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Published: July 14th 2012
Balloons Over Cappadocia Valley
A rather surreal sight - all these balloons dotted across the sky, and the most alien rock formations dotted along the ground.
Everything I had read and heard said that our overnight bus would drop us off in Nevsehir, from where we would be ferried by a shuttle bus to where we were staying in Goreme. Much to our sleepy surprise, the bus dropped us off directly in Goreme. Win.
Speaking of sleepy surprises, it was still around 6am by the time we had managed to sleepwalk our way up a hill and arrived at our hotel. We hear a soft, throbbing bass coming out of the hotel's front office so we knock on the door. After a couple of minutes, a bearded Turkish man with bruised eye and a bandage across his nose sleepily answers the door.
"Kelley?", croaks the man groggily.
I suppose he was expecting us. It was also a rather amusing start to our stay in Cappadocia.
Also up at that ungodly hour was Davies, who had arrived here the day before and had got up to greet us. It was nice to finally have some male company on this trip. It was also nice to finally get a few hours sleep.
The next day was pretty chilled out - after all the full-on travelling of the last
An upmarket cave house.
few days, it was nice to not be in a rush to do anything.
After brunch we walked around Goreme, visiting tourist offices to book all our activities for our time here.
Although we were expecting to see cave houses and alien-like 'fairy chimneys', to actually see them was still surreal. Hotels (including ours, the Sunset Cave Hotel) have literally been carved into the cliffs and are basically modern, refurbished caves with electricity, and what used to be elongated, standalone domes of rock have been carved up on the inside and converted into houses. These structures really do look like something from another planet, as if you were in an alien civilisation from Star Wars. Amazing.
Booking our hot air balloon and Cappadocia tours apart, the highlight of the day was a trip to nearby Avanos, where the girls enjoyed a hammam
. Davies and I didn't really fancy the idea of being scrubbed down by a big, hairy Turkish man, so we enjoyed a couple of Turkish coffees and a stroll around Avanos instead.
The area down by the river which includes a rather shaky pedestrian suspension bridge, a mosque, a riverside promenade, and Venetian-style gondolas for tourists is rather
Cappadocia's Grand Canyon.
pleasant. Otherwise, there isn't really too much to the town.
That evening, we visited a local restaurant with a traditional Turkish set-up of low tables, cushions, no shoes and crossed legs. Pity the food didn't match the standard of the setting. I had the saclava
which was nothing more than a beef and tomato stew. The quantities served were decidedly small too.
We all settled in for an early night because we had a 5am start the next day. Just like we did at the Valley of the Kings
we were to embark on an early morning, hot-air balloon ride.
After being served a breakfast of Turkish bread and pastries washed down with some fruit and some coffee, we ended up boarding the balloons late and as a result missed the sunset, which in my sleepy stupor, sort of defeated the purpose of doing the balloon ride at dawn.
John, our pilot, was an Englishman and was rather cheerful. He went on to explain that the period just after dawn was in fact the calmest period of the day with the least wind, and thus was the safest time to take tourists up into the sky. OK then, so perhaps it wasn't
Same Same But Different
Like the tombs carved into the rock in Petra but not so intricate and more alien-looking.
such a waste getting up early after all. In any case it was a beautiful clear-sky morning, perfect for a balloon ride.
As well as flying our balloon, John also gave us some good insight into piloting a hot-air balloon, the area below us, life in Turkey as an ex-pat, and some jokes.
The view over Cappadocia, was as expected, pretty amazing. John also managed to get us pretty low and into some of the valleys for some real close-up shots of the Martian-like landscape. There were about a hundred other balloons also flying about at the same time which against the landscape, was quite a sight. I'll let the pictures do the talking.
Unlike in Egypt, we were not set upon by kids and donkeys begging for food when we landed but instead were treated to some cake and a glass of champagne, which doesn't taste as nice when you're sleep-deprived at 8am in the morning. John then rather amusingly and embarrassing-Dad-style, put on his pilot's hat before handing out our certificates for completing the flight. Would we have got one if the balloon went down?
