A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sagbucks

Driving to Sofia & Outer Europe

Day 7 Wednesday, May 31 2017
Belgrade to Sofia / 394 km

  • Fine, sunny and 28 C at 10 a.m. It's becoming hotter by the day. We're getting ever closer to Turkey.
  • Despite initial reservations about Boutique Hotel Townhouse 27 ( shabby street, graffiti on the walls etc ) we actually leave able to recommend it. The staff are friendly & helpful, we have a reasonable night's sleep, there's a small coffee machine in our room and breakfast is good.
  • In fact we are mellowing towards Belgrade. We have not had sufficient opportunity to explore all the old town - neither the parts with grand government buildings nor its various museums & art galleries. You should stay a bit longer, especially if you come in a few years time when building work in the Old City will be complete.
  • As we leave the city, there is heavy traffic heading into town. Belgrade may not yet have the class of its Croatian neighbour but it does have size. It is by far the biggest city in Serbia with a population of 1.65 million and has long enjoyed capital city status.
  • We are not sure if May 31 is a significant day in the Serbian calendar but still within the old part of town, police are controlling the traffic and overriding the traffic light system. With the usual chaos that human intervention creates. Maybe some important politician (s) is expected to arrive imminently. We are glad to escape before the possible closure of the road system.
  • it's another motorway day to Sofia the capital of Bulgaria and of course a border to cross. The last one in Europe on our outward journey to Georgia. Thereafter border days will assume greater significance with the possibility of delays.
  • It's wonderful that by luck our mother tongue is the number one universally spoken language in the world. Despite what Monsieur Juncker may think or hope. Serbian is difficult to read, let alone understand. The Serbians we meet all have an interest and ability to converse with us in English.
  • The motorway SE towards the city of Nis is good, the service restrooms clean & free. Road tolls are payable in euros and you even get change back in euros - notes & coins. It's good this eurozone system!
  • SG uses the 250 km stretch of motorway to read up on the collapse & disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. It is complex, but recent European history. It is embarrassing that we know or remember so little: the ethnic fighting in Croatia between Serbs & Croats, the bombing of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnic, Slobodan Milosivc, Lord Carrington, the utter failure of the European Community to negotiate a diplomatic solution, the Siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian War and finally the intervention of UN troops to bring an end to hostilities in former Yugoslavia. SG requires all of 250 km, and more, to understand the regional tensions of this part of the world.
  • At around 250 km the motorway route to Bulgaria ends. The rest is normal single carriage road. But it is evident that new infrastructure is being built and that there will eventually be a fast road connecting the capital cities of Serbia & Bulgaria.
  • We fill up with diesel just before the Bulgarian border and pay nearly 10000 Serbian didgeridoos. Exchange rate?!
  • The Serbian / Bulgarian border means crossing into a new time zone. We are now 2 hours ahead BST, 3 hours ahead of GMT. For the first time in Europe we must also show vehicle documentation. A sensible control, don't you think?
  • We have to buy a vignette for use on the Bulgarian road system. There aren't many motorways. This vignette business - I am sure you are getting the gist of the story by now. And a good idea why SG believes that we should be doing something similar in the UK.
  • With the aid of SatNav and a decisive navigator we successfully find our way to the Sense Hotel in Sofia. It is superbly located, just a few minutes walk from the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral . It also claims to be a 'design hotel'. And it is. Having lived so long in a charming 1920's house with normal fixtures & fittings, we struggle to even function the lifts. Everything requires technical intuition to operate. It's a challenge for both of us - one that we have no option but to embrace!
  • We must separate from the truck. The chassis is too tall to park in the hotel underground carpark. AG has to drive it a short distance away to park.
  • The hotel has a fitness centre & swimming pool. The pool is a design feature in itself. It is essentially a 15 m stainless steel tank. SG prioritises and goes for a swim. It is sheer bliss to stretch out and do some exercise.
  • We decide to eat in this evening. We have been on the road now for 7 consecutive days and are very tired.
  • Sofia represents the first rest stop of our trip. We are spending 2 nights here. This also means a washing day. We never do hotel laundry. The beautifully designed modern bathrooms of the Sense Hotel do not lend themselves well to drying wet clothes. Hooks, door frames, shower screens are all lacking. Fortunately SG has brought a laundry kit with washing line and pegs and can improvise. Goodness knows what the cleaning staff will think when they come to clean!
  • After an average fish supper but a glass of fine Bulgarian Chardonnay ( we always drink local ) we head up to the hotel Roofbar for city views at dusk. A highly recommendable venue.

