22 June, 2010


If Erzurum was surrounded by mountains and Yusufeli was tucked between them, Artvin pours down a mountainside. I thought the best way to explain it would be simply through the use of plane geometry: by comparing the altitude at the bridge crossing the Çoruh River with the altitude of the city center, and the horizontal distance between them, i figured it would be simple enough to calculate Artvin's slope. But the only figure i could find was an imprecise 400 meter (1,300 ft.*) difference in altitude between the top and bottom of the city. That should tell you something about this place: most cities may have their hills. The hills have Artvin. 

It doesn't take long walking this city to realize - it's a tiring place to live. My hosts, couchsurfers Fatmagul and Volkan, live and teach at Çoruh University; the forest faculty campus is on a hill facing Artvin center. To reach their home, it's a vertiginous three kilometers of road. Thankfully, Volkan is running errands in town and able to pick me up, otherwise it would have been one journey down from the Artvin Otogar (bus station) to the bridge, and another minibus ride up to the isolated block of mauve apartments where they live. Seyitler, the village a kilometer or two back behind the campus, has no store; it's just a few homes and a mosque with a corrugated-metal minaret. The tiny campus and apartment block feel completely isolated. A station wagon pulls up in the parking lots; "sebzeci," the man yells. "Patates, biber, domates, soğan, bir lira."

I'm on a search for a good map, a good dayhike. After two days here, what i come to realize is that people in the villages walk to get their work done; they climb to take cattle to the high pastures. People in Artvin proper spend so much time going up and down that it's the last thing they'd do on their day off. The few flat places - a road that cuts from Artvin to another valley at the same elevation - are the most popular walking spots. 

When your camera is gone... there's Creative Commons-licensed material out there!

New Englanders are rather spoiled in that regard; the ancient Appalachians offer accessible bare rock peaks galore with mild effort. Yet while this area could be a dayhiker's paradise, there are no trekking maps to be found, nor topos, nor marked trails to speak of. Around Artvin, the peaks are pasture-glazed - but they rise so steeply any road or path to the top traverses back and forth many times. Even to travel between the Çoruh River bridge and city center, the single road has as many turns as the small intestine. That's how it feels, anyway. Getting around in Artvin takes work, and as they say, don't have an accident - it will be your last one. Each stretch of road is level with the roofs below it. 

This is in many ways your typical Turkish city - with ~24,000 inhabitants, a surfeit of barber shops, teahouses everywhere; döner and other kebabs are plentiful, and as usual the Turkish Army has a compound or two or three smack in the city center. At the same time, it feels like a miniature Istanbul of the east. The vibe here is more liberal, more educated. My hosts explain that without agriculture to speak of and without a significant tourism economy, people here pursue higher education at a higher rate than other cities in the east, and it can be felt. Alas, Artvin is expensive and thanks to the challenging topography, infrastructure is poor, For example, natural gas in Georgia is close by but Artvin doesn't have it yet.

*I was curious how Artvin's 1,300 foot elevation change would stack up against the world's tallest buildings. Turns out the recently opened Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai doubles it, at 2,700 feet.