-to vacation spot are many.  Here are just a few of them:

Ancient History

The coastal town of Amsara, built atop the ancient port of Sesamus, has a Roman bridge, Byzantine city walls, 14th century Genoese forts and historic mosques; inland is the town of Kastamonu with its 12th century castle.  While there, we made a side-trip to Bafra to view some pretty imposing excavations which date back to the Iron Age Hittite civilization.

Modern History

Samsun is the town where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk drew up plans for what was to become the modern Turkish Republic.  The hotel where he stayed honors him in its incarnation as the Gazi Museum, and a villa that once belonged to Ataturk is on the outskirts of Trabzon. There we found colorful gardens with exotic flora: passion flowers, mullein, hornbeam and sweet chestnut.

World Heritage

The Black Sea has some of Turkey’s most scenic World Heritage sites, and one of the best is the town of Safranbolu with its Ottoman konaks (mansions) made of timber and stone. Soon two more landmarks of the region will become World Heritage Sites: the Sumela Monastery and the Genovese Trade Routes’ Trading Posts and Fortifications.




Named for the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia dominates the town. It was dizzying to gaze up to the cathedral’s vaulted ceilings soaring heaven-ward and then, look down at the intricate mosaic work beneath our feet. Another celestial experience was journeying to the Sumela Monastery built 4,000 feet up in the cliffs of Mt. Mela.  Begun in the 4th century by Greek monks, it was ultimately completed in the 14th century – a very important archeological highlight of the Black Sea.

Sinop is the only naturally sheltered harbor on the Black Sea, and has been a port for 1,000 years.  Here you’ll find the commanding Sinop Castle.  It was constructed in the 7th Century BC

with walls 10 feet thick and 100 feet high.  Sinop takes its name from the Amazon queen Sinop and wandering through this special town, it still after millennia, exudes warrior-like strength.


A really good way to experience this region is by road tripping.  After all, the Black Sea is home to no less than 16 protected nature reserves in the provinces of Artvin, Balikesir, Bolu, Duzce, Samsun, Sinop and Zonguldak. The goal of these areas is to preserve endangered species of flora and fauna.  The Highlands here are covered with fir, spruce, cedar, oak and elm trees as well as flowers like snowdrops, wild azalea and forest rose.

Local Culture

The easternmost outpost on the Black Sea is Artvin, famous throughout Turkey for its many festivals celebrating regional cultures and featuring music, food, costumes, dancing and more.

Most festivals take place in late spring, summer and early autumn.  This past summer I had the good luck to be in Artvin during a festival featuring such memorable activities as the famed bull wrestling competition. It’s for certain there are not too many places in the world where one can view this extraordinary contest.  Mano-a-mano wrestling competitions followed the bull thing but it wasn’t nearly as exciting! A colorful part of this festival is the traditional dance troupes decked-out in vivid, ethnic costumes.  While here, add to your not-to-be-missed-list  the Karagol-Sahara National Park with its deep forests and glass-like lakes.


Turkey, Hamsi

Turkey, Hamsi

Lake Uzungol is in Zigana’s Kalkanli Mountains.  The lake is extraordinary at 3,200 feet long and surrounded by pine forests and typical village houses that have now become popular with campers, hikers, and fishermen. Near the Georgian border is the rugged Yusufeli conservation area, remote and historic with Georgian and Armenian churches.  Feel a need to get out on the water? There’s white water rafting on neighboring Coruh River.

Turkish Tea

In Rize, coffee is a hallmark of Turkish culture, but tea is the essential part of daily life and the town is the center of Turkey’s tea production.  I saw vast, terraced plantations of both black and green tea and in a bazaar, a nice Turkish lady made me a cup,  taking the time to brew tea leaves in boiling water which she then served me in a delicate, clear glass to show the deep red color and to transmit the heat to my hand.

Black Sea Cuisine

How can we leave out Hamsi? This small fish is similar to the anchovy and in the region it is abundant.  In fact, there are no less than forty different dishes made with hamsi, including desserts.  Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste and leave it at that.   More to my liking, there’s the Akcabat Kofte Hazelnut center in Ordu and in July, it hosts a Golden Hazelnut Festival.

