Samsun to Sinop (Black Sea, Turkey)

I am reticent to leave Samsun. I really like this town and the Hotel Necmi. It’s relaxing and easy going. But I must head west towards Istanbul if I am to make my flight home on Friday. It’s already Sunday and this next section of road along the Black Sea could take me a while. Besides, I don’t want to rush. I decide to head to Sinop. It’s said to have some historic buildings and a castle wall. That’s good enough reason for me. It’s also the only Black Sea town within a day’s drive of me because the next towns after that are on a long slow section of reportedly twisting road that takes all day to drive. So Sinop it is.

The drive itself is slow going. It’s always slow going here in Turkey when you drive. At home, 100km (62 miles) on a highway will take you an hour, give or take 5 minutes. But here, the same distance takes over 100 minutes because your average driving speed will be less than 60kph. That’s because you can only go 90kph on the highway sections and then 70kph and 50kph through towns. That’s before you factor in the road blockages caused by the incessant way Turkish people feel the need to double park. Apparently, here, hazard lights mean you can just stop traffic. It’s crazy. At times like these I miss my bicycle because at least then I could see things and feel the air as I travel so slowly (granted, 100km on a bicycle does take me 1 – 1.5 days).

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But I do get to see the Black Sea. Today it’s not that black. Oh, by the way, that little creature is Tozzie. He’s been traveling with me since Malaysia and was a gift from a friend. He has his own Facebook page that he keeps updated. The landscape here is also much greener than down south. If I hadn’t come here, I might have thought that all of Turkey was either rocky mountains or treeless golden fields. But it’s actually also got these incredible green mountains dotted with villages rather like Austria does (but with minarets instead of churches).

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About 3 hours after I left Samsun I arrive in Sinop to navigate my way through a maze of narrow paved streets not designed for modern motor vehicles. I do a big loop and park in an otopark near the entrance to the town. Had I realised it would cost me just 4TL ($AU2) for the day I would have just parked there in the first place. D’oh.

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Sinop is an old town on a promontory jutting out into the Black Sea. It has a long history, having been occupied by the Hittites who established settlements in Turkey in the 16th-14th centuries BCE. It is surrounded by a fortress, which dates back to the 7th Century when the Ancient Greeks came here from Miletos (remember, I went there earlier in my trip – feels like a lifetime ago to me).

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The old fortress walls still dominate the city today.

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But for all intents and purposes, this is a fishing town with an active fishing port complete with ship repairers and dry dock. Well, big area adjacent to the port where people have taken boats out of the water to work on them. Don’t picture anything fancy by the dry dock. There are also heaps of fish mongers in the main street of the town competing with patisseries for the highest number of shops. The fish are mostly small like sardines and sell for about 10TL ($A5) per kilogram.

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But none of this fascinates or draws me as much as the old prison does. Inside the inner wall of the Sinop fortress stands a dark and fearsome place. Razor wire and thick high walls protected those outside from those within.

The inner fortress was already used as a dungeon for centuries before the prison proper was built in 1887. Records show the dungeon was used as early as 1568. Back then, people were sent to the dungeon for the most heinous crimes of murder and treason but also for opposing the rulers of the day through poetry and speeches. It is said that those who were sent here never left alive. As I stand at the entry to the dungeon, I am certain that some never left even after death for there’s an eerie feeling like people are inside the room as I stand by the doorway.

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The main prison, built in 1887, conforms with the U-shaped style popular in that era. The prison was damp and cold. It is said that lighting a match was nearly impossible, particularly in the cold moist winters. Even the colouring of the exterior walls looks frightening.

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The juvenile prison was added in 1939. Walking through this place is the scariest part of the prison experience. On the upper level a window bangs open and closed in the wind. It only starts when I enter the upper level; I can’t hear it banging as I walk up the stairs and it stops when I leave. There are also footsteps quietly shuffling on this floor. But I am alone here in the cell block. I have had similar ghostly experiences in other historic prisons I have visited. Not everywhere but just in some parts of the prisons. When I walk down the stairs here the window stops until I stop to write down some thoughts part-way down the stairs. The window bangs louder up in the cells above until I move on. Perhaps it’s my imagination. Or maybe there are ghosts who haunt this place like they do the dungeon. The lower floor and the main prison are calmer. They feel somehow lighter. As though too many tourists pass through here for the ghosts to stay. Only the yard with the basketball hoop has an ominous sensation.

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Prisons fascinate me. Corrections and criminology were my first study at university and I still have an interest in them. I feel drawn to prisons and police stations. Not for the stories of the prisoners or police officers themselves but for the broader sense of how we’ve dealt with people who acted outside the laws of the day and what we can learn from that history.

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I leave Sinop and drive a little way west in search of a camping ground. It has good reviews online but the season is over and the camping is closed. I drive on to see what other place might be suitable for me to throw my bivy bag but it starts to pour with rain. So I book an apartment for a good price and head back to Sinop to check in. The apartment is huge (only because I insisted the manager of the building give me one with kitchenette like the Booking.com site said was included with the room) and I enjoy having a separate living and sleeping area. And I sit back, relax and accept that I am not a hardcore adventurer who chooses to sleep rough when there’s another option available. Especially at the price I got this place for.

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