Trabzon – Off-the-Beaten-Path and a Sleepless Night

I’m not a beach person…
I know I might be screaming blasphemy!!!”, but I’m really not…let me explain where I’m going with this.

During my time in Turkey I was mesmerized by everything I had seen. From the amazing sites in Istanbul to the magnificent views of Cappadocia, to the mesmerizing ruins in Selçuk and Pamukkale, Turkey had left me in complete awe by what it had shown me.

When I left Selçuk I had been invited to join a group of travelers who were on their way to Antalya, a place with some of the most amazing beaches in all of Turkey. Turquoise waters and white sand, Antalya has quickly become a well known, and well visited, tourist spot. This would have been a nice way to end my holiday, relaxing by the beach in a resort-like hostel with drinks in my hand soaking up the sun.

But I decided that “meh”, I’m just not that type of traveler, and with only a few days left in my Turkey adventure I made it my mission to see one last off-the-beaten-path sight. To be completely honest, the thought of sitting by the beach being idle does not sound all that appealing to me.

BUT WHERE TO GO???

Armed with my Lonely Planet – Turkey book and an extremely slow internet connection with what seemed like the first computer ever built, I started my research. When it comes to making last minute decisions, I am definitely the worst…I can never decide, even if I had trusty Google for pictures and endless reviews to go through, deciding where to spend my last few days in Turkey was a challenge.

So after what seemed like an endless night of seeing the buffering thingy on the computer, I decided to head to Trabzon with my only goal being to see the Sumela Monastery.

Sumela Monastery

Not many foreign tourists choose Trabzon as a destination, which is really what attracted me here. After seeing hurdles of tourists on the beaten path through Turkey, I sort of wanted some solo-time and needed that feeling of discovery of seeing a place not many have seen before you. My social batteries were empty and I needed some time to recharge myself.

So I booked my flight from Selçuk and off I went. Already at the airport I had this feeling of having left my comfort zone. As far as I could tell, everyone flying with me was a local and I was the only tourist :). How I craved that!

MY ROTTEN LUCK WITH HOTELS

Anytime you stir away from the beaten path you have to be open to the unexpected and for things to not necessarily go as planned. Specially in my case when I combine off-trail destinations with last minute decisions, as experience has taught me that many of these lead me to make disastrous results, mainly with hostels. I have shared sheets with bedbugs in Munich, had a room with a view to the outside (hole on the wall) in New Delhi, and found cockroaches squatting for free in my room in Phuket.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that my bad luck led me to another one of these places. The hotel (which unfortunately I no longer have the name, sorry guys), was a big 7-floor building, with maybe about 15 rooms on each floor. The first creepy thing was that, other than the people at the desk, there was nobody there, not one guest…

My room wasn’t bigger than a prison cell, with a single bed and a TV crammed in. The windows had been left open and there was water on the floor from the rain outside. The door has a frosted window which showed to the corridor, and even though I couldn’t see inside or out, I could still see silhouettes of people when they passed by. Asylum-like fluorescent lights, there were also small red spots of paint on the wall, aaaand I found a dirty sock under my bed. “So, they didn’t clean the room since (???)…no big deal, for the price I paid” I remember thinking to myself.

After watching my first-ever episode of The Simpsons in Turkish, I decide to go to bed to get an early start to the monastery in the morning. It had been a long day getting in from Selçuk and I was ready for some well deserved rest. So I lay down and curve in my sheets, warm and fuzzy, when all of a sudden I hear, “buzzzzzz”

Then again buzzzzz….

Buzzzzz…and this time I felt it landing on my ear!!!!

I get up decided to put an end to its life and get the job done quickly. I do it and retrieve back to my bed, ready to FINALLY get some rest…

BUZZZZZZZ (x2)

THIS TIME THERE WERE MORE THAN ONE!!!!!

I get up, turn the lights, grab my sandal in what has to be the worst impersonation of my grandma and swipe away! Left! Right! Center! It was mosquito-warfare!!!

Now I understood what those red spots on the wall were… it was mosquito blood!!!

I did to get up another 2 or 3 times after, and I didn’t sleep until I was sure there were no more mosquitos flying around. There were mosquito bodies all over my room, but I was tired. So, ready to get some sleep this time, I roll in my sheets when all of a sudden rain starts, and the water hits the aluminum roofings from neighboring buildings so hard that the noise is unbearable. I was not going to fall asleep that night…and I didn’t.

THE SUMELA MONASTERY

The Sumela Monatery sits on Melá mountain, in the Maçka district of Trabzon. Sumela is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It clings onto the mountain wall, high above the green forests surrounded by mountains. It is simply an astonishing view and to this day one of my favorite places.

Getting There

Opinions are divided on what the cheapest option to get to the monastery is, and many claim that booking a tour may actually be cheaper. I had booked a tour with my hotel, but they never picked me up :(, so I ended up taking a taxi to the monastery which cost me around 100TL (not worth it when the tour which allegedly forgot me was charging 50TL).

Once arriving to the parking of the monastery complex, a small 30-minute hike is required to get to the monastery. The trail is not hard to climb, with some waterfalls and much green to go around. You will ascend about 300 meters and you will notice the air getting cooler as you get closer to the monastery.

As you get closer, you will come across a lookout point from which you can see the monastery hanging on to the face of the mountain.

Once inside the complex there are many 19th century rooms including a kitchen, a bakery, and a guard’s room. Although today these are empty on the inside, it is very easy to picture yourself living in 19th century Turkey and playing inside decorator.

The main room in the monastery is the church, which itself is built within a cave and filled with frescoes depicting religious drawings.

Here too, although many of the frescoes have been vandalized with time, many still remain and the colors do give an idea of what the walls looked like back in the day.

The overall views within and outside of the monastery are amazing, and opportunities for good pictures abound. Of course a little bit of sense of adventure and a taste for the unknown might be needed to head to Trabzon, it might even be a bit of a detour, but I do recommend you take the chance and you won’t be disappointed 🙂

What have been your favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations and discoveries? Share with us in the comments! 🙂

UPDATEThe monastery closed its doors to the public on September 22nd 2015 for a yet-to-be-determined exact period of time (1 to 3 years). The site is going through major renovation and re-structural work. The mountains surrounding Sumela are also being monitored closely due to increased seismic activity in the region.

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