If I ever visit Turkey again, I will head straight to the Black Sea, to a little seaside town called Amasra. Oh Amasra, even the name has a lovely ring to it. We only had one day with you! How hard it was to be content with that!
We took a day trip to Amasra from Safranbolu, a picturesque hillside village famous for Ottoman-style houses and Turkish delight. As soon as the mini-bus began the descent down the mountain and we spotted the glistening emerald waters of Amasra, my heart was taken.
The majority of tourists to Turkey head south to the Mediterranean. Understandably, the dramatic coastline of turquoise waters is breathtakingly beautiful. But we were curious to see the Black Sea and the prospect of visiting a less touristy part of the country was also enticing.
Ideally we wanted to stay right by the sea, but prices seemed expensive so we opted for a town nearby called Safranbolu. We later found out it is Lonely Planet’s number one pick for Turkey and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town was indeed lovely, boasting well-preserved houses from the Ottoman era, old mosques and a centuries old hamam (bathing house).
It also had an inordinate number of shops selling (and giving away free samples) of Turkish Delight. I had spent four days in Istanbul resisting the urge to eat Turkish Delight (its one of my weaknesses!) only to find that Safranbolu was famous for its Turkish Delight, in particular, one flavoured with saffron. Oh well, I better try that one – just the excuse I needed to indulge! In fact saffron was the village’s other claim to fame, having been a producer of the highly sort-after flower for centuries – hence the name of the town.
Amasra is a two-hour drive away through the dark-green forested mountains that the region is famous for. The town is situated on a small peninsula, small enough to explore in one day but pretty enough to make you want to stay longer. After walking through town, which is built around old castle ruins and lunch at a seaside restaurant, we joined the locals and found a rocky outcrop as our base for basking in the sun and diving in the sea.
I had read that the Black Sea is considerably colder than the Med and I am sure for most of the year it is probably icy. But on the day we visited it was warm and inviting and a gloriously deep greeny-blue colour like I had never swum in before. It was a delightful afternoon made even more so by making friends with some fellow swimmers.
A Turkish man, in very broken English started chatting with us. It was a stilted, difficult conversation but he continued to persevere, while his girlfriend looked on, seeming quite surprised of his English skills. We can’t remember his name, but have nicknamed him Benny, as it seems to suit his personality. The more we chatted it, the more we liked him. Not for anything he said but just his way. He seemed quirky and even a little eccentric in his unabashed friendliness.
But the sun was setting and we needed to go and have a bite to eat before catching the minibus back. So we bade our farewells and started walking up the path. Suddenly Benny was calling out to us to wait. We thought perhaps we had forgotten something. He and his girlfriend (her name was Aisha – I remember that) raced up to us and said – let’s all go for cay! (Turkish for tea).
Despite not having much time, we agreed and went to a little café with a divine view over the bay. I then attempted to chat more with Aisha. She didn’t speak a word of English but was very good at smiling and laughing so it didn’t seem to matter. We managed to find out that she was 33 and he was 45, they had been together for 10 years but weren’t married. Benny spoke for the both of them, and said they liked us. It could have been an awkward moment, but it wasn’t. We liked them too.
Benny refused to let us eat at the café, thinking we were paying too much, so drove us to his friend’s café for a better deal and then drove us to the bus station in time for our bus. We got there a bit early and watched the sunset together. We said goodbye like we were farewelling old friends even though we had only met a couple of hours before. Unfortunately we don’t have a photo of them together. Apparently their relationship is problematic with Aisha’s family (maybe because they haven’t married) so she was nervous about any photos, but we got these individual shots instead.
The trip to Amarsa was, as they say, short but sweet. Reflecting on the day during our journey home, I was touched by Benny and Aisha’s warmth and openness. It was refreshing to meet people able to cut straight through not just the language barrier, but the barriers of shyness and reservation that so often inhibit forming connections with strangers. Sometimes a genuine smile, laugh and twinkle in the eye can be all it takes.