After a short rest and a second breakfast back at hotel, we
were picked up for our "green tour" of Cappadocia.
Out tour guide Ugur - who was a ringer for Luis Figo
- was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and wasn't shy of a joke or two, even if some of them fell a bit flat.
The first stop on our tour was at a lookout across the valley which was pretty impressive. At the viewpoint Ugur explains that rivers had eroded the sedimentary rock that existed here over millions of years to form the landscape that we see today.
The next stop was the highly anticipated Derinkuyu Underground City, which is eight levels deep. Sounds pretty cool huh?
The city was created by the Hittites who used it primarily as a place to hide from invaders. Apparently there are hundreds of these cities in Cappadocia, but only a few have been excavated and opened to the public. After the Hittites, the civilisations that ruled over the area took over the underground cities and further expanded and developed them.
As we go down into the darkness, the place feels similar to the Wieliczka Salt Mines
On the first level underground, Ugur tells us that animals, the kitchens and the food stores were all kept
Derinkuyu Underground City
It's amazing to think that people lived down here all those years ago.
as close to the surface as possible for hygiene reasons and also so that the smoke created from cooking could leave the city as quickly as possible without smokin' the place out a la Warren G. Any smoke generated was routed through a chimney which used pumice to filter out the colour from the smoke, so that the enemies on the surface could not see it. The chimney hole was cleverly covered by a grave on the surface, when not in use.
As we go deeper underground through some pretty claustrophobic tunnels, Ugur explains to us that the tunnels were deliberately made small so that it was easier to kill invaders - the size of the tunnels only allows one invader at a time to go through them, which made them easy to pick off when they eventually encountered defenders.
When we reach the deepest levels, Ugur tells us how amazing it is that none of the floors in the underground city ever collapsed on each other, given how old these cities are and the relative lack of technology. The lower levels were created by later civilisations and include a couple of chapels.
Unfortunately, we weren't the only group touring
This was restored - it didn't actually look like this back in the day.
through the city - the place was rammed with other tourist groups and there were some serious traffic jams in some of the one way tunnels. I would love to have been able to freely explore the whole city, without anyone around. I love exploring sites like this.
The next stop on our tour was the Ihlara Valley, basically a canyon which we were about to make a short hike through.
Before the hike starts, we descend into the canyon and stop at a church that has been built into a cave, its frescoes still bright and intact. Ugur tells us that the paint used on these frescoes were egg-white-based. Apparently, this is just one of hundreds of cave churches in the valley, carved into the rocks by Byzantine monks.
It really is a lovely day for a hike, and I regret not wearing shorts. With the river running alongside us, it was a peaceful and pleasant walk, with some great scenery to boot. Another interesting fact that Ugur tells us during the walk, is that the temperature in the valley is constant which allows plants that don't normally grow in Cappadocia to actually thrive in the valley, including
The highlight of the tour.
The hike ends with lunch at an outdoor riverside restaurant, where the beef shish kebab was excellent although 5TRY (£1.80) for a can of Fanta was a bit ridiculous.
The highlight of the day was definitely the Selime Monastery, the next stop on the tour.
This was the kind of shit I was expecting to see in Cappadocia - a huge complex of tunnels, stairwells, and houses all built into a mountain.
While looking rather primitive from the outside - they are essentially caves after all - walking into the cathedral was like something out of Indiana Jones. Built into the rock, the church is all arches, naves, columns and even some frescoes. The main nave even has a mezzanine floor that looks over it.
Also within the complex are several other caves including the main dormitories and the school. All the rooms, including the cathedral are connected by secret passages and pitch-black tunnels. I was like a kid in a candy store.
