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Geneose Castle Cove
 The following is Birsen Karaloğlu's views on her trip to Akçakoca.

When we left at 7:30 in the morning, a new Sunday had just begun in Ankara. We were forty-five curious people of various ages and were heading to Akçakoca and Konuralp. We would begin with the Byzantine remains, reach the Ottoman period, and even follow the Genoese.

The highway was altogether empty and the weather was sunny. We reached the turns to Kızılcahamam and Gerede in a short time. The flora changed to dark forests and there was still snow on the sides of the roads despite the signs of spring.

We took our first stop at Green Park/Kaya Hotel around 9:00. Although tea and coffee were served in the bus all along the way, I was still wandering with sleepy eyes.

We rested at the terrace in the backyard of Kaya Hotel, overlooking a small mountain lake in the woods, and the tea was tasty. I walked around the lake and saw crocuses blooming in the snow that painted the scene yellow. I could not idle with the crocuses as we still had a long way to go. I put off the idea of being left here for another time and climbed the bus breathlessly after greeting the peacocks with their colorful feathers, which were waking up to the spring in their cove on the garden running towards the lake. And I just managed to escaped growls for being late.

When we drove down the dark green and half-misty Bolu Mountain and reached the Düzce plain, the season immediately changed to spring. The hazelnut trees in the gardens along the road were already green and the leaves of the willows had almost completely grown. The crocuses had left their place on the mountain to purple nettles. The fresh green cloth of the plain was embellished with the heaps of purple nettles, resembling the design of a kilim. The yellow country flowers, representing power and solidity as opposed to wariness, the pioneers of spring, were swaying around and winking from various corners of the green grass. The fruit trees were covered with white flowers. I had not seen that many flowers on a tree except in photos. They were so beautiful in the garden of each house and among the fields.

It was noon when we passed Düzce and arrived at Konuralp. The surprising March sun was sending its bright and warm lights over us and we met with a clean, glittering small district. The old and new houses rose on slightly sloped hills. However, the ugly and unregulated architectural structures such as additional buildings and additional floors on buildings have destroyed the façade of this sweet town.

This is a place founded a on busy trade road in the Bithynia region of ancient times. Although founded by Greeks, Romans inherited the region in AD 76. The first conquests of the Ottomans were also in this area. Their first attempts to reach the sea after conquering Söğüt and İznik guided the pioneers here. Now the city walls of both the Roman and the Ottoman Empires greet the town together from the hills.

Konuralp hides several surprises despite its modest, warm and calm façade. A medium-sized Roman theater almost completely intact with smooth stone steps leaned against one of the slightly sloped hills. And it sits surrounded by the houses of its friendly neighbors, who have never watched a play in that theater, or even watched any play or read any poems and most probably have never even heard of Homer.

After a short walk amidst the houses in the bazaar we reached the theater. The gate of the city was on our way. The gate is called Atlı Kapı (Rider's Gate), due to the rider motif on the top. The theater was built in the 1st century and carries the same architectural characteristics as Knidos Theater.

The museum was bigger and richer than we had expected from a town of this size. It was an old elementary school and after the November 12, 1999 earthquake, it was renovated and recently opened to the public. In the mean time there have been some additions to the museum such as new and modern exhibition galleries and a conference hall. However, only two of the halls were open.

The hall where ethnographic objects were on display was no different than the museums throughout Anatolia or the museum-houses, which protect their local characteristics. Nowadays renovations are not limited to plain exhibition halls. The living corners of old houses are enlivened in various ways, and the furniture, objects and clothing of those days are on display in a way so as to reflect their functions. The museums or houses carrying those kinds of ethnographic characteristics, handicrafts or traditional professions and related equipment and their use are also exhibited.

The section housing the remains of the Roman and Byzantine periods looked like a miracle in this rural area: statues from Kybele to Venus, sacred bottles and dishes, amphorae and a rich coin collection. Gold and silver coins of Alexander the Great sparkled from the showcases where they lay together with Ottoman coins.

There are many Roman pillars with inscriptions waiting to be read. Who knows what messages they have carried from the 2nd century until now. An embellished and big sarcophagus again indicates the significance of the area.

The bazaar in this small and cozy town was decorated with the banners of political parties participating in the local elections, and the liveliness of the election offices turned the bazaar into a festival field. When you edge away from the megacities, it seems easier to understand the small details; everything is more sincere around here.

We started again and we headed towards the sea after climbing over the hills. The flora began to change and the number of fruit trees increased. Blocks of purple cyclamen and even piles of violets now added to the nettles. The abundant plain wore an elegant dress of small blue forget-me-nots.

