ISTANBUL: For those looking to escape the busy streets of Istanbul, Karadeniz and Safranbolu prove to be a great excursion as I found out after spontaneously deciding to go on a road trip while crossing the Bosporus
It was a rather hot day as me and a couple of friends jumped in a car and were headed down the crowded Istanbul highway to grab a cup of tea by the Bosporus – something that we hadn’t done in quite a while. While we did eventually get that cup of tea an hour later – or rather Turkish coffee as we changed minds – what had happened was a spur-of-the-moment road trip had settled in our hearts, but where to go? Well, Safranbolu of course!
Around Istanbul, there are plenty of locations that can be reached within a day’s journey, from the majestic landscapes of Çanakkale, to the rather flat fields of Edirne, and the forests and lakes and nature galore of Bolu and its surrounding region. However, the Karadeniz region has always been a soft spot for me with its mountainous scenery making the road part of the road trip a uniquely enjoyable aspect as the roads wind that way and this with the rocky terrain on one side and the ever-daunting Black Sea on the other.
Sublime beauty of Karadeniz
There is a term in the English vocabulary in philosophy that perfectly captures the feeling of journeying through Karadeniz: “Sublime” – a quality of greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. Sublimity carried such importance in the English Romantics as 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke explained beautifully in his works. The mountains of Karadeniz with their imposing grandiosity alongside the Black Sea, which stands as a sleeping monster that could awake at any moment fills one with awe and a feeling that can best be described as sublime.
So, we decided that we wanted to at least see a bit of Karadeniz. Our spontaneous plan was to drive to Ereğli – almost 45 kilometers (28 miles) southwest of Zonguldak – rest for the night and continue eastward from there as we would come down to Karabük’s famous Safranbolu from the north.
We quickly called the “öğretmenevi” in Ereğli – which literally means “teachers’ house.” These are basically hotel establishments that can be found in every city in Turkey that offer special prices to teachers and their immediate relatives. However, you don’t need to be a teacher to book a stay, you just don’t get the teachers’ discount. The same goes for other hotel establishments in Turkey that offer special discounts to doctors and police officers. Even without the discount, these hotels are quite affordable and great if you’re in a hurry.
Journeying out of Istanbul
We set out from Istanbul after finishing our coffee by the Bosporus, which I don’t recommend highly if you’re the sort of person that doesn’t enjoy crowded venues as the Bosporus is jam-packed with people.
Now, on a quick side note, it wasn’t until we had crossed the Bosporus and were on our way to have coffee that I realized I had forgotten my wallet at home. If you ever find yourself in the same type of a pickle, here’s what I learned from spending two days without my wallet: Don’t forget your wallet! Fortunately, in most gas stations you can pay using your phone with a QR code if your bank’s app has implemented such a method. Mine had, so I did most of my shopping – and also bought gas for the car – using this technique, and for everything else thankfully my friends had not forgotten their wallets.
It takes between four and five hours, depending on the time of day that you set out, to reach Zonguldak from Istanbul, which is a 360-kilometer drive. Multiple drivers are recommended for such excursions as it can be very tiring to drive for hours, but personally I quite enjoy the long drives so I wasn’t going to give up the wheel. There is a serenity to driving long roads that can be found in very few other things, especially if the roads are enjoyable to drive on and the scenery is a feast for the eyes.
Although I enjoy the long drive, I do recommend planning your road trip so that you are on the road during daylight – unlike us who set out during the evening and spent the night driving. It was already past midnight by the time we reached Ereğli and the city was asleep. We drove around for half an hour looking for an open place to eat as we were quite hungry from the road. Finally, we stumbled upon a soup shop. After enjoying a hot meal we went to the öğretmenevi and enjoyed a few hours of sleep.
Tunnels and mountains
We got up relatively early in the morning and had a quick breakfast – which is included in the killer price of the öğretmenevi – and set out for Safranbolu. We had in excess of 150 kilometers to go and our way took us through Zonguldak and across the mountainous region down to Safranbolu.
Winding roads, rocky terrain, cloudy weather and mountain tunnels as far as the eyes can see: It was a perfect storm for a road trip.
By the time we reached Safranbolu, we were all thinking why don’t we do this more often.
In Safranbolu, our destination was singular and definitive: The glass terrace. This glass observation deck, extending from a cliff’s edge, features panoramic views of the canyon it overlooks. It was one of the reasons that we started this spontaneous trip.
Now, the glass terrace is not the biggest attraction of Safranbolu, a city of immense historical texture and also a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city is a typical Ottoman city with gorgeous architecture across the streets that once played a key role in the caravan trade over several centuries. It is one of the best preserved historical cities in the world and its beautiful Ottoman houses are the driving reason behind the city’s climb to fame.
You could spend days in Safranbolu just soaking in the history which I wholeheartedly recommend doing, but we had already done that on previous occasions that we passed through Safranbolu. So, our eyes were set squarely on the canyon.
Fear of heights
As we drove up the hill to the point of the glass terrace on the northern side of Safranbolu, the scenery changed from historical aesthetics to natural beauties. Finally, we parked the car in a semi-crowded parking lot and walked to the entrance. There is an entrance though not a high one. We paid and passed through the turnstiles and there it was, extending from the cliff, the glass terrace standing 80 meters (260 feet) high.
And I refused to step on the glass. My friends had to drag me across to the edge. As someone with a fear of heights, my advice is: Don’t look down.
The scenery was simply breathtaking. The canyon winding its way below our feet was a pleasure to behold – if only for short few seconds before it got dizzying for me. After enjoying the view, we exited the terrace and realized that there was a zipline set up adjacent to the terrace complex that went across the canyon.
Now, as someone who refused to step onto the glass terrace, I was adamant not to be dragged onto a zipline for sure – something that seems even more terrifying than standing on glass 80 meters high. However, upon hearing the price which was only TL 40 ($2.50), I thought I have to try it once in my life, and I don’t believe I could come across such a cheap price anywhere else.
So, yes it was money that convinced me in the end. First, I watched my friends fly by me as they went across the zipline – in quite some speed may I add – and step down across the chasm of the canyon, then get onto another zipline and come back.
Then it was finally my turn and I must admit I was in brink of having a heart attack as they harnessed me to the zipline and pushed me off the edge. However, soon after as I was halfway through and could look 80 meters below into the canyon above which I was now flying, I strangely felt calm and safe. On the way back I actually let go of the harness that was holding me, which I had been holding on for dear life at the start. The feeling of being secured in a harness I think overpowered the fright of heights. Maybe if they provided such a harness on the glass terrace I wouldn’t have been so anxious as I was.
After the quick fly-by we actually went down into canyon, which was quite an enjoyable walk through the trees with small creeks and waterfalls accompanying us down the wooden pathway. There are horses you can ride near the end of the canyon for those interested. We finished up our little trek and went up to the glass terrace again. We were hungry so we had something to eat there and enjoyed a cup of tea overlooking the scenery. On a side note, the meatballs of the establishment there are quite delicious.
Once we finished our tea, we slowly started our journey back to Istanbul. It was a fun two-day trip, which I would very much like to replicate some time soon and would recommend to those a little bored with busy metropolis life of Istanbul.
Just don’t forget your wallet if you really want to enjoy the trip.
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