Istanbul’s second airport Gokcen is so far out of town the cost of the taxi there is higher than the cost of any plane ticket, flying domestically with Pegasus is incredibly cheap.
I looked around my fellow passengers and noted that there was one full burqa , two very dolled up women, but the rest were a very dowdy lot with grey being the predominant colour and headscarves pretty much order of the day.
Eighteen hours by car but less than 2 by plane and I ended up in one of those aim at the mountains and at the last minute turn to the right and drop sharpely on the runway at Trabzon sort of landings.
There is slightly soviet era sparseness to Trabzon International airport , but what shocked me more in an age where airports are merely shopping experiences with a landing strip was the North Korean total lack of any advertising except one for what I guessed was a car hire poster and not even one little shop.
From the air Trabzon looked intriguing and I felt a sense of adventure, with the mountains rising pretty much straight out of the sea with very little coastal plain. A city and port had stood on this point for nearly 3000 years.
Trabzon is not just an architecturally dull city port on the black sea but during these 3000 years of history it has been connected with Jason of the Argonauts, Xenophon, Marco Polo, the Russians, The British and Ataturk among others during this time.
It wasn’t dull out of choice but having been half destroyed by the Russians in 1916 and gradual rebuilding took place during a time of financial problems, especially in the east of Turkey.
The port and town lay at the beginning of the Zigana Pass, the only way from the sea and from most of the Black sea Turkish coast to the great Anatolian plain and Armenia and Iran beyond, and even today Iran, Georgia and Russia have consulates here.
From the ground one could see it was obviously a port town engaged in the exploitation of the interior and from where the Greeks and Romans had exported gold, zinc, iron and timber for a thousand years and consequently, the drive from the airport was a procession of factories and workshops dedicated to the repair of earth moving machinery,tractors and chain saws.
The Nur hotel in the centre of town has one great advantage over almost anywhere else I stayed in Turkey, a young, intelligent English speaking manager. After explaining that I’d had a very early start he suggested a siesta and told me that ‘Mohamed always had a siesta’. Breakfasts on the top floor with a panoramic view over the Black Sea, which frankly is a bonus as whereas almost everywhere else in the world the seafront would be the focal point of the town, here in Trabzon, the town bizarrely turns its back and ignores the sea.
The life and heart of the town is centered on Ataturk Square and like France where nearly every town has a Place De Gaulle in Turkey most towns have an Ataturk square with the obligatory statue of the very stern looking father of the nation. Not an image to make children love him, more to make them live in fear.
The town’s main streets run parallel with the sea, albeit way inland, and from Ataturk Square one way is downhill to the port and full of bars and according to the guide books brothels although I never noticed. Here there were cars with number plates from Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and lots of cars with temporary Iranian number plates. The port of Trabzon is the consummate trading town for Russians Georgians Iranians Azerbaijanis and I presume there were plenty of spies hanging out in bars for those indiscreet words from drunken sailors. The cold war probably never totally died here.
The other way is the modern shopping street Uzun Sokak, with a few chain stores and amusingly mingled with shops for chain saws and farm tools.
In the middle of the modern shopping centre Ataturk’s mansion stood, now an interesting city museum, but with the rooms kept exactly as they were when he last visited. Even his bedside alarm clock was stopped at 5 past 9, the time he died.
Past Uzun Sokak, going gently downhill one arrived at the extensive uncovered bazaar, packed with clothes shops and jewellers selling Trabzon gold bracelets, which like Istanbul was far busier than the modern shopping precinct.
Continuing downhill this ultimately led to the food and the fish market, which was full of great looking black sea fish including Tuna at around 2 euros a kilo which would cost around 25 euros in France.
Trabzon has the best bread in the country called Vakfikebir ekmegi. It is sometimes made up to 7 kilos and lasts a long time.
One would imagine then the sea would be here next to the fish market, but no, it was half a mile away across two major roads, the dolmus station and what was once a Luna park but now was just a waste land. Apparently there had been deaths on one of the rides and it had long ago been closed down.
The bazaar area contained the full gamut of Caucasian faces.
Trabzon is situated close to the Georgian border and the the population is predominately Turkish speaking Adyghe or Circassian people with a few other minorities thrown in, the Laz people being one we will see later.
The Circassians were expelled from the Sochi area of Russia in the 1860s, well in fact it was a genocide’ and over one and a half million were killed by the Russians. This diaspora apart from being mainly in turkey have ended up in strange places with a couple of villages in todays Israel and most of the Golan heights being Circassian villages. At the time it was all part of the Ottoman Empire.
The population shifts of eastern Turkey and the Caucasus is easily worthy of fruitful if rather ultimately depressing lifetime of study.
But generally here in Trabzon it is religion that bound them together
There was a sunni religious air to the town and this historic mix of peoples led the population here to look to other muslims and Turcmen populations from outside turkeys borders.
In Ataturk Square while I was there, there were stands for R4bia ( a Sunni organisation supporting the brotherhood in Egypt and probably funding the war in Syria, which has a yellow hand with the thumb folded as an emblem) handing out leaflets and collecting money. They had a very well organised series of panels of propaganda photographs of atrocities against muslim populations in countries from Egypt, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and even somewhere called Doguturkistan.
Next to the R4bia stand there was a Red Crescent tent collecting blood, obviously needed in Syria.
The town is buzzing with shoppers during the day. At the end of the day the dolmus stop down at the end of the bazaar by the fish market is full of families who have come to town from outlying villages for provisions and even farming goods and are sitting around waist high in sacks of food, clothes and assorted goods.
In the evening the town is full and being a port town the port area bars are full as they are the only place you will get alcohol. The restaurants in the square are also full every night and being a creature of habit and doubting I could get a better meal anywhere else, I ate in the same fish restaurant every night. It was the best fresh black sea tuna fish and salad I’ve had anywhere. Everyone was very friendly and one night I was put in with a group of middle aged Turks and with my non existent Turkish all we could talk about really was football. They bought my supper.
Some other snaps…