Behind the scenes at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport, complete with emergency landings and drunk passengers. Today, 7.30pm, Bio.
In this madcap 2001 road movie, six teams race from Las Vegas to New Mexico to claim $2 million from a locker. Stars John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson. Today, 8.30pm, Showtime Greats. Susan Kurosawa about Dumb Things Black Sea People Have Done are staples of the Turkish press. (My favourite: the guy who died while trying to catch a refrigerator dropped by his brother from a second-floor balcony.)
Perhaps there is some subconscious jealousy at the root of these unkind generalisations because the Black Sea is host to one of the liveliest and richest cultures in the country. Black Sea food is famous for its complexity — the pickles are probably the best in the world — and the music of the region is jubilant and melodic (a welcome relief from the usual Turkish dirges). The folk dancing is a frantic, bottom-twisting proto hip-hop that has had a recent popular revival among the young.
If Black Sea people appear different from the foreign visitor, then it is not in their unique stupidity but their intense friendliness and apparent cheerfulness in a country where sullen introversion can often seem like a national prerogative.
Northeast of Zonguldak, outside the shabby Ottoman town of Bartin, the Black Sea coast arguably reaches the peak of its prettiness. At the centre of this region lies the town of Amasra, surely one of the most underrated destinations in Turkey. Comprising a curving peninsula, forming a natural double harbour, and an island connected to the mainland by an arched stone bridge of Roman construction, Amasra has the feel of Italy’s Amalfi coast, minus the overpriced coffees and sneering Eurotrash in Versace sunglasses.
Saved from overdevelopment by its relative isolation and, perversely, its lack of a good swimming beach, Amasra displays an unusual level of architectural sympathy in a country not noted for its talents in the field. Strolling along the waterfront, new vistas constantly open up: glassy lagoons reflect the sheer rocky cliffs; the Roman and Genoese ruins play peekaboo from behind red-roofed houses with rolling mountains beyond.
The serenity of Amasra is seductive, but for those with the eccentric antipodean yearning to swim in the ocean there are a string of equally lovely spots within a short drive or minibus ride.
About 15km from town is the beach of Bozkoy, an endearingly shabby string of tented tea houses and kebab stalls on the sand ringed by high, densely forested mountains. A little farther on is the hidden-away holiday town of Cakraz that, although little more than a strip of modest hotels along the white sand, has an atmosphere so gentle and beguiling you could easily find yourself staying here if the summer crowds at Amasra prove too much. Almost next door is Akkonak, an even smaller hill settlement with a keyhole bay where fishing boats rest and swimmers can glide in clear waters, bookended by dramatic headlands of red dirt and green pines.
From Amasra towards the city of Sinop, the landscape enters its most spectacular stretch. Spanning a little more than 300km, but taking at least three times longer to travel than you’d expect, the mountains in this section of the coast are almost Nordic in their vividness and immensity. Along almost the entire length of the coast soaring peaks come right down to the water’s edge, some sprouting waterfalls after rain, others lost in cascades of mist rolling down their face.
The journey is one of the most breathtaking in Turkey and not just for its beauty; I have experienced some hairraising bus rides in some highly unregulated parts of the world but travelling in a minibus at 80km/h on a precarious clifftop road, which regularly curves at 90 degrees and is often nothing more than a single lane, stays with me as an experience of almost transcendent terror.
After the nausea-inducing horrors of the mountain road, to arrive unharmed in the port city of Sinop comes as a relief. Established in the 7th century BC, Sinop seems to have a special place in the heart of Turks. To mention it is to be immediately informed of how lovely it is, how friendly, how civilised, even by those who have never been.
Happily, most of these reports appear to be accurate. A fishing town on a rocky promontory ringed by fortifications, Sinop has a mellow, almost Spanish, atmosphere. In the noon sun, the ancient fortifications make doubles in the silver sea. At night people stroll the harbour by the seafood restaurants while the fishermen, who have been drinking all day oblivious to, or uncaring of, the cheerless restraints of Ramadan, start to sing in the distance.
There’s nothing especially spectacular about Sinop: the beach is nowhere near the best in the region and by the harbour walls a mattress and styrofoam packing is washing up against the rocks. The sense of serenity, however, is palpable.
Staring out at the chilly water, protected by mountains, one can’t help but wonder whether the stupidest thing the locals could do would be to tell anyone about their piece of the world.
www.tourismturkey.org Susan Kurosawa’s on holiday.
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