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Climbing, Caving, and Canceled Ballooning in Turkey, pt. 2: Cappadocia

Leaving a hotel in the city for a hotel in a cave.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Where I left off in my last post, we had just finished a guided tour of historic sites in Istanbul and were headed for the airport so we could fly over to the Cappodocia region of Turkey and do this leg of our holiday a little more rustically — By spending two nights staying in a cave.
We arrived at the airport on time, but it took a little while for the check-in luggage to come out and I always find it amusing that people will sit on the luggage carousel in a situation like this. These are not children, these are fully grown adults who know what this thing is, what it does, and have clearly used one before, yet seem genuinely shocked when it eventually starts to move, as if it were an occurrence that was completely unexpected. There are signs posted everywhere warning people not to touch it due to the potential dangers, but if something were to happen to someone who sat on the luggage carousel, I guess we could just chalk it up to natural selection and rejoice in the knowledge that the global IQ increased ever so slightly as a whole.
Our hotel transfer was waiting for us so we took a 30-minute drive to Göreme National Park in the Nevşehir Province in Central Anatolia, where we’d be staying in the Azure Cave Suites, voted the fifth most romantic hotel in Turkey, however, I was still a little skeptical about staying in a cave, especially after what happened to those Thai kids. Then common sense kicked in and I remembered that Anna had planned this trip and that woman doesn’t rough it if she can avoid it. When we arrived the building was beautiful, however, I had to drag my 30kg (66lb.) suitcase up a winding, cobblestone path that was about 200 metres (220 yds) long and climbed at least at a 45-degree angle! I was relieved when we got to our room though, because it was even nicer on the inside than it was from the outside, especially for a cave. We had a massive four-poster bed, a rainforest shower, and a giant indoor spa so I flicked on the TV and laughed while watching a channel where an old, bearded guy sang as his head was superimposed over waterfalls and other nature scenes while Anna took a shower.
A bit of what we saw that evening:

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
We learnt from the previous day’s experience that it would probably be a good idea if we had some breakfast before walking around, especially considering it was going to be a naturally rocky environment, not just a city, so we got up early enough to grab a bite to eat and still be ready to meet our personal tour guide, Ümit. Over the next two days he would be taking us around Cappadocia, but what actually is there to see here? Well, to begin with:

The area is a popular tourist destination, as it has many areas with unique geological, historic, and cultural features.

The most important towns and destinations in Cappadocia are Ürgüp, Göreme, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Guzelyurt, Uçhisar, Avanos and Zelve. Among the most visited underground cities are Derinkuyu, Kaymakli, Gaziemir and Ozkonak. The best historic mansions and cave houses for tourist stays are in Ürgüp, Göreme, Guzelyurt and Uçhisar.

Hot-air ballooning is very popular in Cappadocia and is available in Göreme. Trekking is enjoyed in Ihlara Valley, Monastery Valley (Guzelyurt), Ürgüp and Göreme.

Sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams and ignimbrite deposits that erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago, during the late Miocene to Pliocene epochs, underlie the Cappadocia region. The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. People of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out houses, churches and monasteries from the soft rocks of volcanic deposits. Göreme became a monastic centre in 300–1200 AD.

The first period of settlement in Göreme goes back to the Roman period. The Yusuf Koç, Ortahane, Durmus Kadir and Bezirhane churches in Göreme, and houses and churches carved into rocks in the Uzundere, Bağıldere and Zemi Valleys, all illustrate history and can be seen today. The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most visited site of the monastic communities in Cappadocia and is one of the most famous sites in central Turkey. The complex contains more than 30 carved-from-rock churches and chapels, some having superb frescoes inside, dating from the 9th century to the 11th century.

It seems like we’re going to have a packed couple of days and and the first thing we were going to do was jump in the van and venture around a few nearby areas in Göreme National Park to check out the general landscape of Cappadocia; rock formations and troglodyte houses in a valley, followed by a visit to the fairy chimneys near the town of Zelve. So, what the hell are “fairy chimneys?”

A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney or earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations.

Hoodoos are found mainly in the desert in dry, hot areas. In common usage, the difference between hoodoos and pinnacles (or spires) is that hoodoos have a variable thickness often described as having a “totem pole-shaped body”. A spire, on the other hand, has a smoother profile or uniform thickness that tapers from the ground upward.

Hoodoos range in size from the height of an average human to heights exceeding a 10-story building. Hoodoo shapes are affected by the erosional patterns of alternating hard and softer rock layers. Minerals deposited within different rock types cause hoodoos to have different colors throughout their height.

Hoodoos (peribacası) are found in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, where houses have been carved into the formations. The hoodoos were depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 50 new lira banknote of 2005–2009.

