TURKEY: Top 8 sites in Trabzon, Turkey

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen!

***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Now on to Trabzon!

IMPORTANT: This post covers the whole province of Trabzon, not just the city. In fact, most of these items are a 1 – 2 hours away from Trabzon ‘City’. Take note because it will take time to drive from place to place, and it will determine where you choose to stay.

Trabzon Maçka Turkey

The Black Sea region in Turkey is home to some of the most beautiful coastline and mountains in the country.  Black Sea in Turkish means Karadeniz, and the Turks from this region have their own accent, dress and lifestyle. Trabzon just a part of that region.

Trabzon is the capital of Trabzon Province and the second largest city of the Black Sea region (to Samsun). Located on the historical Silk Road, it became the trade gateway to the rest of the territory and a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries. It’s legendary history influenced the creation of paintings, theatre plays and operas in Western Europe throughout the following centuries.

Trabzon’s earliest known name was Trapezus, one of the most easterly of ancient Greek settlements – possibly founded in 800 B.C.. Like the rest of Turkey, Trabzon has passed through the hands of many empires. This little narrow strip of city and a bit into the Pontic Mountains were the capital city of the Empire of Trebizond (old English for Trabzon) between 1204 and 1461. Despite its geographic smallness, the city gained great wealth from the taxes it levied on the traded goods via the Black Sea.

Christianity had reached Trebizond by the third century and early Christians sought refuge in the Pontic Mountains south of the city, where they established Vazelon Monastery in 270 AD and Sumela Monastery in 386 AD. Even after the Ottoman conquests of 1461, the Greek Orthodox, better known as the Pontic Greeks, continued to live in this area up until 1923, when they were deported to Greece in the Great exchange.

On to modern day Trabzon, this city of 250,000 boast of a port, the only airport for the Rize area access, a full-scale university, and a very competitive professional football team, Trabzonspor, which has won several titles in the Turkish Super League. Major exports from Trabzon include hazelnuts and tea. The coastal highway has increased and led to some growth, but progress has been slow in comparison to the rest of Turkey.

Personally, Trabzon City wasn’t my favorite city. It was packed to the brim downtown, and there was nothing that truly stood out beside the extensive fortress walls and the historic Hagia Sofia. If you go by our guide, you won’t spend much time IN THE CITY but move on quickly to the more extensive province like we did.

Read on to know what you should see and do in Trabzon, Turkey:

1. Sümela Monastery:

  • Located an hour drive south of Trabzon city center, Sumela Monastery is one of the longest occupied monasteries in Turkey. Founded in the 400s A.D. (I think I said 1400s in my video) by the Greek Orthodox, this location is not the easiest to access. The monestary was slowly built and new building added over its long lifetime. It continued to be home to monks for hundreds of years before the great exchange of 1924 when Turkey and Greece uprooted respective countryman from both sides to the newly marked borders.
  • Due to restorations, the monastery was close to the public for almost 5 years and reopened to the public in 2020. There is still a lot of construction work being done. Even the road which was once accessible all the way to the top is now closed to the public. In order to travel to the monastery, one must park at the designated carpark and grab a mini bus the rest of the way.
  • Without a doubt, this is the ONE place you MUST visit in Trabzon.

2. Karaca Cave

  • Located 97 kilometers inland from Trabzon, near the small town of Torul, Karaca Cave was our first cave visit in Turkey! With it’s well maintained walkways and excellent lighting, it’s no wonder why this cave network is one of Turkey’s best and most accessible. The cave stretches for 107 meters and is filled with huge stalagmites and stalactites that have been formed in weird and eerie shapes. Since opening in 1996, cave has become a place of true landmark of the area.
  • Located 1550 meters above the sea level, we enjoyed the views of the 4-km-long asphalted road up the mountainside. In addition there are places like stopovers and gardens for tourist to to enjoy.

3. Gümüşhane Siron Kebabı

  • Gümüşhane Province, literally meaning “Silver House”, is named so for its silver mines. Situated on the Silkroad, the city is known for its historical structures as well as its natural beauty – Karaca Cave being one of the city’s most important landmark.
  • The must try food of the area is the Siron kebab. A local, Kalaycı, created this dish specifically with his hometown in mind. Siron is made by rolling the dry dough with hot water. He combines the meat of the most delicious unprocessed meat of the animals grazing in the Zigana mountains spread over top of the siron, with a layer of yogurt in between. and meat and presented the Ardasa siron kebab, which was also registered, to the citizens. All the favors make this a yummy dish I wish I could find in Izmir!
  • While you are here: Nearby is the historic town of Süleymaniye, which, although it is under ruins, it is still one of the must-see places. Merkes Süleymaniye Neighborhood Surp Karabet Church is located in Süleymaniye District. The church’s roof and south wall are mostly destoryed but you can see from above the three basilical, 2-story massive layout.

