In the middle of October, my family of 4 (kids ages 7.5 and 4.75) took off on an amazing 11 day road trip in the Black Sea and Eastern Anatolian regions of Turkey. We stayed in 6 different hotels/cities and saw so many amazing things! Over the next two weeks, I’ll be blogging about our trip now that I’ve gotten the thousands of photos I took sorted down to a more reasonable number for blog posts!
The map below shows the overview of our route! From Ankara, we drove north to Samsun, then along the Black Sea to Hopa near the Georgian border, then south to Kars. From there we went south along the Armenian border to Doğubeyazıt to see Mount Ararat, then down to Lake Van. From there we headed west towards Diyarbakır, continued on to Mount Nemrut, then went north briefly to Malatya before heading west to Ankara and home.
Some of our highlights included the Sumela Monastery set high in the mountains, the ruins of the ancient Armenian city of Ani right on the border with Armenia, the amazing mountain scenery, seeing snow-topped Mount Ararat from a distance, a private boat ride across lake Van to an old Armenian Church on an island, the scrumptious Turkey breakfast in Diyarbakır, the giant heads of Mount Nemrut, and the slightly terrifying mountain drive down Mount Nemrut.
I was a bit nervous about the road trip with our kids, as it would be the most ambitious one we’ve done before. They’ve done longer car rides in one day (HELLO 12 hours from Virginia to Illinois to visit family), but this would be a lot of days in the car and a lot of sightseeing, changing hotels, and eating in restaurants. I also was very hopeful that the Covid precautions would be adequate. All the hotels did a great job with it, and we felt safe. The hotel in Van had one morning we went to breakfast, only to discover that a massive tour group from we think Russia was eating breakfast. The restaurant was packed. We went upstairs and waited til they cleared out before returning for breakfast. But otherwise, we rarely saw crowds.
Destination #1 was Samsun on the Black Sea. It has 1.4 million people and is right on the water. It is best known in Turkey for where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk started the Turkish War for Independence in 1919. It is a port city. There are a few museums to see, but it is not a huge tourist destination. For more information on Samsun, go here.
On Day 1, we drove from Ankara to Samsun. It is a 5 hour drive total, and we stopped at the 3 hour mark in Çorum for lunch. We ate at CANCİĞER Kebap Restaurant & Cafe and it was excellent. Right off the main road, lots of parking, and good food. Kids and I had Tavuk Şiş (chicken kebabs) and DH had an Adana kebab. Both were quite good. The restaurant had clean, Western toilets and the service was quick.
We chose to stay at the Sheraton Grand. This was a win because it’s part of the Marriott chain, and we had points to use. Score! It’s also the lowest point range, so your points go a long way. We had 2 connecting rooms. 1 had a king bed and one had two twins. We had a sea view.
Once we checked in, we took a taxi to the Bandirma Ferry Museum. It was surprisingly hard to get a taxi, as there were no call buttons anywhere near the hotel. Normally we can find them all over the place. We had to walk for a while before finding one to hail. Guess we should have had the hotel call one for us. The boat is set up as a museum and is a replica of the 19th century steam freighter Ataturk sailed on from Istanbul (then Constantinople) to Samsun in 1919 to create plans for the new Turkish republic. Adults were 5tl to enter and kids were 2 tl (both less than a dollar given the exchange rate at the time). The museum is located at one end of a park and the grounds were pretty as well. There were a few military planes set up in the garden to see. The boat doesn’t take long to see, but was interesting. It does require steep steps up and down the different levels.
After finishing the boat museum, we walked 4 miles back to our hotel. 2.5 miles were along the Black Sea, mostly through parks. The last 1.5 miles were on sidewalks in a more industrial area and was a bit less pleasant. The parks had many playgrounds, and we stopped at some of them to play. The sidewalk along the Black Sea had a low wall and then rocks mostly straight down to the water-no beaches.
We ended the day with dinner at the Sheraton. They had outside seating for their restaurant with a pretty view. The Sheraton does have a small, private beach that appeared sandy and a small waterside pool. We didn’t go down to it, but it looked nice. Dinner was delicious. Kids and I had burgers, DH had beef strips, DD and I shared lentil soup, and the adults shared a rocket salad. All quite good.
We discovered our room was very hot, and in enquiring at the front desk, discovered they had turned off the A/C for the season already. Mid October is still upper 70s and the rooms got very hot with no air movement (no ceiling fans either). This unfortunately was a trend for most of the trip. Only one hotel the whole trip still had working A/C. We should have packed a small floor fan for some air movement!
Overall, Samsun was a fine destination, though probably my least favorite of all our stops. We mainly used it as a stopping stop because Ankara to Trabzon, our next destination was over 9 hours and we wanted to keep our drives a bit shorter.