Cool, let’s go check them out, especially the rabbit-head rock:

We got to talking about the camels there and how I rode one in Oman, how uncomfortable they are, and how much they stink and Ümit told us that so many people pay a completely unreasonable amount of money to ride these awful things at tourist sites around Turkey, to the extent that a camel will make more money in a day than he does as a private tour guide!
After looking around the national park we stopped off for lunch in a town called Avanos. Why? Well, mainly so we could see more of this afterward:

The most famous historical feature of Avanos, which is still relevant and very visible today, is its production of earthenware pottery; it is also the most economic activity in the town. The ceramic trade in this district and its countless pottery factories date right back to the Hittites, and the ceramic clay from the red silt of the Kızılırmak has always been used.

We entered a Ömürlü‘s  traditional pottery workshop and were told about how dowries worked with Turkish marriages, especially in centuries past; women were required to make those delicious vine leaf-wrapped rice things I mentioned in the previous post for her prospective husband’s parents, the slimmer and finer the wraps, the better. For the man, he had to make a terra cotta pot on a clay-wheel, powered by the user rotating the base with his foot, for his future bride’s parents, the pot also featuring a lid that fit perfectly, however, he wasn’t allowed to measure it. Just make it fit. We were given a Turkish coffee each, which is like half-filling a small cup with ground coffee beans with a dash of water to create extremely caffeinated mud, and we watched the master at work. After a few minutes he had absolutely nailed it, from a lump of clay to a fully formed urn with a perfectly-fitting lid. It was quite remarkable, actually.
As always seems to be the case here, there was a tour of the shop attached to the workshop, there was no pressure to buy, but some of the stuff was really nice and Anna has always liked these designs so she ordered a decanter and a plate for herself, as well as a large plate with a personalised message on the back as a housewarming gift for her friend, Pat.
Normally they won’t let people take photos in the showroom as tourists from certain countries outside of Turkey that are notorious for making extremely poor quality knock-offs of luxury goods have been returning home with the images and having people in sweatshop conditions churn out cheap counterfeits. On this occasion, however, both the owner of the showroom and our tour guide were more than aware that we weren’t from one of those locations and that very few people that are have the ability to actually read this blog so they let us snap a few pictures:

With the intricacies of the detail on the pieces, coupled with Ömürlü’s backlog of orders, it will still be about another month or so before ours arrive, but it’s to be expected with something like this.

After Ömürlü, we had some lunch and then were taken to Göreme Open Air Museum to look at what are considered to be the best examples of Byzantine art in Cappadocia in rock-cut churches with frescoes and paintings dating back to the 10th century. Here’s how the Cappadocia tourism website describes Göreme Open Air Museum, there are a few spelling and grammatical errors, as well as mistranslations on the site, but you’ll be able to get the general idea:

The most important works that illuminate the history f Christianity in Cappadocia are churches hollowed in rocks. There are more than two hundreds and fifty churches in the region. Also, churches and monasteries can be seen in all of the valleys. In this part of the site, the most important ones of them are going to be mentioned. The area that churches are commonly found is Göreme as religious centre that life of monasetery was come true between 3.and 8. centuries. For the architecture and decorations of the churches and chapels is as wides examples in Göreme Valley. The churces, monasteries and chapels which are suitable for visit in Göreme Open Air Museum are narrated on the below.

First structure is monastery of nuns at the Goreme open air museum. In fact, the monastery of nuns known as six or seven floors but can be visited only three floors yet. The connection between the floors of the monastery is provided with tunnel and tunnel entrance are closed with sliding stones like underground cities of Cappadocia. There is a dining hall in the first floor, second floor has a chapel which decorated with frescoes and third floor also has a church with geometric decoration. There is Monastery of Priests near the Monastery of the nuns. Only a few rooms on the ground floor can be visited for into the rock layers are destroyed. A little later there is Hagios Basileos church which is known a tomb chapel walls decorated with frescoes. Near this church there is Aynali monastery with places around a courtyard. Aynali monastery has a big room which suppositional meeting room, a church and tomb rooms. Elmali monastery, for many years been used as a loft, all entries have been closed and thus without destroying frescoes hardly reached today. Understanding that the church is decorated in two differnet periods by means of red paint figurative decorations bottom of the poured frescoes. There is Barbara Church behind the Elmali church, Barbara Church walls are decorated with geometric figures and animal pictures. Just ahead Church of Hagia Katherina’ frescoes largely damaged. Yilanli church has a church, refectory, and other places. It has been named as Yilanli Church (Church with snake) for on one of the frescoes St. Georgios fight with a dragon on a horse.

