When I awoke, I was greeted by the sounds of seagulls and waves crashing on the shore below my window. The drapes in the room fluttered in the breeze through the window that had been blown open by the previous night’s storm. I was still wearing my dirty jeans and ragged shirt that I had been wearing since I left Tbilisi. When a beam of light hit the right angle to blind my left eye, I decided it was time to rise and shine, and to head down to see what kind of place I had landed in during the dark and stormy night.
When I looked out the window, it was blue water for miles. And I don’t mean blue water in the way people say blue to describe the ocean that’s more of a dark green. I mean blue. Like the hotel was on the shell of a robin’s egg, ships and boats making zigzagged white lines across it.
When I went downstairs, the guy who had been at the desk the night before was there again. He invited me down for breakfast, which I initially turned down, because, y’know, money. He informed me that it was complimentary for hotel guests, and I turned on my heel and followed him to the tables outside.
Each was occupied by families on vacation. Kids ran around and couples laughed. I got a few looks from the ones who noticed me, but they were mostly looking a little sad for the lonely guy. I was told later on that I look like I possibly could look Black Sea Turkish, so maybe I would’ve blended in if I weren’t looking so dirtbaggy. Whatever. I’d gotten used to much more obvious staring, so I hardly noticed. Especially when my friend at the desk brought out the complimentary feast fit for a low-budget king.
There was a lot of stuff I’d never even heard of, much less seen, but it was the first substantial meal I’d had since I left Tbilisi. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would also be the last meal I’d get until I got to Istanbul.
I sat by the water for awhile, working my way through the food that had been given to me. Things had definitely taken a turn from the general rattiness of the last couple months. Gone were the days of saving my stale bread and crackers when I wasn’t sure where the next meal was coming from. It was a gift from the Travel Gods, and I was sure to enjoy it.
When the sun started to rise a little higher, I decided it was time to get moving on seeing what I could of Sinop. I was due at the bus station at 6:00 PM for my bus to Istanbul, so I had the next eight hours to cover as much ground as possible.
Luckily, Sinop is situated on a peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea, so I always had a good frame of reference for getting around. My hotel was on the beach on the mainland, with a road leading from it all the way to the point of the peninsula and back, so all I had to do was drop off my backpack behind the desk and head out, camera in hand.
At the base of the peninsula, most of the buildings were pretty bare. They all converged on a central road that ran down the center of the peninsula, as it was thinnest closest to the mainland. Most of the time, I could see the sea on both sides if the buildings allowed it. Beach towels hung from every balcony. The sidewalks were a constant stream of people, a mixture of flip-flops, swim trunks, and hijabs, coming and going from the beaches.
The further down the main road I went, the more packed everything became. There was a long gap once the peninsula narrowed out, occupied by a gas station, military post, and a crumbing old fortress, all waving the Turkish flag proudly.
Immediately after, the road entered downtown Sinop, a slot canyon maze of narrow alleys and tall buildings. One long road, lined with Turkish flags, was the main thoroughfare, crowned with a massive banner displaying the face of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Every so often, tall minarets jutted up from the rooftops in typical Turkish fashion. Crowds were gathered outside many store fronts, coming and going from their daily errands. Honestly, it was surprising. Turkey has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit, and when I’d tell people that in the US, a lot of them would insist that Turkey isn’t safe, citing some travel advisory issued by the Department of State.
Of course, I consciously knew that it was all bullshit and I had already been through places a lot sketchier than anything Turkey could throw at me (except maybe down south near Syria). But Turkey is a place that, in the news, is often at odds with the US. We aren’t exactly buddy-buddy, and a lot changed in the months after my visit that changed my perception of the country, but once again, the reality didn’t match the narrative.
My whole day in Sinop was a string of positive interactions with people, and though the Turkish government has a lot to be criticized for, Turkish people are lovely. Walking around Sinop was the first time in awhile that taking photos felt fun again, and I took as many as possible despite the harsh light making it a challenge.
I stopped by an ATM on the main road before heading down to the water, and finally came to realize my mistake. I opened a bank account with a new bank before leaving the US, as my current one was positively awful for travel. However, I elected to leave the bulk of my money in my savings account there, transferring only what I needed when I needed it. The issue with that strategy, though, is I had to anticipate when I’d need money because transfers between banks were held for four days. In Sinop, I realized I hadn’t anticipated the need and when I stood at that ATM, I got the dreaded message: Insufficient Funds.
I stood a moment and counted the change in my pocket. I needed wifi to make a transfer. From that moment on, my day in Sinop turned into a hunt for a cafe with wifi so I could fix my mistake. I went straight to a cafe down by the water and spent literally my last few cents on a cup of tea to get wifi access so I could remedy the situation.