When we approached Akçakoca hazelnut gardens began to surround us. We headed towards an old Genoese town, which was an important hazelnut production center. This port was among the important colonies on the shores of Black Sea for trade ships carrying the olive oil, wines and figs of the Mediterranean region in Ancient Times.

A three-piece statue greets visitors in a big park in the central square of town: Osman Gazi - the founder of Ottoman Empire, Akça Koca Bey and Konur Alp Bey - the commanders conquering the area. Merkez Mosque, standing just oposite, built according to the plans of Vedat Dalokay, an architect and the late former Mayor of Ankara, crowns Akçakoca. A bigger example of this mosque was built in Islamabad, Pakistan and the architect was rewarded with an international award. It is a beautiful mosque with pentagonal architecture; its modern stylized form inspired by the old Turkmen tents and with stunning stained glass. It is the brightest mosque I have ever seen. The elegant wooden bannisters surrounding the mezzanine continue onto the pulpit and the rays of light running through the stained glass reach every corner. It once more emphasized the modern image with its authentic form of the double minarets and the stained glass lying through.

How can it be possible to appreciate the town with a quick walk? The façades of the houses leaning into each other on the hill, overlooking the port, watching the ships from far away and standing eye to eye with the lighthouse at the end of the fishermen's shelter reflect the secrets of this old seaside town. Mystical whispers from the past dance among the wild cherry trees standing with still dark green leaves in the gardens.

I quickly ran down to the shore past the houses and threw myself onto a wooden table where the fishermen's shelter, marina and breakwater embrace each other. When the waitress said, "We have anchovy," I immediately made a message to myself to visit Akçakoca again as soon as possible. Is anchovy enough? The red mullets had just been caught that day. The salad was a little bit lacking for this vegetable paradise and somehow carelessly prepared. They should learn to prepare and serve salad from their neighboring district Amasra.

Actually, Akçakoca, like Amasra, hosts the residents of landlocked cities such as Bolu and Ankara in summers. There are a few four-star hotels, several pensions, cafés, restaurants and tourist food courts along the seashore. However, the season had not yet begun. Most of the facilities were closed or empty. And none of the open ones even attempted to brew tea, seeing so many visitors.

Our program after lunch was to visit "Cuma Yeri" and to climb up to the "Genoese Castle". Cuma Yeri is an excursion spot near a creek where various nomad families of the Oğuz tribe met on Fridays (Cuma) to perform their namaz prayers, bazaar shopping and bathing in the Hamam. Imagine green grass surrounded by 600-700-year-old poplars and hornbeams, the remains of a Hamam at one corner, an old mosque that still functions and a running stream… There was a small café/restaurant among the tables where residents of Akçakoca were picnicking. The door was open and a gentleman was reading a paper, however he declared that the café was closed and therefore he did not make any attempt at brewing tea for us.

Four women and a child had spread a tablecloth on the grass and were eating their food. I was intrigued by the fact that four of them were wrapped in black çarşaf (a garment worn in the past by Turkish women covering them from head to foot). I walked down there and greeted them and they immediately invited me to join them. They were honey-tongued and genial. The girls were from Akçakoca, were 17, 19 and 21 years old and have been attending a private religious course in Fatih, Istanbul for four years. The fourth women was 30 years old and was their teacher from Istanbul. The girls were so beautiful and their attempts were sincere, yet still they were tightly wrapped in their black çarşaf.

Our trip was to end at the Genoese castle. It had been built on top of a green hill.There are stone steps leading you to the shores where the famous glossy rocks of Akçakoca rise. The inside was filled with picnickers. Tea was served; the runner didn't seem to able to successfully serve forty-five people. And every time excuses were ready: "The season has not begun yet." This time I was the guest of a young civil servant's family. Nergül and her husband were appointed to Kastamonu last month. They had already gotten accustomed to their new home and work and had even begun picnicking. Their 6-year-old son Ömer first washed the glass together with his father, enabling me to drink the tea offered and then he cracked open a handful of Akçakoca hazelnuts.

It was already 6:30 in the evening, and the sun was about to set. It was using its rays to paint the glossy rocks separating the coves from each other; the illuminated mirrors of Akçakoca. Our group leader gave the "return" command and I got into the bus while leaving a great piece of my soul under the trees at the Genoese castle at sunset.

Now I wait for the call of another trip… I believe it will reach me either with a song or a scent carried by the wind.

Birsen Karaloğlu.

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