The road to Uzungöl was a lot more pleasant than the place itself. We had heard it was a lovely lake, pictures with places to hike and bike ride. It was a lake, and there was a walking path, and bike rentals. That is about as close to the description as it came.
We left the lovely snow capped Kaçkar Mountains and the Ayder Plateau, for Uzungöl. We decided to do some sightseeing along the way.
We stopped by one of the Fırtına River bridges on the way.
Built in the Ottoman era during the 18th or 19th century by local stonemasons, they are still architecturally sound, and very charming.
After that we traveled deep into Fırtına Valley (Stormy Valley), we went to Zilkale, or Bell Castle. It was only about 20 km but on the winding steep road, it took almost an hour. We kept seeing villages up on the steep mountain sides. They were amazingly isolated and beautiful, with their dark wood buildings, surrounded by the deep green of the tea bushes.
Almost impossible to reach by road, some of them only seemed accessible by funiculars or teleferikler
Photo from http://www.son.tv/haber-213915
After we made our way through the mountain passes we finally reached Zilkale. It was striking, high up on the edge of a cliff the castle had been restored and was worth the trek into the wilderness. From its vantage point we were also able view of the deep canyon and the waterfalls from the castle walls.
From here we went to Uzungöl. On the road to Çamlıhemşin we had been struck by the green mountains, covered in tea plants, the clear water of the rivers and streams, and the mountain vistas. In contrast, the road to Uzungöl was industrial, the river muddy and filled with silt from the mining and hydroelectric dams. In comparison to the mountain villages, with their wood houses high up on the hills on the Çamlıhemşin road, on the way to Uzungöl the roadsides were filled with typically Turkish concrete multi-storied buildings and tea processing factories.
Uzungöl (Long Lake) is no longer a natural lake, dammed up and the embankments covered in stone, it actually resembles a man made lake more than anything else. The lower end of the lake is built up, pensions, restaurants and neon lights creating a hodge podge of tourism. The area is fairly conservative as well, catering to more devout foreign tourists. I was surprised at the number of women wearing full covering, or burkas. While Turkey is an Muslim majority nation, and some areas are more conservative than others, full covering with only ones’ eyes showing is not typical.
We also had a major issue with our hotel. We stayed at the Aygün Motel, the accommodations were clean and it was a spacious bungalow, with plenty of room for all three of us for a decent price. However, when we woke up in the morning it was very cold inside our room. See your breath cold. There was also no hot water. Reception kept telling us the heat would come on soon, in two hours. In an hour, in 45 minutes… After huddling in our room, wearing our jackets for several hours, we went out to eat just to warm up. After hours and hours of a freezing cold room, the heat finally came back on. It never really warmed up though. We tried to change our tickets to fly out that night, but the plane was full, instead we paid the penalty just to move our tickets up by a few hours. The next morning, the room was frigid again, it was then we learned that they actually turn off the heat each morning, and turn it on back at night.
In the morning we planned to leave at 8 am to be to the airport 9am, at for our 10 am flight. However, when I woke up at five to use the bathroom, I saw outside there was at least 6 inches of snow, with more falling steadily. Uzungöl had been transformed to a winter fairy land, but we still didn’t want to stay.
Afraid we would be trapped there if it kept snowing, we left the motel by 5:20 am to make sure we would be able to make it down the mountain. The switchbacks were a little hairy at first, but once we were halfway down the mountain the snow turned to rain, and we were all relieved.
Bülent and I were talking last night and we honestly have not had a trip with so many challenges and unfavorable conditions. We have traveled all over Turkey for the last five years, staying in five star hotels, motels, pensions and even hostels, and have always had a great time, with warm and hospitable hosts. It was certainly a memorable birthday trip, one that none of us will forget in the future. We still had a great time though. I was with my two favorite men, one who had flown thousands of mile to surprise me! I felt lucky and beloved to have such a grand adventure planned for me, and an adventure it was!