Once we had arrived at the Open Air Museum we found out something that would come as both a disappointment and a relief; probably the most popular activity for tourists in Cappadocia is hot-air ballooning and one of the favourite balloon tours is taken at dawn. We had tickets for a dawn balloon tour the following day that would require our guide to pick us up from the hotel at 4:00am, however, it was almost certain to be canceled due to forecast weather conditions. We were looking forward to our first go in a ballon over this breathtaking landscape, but after all the flights we had done in the past two weeks, first to and from China, then out to Austria, back to Istanbul, and then to Cappadocia, coupled with Anna needing to get up early for conferences almost every day, and throw in some jet-lag for good measure, the cancellation was actually a welcome relief. Looks like a bit of a sleep-in tomorrow.
We got out of the van and had a look around the Göreme Open Air Museum, later traveling an hour away to Uchisar Rock-Castle for a panoramic view of the valleys of Cappadocia. We might have been missing out on the view from above, but it was still stunning from ground level. Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact details for each site:

Our day’s tour was winding down so we traveled back to the hotel, content with the fact that we weren’t going to be getting up again in a few hours, as was the initial plan. Instead, we had a few drinks and some snacks on the rooftop area of our hotel before heading out to a local restaurant for dinner.


It sure is nice out here

When we returned to our cave we decided to make use of that giant spa in our room, but Anna reminded me of something that happened when I went in a spa in the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne, Australia years ago. On that particular occasion I got a bit light-headed and nearly passed out in the spa, but I was adamant that wasn’t going to happen again this time… until it almost did. Sitting in a hot bath in a steamy room while drinking a beer just doesn’t sit well with me so I dried off and left Anna in there, while I went back to the main room and read a book. It was still a great way to relax after a long day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Ah, it was nice to sleep in, a luxury we truly weren’t expecting on this leg of the trip. As much as we would’ve loved to have gone ballooning, we definitely needed the rest. After we got up, we realised that the spa hadn’t drained at all, but that wasn’t our problem so we went upstairs to grab breakfast again, then it was time for another trek.
First we were going to do a tour of Kaymaklı Underground City, but en route we were stopping off to see how Turkish carpets were made in the unlikely hope that we would fork out thousands of dollars for one. We went in and watched a few women seated at their looms, meticulously weaving, knotting, and cutting strands of silk through a foundation of cotton threads while our guide told us about the whole knotting process before seeing how the silk is extracted from its natural form. Next, we were taken into a showroom and shown a variety of Turkish carpets, but they just aren’t our thing; the rugs are extremely expensive due to how time-consuming they are to produce, not particularly aesthetically pleasing to either of us, and furthermore, our dog would probably eat it anyway. If the carpet did survive, it would be at least 25% dog fur within a year based on the current condition of our apartment.
Anyway, here’s what we saw at the carpet place:

After seeing the carpets it was on to the highlight of the morning, looking through Kaymaklı Underground City, built in the 8th-7th centuries BCE and first opened to tourists in 1964:

The houses in the village are constructed around the nearly one hundred tunnels of the underground city. The tunnels are still used today as storage areas, stables, and cellars. The underground city at Kaymakli differs from Derinkuyu in terms of its structure and layout. The tunnels are lower, narrower, and more steeply inclined. Of the four floors open to tourists, each space is organized around ventilation shafts. This makes the design of each room or open space dependent on the availability of ventilation.

A stable is located on the first floor. The small size of the stable could indicate that other stables exist in the sections not yet opened. To the left of the stable is a passage with a millstone door. The door leads into a church. To the right of the stables are rooms, possibly living spaces.

Located on the second floor is a church with a nave and two apses. Located in front of the apses is a baptismal font, and on the sides along the walls are seating platforms. Names of people contained in graves here coincide with those located next to the church, which supports the idea that these graves belonged to religious people. The church level also contains some living spaces.

The third floor contains the most important areas of the underground compound: storage places, wine or oil presses, and kitchens. The level also contains a remarkable block of andesite with relief textures. Recently it was shown that this stone was used for cold-forming copper. The stone was hewn from an andesite layer within the complex. In order for it to be used in metallurgy, fifty-seven holes were carved into the stone. The technique was to put copper into each of the holes (about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) in diameter) and then to hammer the ore into place. The copper was probably mined between Aksaray and Nevsehir. This mine was also used by Asilikhoyuk, the oldest settlement within the Cappadocia Region.

The high number of storage rooms and areas for earthenware jars on the fourth floor indicates some economic stability. Kaymakli is one of the largest underground settlements in the region. The large area reserved for storage in such a limited area appears to indicate the need to support a large population underground. Currently only a fraction of the complex is open to the public.