Bulgarian / Serbian Border Control

Bulgarian / Serbian Border Control

The Magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Posted by sagbucks 10:45 Comments (0)

Sightseeing in Bulgaria Continues

Old Churches & Ancient Cities

Day 8 Wednesday June 1 2017
Sofia, Bulgaria - Rest Day / 0 km

  • We actually need 2 days to work out how to use the various features of our hotel room.

There are design flaws: the lighting system is only operable from one side of the bed - SG has to stay in the dark, whatever she wants to do ( light controls are AG's side ). In the bathroom, towels must remain scattered on the floor because there are insufficient hooks. Towel rail? How old fashioned.

  • Breakfast has a roof top view. The chefs are keen to introduce us to local Bulgarian food.
  • Yes, you've guessed - it's hot & sunny.
  • Today is titled 'Rest Day' but of course it isn't. Rest Days are usually packed with activity, but importantly for AG there is no driving.
  • June 1st is Children's Day - the younger generation are having a day's holiday and so must the people who look after them. It's party in the park time. Apparently museums & art galleries offer reduced prices today - for everyone.
  • We head to the Court of justice to meet up with the guide of Free Walk Sofia @ 11 a.m. We arrive around 10.45 and already there is quite a crowd. In fact at this time of year there are 3 guides available. The first large group leaves around 10.50. To avoid the disadvantages of large numbers we hang back for a later departure. Don't bother. There are numerous latecomers and all groups are of a similar size.
  • Our guide Stanislav is an actor by trade, so he is currently either impoverished or out of work or both. But it means he can tell interesting stories. And this is the beauty of the 2hr free city walks - you are introduced to the basics and then given the options to explore deeper. Our group is predominantly young and mixed nationalities. It's an interesting collection of people.
  • We learn many seemingly unconnected facts that help build the picture of Sofia today. We see several old & historically significant churches, some of which were converted into mosques when Bulgaria was assimilated into the Ottoman Empire (14-19C ). Bulgaria was finally freed from Ottoman control in the aftermath of the Russian / Turkish war which forced the re-drawing of the Balkan map.
  • Sofia is blessed with the source of about 40 different mineral waters. Sadly although the Romans & Bulgarians used to love to bathe in them, no public bath houses remain functional in the city. Our tour does take us to the Old Mineral Bath House but it has recently been converted into a History Museum & no bathing facilities remain.
  • After World War 2 Bulgaria became a Communist state for nearly 45 years, closely allied with the Soviet Union during the Cold War period. In the centre of Sofia there is much architectural evidence of Communist Neo Classical style which is surprisingly grand and attractive. Lenin's statue has long since been removed and replaced with one of the legendary Saint of Sofia.
  • In amidst these massive Communist era buildings, some might say hidden, stands the diminutive St George Rotunda Church. Built in early 4 Century it is the oldest place of Christian worship in Sophia. A daily service is still held according to the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is worth looking inside to appreciate the interior of the roof - the paintings you see are original from the 6 th Century.
  • Our guide explains that Sofia lacks an 'old part' in the same way as in Zagreb or Belgrade for example. The city has been built in layers - on top of each other rather than outwards from an older core. This is why so many ruins of previous eras have been excavated in relatively recent times as new infrastructure is being built. See for example the ruins of Roman Baths in front of the Banya Bashi Mosque which was itself built in 1576.
  • There were once 70 mosques in Sofia but today the Banya Bashi Mosque is the only one still in use. About 12% of Bulgarians are Muslims but they mostly live in SE Bulgaria nearer to Turkey. This city mosque was designed by one of the greatest Ottoman architects, Mimar Sinan, who also built the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The similarities, albeit on a smaller scale are obvious to even the tourist's eye.
  • As we walk towards the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral we pass through a park area adjacent to the National Theatre. It is crowded with children enjoying their special holiday. The trees are heavy with blossom of one sort or another. SG recognises the fluffy yellow mimosa flowers . Ahhh, this explains the surprisingly beautiful aromatic smells in the evenings in both Belgrade & Sofia. It has been a mystery until now. During the day there is no fragrance.
  • Also under a certain type of tree are lots of red & white cords hanging from branches. Stanislav explains that the cords & ribbons are called martenitsi which symbolise health & happiness. The tradition on Baba Marta Day, March 1st, is to exchange with your nearest and dearest a martenitsi. You must keep your collection until you either see the first Stork of the season or the first plum tree in blossom. You should then tie a martenitsi onto a plum tree.
  • The plum tree is also known as the Rakhia tree, from that lethal Balkan brew that is fermented from plums.
  • En route to the cathedral which dominates the skyline in downtown Sofia, we pass by the small Russian Orthodox Church of St Nikolas, built in honour of the Russian Expulsion of the Ottomans in 1878. The multiple tiny golden domes, exterior mosaic decoration and the double bar cross are all - well, Russian in design.
  • Pretty much opposite the cathedral is the much older, smaller & humbler St Sophia Basilica with its famous underground museum. Down there are remains of tombs & earlier churches built on this same site, one on top of the other. The first church was built in 4 th century after the Edict of Tolerance was issued by Emperor Constantine. Thereafter religion was tolerated within and by the Roman Empire. There followed a massive scale of conversion to Christianity in the region. When the Ottomans arrived in Sofia they first used the Basilica as a warehouse before later changing it into a mosque.
  • The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is worth seeing by day & by night when it is beautifully illuminated. It was built between 1904-16 and is said to represent Bulgarian & Byzantinian architectural influences. It was formerly the largest cathedral in the Balkans, until the Serbs went and spoilt things by building an even bigger one in Belgrade.
  • It will be obvious that our visits to churches & other places of worship have started here in Sofia.