4. Torul Cam Terrace

  • Don’t miss the Torul Glass Terrace! Turn off the highway and follow the road up the mountain. At the top you will find a viewpoint overlooking the city with decent amenities- cafes, toilets, a children’s play area.
  • If you are brave enough for a small fee, currently 5 TL, you can walk onto a glass terrace which is 240 meters overlooking the town of Torul, river, mosques, and the ruins of Torul Castle. If you are not so brave you can still see the same sights from the viewpoints from the safety of the mountain side.

5. Hamsiköy Kahvaltı and Sütlaç

  • Hasmsikoy is a small village located about an hour drive south of Maçka. It has beautiful scenery and is home to the traditional Turkish dessert sütlaç. You will really experience what life in a Turkish village looks like when you visit. We enjoyed Turkish breakfast here and then a bowl of the area’s famous sütlaç. Restaurant recs is below.

6. Hagia Sofia (Trabzon City)

  • Hagia Sofia (Trabzon City), known as the counterpart to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, was also built as a church during the Byzantine era around 1240s. The church was used until converted into a mosque by one of the Ottoman sultans. Interestingly enough, during World War I the Russian occupation used as a temporary hospital and depot.
  • After the war had finished, it was reused as a mosque until 1964 when it was turned into a museum as a way for visitors to learn about the past. In 2012, local religious leaders were granted approval to veil frescos and the carpet the floor of the museum to make it comfortable for muslims when they reconverted it to a mosque. It also means that it is free to enter.

7. Atatürk Köşkü (Trabzon City)

  • In the city of Trabzon, there is a small mansion built in the 1890s by a Greek Merchant. The city of Trabzon gifted this building to their leader of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ironically, Ataturk spent hardly any time in this house (maybe 2-3 visits?). After he passed away, the city dedicated this building to Atatürk, turning it into a museum. The building has been left in the traditional style, most items predating 1937, for people to visit and learn of how the leader of Turkey lived.

8. Uzungol

  • Uzungol, unfortunately, is very much out of the way! In fact, in our original itinerary, we planned to skip this completely. However, due to all the recommendations and my FOMO (fear of missing out – and FONR, Fear of Never Returning), we decided to squeeze it in on our travel from Trabzon to Rize.
  • Uzungol, Turkish for ‘long lake’, is a large beautiful lake surrounded by thick, dense forests. Surrounding the lake are several pockets of hotels, restaurants, and shops. We rented an electric scooter and road it around the circumference of the lake taking in the sites. Honestly, it felt way too touristy for me but the day was lovely, and we were glad to explore outdoors. However, if you love a good lake (and can find a decent price hotel) then I think there is enough to do here if you stayed a couple of nights.
  • Getting there: Unfortunately it is at least one hour drive south of the coast road from Trabzon to Rize (and an hour return) – 90 minutes from Trabzon City. Just make sure you plan a full day to get there, tour, eat, and return – especially if you are taking public transportation. Many tour agencies in Trabzon sell day trips there, but you can also choose to stay overnight in one of Uzungol’s traditional hand built wooden hotels.

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
  • Flying in and out of the Trabzon’s airport, or Trabzon Havalimanı, is quite a treat. Due to the quick escalation of coast to mountains, the city had to build the runway out into the water, running parallel to the Black Sea coastline. You get an amazing view of the city and the sea as you arrive.
  • Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines have daily flights from Istanbul to Trabzon. Pegasus Airlines from Izmir only first direct 2 times a week. All other flights route through Istanbul.
  • Bus services from Trabzon to other parts of the province are frequent and convenient.

Lodging: 

  • Voice Hotel Maçka: Our friends recommended this hotel to us, and this was the perfect place to stay for our family! The hotel is just outside of Maçka town on the road to the Sumela monastery. We had a 1 bedroom +1 salon room which included a kitchenette, mini-fridge, and washer (which has a dual drying system). Everything was fabulous! The staff was kind and quick to respond to any request. The breakfast was fantastic and the dinner was great too if you need an easy option near the hotel. We would definitely stay here again if we ever pass through Trabzon again!
  • Gardenya Suite Hotel: This is a perfect little place near downtown Trabzon close to everything but also tucked down a side street so it’s super quiet at night! It was so nice to have a 1 bedroom + 1 salon apartment for our family here. The breakfast was nice, staff was friendly, and everything went off without any issues. We also had a car, and the staff helped us park it at the nearby otopark (free).

