The locals in Safranbolu were equally welcoming, in a warm and unaffected way. The village is a UNESCO site and has the best preserved collection of Ottoman buildings in Turkey.
The architecture is interesting, but moreover the village has a quiet feel and most of the tourists are “locals” – or at least domestic tourists, from Istanbul. Oh, and the Japanese, of course. The word Safranbolu comes from Saffron. The town was well known for producing the valuable spice, and a lot of the local economy is still based on it, but nowadays it’s mostly used in sweets and perfumes for sale to tourists.
We didn’t buy any of that, but we did go to the local 300-year-old hamam and had a scrub-down and a massage from two plump topless middle-aged Turkish men with oversized moustaches. It’s what you do, when you’re in Turkey. Besides, it’s cheap. I slept well, that night.
Another day, another place. Amasra is a little port town on the Black Sea, where we’d sworn we would go fishing. We found a very odd kitsch little homestay with pink walls, run by a middle-aged woman who told us all about a local singer who had been very famous but died in a car accident. Later we saw his statue down on the promenade. Our mission: to fish.
We found out that a man called Junger Mehmet could help us, for a price. We searched for him in the port, but the cops were soon onto us. Mehmet, a slightly morose young off-duty police officer who spoke some English, helped us find the other Mehmet and we got into his rowing boat and headed out into the bay, me, Josh and the two Mehmets. Seaman Mehmet was 79 and had lived here all his life, much to his disappointment. Policeman Mehmet also seemed a bit fed up, but we found the place beautiful and rowing around the bay was peaceful.
The fishing wasn’t up to much. The bay was full of jellyfish, and between us we only caught one fish, about 8cm long. On the way back, we caught sight of some dolphins, which made up for the lack of fish. Policeman Mehmet took us to a local restaurant for a more reliable fish dinner, and told us about his dog and how he likes to go hunting with his shotgun. He excused himself after the meal, and headed home to feed his dog, or to get away from us.
We plunged into the next encounter. Up the street, a middle-aged hippy in a singlet, with a long beard and obscenely short shorts, greeted us in English. Josh got into a conversation with him, covering space ships, Shakespeare and the man’s life in Turkey and Germany, and I played my oud to a couple of delighted local shop keepers. We came away with a scarf and a necklace each and some videos of a very strange guy ranting about nothing in particular. Amasra will stick in my mind as one of the odder experiences of this trip.
Back to Istanbul on another overnight bus. Triumphantly picked up our visas for Uzbekistan. Bought bus tickets to Ankara, and train tickets to Kars. That’s where we’re heading now… We have been on a train for 25 hours, sleeping in our little compartment, studying Russian and gazing out the window at the bare grassy plains and distant mountains covered in snow. We went along the Euphrates river for a while; it was odd to think that my sister lives in Kuwait, at the other end of that river. Just a little canoe ride away…
We’ll head into Georgia tomorrow, maybe in the early hours tonight. I’ll miss Turkey. It’s nice to leave a place with a feeling of contentment spiced with just a tiny bit of regret that you can’t stay longer. I’ll be back here, I’m sure. The music, if nothing else, will bring me back. But the warmth and openness of the people is what draws me the most.