Fresh from securing the Iranian visa I should have been heading East today, which doesnt explain why I woke up that morning still wondering whether I should go North West or South West. Though the quick turn around in Erzurum had certainly been a blessing, the surrounding snow had made me acutely aware of my tardy progress. Nevertheless, I had debated until the very last moment my next move and decided that some things just had to be done schedule or no schedule. So I jumped on a coach to Trabzon.
It was a bit of a triple whammy with Trabzon. Not only was it allegedly a really happening town on the alluring Black Sea but it was the journey itself which promised to be interesting. It lay separated from the central plain by some very big mountains and the only way through them was a superb scenic drive, sometimes quite literally through them. That day I passed through 2 tunnels each over a mile long. For reasons mentioned later it also fitted in nicely with my master plan. The snowclad slopes which had surrounded Erzurum on the horizon now approached to encircle the coach and soon we were climbing past giant swathes of virgin snow on massive rolling mountains. Known as the Of Mountains, at first I compared them to the Rockies, then later as we descended it became almost like Arizona. Bayburt was a pleasant enough town dominated by a terrific crest top fortress and later Gumushane proved to be a wee gem. The boxy functional dwellings could be forgiven of any aesthetic lacking by the spectacular setting of the settlement, jammed along a narrow V shaped valley which rose sheer both sides of the road and river. The petrol station had only been fitted in by squeezing it under the overhang of a towering cliff. Another crazy snaking climb later and we were in a very different world, this one like Switzerland, all snowy pine clad ridges and sporadic chalet like housing. For miles further, all mans influence could muster was the scar of the road blasted severely from the slopes of towering peaks. At 2030 metres we hit the highpoint at Zigate Pass and entered one of the long tunnels. We exited to immediately confront a massive recent rockslide, blocks as big as tenements smashed over the road. Miraculously it had happened at one of the very few points where a diversion was possible but it was pretty unnerving to continue under the same impending threat. Switzerland eventually melted back into Turkey and pretty soon I had my first peek of the Black Sea coast. I had been kept company by Mevlet, a Solid State Physicist from the University of Kars who had done his PhD in the States and therefore had excellent English, I bored him to death with politics no doubt. I also ran into a fox (quite literally, the coach just missed it) and many birds of prey.
Since the opening up of the Soviet Union, nearby Trabzon had become a boomtown full of traders with a reputation for Russian gangsters and Natashas (whores). The city centre of narrow cobbled streets was constantly heaving and you didnt walk anywhere, you jostled. Similarly the traffic was just one slowly crawling queue and if a stretch of empty road ever materialised it was pounced upon as if by rabid wolves. Perhaps it had always been like this but I was amazed at how Western the place was too. It was the most affluent, dynamic town I had seen in Turkey and the people also looked thoroughly European. The majority of headscarves had been left at home, in fact the women were dolled up and classily dressed and it got my vote as the sexiest town in Turkey too, they were a bunch of honeys. I saw not one single woman in Purdah all the time I was there. It even had places which vaguely resembled pubs, and I treated myself to a real pint for the first time in ages.
The suitably grungy looking Toros Hotel was very central but the young moron on the desk could barely be bothered to sort me out. After sooking a fag down his neck in record time he decided that Israeli was a close enough description of my nationality, the computer listed every country in the world but in no particular order. I wondered how much business they got from the The British Indian Ocean Territory. I grabbed the mouse and eventually checked myself in, I grudged him the business but as part of the bargaining process he had shown me room 101, I thought it was worth it just for the 1984 reference. I subsequently found a beer shop, internet and a laundrette (rare as golddust) in the same street, if only it was always this easy. It had taken us a bit longer than expected to arrive in Trabzon due to the dodgy roads but I tried to make the most of it with a 4K trip out to the Aya Sofya, a Byzantine church built around the year 1250 and famed for its now sadly fading frescoes. Its front facade also showed the stages of the lives of Adam and Eve and it had a belltower added later in the 15th century.