On Wednesday we visited Trabzon’s main attraction: Sumela Monastery. Without a guide because there are no English-speaking guides to be found in Trabzon during the tourist off-season.
We were picked up at 9:45am by a well-dressed, handsome young man in a small hatchback car and taken to the office of the tour company where we boarded the van. This was as the tourist agency had arranged for us. The bus wound its way through the winding, hilly, narrow, cobblestone streets of Trabzon picking up people here and there and then headed out of the city…until it reached our hotel at 10:30am. Where we picked up a young couple (who we found out later were from Dubai).
That’s right, we could have simply waited at the hotel to be picked up for the half-day excursion, and saved us and the young man some time and gas.
The former Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary is perched on the side of a mountain in what is now a national park. The road to the monastery is winding and steep. I told my wife, “See, we could have easily rented a car and done this ourselves.”
Judging by the number of cars with license plates that read “Touring and Automobile Club of the Islamic Republic of Iran” making their way up to the monastery, I’d say it was doable. There were many tourists from Iran making the trip to the monastery.
The toddler in the front row of the van puked once on the ride up to the monastery and once on the way down from the monastery. The driver had to make an unexpected stop on the way up as the father of the puking toddler had to dump the plastic bag filled with puke into a garbage bin outside a small shop.
On the way up the mountain we stopped next to a waterfall where we took several pictures. Here’s Henry and me.
From there we could just barely see the monastery way up on the mountain side.
Then we stopped at a point that provides a good view of the monastery as it clings to the mountain side.
The small parking lot for the monastery is a 300 meter hike from the monastery entrance. It’s a path that’s, thankfully, fenced and rises up and down several times and is overgrown with tree roots in some spots. The kids liked climbing those.
The monastery is a wonder of beauty and engineering. The frescoes inside the chapel are in excellent condition. If you look closely you can see where the current frescoes were put on plaster placed over even older frescoes. This is one of those cases where I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
There are the usual gouged-eyes when the people came in and freaked out over all the eyes. So there plenty of eyeless apostles, saints, and whatnot. (You can never underestimate the power of human superstition, whether it’s the belief that depicting human eyes is evil or that vaccines cause autism.)
The kids did some goofing around.
Stephanie posed with the enormous landscape behind her.
When we had finished exploring the monastery we went to the gift shop. We bought ice cream for the kids and tea for myself. We sat at a table and enjoyed the view over-looking the valley below.
Back at the hotel, when we asked the kids what their favorite part of the day was, both Henry and Meredith said eating ice cream at the monastery. Yes, ice cream. We take them to the Black Sea coast, show them the beautiful countryside, take them to one of the most unique monasteries in the world, and their favorite thing was ice cream.
Why are we dragging our children all over Turkey?