Görele, well worth seeing

A misty green plateau recedes into the distance. The tinkle of goat bells mingles with the strains of a 'kemençe'. The local folk sway back and forth in native costume. This is Black Sea Giresun's 'Görele' and, as its name indicates, it's well worth seeing.

Spending the summer holidays on the Black Sea was a hard decision when the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts wait in July with outstretched arms. Not only that, but this was going to be a holiday spent entirely within the confines of one Black Sea town. What if it rained? What if the highlands were enveloped in fog? What if the sun never showed its face? Then what? Inside me a battle raged between the urge to seek peace and quiet, understand other cultures and discover nature and a longing for sea, sand and sun. Thus conflicted, I found myself one morning in Trabzon Airport. After covering the seventy kilometers in just half an hour on the new coast road, I was in Giresun province's Görele township. What caught my attention at first glance was the ubiquitous concrete in evidence in all the Black Sea coastal settlements, in stark contrast with the lush greenery and the mountains that careen steeply down to the coast. As I delved inland and climbed above sea level in the days ahead this contrast would give way to wild Black Sea vegetation and natural and historic landmarks.

As I strolled around the center of town, I approached a child playing in the street and asked: 'What does “Görele” mean? Does anybody know?' My little friend, whose name was Aytaç, began to explain: 'Years ago the Governor of Giresun and the head district official of Görele were very good friends. They corresponded regularly, boasting to each other about the beauties of their respective locales. In those letters, the Giresun governor said, 'If you come ('giresun' in the local dialect) here, you'll love it.' And the head district official of the town replied, saying, 'Just see ('gör-hele' = Görele) this place and you'll swoon'. I suppose I should have told the children that this story, while worth remembering, was apocryphal. In fact, the township takes its name from the word 'corolla', meaning coral. In ancient times the city of Philokaleia stood one kilometer east of the present-day town of Görele. The Genoese established a colony here and called it Gorelle after the coral color of the citadel that was built. In Ottoman times it was briefly known as 'Yavebolu', which means 'the city that isn't there'.

One should definitely visit the coast before exploring the hills that begin to rise just two blocks behind the town center. While I was wondering if I should avail myself of the pleasures of the beaches at Bada and Deliklitaş on the township's eastern shores, some rumbling in my stomach sent me in the direction of the famous Görele 'pide' makers. Pide, a flat bread with toppings, goes back 85 years here, and everybody knows that Black Sea, or Görele, pide is made all over Turkey today. Whether it was due to my hunger or the chef's skill, I can say without hesitation that this was the best pide I've ever eaten in my life. Perhaps the key factor here is the locally made cheese and butter that go into it.

On a street in the town center there are four or five ice cream shops in a row and I can't go on without mentioning them. The point here is not the taste of the ice cream but a shared experience. Let's say you have a hankering for the local ice cream, which is sold in tiny glasses. You go and buy one and then, if you want to spread a little cheer, you say, 'Please accept these TL's as a 'sebil' (donation). That's when the fun begins. The ice cream vendor starts hitting the bells and, calling out “Free Ice Cream. Come and get it!”, distributes complimentary servings to takers up to the amount of Turkish currency you've given him. To my mind this is an eminently gracious way of bringing a little happiness to children, or anyone who needs it.

As you climb higher (600 m), dwarf hazelnut trees begin to dominate the vegetation. All the characteristics of the Black Sea climate are in evidence here, and the abundant rainfall and soil structure create an ecology ideal for the hazelnut, which plays an important role in the life of just about every person in the township.  Hazelnut picking time is the turning point of the year and all dates are calculated around it. It's not unusual to hear people say,  'Let's do it before the hazelnut harvest' or 'Fate willing, I'll go to Istanbul after the harvest'. And the key role of the hazelnut's high potassium, magnesium and calcium content in bone formation and regulating blood pressure is perhaps the secret of longevity here.

There are many populous villages in this township. But understanding where one ends and the next begins can be a problem for those accustomed to the more compact villages in other parts of Anatolia. The houses tend to be rather spread out, and this sparse settlement pattern has eliminated the traditional boundaries between adjacent villages. This does not mean however that the villagers are stand-offish with each other. Quite the contrary they are in continuous communication. The main source of livelihood in the villages is hazelnut production, besides which the corn and other fruits and vegetables the villagers grow for themselves in the region's fertile soil enable them to be self-sufficient. The kale soup and the bread made with corn flour ground in the local mills which I had a chance to eat in the village houses where I was a guest are tastes you will unfortunately not find in any urban restaurant.

Sis Dağı mountain and highlands, which are located within the boundaries of Görele not far from Trabzon, are the region's leading center of local tourism. The landscape here truly bowled me over the first time I saw it. The clouds that hang suspended right over the roofs of the traditional highland houses across the valley stretching down from the highlands answer the question as to why this is called Sis Dagı, or Fog Mountain. Beekeeping is highly developed in its foothills and there are said to be around 3000 hives in the region. The continual change of scenery here where you literally have your head in the clouds all day long makes this highland unique. While the local people used to migrate to the highlands in season to graze their animals, with the new road constructon the number of those who come today seeking fresh air and highland festivals
has grown apace. You can see the local folk dressed in the finest traditional costumes here, where dressing well is a custom. And strolling in the highlands the livelong day, chatting, eating, drinking and making merry, was like therapy for someone such as myself who contends with the urban rat race  the rest of the year.

The kemençe, a small folk fiddle held upright like a cello, and the horon, a Black Sea folk dance, occupy a central place in the life of the local people. The Görele kemençe is distinguished by its heart-shaped contour, its short neck and its long, narrow body. It is generally made of juniper, plum, mulberry or cherry wood with a soundboard of spruce. While I was in the township I had an opportunity to follow the Görele Horon and Kemençe Festival, which lasted three days. Thousands of people came for the festival and danced the horon to the accompaniment of the local kemençe virtuosos.  And in a village where I happened upon an open air wedding, the bride and groom began dancing the horon with their guests immediately upon repeating their vows. It might strike those of us who are accustomed to the bride and groom dancing the first dance together as a little strange, but to my mind they were having a lot more fun than our dyed-i n-the-wool city folk.

As my trip to Görele came to an end, I was disappointed not to have got to know the region as well as I would have liked due to lack of time. On my way back the words of the head district official as told to me in the story by my little friend Aytaç rang in my ears, 'If you just see this place, you'll swoon.'