Awoken only by the rush of the river as the sun rose and filled our valley, we made our way upwards towards Sümela Monastery on a twisty and progressively steeper mountain road. The cliffs either side helped in building up to something majestic and the guards at the gate of the National Park were impressed enough by our climbing up there to give us free entry.
*** As I write this a Goodyear man from across the road has just run across to give me a bottle of fresh sparkling water! ***
We knew we were approaching the Monastery from below, but it was not until we stopped at the first car park that a man pointed straight up and we realised quite how high on the sheer rock you have to look to see it. It clings on almost inexplicably, the total building stretching 300m high itself at 1200m above sea level; looking over the valley, we could not help but be impressed. We walked up the steps and entered the Monastery (no room for negotiation on the ticket price here) as nearly the first visitors of the day. Soon, we had the whole site to ourselves which felt very special. The rock chapel and frescoes, the main crowd pleasers, were worth the effort on their own. What possessed people to build a chapel there, and how they did it, is a complete mystery to me but it is truly unique.
Unfortunately, not one fresco is in a very good state: graffiti, gunshots and senseless defacing of saints means we were as shocked by the waste as by the beauty present. Having pleaded to no avail to be allowed into the parts of the Monastery which are under restoration (the majority of the valley facing side), Ant and I climbed a few rocks on the way out to get some views no other tourists will have had, showing the face of the Monastery and giving us a better idea of its stature over the valley. As much as it is an absurdly complicated building to have built in the middle of nowhere, it is worth a visit. However, we recommend early in the day before cruise ships from the Black Sea offload their tourist cargo as we experienced when we left!
The road back to Trabzon was superb for the first 15km other than Ant getting a puncture as his tire developed a tear. Luckily, we have managed to make it back to Trabzon on it and he has bought a spare!
The afternoon brought us a bit closer to Georgia, now waiting for our first real pide dinner of our time in Turkey with view on the sea.