Monday, 26 December 2011

Turkey – The first Turkish bath

December 21-22

Hello everyone!

After a rather uncomfortable overnight bus from Cappadocia, with the conductor seeming to have a personal vendetta against me, we arrived in the Black Sea city of Trabzon. We did little research before arriving, but decided that we needed a stop between our Cappadocia and Georgia, and Trabzon seemed to be the biggest place en route.

After finding somewhere to stay, we decided to explore one of Turkey’s bigger towns. With hindsight, we stayed in the wrong area. Much of Trabzon’s influence comes from its port, which became a focal point of trade to Iran and the Caucasus during the Ottoman period. Consequently, this area is rather industrial, which contrasts greatly to the Ataturk Square area that we saw later.

After a kebab – the target of one per day is on track – we decided that there wasn’t much to see in the city itself or by the sea, so headed back into the country. A couple of marshrutka rides took us to the foot of a steep cliff on which sits the Sümela Monastery. A marshrutka is a rickety minibus that bumps and bobs you to a destination on the cheap. Always entertaining, those things.

A half hour hike up some fairly unstable trails will lead you to an incredible sight. The monastery was initially built in the 4th Century and has been subsequently restored numerous times. It juts out of a cliff in the Altindere Valley, and was built there to keep the Greek Orthodox monks in a quiet location. It is a spectacular setting to learn and study in.

We had one final box to tick before leaving Turkey the following morning to head into the unknown quantity of the Caucasus. We wandered through the main square to find a hamam, where you can have a Turkish bath. I had no idea what this involved, but soon learnt that the process was very much segregated by gender. This was discovered when we knocked on the door of what turned out to be a female hamam, at which point the door was opened and immediately slammed in our faces. Apparently women were getting changed, so my presence was not at all welcome.

Having found the male hamam, I was promptly stripped and provided with a towel. One of the men spoke a bit of English, and he managed to explain the procedure to me. Sauna, then wash, then massage. It was very relaxing until the final act. A massage here isn’t the type of massage you would expect in a health spa. It involves a man with a scrubbing glove and a bar of soap (obviously I didn’t have my camera with me for this so the picture below isn’t quite what happened in mine). It does have a soothing feel, apart from when the eccentric masseur’s hands went slightly too close to certain parts of my body for my liking. Still, I haven’t been that clean for a while!

We celebrated our cleanliness with another kebab. Final kebab count? Six in five days. They just taste better here. Many things are better here in Turkey, and it has been great to see more of this culturally rich country. Cappadocia was a treasure, and I would highly recommend the region to anyone. However, it is time to move east into a region of the world that few people know much about. Time to enter the Caucasus!

Love you all


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