“The trouble with the Black Sea weather is that you can’t trust it,” says Ihsan Cetin, an official in Ankara’s Tourism Ministry, “but if you’ve ever been swimming in this sea, you won’t want to swim anywhere else. Because it is so clear and sweet, you wouldn’t mind drinking it!” Sweet, indeed – the entire Black Sea region.  Plan a visit soon.

To Know If You Go:

Turkey Tourist Board : www.goturkey.com

7 Great things to do in Oludeniz, Turkey

beaches in Turkey

beaches in Turkey

by Nicky. A,

With its turquoise waters and beautiful pebble beach, Oludeniz is a place of incredible beauty. There is something here for everyone, from water parks to paragliding, from boat trips to beach bars. Here are some of the things your should do if you ever come to this part of Turkey.

1-Visit Oludeniz Beach

Better known as the Blue Lagoon, the incredibly still waters and the awesome beauty of the surrounding vista makes this stretch of beach a regular on lists of best beaches in the world.

2-Grand Ucel Aqua Park

Staying on a watery theme, this is a fantastic place to visit for those with children or those wishing for a spot of adventure on the various water slides at the park. There is a hotel situated next door, but it is possible to visit the park for day trips.

3-Kayaking from the Blue Lagoon to Gemille Beach

Get out on the still waters with one of several guided tours. Probably the best way to see the coastline and the surrounding mountains. Most tours provide several rest stops for swimming along the more deserted stretches of beach.

4-Fethiye Market

The place to grab some bargains! All manner of high street brands are for sale, from perfume to belts. Get yourself a nice pair of sunglasses or a souvenir for a loved one. The market is easily accessible via Dolmus minibus.

5-Take a jeep safari

An English speaking guide will take you around some of the outskirts. You’ll get to see the beautiful village of Tlos, some of the lesser visited beaches and a trout farm. A professional photographer takes pictures for you which can be bought after the tour, so you can cherish the memories for ever.

6-Enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun set

There are many beachside bars that have the perfect view of the sunset. Why not sit back, relax, and enjoy a drink as the sun slowly dips below the horizon?

7-Try your hand at Paragliding

The big thing to do in Oludeniz in Paragliding. People visit here from all over the world for the opportunity. The sheer grandness of the panorama and Mount Babadang’s height, which makes it a perfect platform for Paragliding, makes this a must for anyone brave enough to take the leap. There are tandem Paragliding packages available for those wishing to take a trip with an experienced instructor.

Shopping in Turkey

Shopping in Turkey

Shopping in Turkey

If you go to Turkey for a holiday, you may find shopping a little daunting, although it is not as bad as it was in previous years- no longer are you dragged much against your will or better judgement into a carpet, jewellery or leather shop. If this does happen to you, then you will be offered tea or a small cup of Turkish coffee, and then be subjected to the hard sell. The problem with shopping in Turkey these days is rather which shop to choose to get the best deal.

Turkey is famous for its carpets and leather goods, and the best deals you can make are probably to be found in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, although you have to haggle wherever you go. A good rule of thumb is to remember that you should go to a quarter of the price you are asked to pay and then be prepared to go up to half of the original price, although you may not have to go up that high.

Whatever you do, you really shouldn’t allow yourself to be fooled by a guy who professes to be able to be able to help you find the best deals in town. Such people will take you around, talk to shopkeepers and come back and tell you a price they think you can pay. This will not be the best price that you could get alone, as these people get commission on everything you pay for – including the most expensive fish at fish restaurants.  For example today I watched one Canadian couple allow a guy to steer them to a restaurant and then to a dress shop and after that, not very rich-pickings as far as commission went, he was negotiating a visit to gold and leather shops too. Commission is either ten or twenty percent so this is calculated into your purchase. Unfortunately if you don’t speak Turkish you don’t really know what’s happening. However if you watch the facial expressions of the shopkeepers, who don’t really like these people, you may understand what is going on.

