I wake in my monastic room at the absolutely delightful Hotel Necmi and start the day with a run along the Black Sea followed by a delightful breakfast served by the hotel owner. I love that pretty much every hotel in Turkey includes breakfast and that the breakfast is always good. Today I go out exploring the streets of Samsun. It’s all I want to do; just meander around taking in the atmosphere. Here’s what I see and experience.
Men run around carrying delicate tulip tea cups with a single cube of sugar balanced on a small cover over each cup. The cups are carried on special trays with round handles. The men are quick, nimble and look like they never spill a drop. They seem to only serve men. And the men they serve sit on stools outside their shops drinking tea and smoking cigarettes.
This is a city of contrast. Women in traditional dress brush shoulders with their modern counterparts who wear tight jeans and long hair. Modern supermarkets sell vegetables while a huge traditional market sells more local produce at a cheaper price.
Chestnuts are cooked in handcarts on street corners, proving once again that this country is more Asia than Europe. And, as if to confirm the continental status, an old lady holds up her hand to stop traffic rather like the Korean grandmas did a year ago in that far off land. Speaking of traffic, drivers double park with hazed lights flashing as though that excuses their blocking the single lane alleyways and holding up traffic.
I’m no longer in Tourist Turkey and firmly entrenched in the Land of Locals. “Where are you from?” the men all ask in their thick Turkish English. “Australia.” “Harry Kewel” they always say. I smile and say “yes, Harry Kewel”. I’m sure they think I know anything more than his name … But I don’t. Haha.
Cats sit on cafe seats as if they own the place.
The mosques make their presence known through the calls to prayer and the tall spires of their minarets.
Old men polish shoes and boots on portable stands. Their clients seem to be from the older generation too. But it might be that the younger men are working on this blue-sky Saturday.
And this sandwich with chicken, pickles, tomatoes and home made sauce set me back all of 3TL ($AU1.50).
It’s not all good here though. Syrian refugees sit on the side of the roads. Not as many as in Bodrum but a few with signs in Turkish asking for money. The word Syria translates easily. A man and woman sit on the footpath. Their heads hung in shame. It must be awful to lose everything through no fault of your own and to become stateless in a world where you need a state to have a future. I feel my heart open and a sense of shame fill me for having been so negative about the refugee crisis from the security of the far flung island nation on which I live. It is a human tragedy that so many people have been displaced. So many families torn apart by war. So many men, women and children now homeless. And so many souls traumatised by the experience of first war and then the quest for safety. I leave some money on the couple’s mat. It’s a large blue bill but it still feels stingy given all blessings that I have.
I go to the shopping centre because that’s something I like to do at least once in each country. It’s not travel unless you’ve seen both traditional and modern. I buy gear for our winter trip to Europe: fleece lined trousers and winter boots.
And then I indulge in my favourite pastime: the cinemas. I watch The Walk in 3D. It’s a wonderful movie about commitment, passion and perseverance. The seats are comfortable and the quality of the cinema brilliant. Mind you, this is a brand new shopping mall so that’s probably why. Half way the film stops and advertisements start. They have a half time break in Turkey. Wonderful because I was busting for the bathroom but didn’t want to miss the movie. If you travel, go to the movies along the way. It’s actually fascinating to see how different the experience is in each country.
The movie ends after dark. I walk the 2.5km back to my hotel, taking detours and back roads as I find myself distracted by the sights. The sound of dice and backgammon pieces competes with the call of the mosque. When I stop in a bakery to buy a treat there is a policeman standing there. He steals a small chocolate eclair pastry and hands it to me with a wink then leaves. The chocolate mousse cake that I buy is divine. Back outside the contrasting life goes on. Modern shops sell fashion brands while some street vendors sell socks from carts. How I love this place where East and West collide. It’s like being in a fantasy world where everything is possible and anything might happen.