In the most inner reaches of the complex, a group of girls have climbed up into an ascending tunnel, the man-made steps eroded to the point where climbing up the tunnel was a bit
More stylish and intricate arches inside the Selime Monastery - inside a CAVE.
of a challenge. The tunnel leads up into a small space which provides access to a steep tunnel that takes you all the way to the top of the mountain - like a chimney of sorts. I chat to the girls and it turns out that they're fellow Kiwis. It also turns out that we were not supposed to have climbed up into this small cave and are certainly not supposed to climb up the chimney.
I am mighty tempted, but the steps that take you up the chimney are in an even worse state than the initial steps that got us up here. With a bit of care, it was definitely do-able to get to the top - but with no hand rails to speak of, any slip on the way up would result in a ten metre tumble down what is effectively a laundry chute made of rock. It was enough for me to pass up the opportunity, but it didn't put off one of the Japanese guys on my tour who climbed all the way to the top! Legend. So much for Turkish health and safety - I have absolutely no doubt that Sag would have had
Hole In The Roof
The Selime Monastery has been around a while so you can only expect it to be naturally damaged in places. Makes for a cool sight though.
a go, were he here.
The tunnel wasn't the only dangerous feature of the monastery - there are natural holes in a lot of the caves and you had to be careful not to fall through them.
I loved it - there were tunnels and alternative routes to just about every place in the monastery - it was a shame we didn't have another half hour or so to muck around here.
The place had magnificent views across the landscape as well - a landscape that was used in the recent Star Wars films to depict planets in galaxies far, far away...
It had been a long day, so we were over it by the time we got the next stop - a local jewellery factory.
We were treated to air-conditioning and a demo of how they make jewellery and artefacts from the local turquoise. We also now know how to spot fake turquoise from the real thing.
It was obviously an arrangement to try and get us to buy jewellery from the rather large showroom, much like how tours and taxis take you to Egyptian perfumeries in Giza
but there was no way any of us was going to buy anything. They didn't have
Quite nice for place known for the collection of pigeon shit.
a bald, camp Egyptian man selling it for a start.
Just over the road from the jewellery factory was a view over Pigeon Valley, full of little holes in the hills used to collect pigeon shit for fertiliser back in the day.
And with this, the tour was brought to an end.
We had traditional Cappadocian testi kebabs for dinner that night at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Goreme.
Testi kebabs are cooked in a sealed clay pot which you then crack open with a small machete at your table. The testi was tasty and was certainly a novelty, as were the crunchy bits of clay pot fragments that you would accidentally eat with it.
After a long day that started at 5am that morning, it is no surprise we hit the sack straight after dinner.
After a late start the next day, we went to the Goreme Open Air museum where we bumped into Luis Figo giving another tour to another group of tourists. The outdoor museum is basically a collection of fairy chimneys that were lived in as houses and prayed in as churches. Having seen the Selime Monastery the previous day however, the fairy chimneys here
Apple Church, Goreme Open Air Museum
Illegally taken picture of the fabulous fresco inside the Apple Church.
were comparably unremarkable. Plus there was an incessant amount of tourists which meant queues to get into some of the caves including the Apple Church, which admittedly contained some of the most vivid, intact, and impressive frescoes of all the churches we had seen in Cappadocia.
We were pretty much over it.
On the way back into town we had a pleasant outdoor lunch at a cave cafe near the museum where I had some 'manti' or Turkish ravioli - small beef-filled dumplings smothered in yoghurt and paprika. It was nice, although I probably wouldn't order it again.
I also had some Turkish ice cream, which is less creamy than normal ice cream, and sweeter and more sticky. Still yum though. Doesn't need to be that cold as a result as well, which is just as well in a place like Turkey.
There are a lot of adventure excursions available in Goreme and while horse riding took the girls' fancy, Davies and I were fuelled by the desire to ride quad bikes.
We end up hiring a couple of quads from a family-run business, and we were taken on a 'tour' of the Goreme Valley by one of the
Quad Biking With A View
Davies takes some time out from crashing his quad bike to capture the scenery.
owner's sons, who was no older than 12.