MUST TRY FOODS: 

  • Kuymak (Mıhlama in Rize):  Just learned that these names are regional with slight differences in the recipes. Mıhlama is a dish native to Rize while Kuymak is local to Trabzon. Both use cornmeal and cheese but Trabzon uses a local dry, strong and salty “kuymak” cheese.
  • Sütlaç: popularly originates from Hamsiköy in the Trabzon region. Sütlaç is a baked rice pudding made mostly from cow’s milk, sugar, and cream, with just a few additional ingredients. Some people, including myself, like to stop it with cinnamon. This is a dessert you must try when you visit.

Restaurants: 

  • Ataç Konağı Kebab + Balık Restaurant: This Gumushane restaurant has a huge shaded outdoor space including a playground which is great for kids. This is where we got our yummy Siron kebab.
  • Niyazi USTA Restaurant (Hamsiköy): Breakfast stop. Great view but mediocre food. It could be that that there lunch and dinner options are better. Go on weekday to have the whole restaurant to yourself!
  • Osman Usta Sütlaç (Hamsiköy):  Hamsikoy is know for there beautiful view and dessert, Sütlaç. At Osman Usta’nın Yeri, who has been in business since 1972, the secret to this delicious sütlaç is that it is cooked for a long time and made from organic, fatty cow milk. The rice pudding here is especially delicious because the milk is delicious. Make sure to sprinkle a little cinnamon on top (a little chopped hazelnuts if you dare). I recommend it to everyone.
  • Şömine Kafe (Uzungol): The food was NOT worth it but the drive up the mountain is!
  • Maya Bakery & Workshop: This tiny little restaurant has several delicious options of pastas, pizzas, cakes, cookies and brownies. Everything was delicious but the service was a little lacking. We came for dinner, and the timing could have been off. The grocery store attached to the restaurant had some fun snacks that I haven’t seen in Turkey before.

Nearby:

  • West-bound Ordu was one of our favorites: capital of hazelnuts, cable car rides, and miles of coastline!
  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, east-bound Rize is home to Istanbul’s sister church, also names the Hagia Sofia church.

Overall, Trabzon is so amazing. So much history and unlike the rest of Turkey. This Black Sea region is so overlooked by most foreign tourists and it saddened me!

You can Explore Trabzon with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Trabzon Part 1 and Trabzon Part 2 videos and see what all we did in our late afternoon/ morning visit!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Trabzon now?
  • Have you traveled to Trabzon before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just a piece of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO

TURKEY: Top 5 sites in Ankara, Turkey

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen!

***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

While Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, Ankara is the country’s capital! This city has a population of 4.5 million in the city centre and over 5.6 million in the province. Just like any capital, it’s a center for the nation’s museums and the performing arts.

When the establishment of the new Turkish Republic happened on 29 October 1923, so did Ankara too became the official capital, replacing the consistently chosen Istanbul by former empires. Its more central location makes it an important commercial and industrial city and the hub of Turkey’s road and railway networks. 

Even though Ankara is the ‘new’ capital it is not a new city. The region dates back to the Bronze Age and the Hatti Civilization back in the 2nd millennium BC – crazy LONG time ago. From there follows the normal progressing of rulers: Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Galatians (who were the first to make Ankara their capital), Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and finally to the Ottomans until the First World War.

Unlike the big city vibes of Istanbul, the country’s second largest city has a more family and residential feel to it. Parliament, embassies, and companies’ headquarters bring lots of foreigners to this city, but it tends to be all work.

Read on to know what you should see and do in Ankara, Turkey:

1. Anıtkabir – Atatürk’s Mausoleum

  • If you have very little time in Ankara, this should be your first stop. The most historic monument for the Turkish Republic, the Anitkabir, sits on an enormous hilltop and holds the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first president. There are four parts: Ceremonial Plaza, the Road of Lions, the Hall of Honor, and Peace Park. The plaza along, being able to hold 15,000 people will impress upon you its size. Admission is free and there is so much to learn about Turkey here!
  • I could write a post just on this site alone (maybe I will?). But until this here are a few things you don’t want to miss along the way:
    • The Road of lions is a pedestrian-only lined with lion statues symbolizing peace and power.
    • General Ismet Inönü, Kemal Atatürk’s friend, comrade in arms, General, chief of staff, diplomat, prime minister and second president of the Turkish Republic is honored in a cenotaph beneath the western opposing colonnade.
    • As you climb the monumental staircase to enter the Hall of Honor, excerpts from Atatürk‘s speech given on the 10th anniversary (1932) of the republic’s proclamation are inscribed in gold on either side.
    • In the large pavilion – the Hall of Honor, continually guarded by military men, the huge marble cenotaph weighting 40 tons is cut from a single block of stone. Atatürk‘s actual tomb is beneath it. If you happen to be there around noon you witness the changing of the guards!
    • Make sure not to miss the 3,000 meters of War of Independence museum located under the Hall of Honor.

