Walking with aliens

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April 7th 2018
Published: April 22nd 2018
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We are all on a high from our hot air balloon ride and find it odd to be arriving back at our hotel at what would be our normal breakfast time. It feels like we've had half a day already. We're heading off on more activities later, but we have a bit of time relaxing at our cave hotel reading, going for short walks in our little valley and round the top of the cliff, watching a couple having wedding photos with our hotel as a backdrop and generally soaking up this unique location before we go.

In the afternoon our bus driver picks us up and takes us to the start of a walk through the alien landscape of Cappadocia in one of the valleys near Goreme. We stop at a particular rockface where Burak shows us how soft the rock here really is, scraping a little groove in the rock, joking that every time he passes with a tour group he makes a little bit more of what will eventually be his own cave hotel. The landscape here is so surreal, some truly believing it was made by aliens - obviously not too hot on their geological processes! Really the landscape was formed over millions of years. Volcanic eruptions showered ash over the landscape and this hardened to form a porous rock called tuff. On top of this tuff a layer of harder basalt rock formed. Various geological process took place to erode the volcanic rock, mostly from the effects of rain, snow and rivers but also from huge changes in temperature causing cracking and fissures. The harder basalt rock took longer to erode leaving the mushroom shaped caps balancing on top of the conical shapes left by erosion of the light-yellow coloured tuff rock. Some like to call these conical rock formations fairy castles, others are more lewd likening them to willies. We childlishy take photos of these to make it look like we are handling or licking them. Oh dear! Even in the valley, which is away from the main town, there are little rock caves made in the conical rocks. These would have been used to store food items or to breed pigeons. It is hard so see how people would have climbed to the entrances of many of the holes in the rock, but little foot holds can be made out under some of them, the steps having also been eroded over time. There is one cave lower down with actual footholds still showing and Burak pretends this is the only way to get inside getting some of our group to do a bit of rock climbing to make it to the entrance. Really there is an easy way in around the back of the cave, but they manage to make to the top. Apparently this particular cave was used as a place of worship in times gone by. Today we use it to pose for photos.

We finish our walk in the valley and find the activities are not finished with. We are off to a pottery workshop 'Chez Galip' to meet the Turkish Einstein! He's really a famous Turkish potter called Galip Korukcu , but has wild white hair and a black moustache just like that famous photo of Albert Einstein himself. We are to have a pot throwing demo and all sit in a row watching while Einstein gets the wheel going by flinging his feet in opposite directions on the base wheel to get it spinning. His workshop is covered in photos of himself meeting all sorts of people over the years and there's examples of his work decorating the walls. We find out about the process used to fire the pots and how they create some of the different colours in the terracotta pots by stuffing hay on one side of the pot when its in the kiln to change the amount of heat it receives, therefore making different colours on the pot's surface. When the Turkish Einstein asks for a volunteer I quickly put my hand up. I love having a go on these different types of potters wheels whenever I visit places just to see if I can still manage to keep the clay under control and fashion a pot - I did a little bit of pot throwing at evening classes decades ago and more recently went on a day course and still absolutely loved it. The feel of the clay in my hands as it centres on the wheel is really calming and it's so satisfying to actually make a pot. When he realises I'm not a complete novice he starts calling me 'maestro', which is egging it massively considering the tiny pot I manage to make compared to the gorgeous examples we get to see inside the shop area. Here the walls are heaving with sumptuously decorated, colourful plates, bowls, lanterns, cups and saucers. These are the ones made and decorated by the local potters who display their wares at Chez Galip. We also get to see Einstein's amazing master pieces which include some massive circular jugs with a hole, 'polo' style through the middle, to put on your shoulder to pour. Sadly we can't afford to buy any of his art pieces but we do buy some bits and pieces from the main shop. I hope to get the beautiful bowl in my favourite greeny blue colours back to the UK in one piece. Luckily they have lots of bubble wrap on hand to help me in this endeavour.

Pottery workshop visit over we go to the town of Goreme and walk up to the top of the hillside where there are - you guessed it - more cave buildings cut into the rocks. The whole town has loads of hotels and homes built into the tuff rock faces, some really quite grand, but at the top of the hill are the older sections that have the remains of chapels, with paintings and some other rooms with blackened ceilings showing they were used as kitchens, with a table and bench areas for people to sit and eat. It's strange to imagine people sat in the very same place we are in now all those centuries ago having their evening meal together. A few of us stay up here to explore further and watch the sun go down. There is a cobbled street that leads all the way up to a good look out point and suddenly we hear the clattering of hooves. A guy is riding a horse straight up this tiny street passing so close to people walking up. It's amazing the horse doesn't slip. The rider smiles as he gallops past people screaming in surprise or cheering him on. We see him again as we get to the top the horse having a well deserved breather. The views up here are wonderful, the sun creating gorgeous shadows on the strange rocks.

When we go back down we meet up with the rest of our group at a restaurant where we have the local crock pot meal or 'pottery kebab'. We had ordered these earlier in the day and either beef, lamb or vegetable varieties are place before us. The little terracotta pots, with a plug of pastry on top, are cracked with a hammer to take the top section off and we are left with the bottom section with our cooked food inside. The remains of the pots are recycled and made into new crock pots. We had something a little similar in southern India last year but with curry inside the pot and again with a pastry top. Interesting to see how a similar cooking technique has been used in different parts of the world.

What an incredible day in Cappadocia, hot air ballooning, walking in alien landscapes, meeting the Turkish Einstein, throwing a pot and trying pottery kebabs. We'll be sad to leave this amazing area tomorrow.

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