Cappadocia


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Middle East » Turkey » Central Anatolia
June 2nd 2016
Published: June 5th 2016
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Saturday, 28 May – Cappadocia




This was our biggest day of driving with 600kms to cover as our adventure turned inland. 50kms outside of Antalya, as we were hooting down the dual lane freeway at 110kph, we faced a semi-trailer driving in our direction in the emergency lane! He wasn’t even reversing – he was literally driving the wrong direction into oncoming traffic in a lane that barely fit his vehicle! Why? Because…Turkey!!

We followed the coast for an hour before heading over the mountains. The highest pass was 1850m and it was a very pretty drive. The mountains were rocky and steep, covered with perfectly shaped pine forests from peak to creak. The road was fantastic as it had passing lanes the whole way up, there was not much traffic and there are no towns so it was easily our best day of highway driving. We saw our largest herd of goats before leaving the mountains, a herd of about 500 or more.

After 2 hours we suddenly “popped out" from the mountains and they receded quickly as if they’d never existed in the first place. Ahead of us was the Anatolian steppes. For the next 3 hours there was a distinct lack of gozleme stands and goats. Literally no gozleme or goats! The scenery changed multiple times, as did the weather. Sun, rain, sun, torrential rain, rocky and barren flats, wooded hills, green grain farms swaying in the breeze like a scene from Tuscany, rocky barren hills and finally something that can only be described as Turkey’s grand Canyon, Cappadocia. Based at 1130m, it’s on a high plateau.

Unfortunately we discovered that our driver’s side back tyre was very low upon arriving in Konya, so we had to keep pumping it up every hour. Looks like we may have to pay to fix it.

This is our final stop in Turkey. We’re lodged at the luxurious Kelebek Hotel and Spa for the next 4 nights in a junior suite for a bargain $70 per night. It tops the list in Lonely Planet and is top 5 on Tripadvisor. We have to thank Cheryl and Devon Deppeler, who persuaded us to book it based on their great experience. Kelebek is a stunning cave hotel with fairy chimney rooms and they have a magnificent view over the town of Goreme, not to mention great service and very friendly reception. We’re loving this hotel. In fact, outside of Istanbul where we splurged on a penthouse apartment for $145pn, all our other accommodation has been between $50-80 per night and it hasn’t been budget either.

Sunday, 29 May – Cappadocia

Stumbled out of bed to find that we had a new room mate. We had opened the window for fresh air before going to bed and a cat had come in during the night and comfortably seated herself on our arm chair. I had to look twice on my way to the shower as all I could see was a black and caramel ball of fluff and I wasn’t sure what it was or whether it had been there the night before and we’d just not noticed. She was very friendly and loved being patted. She was gone when we got back from breakfast.

Came out to the car this morning to find the tyre completely flat. Dwayne started changing it but when the reception guy saw what we were doing, he ran down and took over. I even jacked up the car and he had a laugh saying that girls in Turkey have no idea about cars and “don’t get it”. Unfortunately we’re going to have to pay to fix it, as insurance doesn’t cover tyre damage. Oh well, it’s only $15 so better than a fraudulent speeding fine!

Being a Sunday, the mechanic was closed so we decided to drive out to Love Valley, as our receptionist recommended it, saying “You should go to love valley because it has many penises!” The reason Cappadocia is so special is because it’s at the bottom of several canyons and the volcanic rock, Tuff, has been eroded away into mushroom or asparagus type formations. People also live in the rock caves and it was especially prevalent when early Christians were hiding from Roman persecution. There are doors, windows and tunnels all over the joint. It also gets a mention in the bible, although the penis description of the topography is expectedly missing!

Love valley did have lots of fallic-looking shapes standing upright along the valley floor. From there we did a walk up Zemi valley and for the first time on the trip, we heard chirpy birds. Our entire trip has been quite devoid of bird noises, except for crows and sea birds
along the coast. It was very pretty to wander amongst all the trees and birds, with the different rock formations above us on both sides. Cappadocia is very quaint, unique and impressive.

Monday, 30 May – Cappadocia

We started with a sunrise and ended with a sunset.

The weather was on our side this morning so we were able to successfully go hot air ballooning! There were over 90 balloons in the air and only 9 people in our basket. It was as captivating and thrilling as I expected. Driving out to the launch site and seeing endless balloons being inflated, and then seeing them all in the air over the canyon was striking. Mind you, it was noisier than I imagined. Our pilot was using the gas every 2 minutes so it wasn’t as silent as I had anticipated. It is an endless hour of “whoosh” noises from all the balloons. However, he skilfully threaded us like a needle through valleys a couple of metres above the ground, low enough for me to touch trees, before rising back up to over 600m in the air. For an hour and a half we rose and dropped like
two children on a see-saw. Some balloons were up near 1km high. We had the long flight of 90 minutes and there is no way I would want to do the shorter 1 hour tour, unless it was significantly cheaper. Even our tour was over before any of us wanted it to be. If there was ever a place to hot air balloon, it is Cappadocia.

