Turkish Breakfast Kahvaltı Turkey

TURKEY: 5 Turkish Foods I Love

What comes to mind when you think of Turkish food? A lot of people come to Turkey and they think kebabs and rice. But as someone who took Turkish cooking lessons once a week for a year and a half, there is SO MUCH MORE

ADANA KEBABS IN ADANA – MASSIVE MIX GRILLED PLATE!

Little Recap:

For the month of February (the month of lllooooovvvvveeeee), I am doing a quick little mini LOVE series. Each week I will cover 5 “…” I love about Turkey.

Here is the line up! (scroll to the bottom for all the links)

  • WEEK ONE: 5 Things I love about Turkey 
  • WEEK TWO: 5 Places I love in Turkey
  • WEEK THREE: 5 Foods I love in Turkey 
  • WEEK FOUR: 5 People who also love Turkey too 

DON’T FORGET: FREE PRINT!

If you’re new here I have a newsletter that goes out every month with a free download. I just sent out our first one for this year! This newsletter includes 3 free prints with the Turkish words faith, hope, and love. Please subscribe and access to those freebies will go straight to your mailbox!  

Let’s get started! Read on to learn the 5 FOODS I love in Turkey

1. BEYTI KEBAB

It’s funny that I mentioned kebab’s first, especially after using it as an example of what people assume Turkish food is…  To be fair, it’s a slightly different take on kebab which is probably why I enjoy it more!

Beyti is a Turkish dish consisting of ground beef or lamb, grilled on a skewer and served wrapped in lavas (or flat bread) and topped with tomato sauce and yogurt. Like most Turkish meals there is usually some type rice or bulgar served as a small side (as if the bread it was wrapped in wasn’t enough…) 

Fun Fact: I learned is that this dish is actually named after a Beyti Güler, the owner of the popular restaurant Beyti in Istanbul.

TRY THIS RECIPE AT HOME.

2. ALI NAZIK

Gosh, I love anything with eggplant. Let’s get this straight – TURKISH eggplant. It’s just different than what we have in the states. I even mentioned that eggplant, or aubergine, in my ‘5 things I love about Turkey’ video.

And my favorite eggplant dish? Ali Nazik. 

Ali nazik is a scrumptious Gaziantep specialty. The delicious marriage of char-grilled smoked eggplant puree mixed with yogurt is then topped with tender lamb stew. Ali nazik is sometimes served with rice pilaf and grilled vegetables. Unfortunately, this dish gets overlooked by a lot of foreigners that they’ve never have really good eggplant. So if you come to Turkey please, please, please, give it a chance. That’s all I’m asking because the mixture of the eggplant with the lamb that is so tender on top with makes it so incredibly delicious. 

It really is a feast to all senses and a special dish to share.

TRY THIS RECIPE AT HOME.

3. MEZE

Meze is a selection of small dishes served as appetizers or served as a part of multi-course meals. Mezes are a parts of the Middle East, the Balkans, Greece, and North Africa. You can kind of think of it like a larger portions of Spainish tapas (not free). 

Our neighborhood in Izmir is know for its meze, especially the Rakı-Balık combo. Balık is the Turkish for fish and rakı is the Turkish version of their licorice tasting spirit which personally it’s not my favorite because I don’t love the licorice. Part of the rakı-balık experience is getting all these little side dishes to eat alongside your hand picked fish. I love being able to explore the freshly prepared selections of mezes and choose four or five and then later pick my fish. 

This meal is most definitely a slow and social experience with friends. Everyone sits, chats, eat a little bit at a time, and maybe there will even be singing if a lingering 2 person band comes by to serenade you.

If you are a person who loves everyone ordering different items from the menu so you can ‘try it all’ then THIS is your type of place (and food). It is a great option for those who want to try a little bit of everything.

TRY THESE RECIPES AT HOME.

FollowingTheFunks Turkish Meze

4. KUNEFE

Kunefe is dessert made with shredded filo pastry, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese in the middle.  If you aren’t a fan of super sweet desserts like kadayif or baklava, this is a great combination – something about the mix of cheese and simple syrup balances the flavors out and makes it seem lighter. This dessert is made fresh when ordered and it takes a while baked on the stove. If you are out of restaurant and know you want to this tasty dessert, make sure to tell them at the beginning of your meal. If you forget you’re going to find yourself waiting another 20 minutes.  

I especially love Kunefe with pistachios sprinkles (or if you are in the hazelnut capital of Turkey then maybe hazelnuts would be a good choice!) and a little(actually a lot) scoop of clotted cream, or kaymak in Turkish.  The mixture of shredded wheat, syrup, and cheese sounds odd, but you have to at least try once. 

And yes, you’ll thank me for it. It’s just absolutely delicious.

TRY THIS RECIPE AT HOME.

FollowingTheFunks Turkish Kunefe

5. KAHVALTI

I am sure it isn’t a surprise to those of you who have been following along for any amount of time here. From our blog post write-up, breakfast in Kalkan, video explaining what Turkish Breakfast is, and our recent Black Sea series telling you about the must-trip mıhlama breakfast dish served in Trabzon and Rize, it’s my jam (get it?).

