Thursday, May 10, 2018

Minsk to Turkey

Yesterday was a big holiday in Belarus, and almost all businesses were closed. As a result, I had the unusual pleasure of seeing some very busy friends together. My friend Katya moved off to the Philippines and married a guy named Paul, whom I had yet to meet. But Paul came to Belarus for the first time on May 8, and on the 9th Katya brought him to Gorky Park along with her best friend and others close to them. We had a great time wandering around the park and generally just being together.

I had to leave before I wanted to because I had to catch a flight. Once aboard the plane I intended to read my book, but I ended up with such an interesting travelling companion that I didn’t even think of it again. I had a musician turned scientist, who is presently pursuing a hobby in photography with the same scientific zeal that got her to where she is professionally. She’s absolutely fascinating. She was on her way to Boston, and reports that during her layover Turkish Airways put her in a beautiful four-star hotel at Taksim. I should have let Turkish Airlines find me a hotel when I flew that route. I had no idea they’d be so generous.

Meanwhile, I flew on to Trabzon; where I expected to meet a new friend from my last visit to Turkey. Öznur is a graduate student about to defend her dissertation, but she took time off to show me her home region. Unfortunately, she got overwhelmed by professional responsibilities at the last minute and couldn’t get free when she expected to, so I started out to see Trabzon on my own.

I had a little trouble launching my tour of the city. In the first place, very few people here speak any English. In the second place, I hadn’t put any serious effort into my contingency plan, figuring that somebody at the hotel could give me a few pointers if necessary. Expecting Öznur at any minute, I didn’t want to do anything she might want to show me later, and I went down to walk along the seashore. It smells like sewage down there, and there are lots of foul pipes dumping into the sea. I saw fishermen, but I’m not so sure about those fish. I wasn’t tempted to order any today.

Returning from my seaside walk, I passed an abandoned construction site and took pictures of the pile of dirt, suspecting that my Trabzon city album would come to tell a dark tale. Fortunately, my next destination changed the mood. I took a shuttle bus (like a Russian marshrutka) to Boztepe, where there’s a beautiful tea garden with a spectacular view over Trabzon and the sea. Then when I went back down I ate dinner at Maidan, the main city square with a beautiful park. By the time I finished, Öznur arrived and took me off to see a different view of the city.

Öznur is great, filled with kindness and practicing an open-minded curiosity. We visited some tour agencies and talked about what we should see in the coming days. Then she took me off to look for a wedding gift for a couple of my friends, to explore some very cute and hidden corners of the city, to eat baklava and to visit a mosque. I asked for the visit to the mosque, which somehow meant more to me than the other mosques I’d visited. I think the difference was in part Öznur’s reverence, and her translation as we approached of what the Imams were singing. We have three interesting days ahead of us.

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