And since we are heading to the cradles of Christianity, Armenia & Georgia, we will no doubt have many more on our agenda.

  • After a bite to eat at Moma's just off the main shopping street, Vitosha Boulevard, we head back to our hotel for a couple hours of catch up with life and stuff back in the UK. And another swim for SG before an early supper up in the Roof Bar of Sense Hotel.
  • Tomorrow we are on the road again with sightseeing both en route and at our end destination - so a busy day ahead.

Rotunda St George

Rotunda St George

Roman Ruins Adjacent to Banya Bashi Mosque

Roman Ruins Adjacent to Banya Bashi Mosque

Well Would You Want to Wear a Hat with an Eagle Feather?

Well Would You Want to Wear a Hat with an Eagle Feather?

Old Newspaper Kiosk in Park

Old Newspaper Kiosk in Park

Martenitsi Hanging in a Plum Tree

Martenitsi Hanging in a Plum Tree

Chess Being Played in the Park - Love the Sun Hats

Chess Being Played in the Park - Love the Sun Hats

St Nikolas Russian Orthodox Church

St Nikolas Russian Orthodox Church

Posted by sagbucks 10:52 Comments (0)

Back in Turkey

Bakucha, a vineyard hotel - what a gem

Day 10 June 3 2017
Plovdiv to Luleburgaz / 269 KM / Border Crossing into Turkey

  • As we head out of Plovdiv on the busy dual carriageway we overtake a horse & cart that is navigating its way to nearby fields. A reminder that living standards vary enormously in Bulgaria and that the cosmopolitan cities of Sofia & Plovdiv are not representative of its rural hinterland.
  • For the first time we drive in rain, albeit warm.
  • Today we are leaving Europe. Even though Bulgaria lies on its southern extremity, you still feel a kind of cultural safety net. The same cannot be said of Turkey. It will be interesting to see how things have changed since our last visit in 2014.
  • Our destination this evening is a Turkish vineyard called Bakucha Hotel & Spa. SG could not believe her luck when Google research revealed this place conveniently located between the Turkish border & Istanbul. Staying in vineyard accommodation is a favourite pastime in Europe but unexpected here in Turkey.
  • 5 km before the border, the trucks are queuing. We wonder if at the back of the queue, the driver anticipates an overnight stay or 2 in his truck. Number plates are from all over Europe, but we see none from UK. Yes patience is a virtue if you are a truckie.
  • In front of us in the queue is a German car with 3 young men of Turkish origin. They have driven from Munich overnight and have been on the road for 18 hours, driving in shifts. The driver explains his mother is returning to Turkey to live permanently and he is driving her brand new BMW back home for her. He returns to Germany on Monday by Lufthansa. Of course he will have driven a direct route and with no sightseeing, but his journey still represents quite a pace. Many Turks went to Germany to work as Gastarbeiter ( guest workers ) after World War 2 when Germany lacked manpower for obvious reasons.
  • The border process takes about 90 minutes in all, and involves visits to various booths. It costs us 85£ in car insurance. A blanket charge for 3 months regardless of your accident risk. European car insurance does not include Turkey. We are out of that safety net.
  • The truck queue waiting to enter Bulgaria is even longer ( 10 km ) No doubt because it is also an EU border. Many truck drivers are 'relaxing' roadside. They have a distinctive body shape.
  • Immediately over the border is a huge mosque - for the convenience of travellers at prayer time.
  • Turkey also operates a vignette system and we must pay 30 euros for our trip - we calculate that in total we will be spending 21 days in Turkey on this trip. 9 days on our way to Georgia and 12 days on our return. Turkey is a vast country but this total also includes some rest days and opportunities for sightseeing. More about that later in the trip. However this time around we are visiting neither Istanbul nor Ankara. At least that's our sincere hope.
  • Bakucha vineyard is not easy to find. We suspect satnav has led us astray and the 'maps me app' is no more precise. However the building is distinctive to say the least, the countryside open and SG identifies from a distance what she believes to be our destination. It's just a question of finding the right route.