Snaking through the network of quad tracks that criss-crosses the valley was certainly fun - even more so when you're surrounded by the most fascinating rock formations that you've ever seen, rock formations that look like penises.
The kid guiding us had the restless energy and the puerile humour of a er, kid, and demonstrated as much when taking pictures of two turtles having sex on the side of a track (yeah, we were taking pictures too) and taking Davies quad a for a few jumps while we stopped to take pictures. He certainly had some skillz with the bikes although you expect to do so if you ride them around all day every day. Perhaps he should get into motocross when he gets older.
The dirt on some of the tracks was quite loose and and braking the bike on such a surface caused you to slide uncontrollably rather than stop in some places. There was one particular turn that I just could not master and ended up sliding off the track and crashing the bike on its side the first time, and then getting stuck in the mud the second
It just does, doesn't it?
time. As skilled as the boy was, it was still a bit embarrassing having a 12-yr old get your bike out of trouble.
I wasn't the only one falling off my bike however - an attempted slide by Davies ended up with him bailing off the bike, snapping a wing mirror and cracking the chassis in the process. This isn't the first time - Davies has previous with this kinda shit
During the tour, we stopped by at yet more cave churches - the sheer number of them is quite amazing, and exploring them is them is quite fun. As we emerged from one, we see some familiar figures pass by on horseback - Claire and Penelope's tour following the same trails we were.
To end the tour, the kid takes us to a large clearing complete with a couple of steep ramps for kicks, and leaves us to our own devices while he rides off and mucks around with a huge group of his mates, all on either quads, scooters or motorbikes. With a whole gang of bikes charging around in a massive group it looked like a scene out of Mad Max.
If Davies wasn't hurt by his fall off the bike, then he
Inside Another Cave Church
These churches are everywhere and the decorative carvings inside them were amazing given how long ago these churches were carved out.
was certainly hurt by the amount he had to pay for the damage to his quad. Having inspected the damage, the kid's dad was pretty open and honest about what Davies had to pay - he showed Davies the website from which they ordered replacement parts for the bike so that Davies could see how much each part cost and he did not pay any more than the cost of the replacement part. Still, I can think of better ways to spend £90...
After the girls had their shopping fix - with Penelope buying a couple of plates and Rebecca buying a couple of lanterns as souvenirs - we decided to treat ourselves that night and ate at the fanciest looking restaurant in town.
Starting with the longest piece of bread ever
I ordered the Cappadocian kofte with cheese, and it was delicious. And since it was our last night in Turkey Claire and I finally treated ourselves to our first glass of wine of the trip. The trip had been so full-on that we didn't really have the energy to go out at night and with all the boozing we do in London, it was nice having an
Balloons Over Cappadocia
The view was worth getting up for.
10-day alcohol break.
Which brings us to the end of the trip.
From the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, to the serenity of Gallipoli, to the history of Ephesus and Termessos, and the outlandish sights of Pamukkale and Cappadocia, Turkey has a lot going for it. And this is even before mentioning the beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean which we didn't get to. The food is amazing too - I will miss the grilled meats and ayran
The most surprising thing about Turkey however, was the friendliness, hospitality and humour of the people. Most people from the the guys working on the buses, in the hotels, to the waiters and shopkeepers, everyone was warm, relaxed and happy to share a joke.
After my experiences of Muslim countries, particularly in Egypt and Morocco, it was easy to apply generalisations to Muslim people and Muslim countries. Whether Turkey is different because of its greater liberalisation and acceptance of western culture I don't know; but it is easy to draw that conclusion. I was pleasantly surprised.
In the meantime there is no rest for wicked - I will spend one night in London after getting back from Turkey before flying out
Rows Of Cave Buildings
At the Goreme Open Air Museum.
to San Francisco, a place quite different to Turkey. I'm certainly clocking up the miles.
As always, you will hear all about it right here.
Why the hell am I going almost straight from Turkey to San Francisco? You'll need to read the next entry to find out. Until then...
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