NOTE TO ANYONE VISITING TURKEY (NOT JUST IN THE ANITKABIR): Atatürk’s memory and legacy are revered and protected by law. Do not be disrespectful or joke about their national hero.

2. Ankara Castle

  • The views of the sprawling city from the top of the castle spread out before you and invite you to snap a few pictures. The build date isn’t know but historian say it postdates the capture and destruction of Ankara by the Persians in probably 622. Just like the city, the castle has fallen through many hands such as the Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman empires.
  • This area is well equipped with great local restaurants, fantastic souvenir shopping where lots of locally made products are available at a very fair price. You do not want to bargain here because merchants are very fair and will feel insulted if you bargain. If you are buying multiple items, they usually give a discount. My purchases here were fairly priced and much more affordable than other tourist areas like Cappadocia.
  • The castle isn’t accessible by car and you will have to walk for a bit before you get to the stairs to climb up. It is a challenge with the steps so if you are in poor health or aged I might just look around the many shops that spread out at the base of the castle. They are worth browsing as well. It is definitely not baby stroller friendly nor handicap accessible.

3. Hamamönü Area:

  • This small neighborhood boast of it’s restored 1920-1930 houses now filled with cafes, restaurants, and artist shops.  For tourist who want to get a sense of what old town, they can step back into time here. Take a break and enjoy a Turkish coffee made over a sand fire from one of the many cafes.
  • When you go to Hamamönü, you must visit the house of Mehmet Akif Ersoy and the tomb of Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu at Tacettin Dergah. Unfortunately it is difficult to find information in English about this historic significance as you are walking around. .
  • You can go to Hamamönü by bus or the city bus. If you go with your own car like we did, you can park on the side of the main road or find a little parking lot.

4. Gençlik Park

  • Opened in 1943 on former marshlands, this 68 acres park is almost at the center of the city. The garden and play areas for kids invite you to relax and get away from noise and stress of the nearby city. The park has several nice outdoor cafes and seating areas where one can relax. The outer sidewalk lining the park makes for a nice long walking loop.
  • Unfortunately when we visited the pond/fountain was not functional. As well, the fair attractions, including the ferris wheel, were also not operational on the day of our visit (we did go at 8 a.m. or it could have been COVID related).
  • The Republic Museum and War of Independence Museum are walking distance from one entrance/exit to park.

5. All the Museums:

  • Unfortunately, we did not have time to make it to any museums (2 year old, work, and nap times…) but I left a list of ones you don’t want to miss! (Like I have mentioned before, not all museums have English translations or cater to foreign speakers…)

Few things we missed:

If you have time, here are a few other sites that would be fun to consider:

  • Altın Köşk (Definitely on my list for next time)
  • Roman Baths
  • Upside Down House (Ters Ev)
  • Kuğulu Park

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

Lodging: 

  • Anka City Hotel: We would absolutely stay in this hotel again! With 1 and 2 bedroom apartment style options, it’s small but perfect for a family visit to Ankara. The staff was amazing and breakfast was excellent – complete with your choice of cooked eggs!

Restaurants: 

  • no special Turkish recs but is you are an expat like us, you are always on the lookout for good Mexican food and Sushi…
  • QuickChina: May be my favorite Asia restaurant in all of Turkey and they are ONLY IN ANKARA! Great service, tons of options, and everything is delicious.
  • Rancheros: This is the most authentic Mexican restaurant vibes and food I have found in Turkey yet.

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, NorthEast-bound Sinop is the highest point along the Black Sea Coastline of Turkey.
  • Drive the East bound inland route towards Samsun, stopping the night in Amasya like we did.

Overall, Ankara is the heart of the Turkish Republic. For history lover or Turkish history enthusiast, the capital city must be on your visit list. You can Explore Ankara with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Ankara video!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Ankara now?
  • Have you traveled to Ankara before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just the 1st of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO

TURKEY: Top 5 sites in Rize Province, Turkey

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen! ***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Now on to Rize!

Rize is the capital city of the larger province of Rize and hometown of Turkey’s President, Erdoğan. Rize’s climate is perfect for the large growth of vegetation and receives an annual precipitation averaging around 100 inches of rainfall per year making it perfect for growing tea. Introduced in the region in the 1940s and 1950s, tea has changed the destiny of Rize, making it a center for processing and shipping Rize Tea. The second largest crop being kiwis (who knew???)!

The mountainous landscape, rushing rivers, and lush green plateaus make this area perfect for nature lovers. In the summer (non-covid times), this region has over 20 festivals celebrated throughout the different villages. As well, one can explore the castles, stone bridges, traditional mansions, tea farms, and wooden mosques.