  • The advantage of our zig zag approach is that we drive through a rural Turkey which is definitely off the beaten track and more accurately on a very bumpy one. We share the road with horse & carts, pass through villages with groups of men shading under the vine pergolas, see boys watching over their flocks and joy, oh joy, spot the first inhabited stork nest of our trip.
  • What magnificent birds they are. Storks visit Turkey every year between April & September. The eggs will probably have hatched by now but we only see Mum & Dad. Nests, which can weigh up to 250 kilos are built up on poles, around chimneys or mosque minarets. With up to a 2 meter wingspan, a nest at altitude not only affords a degree of safety from predators but also an easy take off when the storks go in search of food.
  • Bakucha vineyard is châteauesque in a modern sort of way. The Interior is better than the exterior suggests. It is busy with weekend trade. Young Turks with their small children are relaxing around the pool and drinking wine. No sign of Ramadan restraint here. There is a spa and of course in Turkey that must include a Hamam. The pool is a little fresh, presumably not heated, and SG is unsure whether to take a plunge.
  • We research the indigenous wines, sold under the Arcadia label. The Manager says around 40% is exported to a London distributor. The grapes are 'sustainably' cultivated and production is not supplemented by grapes from other vineyards.
  • The Istanbul chapter of the Rotary Club is here, a group of mainly Turks and a few Europeans who live long term in this country. They very kindly invite us to join them on a tour of the Arcadia winery. It is a small 'artisan' business that prides itself in high quality wines but production levels are relatively low. Arcadia is a comparatively young venture, one that has been undertaken with passion but also a great deal of scientific analysis.
  • Reference several times is made to the deteriorating political climate in Turkey and how it impacts a wine business which is producing evil stuff for 'non believers'. The cynical perspective is that it brings in high taxes. In 2011, shortly after the first bottling from this vineyard, the authorities banned internet sales and marketing of wine within Turkey. Arcadia can no longer advertise domestically, so no wonder it concentrates on export markets.
  • As we return to the truck parked up beside the vines, we fear the curse of Turkey has struck us once again. In 2010 our classic Ford car was hit and badly damaged by an errant sheep. The animal also came out of the collision pretty badly and the negligent shepherd went after compensation - for his sheep, not our car.
  • Then in 2014 on our London Sydney trip, AG was confined to hospital in Ankara for 5 days all because of a stupid elbow wound. The Turkish doctor probably saved his arm, if not his life, so we bear no grudge. But we yearn a smooth and uneventful passage through Turkey this time around. And for the truck to suddenly stop working, with no previous symptoms of malfunction seems unsurprisingly like a bad deal of fate.
  • To avoid delaying a large group of people from their wine tasting session, we urge the other cars to leave us to sort out the problem. So there we are, alone, locked in a vineyard, with a truck that has suddenly ceased to function.
  • Keep calm. Let's think about this rationally. God it's stressful. We have a 600 km drive tomorrow and we need to have a functioning truck!
  • Our 2006 Toyota truck is meant to be electronically simplistic. That's a plus point by the way. And here we are with an electrical problem we cannot solve. But hey, when computers behave similarly, what do we do? Apart from calling our personal technical support - we shut the damn things down completely, reboot & start again. SG suggests we do likewise and AG has the knowledge to do so. Disconnecting the battery, counting a minute and reconnecting is how we fix the situation.
  • At Bakucha we expect fine wines & mediocre food. But in fact we are treated to a 4 course taster menu with selected wines from the vineyard. We enjoy not only fine wines but also delicious food. This place is another little gem!

