What do you do when you arrive in a new city at 6:00 a.m. and you can’t yet check into your hotel?
After fueling yourself at McDonald’s, you take a self-guided walking tour of course.
And that is exactly what I did when my bus pulled into the otogar in Trabzon, Turkey at 5:35 a.m., over an hour earlier than I anticipated. Then I arrived at my hotel to find the front door locked. As I sighed in exasperation, the owner of the fruit stand next door knocked on a window to wake someone up to let me in. The sleepy desk clerk told me a room should be ready by noon but as I gave him a really sad, pathetic look, he revised his estimate to 10:00. That gave me at least four hours to kill.
My guidebook was a savior and a nightmare at the same time.
This is one of those times when I was extremely grateful to have a guidebook with me. The hotel had no maps and it was far too early for the tourist information office to be open, so my self-guided tour was made possible 100% by my Rough Guide to Turkey. Ironically, it was also made 50% more difficult by the fact that the map in the book seemed horribly inaccurate and lacking a lot of street names.
I started by walking down a main, yet nondescript, street, looking for what appeared on the guidebook map to be a large mosque and square off to my right. Twenty minutes later, I had reached remains of the old town walls and realized I had gone way too far. So I improvised and decided to find the Gulbahar Hatun Mosque, the most important Ottoman mosque in Trabzon.
From there, I passed the Zagnos Tower at one end of the city walls and began to cross the Zagnos Bridge when I noticed an enormous park in the ravine down below (I would normally try to provide some fascinating information about the tower and bridge but my guidebook said very little and even a Google search came up empty).
I immediately found the stairs down to the park and spent the next hour or more exploring and taking pictures. Not even 7:00 a.m. with a slight drizzle falling from the cloudy sky, I had the park all to myself.
Or at least, I had it to myself until a flock of geese decided to appear to keep me company. And let me tell you, these were some of the most talkative, active geese I have ever seen. I probably spent 15-20 minutes just standing and watching them.
Eventually, I moved on, walking up the far side of the park to try to get a closer look at the remains of the Byzantine Palace that towered above. Unfortunately, I discovered that homes have been built all around, and even adjoining, the ruins and old city walls. The closest I got was standing in someone’s garden about twenty feet from the walls.
From there, I backtracked through the park and across the Zagnos Bridge and then to the Tabakhane Bridge. At that point, I tried to follow directions in my guidebook to find the 13th century Yeni Cuma mosque, formerly the Church of St. Eugenius. And while I tried valiantly, I did not end up anywhere near the mosque and somehow instead found myself back in the main square where I started my walk!
Trying to regroup, I headed up a nearby pedestrian street that was supposed to lead directly to the mosque and square I sought earlier. After a lot of wandering, I stumbled upon the mosque, stuck right in the middle of what would normally be a busy bazaar (it was Sunday so even if it wasn’t so early, many shops would be closed). Finally, I made a U-turn back to the main street and out of the corner of my eye, caught sight of the 9th century St. Anne’s Church – which pretty much wrapped up most of the main sites in the city center described in my book.
By that point, it was after 10:00 and I was completely exhausted. I was happy to have made the most of my morning to see quite a bit of Trabzon, but it was time for a nap!