Our hotel offers a complimentary “organic breakfast” for guests that wish to exchange their normal hotel breakfast once during their stay, so we’d booked for breakfast after the balloon. The hotel’s owner takes a group out to his private farm via tractor and cart, and you sit under a grape vine trellis eating everything from his garden. There was menimen (Turkish egg dish), walnuts, figs, strawberries, watermelon, oranges, apples, dried fruits, yoghurts, olives, cheeses, flat bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers (capsicums). He showed us a traditional kitchen and cave storeroom, their pidgeon houses, shared stories of his childhood and showed us the wine he makes and the house he has built in the hidden valley. Apparently his private farm has cost him twice the price of his 48 room hotel to develop but
it was handed down to him from his grandparents and has been in the family for over 500 years, so why wouldn’t you do something with it? The whole 3hr experience was very special.

We got the tyre repaired and headed off to the Goreme Open Air Museum. Still no goats. In fact, there is very little cattle/sheep/horses in Turkey as a whole. Lots of crops but little livestock and what livestock we’ve seen is always in town and not in the fields!

The open air museum is a series of caves that have been carved on the inside into churches and they had frescoes painted on them. It only takes an hour to look around but it was interesting to see how the early Christians lived and how much work went into excavating these stone cones into liveable spaces.

After dinner I had a traditional Hamam (spa) experience. Turkish baths are big in Turkey but they don’t work the same way that Turkish baths operate elsewhere in Europe. For example, in Budapest the Turkish Baths have multiple swimming pools with different temperatures and you move between them according to what pool suits you most. However, in
a Hamami, there is a marble room with a large heated slab in the middle and archways around the perimeter with bowls and taps. First you go into the change rooms, undress and cover yourself with a “pestamel”, a cotton and silk bath wrap. Next is the sauna to let the skin become supple. Then an attendant will lay you down on the large slab of marble and pour bowls of warm water over the whole body. He/she puts on an exfoliation glove and scrubs you from head to toe. Another splashing of warm water bowls. After the peel comes the soap, which she drops on you in a very big ball and it sinks over the body like a glove. She then massages you from head to toe, followed by more warm water. Finally, you stand up and she rinses you off and leads you to a cool room for relaxation. If you don’t want the peel and soap massage, you can do the hamami on your own where you sit in one of the archways next to a set of taps and pour water over yourself using the bowl until you are sick of it. I personally don’t see the point of paying to drench myself so I went the whole hog and got the massage. Soap is much nicer for massaging than oil! I think I prefer the European style of baths where you can swim rather than sit in a marble room, but it was something different and fun.

We ended the day by watching the sun set upon a day of new experiences and cherished memories.

Tuesday, 31 May – Cappadocia

A travel agent down from our hotel is selling the 1hr balloon tour for €90. If you book with most companies/hotels/travel agents, you’ll be quoted €150 for 1hr, and €235 for 1.5hrs. Whilst I said I wouldn’t do the 1hr tour, I certainly would for €90! Note to self: tell people to wait until arriving in Cappadocia or book via email with this guy.

We spent the morning at an underground cave city called Kaymakli. It’s believed that the caves may have been started back in the 8th-7th centuries BC by the Phrygians, but when they died out it was taken over by the early Christians and extended. The tunnels were finally abandoned in 1923 when the Greek Christians were evicted from Turkey. The city has over 100 tunnels and goes 8 levels down. It is a rabbit warren of small passages, endless rooms and holes everywhere for communication and ventilation between the levels. Levels 1 and 2, still used today, are for stables, storage areas and cellars. The lower levels have living rooms, kitchens, chapels and graves. Only 4 levels are open to the public. We spent an hour getting lost in the tunnels which are low, narrow and steep.

We left at lunchtime and found a bakery along the way that had just finished baking a round of bread, so we had a warm crusty loaf for lunch with peanut butter and vegemite.

In the afternoon we walked down 350 steps to the Ihlara Valley. It’s a narrow gorge with a lovely river flowing through it and over 10,000 caves dug into the sheer cliffs either side of the river. I’m sure you can visit the caves if you free climb up the cliff to get to them! There is a walking path on both sides of the river with bridges every km or so and it is 14km from start to finish. There are also churches that you can visit along the way but we didn’t bother. Once you’ve seen several cave churches, you’ve seen them all. We walked for about an hour, stopped and cooled our feet in the river, then walked back to tackle the 350 steps back up. Beautiful walk.