The Black Sea region has been an important place for many nations throughout history. Even today there are still subgroups of people with their own culture, traditions, and even language: Laz, Henshin, Pontic. The Laz people, who still speak the endangered Laz language, as well as Turkish, is possibly to most well, known group in the area. The laz böreği is one of my must-try foods for the region.

IMPORTANT: This post covers the whole province of Rize, not just the city. Most of these items are a 1.5 – 2 hours away from Rize ‘City’ in a cluster near a town called Çamlıhemşin. Take note because it will take time to drive from place to place, and it will determine where you choose to stay!

Whatever your reason is for visiting, you will not be disappointed! Read on to read our recommendations for Rize.

What you should see and do in Rize, Turkey:

1. Zil Kalesi ‘Bell’ Castle

  • Jason and I both agreed that the location and jutting towers make this a legit 14th century castle! (To be fair, there are a lot of lame self-proclaimed ‘castle’ out there.) Located in the Fırtına Valley (literally “Storm Valley”) within the Pontic Mountains, this medieval castle sits 1,130 m (3,710 ft) up on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley and river below just 12 km south of Çamlıhemşin.
  • Formerly an important watchtower in the Trabzon Empire, the Ottomans then used the castle for military purposes. You can tour the garrison quarters, chapel and head tower.
  • Next to the castle is a little cafe that boast of the same panoramic views and sells a mouth-watering rice pudding called Sütlaç.

2. Palovit Selalesi

  • Just a quick 6 km drive passed the Zil Castle, Palovit Selalesi (waterfall) boost of being the biggest waterfall (in terms of volume) in the Black Sea region of Turkey. Once you reached there you will find the stunning view of the fall with rainbow colors, you can go to the nearest point and take some risky snaps, but you will most likely get a good misting!
  • Parking is the bit issue and due to narrow road you might be need to park the car little bit far away on the safe side of the road. Nearby are picnic tables where families can join a snack or lunch break. Overall it’s the place where you can go and really enjoy the beauty of the fall.
  • On the way to the waterfall, a ropes course called Tarzanpark is a perfect stop off for families that have energetic kiddos!

3. Ayder Yaylası

  • Ayder Yaylası is one of the easiest mountain villages to get to and over the years, the new road and tours have made it slightly overrun by tourist and buildings. Nevertheless, if you are short on time, this is one of the easiest ‘yayla’s to get too with it’s paved two-lane roads and multiple tour group options from nearby cities.
  • If you want a more authentic yayla feel, I would suggest spending more time and traveling by 4×4 vehicle up to Huser Yaylası, Avusor Yaylası and or Gito Yaylası.
  • DON’T FORGET TO STOP: There are MANY stone bridges throughout this region dating over 100 years old. Make sure to stop and walk over them to fully appreciate their sturdiness and beauty! (See the pic below!)

4. Doğadan Gizli Bahçe

  • I found this site via Instagram pics! For 5 lira you will get one tea ticket and the opportunity to explore the emerald rows of a Turkish tea plantations. Nearby are a few cafe owned swing. Pay another 5 lira to sit on the swing and snap a pic with a gorgeous panoramic view. It is definitely out of the way and not accessible by public transportation. Rent a car or hire a taxi.

5. Rize Castle (City)

  • Rize Castle, or in Turkish – Rize Kalesi, is a partly-ruined medieval castle situated on a hill southwest of the city center. The city cafe offers a panoramic view of the city as well as a lovely place to enjoy a tea or meal. It is free to enter and wander around.

BONUS: Rize Museum (City)

  • I marked this as a ‘bonus’ because honestly, if you don’t read or speak Turkish, then you probably won’t fully appreciate it. If you are a longer-term expat with some knowledge and appreciation for Turkish Culture, this I highly recommend all local historical museum! We have lived in Turkey for almost 5 years, and we are always learning new things and perspective about a passed generations and how much change Turks have experienced (literally only 4 generations, just under 100 years, removed from pre-Turkish Republic).
  • You can, however, fully appreciate the age and architectural style of the house turned museum from the outside.

MUST EAT FOODS:

  • Mıhlama (kuymak in Trabzon):  Just learned that these names are regional with slight differences in the recipes. Mıhlama is a dish native to Rize while Kuymak is local to Trabzon. Both use cornmeal and cheese but Trabzon uses a local dry, strong and salty “kuymak” cheese.
  • Laz Böreği:  A dessert made for special handrolled phyllo dough lined with a thin layer of custard in the middle. It is like eating a baklava stuffed pudding.
  • Cornbread or just corn flour pastries: This unfrosted cornflour is used to make a calorie-dense dry cornbread (do NOT this southern USA style).
  • Rize Simit: Shaped in a circle like regular sesame sprinkled Simit, Rize Simit instead has a smooth and shiny outside, which gives it a more pretzel-like taste.