There are gold shops and shops selling bags, purses and all the touristy goods you could imagine. Shirts and other cotton clothes are cheap and well made. Prices are basically up to the customer- if you know how to drive a hard bargain then that’s good for you. The early bird is usually able to name a reasonable price and get what they want if they are the first customer of the day; as, if they pay willingly, this is a sign of good luck for the rest of the day.

So the earlier you get up, the better the bargain- and don’t take someone you don’t know very well shopping with you in Turkey. if you want to know more about check out the Cheap holidays in Turkey.

Visit Istanbul, Turkey & Have a Hassle-Free Stay Following This Advice

    Istanbul, Credit- students.ou.edu

Istanbul, Credit- students.ou.edu

I lived in Turkey for two years in the 1980s and although I went back to Istanbul five years ago I had never ventured to the place where I lived for longest- the coastal town of Kusadasi. This year I spent a few days in Istanbul, which is one of my favorite cities. If you go there you should read Orhan Parmuk’s memoirs of his home city during your stay. Five years ago I could feel the melancholy hanging over the city that he describes so well, but this time (although I only stayed in my favorite area of Sultanahmet), it seemed to have dissipated. Perhaps Istanbul has found its place as a European city, although you can see more women wearing head scarves and long black cloaks than you would have done five years ago. It could be that they were on holiday there from small villages in the Asian part of Turkey, which is, of course, the majority of the country.

If you visit Istanbul then you should be aware of the fact that there are now two airports serving the city, one Ataturk airport and the other SAW on the Asian side of the Bosporus. If you are landing there then you should book a shuttle service online before you go. You only pay when you arrive at your destination and are met and escorted to the large minibus that will take you to your hotel. The charge is 10 euros per person and you pay the driver when you reach your destination. On the way you will get an impromptu guided tour of the Bosporus area so you won’t have to pay for one of the “Bosporus tours” which are touted by tour agencies. You see both sides of the river and are told what it is you are passing.

The best area to stay at is Sultanahmet and this is a surprisingly cheap area to stay in – 65 euros per room, that is the price for two people sharing a double or twin room with ensuite bathroom. To get there, head for Saint Sophia street which is at the back of the famous church of Saint Sophia, now a museum, and close to the Arasta Bazaar. On that street there is a selection of hotels all at around the same price per room.

Sultanahmet is where Saint Sophia and the Blue mosque have been facing each other for many centuries, and these are iconic buildings, along with the Topkapi Palace which is also close to them. There is a park now separating these two museums, and on the left hand side, as you walk towards what is reputed to be the oldest church in Christendom, you will see the tram-lines and modern trams which will take you to the Grand Bazaar or down to the Bosporus. At the corner, near the tram stop you will see the Mosaic cafe, which serves fusion food, a blend of East and West which is what Istanbul ultimately is. If you turn right and walk past the cafe you will come to a cul-de-sac which houses the Sah (pronounced shah) bar, bistro and restaurant which serves very good Turkish food and where, on a Tuesday and Friday you can hear live music from the Istanbulls, a local group. It is a pleasant place to sit and one of my hideaways when I have had enough of the hustle and bustle.

The Grand Bazaar is where you can find the cheapest souvenirs, including carpets, although there was a time when it was cheaper to buy such items in the small shops in Istanbul. This is no longer the case, but remember that you are expected to haggle – don’t simply accept the first price you are told.

If you tire of Istanbul and want to head for the coast, there is a bus service which takes you to Kusadasi and Bodrum, and seats may be booked from any tour agency. It is best to book from the one nearest your hotel as the tour agencies are the pick-up points for the shuttle service which will take you to the bus station in Aksaray. The bus goes over the Bosporus on the ferry which shortens the journey, so to Kusadasi takes about ten hours, although you will be told that it takes twelve. You may be able to sleep on the bus, which is very comfortable, and for the 34 euros (70 Turkish liras) you pay, you get free refreshments on board and can buy food at one of the stops along the way. The bus stops approximately every two hours as there are no toilets on board. The trip to Bodrum takes about twelve hours.