Once that was finished, I went down to the water and sat on a bench to contemplate the logistics of the next day, now that I had to wait until I got to Istanbul to get more money. I thanked my lucky stars that I had had the foresight to pay for a bus ticket before leaving the station the night before, or I might’ve been stuck.
Once I had time to wallow in my misfortune and curse myself for being so inattentive, I decided it was time to get back to exploration. There was nothing more to do now than to take more photos, and to plan to allow myself an extra two hours to make the hike to the bus station, since I couldn’t afford a taxi anymore.
Looking around from my bench of despair, coastal life went on around me. There were families laying on towels above the rocky coast. A guy cracking open oysters and tossing them into a bucket. Fat old Turkish men with leathery tan skin worked on their boats. It was the sort of vibe I hadn’t felt since my family used to visit Port Clyde, Maine to visit my Great-Uncle. Though I don’t remember much about Maine, the feeling of a seaside community is universal. Of course Turkey, like everywhere else, adds its own layers to make the familiar vibe distinctly its own.
The vast majority of photos I took in Sinop revolved around the coastlines, because, to be honest, not a lot was happening in the interior of the city. I sat down at the coast for awhile before continuing further up the road, which wound up the hill into the city. The further I got from the water, the less people I saw, until I was overlooking the city with only the wind and a dog that was following me for company.
Before the road circled up onto the ridge of the peninsula, I had to walk through the fringes of the beachgoing crowds. There was a door under a wall of flowers and ivy that I turned to take a photo of, and before I could, I heard a kid say something to me in Turkish. It must have been something like, Take my photo, bro, because he immediately rolled through the frame on his bike with a big smile on his face.
I continued along the road, which started to gain a bit of elevation above the coast. On the northern tip of the peninsula, most beachgoers were alone in rocky grottoes, relaxing, working on their boats, or swimming. The peninsula was more forested and less developed here, and watching the woods revealed all sorts of little hidey-holes.
Once I got into the interior of the city, it was empty. Everyone was down by the water. Sinop is a city that knows how to chill. They’ve got it down to a science. The little hideouts in the woods above the water are evidence of that. Making forts in the woods might be child’s play in some places (ahem, America), but not here. And that gets Sinop some serious points in my book. Ever since I left my cozy second-floor balcony in Kathmandu, I’ve kept a mental log of the places that match that relaxing vibe, and most of them are in Sinop. I mean look at this!
Yeah. Sinop knows what’s up.
Above the city, the best thing was the view of what was below. I kept winding my way upwards, until there was a sea of orange rooftops below me and the entirety of the Black Sea beyond. I was mainly there to find another mosque to photograph, but I wanted to see every angle of the city. The road circled right back to the city center anyway.
I meandered down, snapping photos of what I could and checking the time to make sure I wasn’t in danger of missing my bus. Time was dwindling and it was time to be making my way back. The sun was starting to lower in the sky, and I still had to find my way to the bus station on foot.
Once back in the part of the city that was actually busy, I slowed down a little to take in a little more of what was around me. The constant movement was almost at an end. Istanbul was going to be my last major stop because after that was Europe! I got off the plane in Beijing, and now I was twelve hours from Europe. That’s pretty nuts.
In my last walk through the city, I snapped a few more photos and then put my camera away for good. There was officially no more time to lose.
To the Otogar
When I got back to the hotel, I thanked my host and got my backpack as I asked for the best — and cheapest — way to the bus station. Taxis were out, and I didn’t really have the time to figure out and wait for a local bus that might stop there. So, when in doubt, walk it.
I shouldered my pack and set off up a steep road. The Black Sea coast of Turkey is pretty mountainous, so I literally had to hike up and over a mountain to get to the station. Ordinarily, three miles is nothing. But three miles on country back roads straight up a mountainside with a heavy pack? Yeah, that sucked.
I had plenty of time to beat myself up over running out of cash as I hiked up the mountain, past farmhouses, the occasional mosque, and a graveyard. I had to stop and rest several times. Once I got to the crest of the mountain, I was hit by the rays of the setting sun and the golden countryside sprawling to the south. I wish I had my camera out for this, but I was on a mission and the clock was ticking.
The way down the other side was much faster. The only obstacle that remained was an eight-lane highway that I would have to Frogger my way across. Nothing I didn’t do ten times a day in Kathmandu. Except this time the traffic was 100% buses and each step was an ordeal after climbing the mini-mountain behind me. But clearly I survived to tell the tale as I’m writing this now, and 30 minutes later, I was changing out of my sweat-soaked clothes behind a pillar at the bus station.
Next stop, Istanbul, and my momentous entry into Europe!