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
  • The closest airport to Rize area is still the Trabzon airport (70ish km away). Pegasus Airlines offers a few direct flights from Izmir to the Trabzon airport during the week. Otherwise, all other flight times will have 1 stopover via Istanbul airports.
  • Istanbul airports both have daily direct flights to Trabzon then you will need to rent a car or take a transfer to Rize.

Lodging: 

  • Airbnb near Çamlıhemşin: Little bungalow with a beautiful view. Downsides were being to far from the main road, needing the host to drive you to it, and no hot water except to the shower…
  • Ramada Plaza Hotel in Rize: Good hotel but empty due to no tourist. Also it was so hot in our room and there was no way to control the temperature!

Restaurants: 

  • Yilmaz Café (Ayder): Recommended by a friend saying it had the best laz böreği dessert he had ever had, this little restaurant did not disappoint. We cozied up here and grabbed lunch with a little view while the rain past. The family who runs the shop were the sweetest and everything was delicious.
  • Zua Coffee (Çamlıhemşin – Senyuva): This modern coffee shop is a stark contrast to Çamlıhemşin and is a little gem tucked away in along the road to Zil kalesi. You will definitely miss it if you are not looking. After making our own areopress coffee for a few days, it was nice to enjoy a fresh latte (and pourover for the hubs) while Sofia napped in the car.
  • Kaçkar Pastanesi (Çamlıhemşin – Merkez/City Center): This little bakery doesn’t look like anything special from the outside but all the treats and goodie you chose will be local, made fresh daily, and absolutely delicious – even the cornflour biscuits which I was told to stay away from!
  • Liman Lokantası (Rize City Center): Recommended by some friends, this 60 year old restaurant is a great place to taste traditional meals and a ‘must try’ if you are in Rize. They cook in traditional copper pots at wood fired ovens. Not only the tourists but lots of locales visit this restaurant which is an indication of quality of food. This restaurant is a perfect example of slowly cooked fast serving food. Plus, the waiters and manager are very hospitable and extremely kind.

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Trabzon is home to Istanbul’s sister church, also names the Hagia Sofia church.
  • As you continue eastward, you will hit the boarder of Georgia. Some tourist like to take a quick day trip into Georgian’s second largest city of Batumi to say they have ‘visited’ Georgia.

Overall, Rize has way more to offer than we could do in our meesly 3 day visit – no matter how much we were able to pack into it! While our goals were different for this trip, we would definitely suggest making just 1 long week trip to the Rize area.

You can Explore Rize with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our videos: Rize Provice Part 1 and Rize City Part 2.

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Rize now?
  • Have you traveled to Rize before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just a piece of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO

TURKEY: Top 3 sites in Amasya, Turkey

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen! ***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Now on to Amasya!

Amasya will charm your socks off and you may just decide to relax in this little town for longer. It will for sure make you want to come back and just slow your pace of life to match this little peaceful mountain life.

Located 2 hours SouthWest of Samsun, Amasya is the capital of the Amasya province in the Black Sea region. This area is famous for its juicy apples (which we have tried in Izmir but not there ironically!). Amasya’s history dates back around 7,500 years, was home of the famous Greek Strabo. The well fortified area produced many kings, artists, philosophers, and sultans throughout the centuries.

The most appealing beauty that draws people to Amasya today are the Ottoman era houses, also known as Yalıboyu Evleri. Carved into the cliff jetting up behind these homes are rock tombs of former Pontus kings who once ruled this area. History lovers, especially Ottoman ones, are drawn to this location as the birthplace of sultan Murad I and Selim I.

Wether you love the beauty of a rivertown, climbing mountains, or history, everyone can find something to love about Amasya. Read on to read our recommendations for Rize.

What you should see and do in Amaysa, Turkey:

1. Amasya Castle aka Harşena Castle:

  • Overlooking the city at 227 meters Harşena mountain, the Amasya Castle or Fortress has 3 different levels. Built during the Pontiac Kingdom, this fortress has undergone tons of changes, additions, and rebuilds over the centuries as it was attacked by the Persian, Roman, Pontus and Byzantine Empires. Shortly in the 18th century, it lost its strategic importance and was no longer necessary.
  • Although modern stairways make it accessible to reach the top, it is still a long steep (aka. not the easiest) climb to the top – (check out our video to see why)! Along the way you will pass city walls, 8 levels of defenses, living quarters, cisterns, public baths, and maiden’s palace.

2. Rock Tombs

  • One can’t miss the ancient rock tombs (Kral Kaya Mezarları in Turkish) carved into the rock of Harşena. The impressive manmade tombs of the kings of Pontus are visible from almost every spot in Amasya. The Royal Necropolis is the first and the only necropolis of the royal family in the world.
  • By day visitors can climb the old stars to see the 18 rock tombs measuring between 8-15 meters in height unclose and get a unique view of the city. By night they are illuminated for all to see from the riverside. Remember the Greek philosopher Strabo? Yeah, he first wrote about this Pontus Kings tombs back in 40 B.C.