Kahvalti, the Turkish word for breakfast, literally means ‘under coffee’ or a better translation is ‘before coffee’. Turkish breakfast is often diverse and consists of several different foods eaten together with a big pot of çay, or Turkish tea. Turkish kahve, or coffee, comes at the end of the meal. Breakfast in Turkey, traditionally, is family gathering, much like a brunch is for us Americans.  With a line-up of tastes all its own, who wouldn’t look forward to it the night before and WANT to make it a longer, sit-down affair.

What makes Turkish breakfast even more appealing? Every region of turkey has a different type of breakfast tradition or breakfast dishes that they love to serve in their spread. Of course the most common items are usually there: tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheeses, eggs, and usually some types of jellies or honey with bread

Turkish breakfast is usually done best on the weekend – during the week families are busy, but usually on a Saturday morning or Sunday morning, families make a point to sit down and have this breakfast or brunch with their families. Our family too has followed this tradition! I LOVE a good brunch on a weekend, and our favorite restaurants in Karsiyaka know us now! (Well, when they are allowed to be opened – stinky covid.) I also appreciate enjoying it with good friends and/or family. 

I’ve got a couple of videos about Turkish breakfast but if you’re curious to learn more about what all could be found in a Turkish breakfast at a restaurant you can watch one of my videos called “What is Turkish Breakfast???”.

TRY THIS LIST GUIDE AT HOME.

FollowingTheFunks Turkish Breakfast Kahvalti
FollowingTheFunks Turkish Breakfast Kahvalti

There you have it! Those are my top five foods I love in Turkey. I think I will have to do a part 2 because I could easily name 5 more!!! 

Check out our matching video over at our YouTube Channel.

LISTEN to our podcast episode about our top 10 favorite Turkish food!

FollowingTheFunks Turkish Meze

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

  • Have you visited Turkey? 
  • Where do you love to visit?
  • Or where would you love to visit one day?

Check out our other Mini LOVE Series videos and blog post too!

  • 5 Things I love about Turkey: BLOG POST (coming soon!) + VIDEO
  • 5 Place I love in Turkey: BLOG POST + VIDEO 
  • 5 Food I love in Turkey: BLOG POST + VIDEO
  • 5 People who love Turkey too: next week

Thank you for watching my mini love series and so thankful for you and I hope you enjoy the freebies!

TURKEY: 5 Places to Visit in Turkey

If you have been following us on our adventures, you know I just finished up the 8 part video series and blog posts about our Black Sea Road Trip. You can always go back and check that out! 

You have been asking for some more Turkey content and here it is! 

For the month of February (the month of lllooooovvvvveeeee), I am doing a quick little mini LOVE series. Each week I will cover 5 “…” I love about Turkey.

Here is the line up!

  • WEEK ONE: 5 Things I love about Turkey 
  • WEEK TWO: 5 Places I love in Turkey
  • WEEK THREE: 5 Foods I love in Turkey 
  • WEEK FOUR: 5 People who also love Turkey too 

DON’T FORGET: FREE PRINT!

If you’re new here I have a newsletter that goes out every month with a free download. I just sent out our first one for this year! This newsletter includes 3 free prints with the Turkish words faith, hope, and love. Please subscribe and access to those freebies will go straight to your mailbox!  

Let’s get started! Read on to learn the 5 PLACES I love in Turkey

1. ISTANBUL

While it is first on my list it is not necessarily my favorite city in Turkey. Obviously when we moved here we live to Izmir. 

However, Istanbul will always have a special place in my heart. I live for 2 years, ten years ago. It’s where I first met my husband (also American). It is a lot longer story, but we became friends during that time.  As well, I never lived in a big city in America, and Istanbul was my first major massive big city. It will always be a very dear city.  

Grown to a city of 20 million people, Istanbul has been a part of four major empires. Positioned between two continents, you can travel from Asia to Europe in one day by just taking a ferry or you can cross over one of the intercontinental bridges. Most people only spend a day or two going to the most visited tourist areas and seeing sights like the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace which is where the Ottoman sultans used to live. With all the historical sites, one can easily spend two weeks in just Istanbul. 

So many people who have come to Istanbul and fallen in love with this city. I think it has the same big city draws as New York. So many people, not just Turkish, but other nationalities who come for a visit, find a city so enticing, and move here.

2. IZMIR

I’m sure it is no surprise that the second place on my list is Izmir. I don’t just say that because we live here, but I’m sure it has some influence. It is truly a beautiful city. Much like Istanbul, it is positioned right along the coast curving around a bay area. Here too one can enjoy a ferry from one side of the city to the other. 

This city of 4 million people is big enough to attract expat community. It tends to be sunny most of the year with a little bit of rain and cooler temps in the wintertime. Known as the ancient city of Smyrna, Izmir is the starting point for people to visit Ephesus. Being one of the biggest open-air Museum in Turkey, Ephesus is absolutely worth your visit. As well, Izmir is a great base for taking several day trips out to different areas like the beach, mountains, villages, and other historical sites. i

3. PAMUKKALE

I know that Pamukkale would not make most people’s list. Because I have never seen anything like this outside of Turkey, it has become one of my favorite places in Turkey! 