We have been astounded at the large number of Asian tourists in Turkey, more than anywhere else in Europe. We saw them in Ephesus, Pamukkale and now here. Not only have we seen a busload or two of older Asians, there are tons of younger independent travellers all having a DIY holiday. We even saw a diehard backpacker – he had the sleeping bag, the spare shoes dangling from the pack and everything. I’ve never seen an Asian backpacker doing it rough like that! It’s very unusual for Asians to tour independently and I certainly would not have picked Turkey has being a go-to country for Asian groups either. Obviously that traditional “hop on hop off” style of tour is being replaced by a more adventurous generation of intrepid travellers.

We arrived home after our walk through Ihlara Valley and opened our hotel window for some fresh air. Dwayne saw our feline roommate and as soon as he said hello, she sprinted along the roof top out of sight and around the corner to our window, meowing at Dwayne as she let herself in. She couldn’t get inside our room quick enough. We sat on the floor and played with her for 10 minutes before dinner. She was gone when we got back. Gotta love animals. We’ve also noticed that the dogs and cats don’t chase each other or the chickens. Very civilised compared to Australian pets.

We still haven’t seen a town or community of conservative dressers in our travel. Ironically Istanbul, the most contemporary city in the country, has had the most conservative dressers with more burkas and beards there than anywhere else. I find it surprising that Turkish men, in general, don’t have beards. I expected lots of beards in a Muslim country. We’ve also seen one set of parents feeding their 4-yrd old Turkish (aka Lipton) tea. I find that very strange.

Wednesday, 1 June – Istanbul

We got up early to watch the balloons for the last time and were delighted to see them right over Goreme, which was quite convenient for photos. One balloon even launched in the valley next to our hotel so we watched as the basket below us floated past us and high into the air.

For our last hoorah in Cappadocia, we decided to walk the Rose Valley. Unfortunately we never found the valley as the millions of random tracks, and I use the term “track” loosely, led us in an unknown direction. The signage is appalling. However, the walk was pretty and we found ourselves weaving between vertical rock walls on both sides of our narrow track. We stumbled across an abandoned cave house and chapel complex up high and with a bit of amateur rock climbing, we got to explore it all on our own. There were beautiful carvings on the roof of the chapel. We didn’t explore many others even though we saw a huge number of them. Nearly every section of rock has a door, window or pigeon house. On our walk we saw dill, sage, rose bushes, grape vines, wheat and olive trees among other things – just growing wild. I’m not sure whether it’s because they have been cultivated for so long in the area, or whether the plants are native to the area, or a little bit of both.

We came back to the hotel, showered, called Renae’s parents and had a simple lunch of fresh bread and spreads before checking out. The hotel, which is one of the best we’ve ever stayed in, have bent over backwards to assist us and they didn’t disappoint today either, kindly allowing us to stay until 3pm. Then it’s back to Istanbul for an overnight stay before the long journey home.

We started our northern sojourn on 1 May, and now we begin our southern migration on 1 June.

Poetic.

Reflections

After nearly 5 weeks in Turkey, my final sentiments are that I like Turkey, but I don’t love it. I heard so many people rave about it so it may be that my expectations were too high. A couple of things absolutely stand out – the cruise, the balloon, the scenery and the history tops the list – and everything else was good. If I had to give it a score out of 10 (where Switzerland is a 9.8), I would rate it a 7. It’s not my favourite trip but I’m glad I’ve done it.

Turkey is a land of…


• Countless varieties of Turkish delight
• Striking landscapes
• Mountains, mountains and more mountains
• Unforgettable experiences
• Azure waters that have to be seen to be believed
• Remarkable history everywhere you turn
• Conservative dress is the minority
• Hard workers
• Dogs, cats, chickens and goats
• Tortoise rescues (we helped 4 of the cute critters)
• Wild dill, sage, wheat, roses
• Gozleme stands
• Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cheeses, olives and baby walnuts
• Great accommodation
• Good roads
• Turkish flags and posters of Ataturk
• Smog
• Smokers!!
• Car horns
• Dangerous and impatient drivers – run red lights, drive into oncoming traffic, no indicators, ignore lane markings and who’s in them, drive down a closed lane, use emergency lane as desired and ignore pedestrians and any rules associated with courteous driving
• Vague speed zones
• Accidents – we saw 5 in total
• Jellyfish in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles (but nothing in the Aegean and Mediterranean)
• Unfinished buildings
• Limited English
• Annoying sales people and tour guides trying to sell their products/services
• Limited fruit and veg choices
• Miscommunication and half-truths (they’ll tell you want you want to hear, even if it’s not entirely true)
• Being ripped off intermittently


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8th June 2016

Loved your Turkey experience
It brought it all back for us as we had been to Turkey many years ago. Thank you. Shirley and David XX

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