Queuing for the Turkish Border

Queuing for the Turkish Border

Bakucha Vineyard - Modern Chateauesque

Bakucha Vineyard - Modern Chateauesque

A Lovely Thought

A Lovely Thought

This is a Special Way of Cultivating the Vines called the Lyre Technique

This is a Special Way of Cultivating the Vines called the Lyre Technique

We Dread this Sight!

We Dread this Sight!

Posted by sagbucks 10:55 Comments (0)

Returning to Safranbolu

Day 11 Sunday June 4 2017
Bakucha Vineyard, Luleburgaz to Safronbolu / 576 km

  • Overcast & only 18 C as we leave the vineyard at 9 a.m.
  • AG pays the bill. It's all in Turkish & the receptionist speaks insufficient English to translate. We have no idea if it is correct. But it is less than was originally quoted for room & half board so we pay up. We were unable to use booking.com for this hotel reservation. There is no trip advisor rating either so they receive very few European visitors. A well kept secret. Maybe it's best to keep it that way.
  • It's a long drive today . That's often the way in SG's carefully planned schedule - a day of sightseeing followed by none, a short mileage journey preceding a long one. This truck trip has taken over a year of preparation - it is our unique route with most destinations especially selected.
  • We rarely return anywhere out of choice. But this evening is an exception. It almost feels like we are heading home. Safronbolu - a place we stayed on our London to Sydney adventure. A place that was meant to offer a 2 day stopover but which due to AG's arm infection was extended to several days. The manager of the hotel, Hassan, was extremely kind and drove AG to various clinics in an effort to get an accurate diagnosis and the correct medication. We hope that he is still there. AG did little sightseeing back in 2014. SG remembers the wonderful old Hamam and hopes to share that particular experience with AG this time around. In any case we have a rest day tomorrow in Safronbolu to recharge the batteries before the long Turkey leg of our journey.
  • We are feeling angry. We have just connected to the Internet and have heard about the London Bridge incident last night. Another act of terrorism on Mainland UK, more innocent lives lost. We're reasonable people and are willing to carry ID cards, be subjected to random searches, give the authorities power to take away British passports from those who are even 'petty terrorists' and to throw out of our prisons and deport those who have committed crimes on British soil but who are here illegally in the first place. Yes enough is enough.
  • Meanwhile en route to Istanbul and beyond, the 3 lane motorway is empty. Istanbul - there's no way round it since we are heading to Northern Turkey & the Black Sea coast. That's why it was and still is so strategically important. Being a Sunday we are hoping that traffic on the city ring road will be reasonably light. We have no intention of stopping in Istanbul. We are trying to avoid Turkey's potential hot spots of political protest.
  • Istanbul is one of the world's great cities. It is a metropolis of 15 million people that extends for miles. The motorway system around the city and leading across the Bosporus is first class. Large national flags dot the skyline, as do numerous mosques. Long stretches of the motorway banks & verges are cultivated ( you could say manicured) with specimen trees and flower beds actually in bloom. Yes there is money being spent on civic pride in this city.
  • The views from the road bridge across the Bosphorus are magnificent. Istanbul's old town hugs the waterside. The sun has now emerged and the water is a gorgeous colour -a true turquoise.

A colour forever associated with the Turks. Originally a French word meaning Turkish jewel because the turquoise stone was imported into Europe from Turkey. The first recorded use of turquoise as a colour in our English language was in 1573.