3. Take a walk along the riversides:

  • This will most likely be the first thing you do when you get to town, like we did. However, If you have time, I always suggest to start at the highest point (see #1- the castle) and work your way down!
  • But the serenity and peacefulness that extends from the calm waterways jutted with Ottoman style homes will definitely be the reason you fall in love with this town. Not to mention the background views of the mountain with its previously mentioned rock tombs and crowning castle walls.

BONUS: Nearby (ish) Unesco Hattusha Hittite Capital:

  • If you decided to drive from Ankara to Amasya like us, you will pass right through Boğazkale District of Çorum Province, home to Uncesco site of Hattusha, the once Hittite capital. Monumental for it’s time the city wall of more than 8 km in length surrounds the whole city and speaks to the urban organization for its time. Some of the construction, rich ornamentation, ensemble of rock art date back to the 13th century B.C! The 6 km road made it easy to drive around this spread out site in see it all in 1-2 hours, depending on how long you stay at each stop – walking all of it would take all day (and exhausting).
  • Completely overlooked and forgotten by foreign tourist, it is a hidden gem I wished we had had more time to explore! The Çorum museum in Çorum city is home to some of the historical findings and statues that can no longer weather the outdoors. If you do have time and love ancient stuff, definitely check out the museum in Çorum museum city. (We are sad we didn’t have time!) As well, several different historical sites like Örenyeri and Kalehisar Kalesi are all located in this area.

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
  • The closest airport to Amasya area is the Samsun plus a 2 hour drive inland. Like I said, not the closest to the Black Sea but still a major historical significance to the Black Sea Region that we do NOT regret stopping here!

Lodging: 

  • Çifte Konak Butik Otel: Nice hotel in an old Ottoman style home. Good Turkish breakfast and walkable to the riverside and downtown area. You can see a little more about this in our video.

Restaurants: 

  • Amaseia Mutfagi: Recommended by a friend, this little restaurant has amazing views being right on the riverside. The food was very reasonably price and not disappoint. But the service was definitely lacking.

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, NorthEast-bound Samsun is located right on the Black Sea. Enjoy a night there, hang out on the coastline, and ride the cable car up the hill side.

Overall, Amasya is totally overlooked by tourist. If you want an authentic Turkish city and feel, this is a must stop on your Black Sea Road Trip. It is totally worth coming inland for a night or 2!

You can Explore Amasya with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our video Explore Amasya.

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Amasya now?
  • Have you traveled to Amasya before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Other Black Sea Road Trip Post and Videos:

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO

REVIEW: 2020 – COVID, YouTube, + Turkey Travels

Living in Turkey has some great benefits but when come to COVID, they are (semi) serious about their restriction and lockdowns. Due to those restrictions Jason and I shared our sushi and reflection questions with Sofia this year.  I am now sitting here on a 4 day New Year weekend lockdown writing out our 2020 REVIEW for this week. It will be the earliest I have gotten out a review. 2019 Review took me until April 2019. 2018 Review was in February 2018.

FIRST OFF: ADOPTION

Everyone always wants the updates of Sofia’s adoption. So instead of making you search for it, I have put it first on the agenda.

2018 was ‘technically’ the year we became parents. In 2019, custody of our daughter was legalized. We hoped our surprise private adoption would be finalized in 2020, but unfortunately it is delayed until 2021. Thankfully nothing can be ‘undone’, but we are just having to wait longer until everything is finalize.

If you are just joining in … you can find our adoption information here: Announced our adoption plans! (Adoption video #1 on our YouTube channel, but you can view the adoption playlist here.) Decided we had to move to America for said adoption plans….Then decided not to move to America because of an unexpected but exciting private adoption opportunity that came up here in Turkey!

SECOND: COVID

2020 has been an odd year for all. Turkey did not miss out. We had 3 months of strict restrictions and lockdowns last spring. In June, they started lifting and we ventured to a seaside town for a few weeks to get out of the city. We have cautiously made the most of our freedom and are thankful some family came to visit.

Unfortunately, as winter is approaching the covid numbers are rising again. We are already back on some partial lockdowns, and it looks like the winter will bring even more restrictions once again.

THIRD: YOUTUBE

Due to our adoption, we have placed almost all travels outside of Turkey on hold until all of this adoption stuff is complete and for 2019, we stuck close to Izmir. We SAID we were going to share these travels but it wasn’t until COVID that I got back into my website work and editing videos for myself! I hope you have found our content to be more all-encompassing of our lives as the Funk family – balancing life, work, expat living, mini-travels, and parenthood.