You may wish to spend the whole of your holiday in Istanbul, or tour Cappadocia to see the “fairy chimneys ” and live in a cave- hotel like a troglodyte for a few days.

Turkey has a lot to offer and is cheap at the moment, so why not grab a cheap flight to SAW airport and try not to be daunted by other travelers’ tales? Turkey is a wonderful place for a holiday.

Summer in the City- Istanbul Holiday Tips

    Istanbul- Turkey- Cr-Athar Abbas

Istanbul- Turkey- Cr-Athar Abbas

Don’t be daunted by other people’s tales of flying into Istanbul’s second airport, SAW. It is a little distance from the European side, but be positive, you get the Bosporus tour without paying for it! You see the sites all around both sides of the bridge. If you fly there you should book a shuttle service in advance. You don’t pay until you get to your destination and its only ten euros per person, to Sultanahmet, which is a lot cheaper than if you went by taxi, ferry or any other mode of transport. You are met at the airport, and are dropped off outside your hotel and only  pay the driver when you get to it.

East certainly does meet West in Istanbul, as on the European side you now see more Turkish women wearing the long black cloaks and headscarves than in previous years, and I particularly noticed this change after a five year absence from this exotic city. As in the film “Sex and the City (2)” you may notice that these almost burkha-clad females are wearing three-inch heels too. Almost every nationality can be seen in the square around Aghia Sophia and the Blue mosque in Sultanahmet, and if you visit Turkey Sultanahmet in Istanbul really is THE must-see area.

Istanbul is one of my favorite cities and the best area as far as I am concerned is Sultanahmet, where the Blue mosque and Aghia Sophia have stood opposite each other for centuries. Whether you are a Christian or Muslim, these two icons of religions are a must to visit, even though they are now both museums. If you are female them out of respect for the heritage of these two buildings, you are expected to be properly covered, arms, legs and hair should be invisible; perhaps more so in the ancient mosque than in the ancient church.

This central square is easily accessible by tram which is the easiest form of transport to use. Taxi drivers are notorious for their rip-off techniques, and however many times you have been to Istanbul, there is always a new rip-off that you had not expected. The tram is cheaper, easier and comparatively hassle free, and will take you to the Grand Bazaar, and then on to Sultanahmet and vice versa.

At the tram stop you will see the park with these two iconic buildings facing each other, and on the opposite side of the road and tram lines, the Mosaic café, which serves very good, cheap food. If you wander down the small street past the Mosaic café, you will see a cul-de-sac on your left, which houses the Ṣah restaurant (pronounced shah). This is my favourite hideaway in Istanbul. You can eat very tasty food there (I love the buttered prawns) and there are the traditional kebabs which are delicious too. In fact everything I have eaten there has been very good.

The owner tries to cater for the needs of tourists and so the layout of the place changes year by year. In 2007 there was an area where you could sit on huge floor cushions and smoke nargile (water pipes). The water pipes are still there but not the cushions. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there is live music from the Istanbulls who have a great saxophonist. The atmosphere is friendly and people will talk with you if you are alone and don’t want to be. There’s no threat though and it is fine for single females.

As for places to stay, the street to go down if you haven’t booked a room is Aghia Sophia which has at least ten hotels all around the same price and you can pay in US dollars, euros or Turkish lira. I stayed in the Istanbul Holiday Hotel this time, but the rooms and bathrooms (ensuite) are very small and you really couldn’t swing a cat in the bathroom.

However all hotel rooms in the area seem to be much the same. This hotel is clean and the staff  friendly; expect to pay around 65 euros for a room- that’s not per person so two people stay for that price. Mostly you pay per room not per person.

A few steps down the road is the Ṣafak (Shafak) café/restaurant which is a good place to people-watch and drink a cold Turkish beer (the Efes Pilsen is good and has been brewed for many years). The people at the restaurant are friendly and helpful and a single female can feel comfortable there. Above this establishment is the Sunrise Hotel which has a roof terrace, as do most places around Sultanahmet. If you want a holiday that combines culture and fun, then Istanbul is the place to visit.