  • We have now crossed over the geographical border between Europe & Asia.
  • At our journey's 1/2 way point we stop at a Shell service station. A Starbucks beckons. This side of Istanbul we are seeing more women wearing headscarves. Worry beads or prayer beads take pride of place as an impulse purchase at the cash desk.
  • For several hundred kilometres we share the motorway route to Ankara before joining a more minor road ( still a dual carriageway ) & heading NE to Safronbolu. We drive through an extensive low lying mountain area that is deeply wooded. It starts to rain again and the temperature drops to 16 C! Somehow not very Turkey like. A reminder that this is a vast country with varied geography, vegetation and climate.
  • When we stop for our picnic lunch we realise the fridge is not working. This is a blow to our planned self sufficiency en route! It's another electrical problem in a vehicle that is meant to be electronically simplistic. The contents are smelling. The cheddar cheese from UK is maturing nicely and pungently.
  • 7 hours later we arrive in Safronbolu. AG is an amazing driver. But driving such distances is manageable when there are no traffic jams and carriageways are triple lane. The state of our UK motorway infrastructure is in contrast embarrassing. Only today we read that journey times on the M25 are getting slower. Don't we know it!
  • Our small hotel, the Gulevi, is a converted former Ottoman house & has not changed in 3 years. Nor has it been updated. It is still quite basic but the lovely garden is a real feature & hopefully the breakfasts too. If our memories serve us correctly.
  • It is quite cool - for Turkey - and rain showers continue intermittently for the rest of the evening.
  • We walk the short distance downhill into the old town of Safranbolu to re-acquaint ourselves with the layout, determine what we might do tomorrow and find a restaurant for supper.
  • It is Ramadan and many establishments are closed or not serving food until sunset when the local Mullah announces break fast time. Those who have fasted since sunrise will then tuck into the special meal of the day - 'iftar'.
  • A kindly Turkish man from Ankara, also a visitor to Safranbolu, recommends a restaurant. It is 7.30 pm and it is empty. The owner agrees to serve us and beckons us to a solitary table outside, We sit practically on the street. We choose from a limited menu and start to satisfy our hunger but not necessarily our appetite. We are surprised we are allowed to do so in full sight of fasting muslims. This is not the case in the Middle East during Ramadan. We wonder how long it will be until Erdogan decrees that Ramadan be more strictly observed by everyone in Turkey, including 'non believers'.
  • For the next hour we not only eat but watch the world go by. More and more Turks arrive at our restaurant, greeting each other warmly and taking a seat at the various vacant tables. This continues until every space is taken but still no one eats. Time is moving on, it is nearly 8.20 p.m. and now food is served to the tables. Everyone will eat the same. Still no one raises a fork or sips a drop of water. They are waiting for the Mullah to give the signal that the day's fast is over.
  • At around 8.30 the loud call to prayer resonates around the town. Finally everyone relaxes and starts to eat. This performance is repeated everyday throughout the month of Ramadan. A supper party with friends & relatives that lasts 28 days.
  • Previously such sounds & sights would have brought back happy memories of our 5 year posting to Muscat, Oman. We have lots of Ramadan stories to tell. But today after recent atrocities committed in London & Manchester in the name of Allah, we feel great sadness and not a little irritation, however unjustified it might be.
  • Back at our very quiet hotel ( we suspect we may be only guests ) we later hear the final call to prayer of the day to the nearby mosque. Earplugs in again tonight - but they are unlikely to work 100%. The Mullah is too loud and the mosques too numerous.

This Local Bakery Seems to be Baking Iftir Bread for All Safranbolu

This Local Bakery Seems to be Baking Iftir Bread for All Safranbolu

Safranbolu is Named After the Most Expensive Spice in the World

Safranbolu is Named After the Most Expensive Spice in the World

An Old Ottoman House in Need of Restoration.

An Old Ottoman House in Need of Restoration.

AG Awaits His Supper

AG Awaits His Supper

Posted by sagbucks 10:58 Comments (0)