Our recap of 2020:

I did something a little different this year to share our year via our Following The Funks YouTube Channel. I started back on our FollowingTheFunks website and videos this year and it has been so rewarding!

This video has a TON of pictures and videos we have NEVER shared before with you (if anyone has been around since 2018, you would have noticed I took a crazy amount of time away from Instagram with all the transition going on in our lives). This April/May I finally buckled down and started producing content again – if not for you, then for our family to remember our lives here in Turkey.

Since there is not much explanation for anything in the video. So I did want to write out a quick recap of some of our memories over 2020!

  • January was normal life – work, Catie with her projects, and Sofia learning to walk more steadily. I think the most amazing part of this last year is watching Sofia grow from baby toddler to full on toddler child. (Is that a thing?)
  • February Sofia took her first airlines flight and we visited some friends in Istanbul. She then came down with the flu and we spent the rest of our week in the tiny airbnb apartment.
  • Jason also took a trip to the USA. It had been over a year since he had seen his family (remember I went 2 times in 2019?). He was able to visit our 3 new nieces and nephews and celebrate with his family at his Grandpa’s 90th birthday party.
  • Meanwhile, Catie took a solo trip with Sofia (on her second airline flights) to see her friend in Adana, Turkey. Sofia did unfortunately throw up all over me at the end of our arriving flight.
  • In June, most of the restrictions started lifting. We stayed closer to home but we thankful to take Sofia out daily at this point! Let’s just say that reentry into semi-normal society in a global pandemic is a lot like culture shock.
  • In July we decided to give ourselves a break from Izmir and skipped out to a little beach town called Kalkan. We stayed 3 weeks and enjoy each week with a different family/friends. The freedom to move around was refreshing (yes, we were cautious and wore mask). You can see a playlist from some of our summer here and what travel was like during COVID-19 in Turkey).
  • August was low key for everyone but Sofia. Jason changed out her crib to a toddler bed, gave up her Paci completely, and was potty trained. Oh and I am sure there was always coffee involved!
https://followingthefunks.com/category/black-sea-road-trip/
  • October came and went in a blur – literally… as I write this, I can’t remember what we did. I did a pumpkin decorating workshop and macaroon workshop with friends. Otherwise, it was a lot of normal life, Turkish breakfast every Saturday morning, and a lot of friend time. Oh and Sofia’s first fall party.
  • At the end of October, our city of Izmir was hit by a 7.0 earthquake. We were at home and experienced 15- 20s of strong shaking, which was very scary. Thankfully our home is fine but there are areas in Izmir that were devastated. Around 20 buildings immediately collapsed, over 100 people died, and 500+ buildings are scheduled for demolition.
  • November – Sofia turned two! This is the turning point for Sofia language! She started making sentences, and by the end of the year we were have two-way conversations (not just yes or no stuff!).
  • As well, a couple of Jason’s cousins came to visit us and we took them to Cappadocia and Istanbul. We are so thankful the new COVID restrictions and lockdowns didn’t start until after our cousins left.
  • In November, we had high hopes that our adoption would be finalized. We waited almost a year for this court date. But it was disappointing that it will be delayed until 2021. Thankfully it does not undo anything that has taken place. It is so surreal to think that we announced her to everyone in May of 2019!
  • In December, we enjoy filling our lives with advent activities to celebrate Christmas. This also included a last minute plan to spend a weekend out at a farm with friend. Sofia’s was able to ride a horse which is a daily topic of conversation still.

Last but not least! Our new contributor at Nia’s Corner:

Nia, a fellow expat living in Izmir, Turkey, joins Following The Funks as a contributor writer back in the spring. I am SO thankful for her insight, knowledge and thoughtfulness she puts into every post she writes over at Nia’s Corner! You haven’t seen her post these last couple of months because the earthquake effected where she was living. She has had a lot on her plate finding a new home and moving. I am hopeful you will get some more content this 2021.

You can find the complete list of her writings here. I think you will find more than a couple that will entice you! Thank you Nia for all you have share here on FTF!

WRAPPING IT ALL UP:

It is crazy to think we are in our 5th year of this journey. We are hopeful that 2021 will bring finalization of Sofia’s adoption as well as her USA immigration paperwork. If all works out then by the end of 2021 we should find ourselves in the states finalizing Sofia’s citizenship!

If anything I am so thankful I did this to remember all the GOOD 2020 held in the middle of a crazy global pandemic and restrictions and lockdowns in Turkey.

Thanks for letting us share our lives with you and being part of our 2020.

Jason + Catie + Sofia

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • What is your best thing about 2020?
  • What was the hardest?
  • How did you grow for the better this year?