Pamukkale literally means ‘Cotton (pamuk) Castle (kale).’ The white hill juts up from the ground in the middle of valley making it visible for miles on a clear day. It looks like cold, snowy mountain, but it most definitely is not!

So, what makes it white? The mineral rick thermal hot springs in this area are particularly rich in calcium sulfate. This unique site and thermal pools make it a popular stop-off for folks doing a huge Turkey tour.

Pammukale is also part of the ancient city of Hierapolis. The theater is one of the best around and has an awesome view of the area. The grounds of Hierapolis are extensive and can take you up to 3 hours to see everything, including the extensive city roads and tombs.

Just 15 minutes south of Pamukkale is another historical site, Laodicea, also known as the last of the 7 churches on this route. Laodicea is ACTIVELY being excavated/restored and continually improved. Since I first visited in 2009 ish, they discovered a church in 2010 and now have opened it to the public!

If you live in or visit Izmir OR if you have never seen anything like this before, you should definitely add Pamukkale to your itinerary. While you can make it out to Pamukkale and back in 1 day (if you do it this way, get a bus tour and let them do all the hard work), it will be a VERY long day. Otherwise, it’s best to make the trip an overnight one since Pamukkale is a solid 3 hours drive ONE WAY without stops (near a town called Denizli).  

Laodicia Turkey

4. CAPPADOCIA

The area of Cappadocia is well-known among tourist for its world-renowned hot air balloon rides and massive sprawling rock formations that have been created into the soft rock. For nature lovers, this is an ideal location – several hiking routes, ATV tours, and horse riding. It’s beautiful anytime of year, but I especially love it in the snow!

Several different valleys with unique rock formations that have been created throughout this area of Cappadocia. Cave homes where dug into the rock. Even though still a lot of people who actually live in the cave homes, a lot of these locals have opted to turn their homes into hotels.  

There is a historical significance when it comes to who lived here too. At one point, this land was known as Galatia and a Christian group called Galatians resided here. During their time, there was a lot of persecution among the Christians. Due to that persecute, they created underground cities – yes, multiple underground cities. Derinkuyu is one of the most visited and this city extends 6-7 (that they have safe discovered) levels underground. People would retreat and hide whenever they felt threatened by raiders. 

In the same way, homes were built high up into these rock formation for safety too. People were able to pull up their long ladders and hide from their enemies. Because there were Christians in this area, many churches were discovered within these caves and underground cities covered in original frescoes. Today you can still see frescoes that date back hundreds of years. 

Thankfully, these areas are very much protected can truly see kind of all these communities trying to live they how they lived based off of these seeing these cave homes. 

Once you get a small taste of Cappadocia, you will definitely want to go back for more. 

5. RIZE

It’s probably because we just did our 2-week trip road trip throughout the Black Sea region…  (By the way, you can see a whole playlist on that). We took two weeks and drove from Ankara all the way to Rize.) Out of all the places we visited on this trip, I wish we had more time in Rize

When people think of Turkey, what comes to mind? I’ve asked people what they thought and they usually think desert, camels, etc. but never imagine lush, mountainous, densely forested green paradise.  It is absolutely beautiful.  The mountains provide a very different scenery than here in Izmir where we’re on the coast. Actually, Rize IS on the water, located on the Black Sea, but the landscape escalate very quickly into the mountains. 

The mountains in this area have a type of plateau on top, called ‘yayla’ in Turkish. On these spots they have created little communities of hotels, pansiyons (like hostels), and even little groups of bungalows. From the top of these mountains you can experience just the beauty of nature. We visited waterfalls, castle, try different foods that are only known to this region. 

As well, Rize is also known for its çay production. Because it gets so much rain, it makes it a perfect location to grow çay bushes. Çay is the Turkish words for tea. It’s funny, (and perhaps you have noticed in my videos…) whenever I’m talking even in English, I generally still use the Turkish word for tea! 

Every country has their own culture and traditions, and these can differ within the country based off of smaller regions. Turkey is no different. 

Unfortunately, most tourist never make it out to the Black Sea region. If you are repeated visitor to Turkey than I think the Black Sea region definitely deserves on some of your time when you come next!

There you have it! Those are my top five places I love to visit in Turkey. I think I will have to do a part 2 because I could easily name 5 more!!! 

Check out our matching video over at our YouTube Channel.

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

  • Have you visited Turkey? 
  • Where do you love to visit?
  • Or where would you love to visit one day?

Check out our other Mini LOVE Series videos and blog post too!

  • 5 Things I love about Turkey: BLOG POST (coming soon!) + VIDEO
  • 5 Place I love in Turkey: BLOG POST + VIDEO 
  • 5 Food I love in Turkey: next week
  • 5 People who love Turkey too: 2 weeks

Thank you for watching my mini love series and so thankful for you and I hope you enjoy the freebies!

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