Safranbolu Second Time Around

A wonderful relaxing day

Day 12, Monday June 5 2017
Safranbolu / 0 KM

  • The Gulevi Guest House is blissfully peaceful. No traffic noise. We are woken not by birdsong, but by the howling of the Mullah. Just as dawn is breaking, which is probably about 4 a.m. There is no escape. And his wail, expressed in several consecutive stances, interrupted by short periods of golden silence, seems tortuously long. We wonder how many pious souls actually get up to pray so early in the day. The rhythm of life in this part of the Muslim world has changed, perhaps the Mullahs should too.
  • We have a late start & leisurely breakfast - how rare. It is as delicious as we remember.
  • There is minimal sightseeing on the agenda. Just a self guided walk around town to see how Safranbolu has developed since our last visit 3 years ago. It hasn't really. If anything there are now fewer tourists. No doubt some have been discouraged due to the recent flare ups in various parts of Turkey and the changing political climate under the rule of Erdogan. Hassan confirms that this is indeed the case.
  • There are still many Ottoman style houses to be restored. It is work in progress.
  • We meander around town. We visit the bread shop that was so busy last night providing the townsfolk with their Iftir Pide. This morning there is calm. We note the huge marble slab in the centre of the shop for bread making. The bakers are loading a huge furnace with logs ready for today's batch.
  • We have a drink under the vine leaf pergola of a small restaurant / cafe that serves traditional Turkish coffee & mint tea. We went to the same cafe one evening last time and remember well hearing live music here. Apparently the local musicians play Thursday, Friday & Saturday.
  • The grape vine is a multi purpose crop. It produces a wonderful fruit for eating or drinking, abundant shade from the hot summer sun and of course the leaves are also used in Turkish cooking to wrap meat & vegetable mixtures.
  • Inside a jovial Turkish lady is busy making little pieces of stuffed pasta ( manta ) which she describes as Turkish ravioli. Her head scarf allows her to wedge her mobile against her ear to talk & work simultaneously.
  • We pass through the small 'light industrial ' part of town where they still craft metal household objects & tools. AG intends to take the truck's axe for sharpening.
  • We are by chance wearing a similar colour scheme today. We have a photo taken to commemorate. SG does some laundry. AG is desperate for clean clothes, SG not so. She admits that she has probably brought too many clothes on this trip, given that the climate is fairly consistent throughout. Perhaps an unwise confession to make.
  • Safranbolu is named after the saffron crop for which it was famous when the town was an active trading post on the Silk Road between 13C & 19C . Even today the town and a nearby village called Davutbasi produce between 8-10 kg of the stuff per year. That doesn't sound a lot but saffron is sold in minuscule amounts. Planting time of the crocus bulb is between August & September with the flower harvest between October & November.
  • Saffron is classified as a spice but it is said to be worth its weight in gold due to its properties as a powerful pigment. It can dye liquid, skin, hair and fabric up to 150000 times its own weight. That's why recipes advise you to use sparingly!
  • It is claimed that saffron has a multitude of different uses, the scope of which is,well, unbelievable: it renews cells, is a relaxant but also a stimulant, increases sexual power ( of course ) , calms nerves, improves intelligence, helps the heart, clears artery blockages, treats cancer, is used in cooking and in the manufacture of soaps, candles & Turkish Delight. Wow, no wonder it is so expensive.
  • There is no mistaking the market that the good people of Safronbolu are now targeting. We see much signage translated into Chinese & Japanese. Our Asian friends seem to love shopping here and they are still great fans of the Selfie Stick. It has always struck SG as being terribly narcissistic to travel abroad taking selfies everywhere.
  • After a simple light lunch at a restaurant that is open despite Ramadan, SG drags AG along for a Hamam experience in the old Cinci Hamam, built here in 17C.
  • It is segregated of course, so AG has a man on man experience which worries him.
  • SG remembers the Safranbolu Hamam as one of the cultural highlights of the London to Sydney trip in 2014. Today's experience is a good example why it is best never to return nor repeat. The hot marble slabs within the Hamam, which are a feature of Turkish bathing, are either deliberately not switched on or in disrepair. The sauna is luke warm. The exfoliation and soap massage are given on a bed of hard & cold marble. We emerge with cleaner skin that is several shades lighter and a great deal softer. But for SG it is a disappointment. AG is none the wiser since he was too ill last time around for a sweat & soap session at the local Hamam.
  • We are no longer the only guests in this charming Ottoman pension - a group of 5 Canadiand have arrived and we are gate crashing the supper that is being cooked for them tonight. We hope they don't mind.

Our Ottoman Pension

Our Ottoman Pension

A Typical Ottoman Seating Area in our Hotel

A Typical Ottoman Seating Area in our Hotel

An Old Ottoman Door

An Old Ottoman Door

Old Street of Safranbolu

Old Street of Safranbolu

A Happy Worker with her Mobile to Her Ear

A Happy Worker with her Mobile to Her Ear

Posted by sagbucks 11:01 Comments (0)

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