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December 22nd 2015
Published: December 24th 2015
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These blue talismans can be seen everywhere both here and in Greece. The blue eye is supposed to ward off curses cast by an evil stare.
We left for Cappadocia on a quick 1 hour Pegasus airlines flight ($40 round trip!) early in the morning which unfortunately ended up getting delayed for a few hours. Upon arrival the fog was heavy in the area and it was about 20 degrees and snowy. Again we were happy that we made room for winter weather clothes for this trip, even though it ate up precious space in our small carry on bags.

We arrived in the town of Goreme and could see numerous fairy chimneys dotted throughout the village peaking through the heavy fog. Cappadocia is located in central Turkey in a volcanic area that has led to the creation of rock formations know as "fairy chimneys" which look somewhat like the phallic cousin of some of the formations you see in the Southern Utah desert. What makes these rock formations unique is that most have been carved out by the ancient Assyrian and Hittite people around 3000-4000 BC to make homes and shelters out of the soft and porous rock. Later during the Byzantine times persecuted Christians hid in these rocks and further carved massive subterranean settlements "underground cities" to avoid marauding Roman and Muslim invaders. These cities continued to be used up until the 20th century by people hiding from persecution by the Ottomans.

In a little discussed period of history between 1914-1923 it is said that approximately 3.5 million Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians were killed in a genocide by the Turkish government to ethically cleanse Turkey. I read that it is illegal to even discuss this in Turkey, and that many citizens believe the genocide did not occur. In fact I have a family member who just passed away of Armenian descent whose parents fled to America during this time. I'm sure that just by writing this I will open myself up to threatening and insulting comments on this blog, just as I had received after writing about the plight of Tibetans in China while visiting there a few years ago. Some people don't value the freedom of speech as we so lightly take for granted.

These underground cities were places built for the people to take temporary shelter during times of danger and many of these cities were connected to homes through secret passageways. There are about 200 known underground cities in the Cappadocia region, with countless more believed to be yet discovered. One of the cities we visited was Kaymakli, which housed several thousand inhabitants, other cities up to 30,000 or more.

We checked into the Bedrock Cave Hotel ($38) where I had booked us a "cave room" that had been chiseled into stone. The room was luxurious and we felt more like we were spending a night in a castle than in a cave but with all the modern amenities. I had earlier joked with Dennis after we landed in the snow that we were doing a cave homestay experience like we had in Wadi Rum. I kept the joke going for a few minutes and had to break the news to him once I saw he was genuinely annoyed at me and getting depressed at the idea.

The reception clerk Mehmet was kind enough to offer to transport us to the Goreme Open Air Museum just outside of town to help us maximize our sightseeing time during our brief stay. The Open Air Museum is an area of fairy chimneys that house several churches and tombs. Again, sadly many of the beautiful murals on the church walls were defaced, and it was hard to find a set
of eyes that had not been viciously scratched out. I had just learned the other day from someone I had worked with in Iraq that an ancient Christian Assyrian church had been blown up by Isis in Tikrit where we lived. This church was attended by soldiers on base on Sundays, and it was beautifully carved into a rock in one of Saddam's palace grounds. It is depressing to think that this is what our "liberation" brought to that area. Now there are countless historical places being destroyed in the name of God once again. These places transcend any mere religious significance but are precious relics to all of humanity throughout the ages, regardless of what creator you ascribe to them.

We had a delicious traditional Anatolian dinner consisting of an eggplant Testi Kebap, a clay pot that is sealed and baked. Once the dish is cooked it is broken open and the contents consumed. I also tried Salgam, a wildly popular drink with the Turks that is a salted fermented turnip juice with barley and yeast. Yes, it tasted exactly like what you would expect, but I managed to down the whole thing while focusing on the health benefits yielded from it.

We hurried back to the warm hotel as the temperature dipped down into the teens, followed by an adorable stray dog we saw several times throughout the day. The poor freezing animal tried to follow us right into the hotel, and we probably would have brought him in if not for the watchful eye of the reception clerk. Several of the closed stores and restaurants had both cats and dogs sitting against the front doors, trying to absorb some radiant heat and probably hoping for a benevolent owner to let them in like one of the locals told us happens quite often.

The following day we took some of the local buses to visit the underground city of Kaymakli, outside of Kayseri and then onto the Uchisar Castle. We had planned to hike back the few miles back to Goreme through Pigeon Valley to enjoy the parks astounding panoramic views through a fairy chimney wonderland. Unfortunately the fog was thick and it began to snow so we could only see a few hundred feet around us. We hiked through the park regardless and were able to enjoy the surrounding area, while slipping and sliding
down the icy and snow trails. Once the trail ended and the city street begun, who did we see but our friendly black dog from the previous night eating some garbage. He happily recognized us and accompanied us through town.

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is an area we both agreed deserved another trip, and for a longer time next time. In fact we both loved our short stay in Turkey and all the people we had met seemed kind and friendly, and transport was easy and affordable. It is a truly beautiful place with an interesting culture blending the best elements of both East and West.

We flew back to Istanbul late that night, after more flight delays, and checked into the Orange Airport Hostel ($37) close by to the airport for our flight to London the next afternoon.

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