The lush hills of Rize rise dramatically from its black pebble seacoast. in steaming terraces, carpeted with tea plantations and tropical gardens. In a country where the daily rhythm is measured in the clinking of çay glasses, Rize is the leading city of tea, a role which commands capital, technology, and respect. With a population over 60,000, Rize is the easternmost major business center on the Black Sea Coast; as an international port town, its streets are packed with an eclectic mix of Azerbaijanis, Russians, and Georgians. Rize has had a long history at the hands of the Black Sea Coast’s many rulers; most architectural traces of that history, however, have been lost in the city’s concrete modernization. Still, in Rize’s hills, travelers can find solace in çay gardens perfumed with night blossoms and aromatic tea.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Dolmuş and minibuses stop on the coastal highway; head one block inland and turn right to find Belediye Parkı, the town’s center. Two streets bound the park and run parallel to the highway: to the south is Atatürk Cad., while closer to the sea is Cumhuriyet Cad. These streets contain most travelers’ needs, including hotels. By the southwest comer of the park is a traffic circle with an Atatürk statue.
Flights: THY office (213 05 91), on Atatürk Cad., just east of the Hotel Efes.
Buses: Ulusoy (217 45 45), at the northwest corner of Belediye Parkı, runs from the dolmuş lot on the main highway to: Ankara (14hr., 9, 9:30am, 5:30pm; $18); Bursa (18hr.; 9:30am, 12:30pm; $25); Erzurum (6hr., 7:30am, $5); Giresun (4hr., fre¬quently 8:30am-10pm, $5); İstanbul (18hr.; 11:30am, 3:30, 6pm; $22); İzmir (20hr., 10am, $27); Kastamonu (20hr., every hr., $23); Ordu (5hr., frequent, $8); Trabzon (lVshr., frequently 8:30am-10pm, $2.50). The Artvin Express (-3-212 09 05; 4hr., 4 per day llam-4pm, $6), which departs from the lane next to Hotel Akarsu, serves Yusufeli (8hr., 8am, $10) and Van (14hr., 9pm, $12). Dolmuş, the best bet for closer destinations, leave from the big lot on the highway ($1-3).
- Police: (213 03 74), 1km west of the town center, on the main highway.
- Pharmacies: Numerous pharmacies line the south side of Belediye Parkı, with rotating 24hr. service. Check the door of any pharmacy for the schedule.
- Hospital: The state hospital (231 04 91), 1km east of the town center on the coastal highway. Open 24hr.
- Internet Access: Rize has 6 internet cafes. The cheapest ($.75 per hr.) are in Belediye Parkı. Most open 8am-11pm.
- PTT: On the south side of an open area 25m off the southwest corner of Belediye Parkı. Open daily 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-11pm. Phones 24hr.
Postal Code: 53100
Most of Rize’s hotels cater to businessmen’s needs: low price, decent cleanliness, a TV lounge, and a touch of prostitution. Most hotels afford a good night’s sleep for under $10; below are some of the safer options.
Hotel Akarsu (217 17 79). Just west of Belediye Parkı and visible from the PTT. This is a secure family (aile) establishment, with shared baths and 24hr. hot water. Clean, standard singles $4; doubles $7.
Hotel Efes (214 11 11), on Atatürk Cad., 2 blocks east of Belediye Parkı. Spotless rooms with hot water baths, balconies, and a pleasant roof terrace restaurant. Breakfast included. Singles $15; triples $25.
Kaçkar Hotel, Cumhuriyet Cad. No. 101 (213 14 90). Slightly more expensive, the Kaçkar includes a faux-marble entrance, bathtubs, TVs, and rooftop restaurant. Breakfast included. Singles $18; doubles $28.
Hotel Asnur (214 17 61), by Luna Park. Strike deals during the off-season with General Manager Ercan Turhan. Both hotels offer everything conceivable: pool, fitness center, sauna, and vitamin bar. Doubles $60. O
Rize’s highest concentration of pide and kebap joints is on the north side of Belediye Parkı, stretching east along Cumhuriyet Cad. These Turkish mainstays cost $2-5. The local specialty, meşhur kuru fasulye (lamb with cooked beans in sweet tomato sauce), is made especially well at Huzur Pide & Kebap , Cumhuriyet Cad. No. 111 (217 15 11), for $2. Also try next door, at the Bekiroğlu Pide Kebap (217 26 62); both places are highly regarded by locals. Stop by Mis Lahmacun (217 26 06), one block further cast along Cumhuriyet Cad., for $.50 Turkish piz¬zas with beef, chicken, and vegetarian varieties. A slightly more upscale option, the Müze Kafeterya, uphill from the PTT, has a veranda and view, and offers fast food and traditional mulama (cheese melt dip) and lahana (vineleaf parcels). Rize’s moneyed young chat in this well-kept, cushioned Ottoman building and its sea-view balcony. ( 214 44 08. Open 9am-10:30pm.)
Rize is not an exciting town, and tea is the primary focus of most visits. The best place for the çay connoisseur and casual enthusiast alike is the Tea lab, featuring Ministry of Agriculture greenhouses, laboratories and a rose-scented çay garden. At dusk, locals lounge here on patio furniture, gazing over the valley and out to sea. Hike up the road between the PTT and the main mosque, following signs for the “Atatürk Çay Arişlinna Müdürlüğü.”
The Rus Pazarı, east of town, sells everything from Armenian kilims to plastic Stalin pins and three-way flashlights. Take in a view of the city from the Rize Kalesi, a small fortress built on a 160m hill above the city. One kilometer cast of the center on the water is Luna Park, with $1 rides and a promenade. The nightclub of the Dedeman Hotel (taxi $4 each way) offers coastline panoramas, live music, and a chance to watch the Rize elite at play. Near the Dedeman, a few black-pebble beaches attract bathers during the tropical months of July and August.
Hopa is the last town of note before the border at Sarp, and there’s not much to note. Public transport ends in a dolmuş lot on the highway. Otel Huzur , Cumhu¬riyet Cad. 25, is the best choice, and will store luggage for those making daytrips into Georgia. ( (466) 351 40 95. Singles $11.) Numerous diners line the main highway, most east of Otel Huzur. Catch a glimpse of Rize at play nightly after 11pm at Paparazzi Disco Çs? 351 33 65), on Yen Yol Uzeri; beware the $2.50 beer. Ilopa’s tiny meydan holds ATMs and the Internet Cafe (open until midnight, $.75 per hr.).
GEORGIA ON YOUR MIND?
Though years of mutual suspicion simmer, economic liberalization is opening the road between Rize and Georgia frontier city of Batumi. Overlanders to Armenia must also use this route. Minibuses leave for the border from Hopa and other points on the Black Sea highway. Turkish procedures are straightforward and free, while Georgia accounts for any hard currency entering and leaving the country and charges US$3 each way. They will not accept Turkish currency. Georgian officials may attempt to extract an addi¬tional $5 on the Georgian side. This process is exactly reversed when returning to Turkey from Georgia. Georgian visas cannot be bought at the border, but must be purchased from the consulate in Trabzon ($40, see p. 447). Taxis ($10) and minibuses ($1) run to Batumi. On the way back, Turkish minibuses often refuse to make the short trip to Hopa, hoping for a longer fare to Rize. Some travelers choose to break the cartel by flagging down the first car to pass.