We weren’t expecting it to be particularly warm in an underground village, but the temperature was still surprisingly cool and damp down there. A bit more exciting than cotton and silk, here are a few pictures I got in the Kaymaklı Underground City:

Now that we had seen an underground city, we went on to visit a church where photographs weren’t permitted of the frescoes inside and then it was time to drive to the town of Şahinefendi to have a look at Sóbesos, a site containing mosaic houses and an archeological dig, all of which was only discovered in 2002. The excavation work has always been quite slow due mainly to a lack of funding and now it had been halted indefinitely, which was the main reason we could visit and just walk around the site. A bit of background information about the Sóbesos:

In 2002 treasure-hunters working the fields around Şahinefendi uncovered the first signs of what turned out to be the Roman city of Sobesos. Today you can see the excavated remains of a fourth-century Roman bathhouse with much of its hypocaust (in-floor heating system) still in place; a mosaic depicting a pair of sandals was uncovered in one of the entrances.

A corrugated-iron roof protects a series of mosaic pavements with geometric patterns on top of which the Byzantines built a small basilican church in the sixth century.

Ongoing excavations are expected to turn up a great deal more of what must once have been a sizeable settlement.

It’s a shame that the funding doesn’t exist to be able to keep excavating the site, it is free to enter, however, a small fee would possibly be able to help the unearthing progress, but if that were to happen, you wouldn’t have access to the site quite like this:

There is a ton to see in Cappadocia and this was our last day to try and pack everything in so we were back in the van before too long to see Keslik Monastery near the village of Cemil, an ancient church that hid its frescoes behind a very thin smoke layer that can only be seen by torch light:

Hollowed out in the 13C, Keslik Monastery, known as the Monastery of the Archangels, has retained two churches and its refectory. The Black Church comprises two parallel naves, both of which end in an apse. Unfortunately the frescoes in this church have been blackened with smoke over the centuries and are difficult to make out. To one side lies the refectory, a huge room which could house 100 people and which is divided in two by arcades. Dug out from the rock in the 9C, the Church of St Stephen is situated 50m from the monastery. The most beautiful frescoes, painted in shades of bright yellow and orange, can be seen in this church.

There isn’t a wealth of knowledge about Keslik Monastery around, but another blog similar to mine about traveling in Turkey, turkishtravelblog.com, provided these tidbits:

Obviously in a monastery, churches play a large role in day-to-day life and in those days, many people couldn’t read. This was a problem, because religious leaders wanted people to learn Christianity by reading,  but they easily solved this by painting frescoes on the ceilings and walls that depict scenes from the Bible.

Despite the frescoes of Keslik Monastery suffering wear and tear over the years, they are remarkably visible, thanks to intense and hard work by excavators. This applies especially inside Aziz Stephanos church, which although the frescoes do not depict scenes from the Bible, they represent everyday life of farming and agriculture which has existed in the Cappadocia region for centuries.

I mentioned that previously in the day we had been to an ancient church where we weren’t permitted to take photographs inside to avoid damaging the frescoes so I just skipped over it while writing this, but the pictures from inside Keslik Monastery should give you an idea of what we encountered in that church too, as they were quite similar. Also, the monks that built this place must’ve been tiny because there wasn’t a whole lot of standing room in some areas. There won’t be any captions for these photographs either, because it is impossible to take in the sheer amount of knowledge espoused on us by our guide and there’s very little information that I can find, but it’s still worth a look:

After all of that morning’s traveling, it was time for lunch, which meant going to a village by the name of Mustafapaşa, a Greek settlement known for its architecture and seafood, particularly caviar. After lunch we went to Saruhan Caravanserai, described in our travel itinerary as “a roadside inn where travellers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information and people across a network of trade routes of Asia, North Africa and South-Eastern Europe on the legendary Silk Road and the Spice road.”
After Saruhan Caravanserai, we had one last stop before we had to go to the airport to travel to Izmir to embark on third and final leg of our trip; we were going to hike around the Red Valley:

The Red Valley is best appreciated closer to sunset, when the red and pink rock lights up with the last rays of the sun. Abandoned old cave churches dot the valley along several trails. Be sure to climb the small peak overlooking the valley to get one of the best views in the region, over the valley in one direction, and towards Mount Erciyes in the other.
One of the nicest & most most beautiful places to go walking in Cappadocia is the Red Valley (Kızılçukur) and Rose Valley (Güllüdere). The two valleys are next to each other and it is hard to know on which one you are walking. There are so many different trails. While you are walking, you will see many living quarters, vineyards, apricot and almond trees. Along the way you’ll also see many ancient cave churches: such as Uzumlu Church (9th century), Kolonlu Church (11th century), Hacli Church (11th century), and Ayvali Church (12th century).

The Red Valley is considered the heart of Cappadocia and is a popular spot for hot-air ballooning too, but it is also just a beautiful place to walk around, take in the volcanic rock formations, and get away from the noisy tour groups.
Here’s how we wound down this stage of our Turkish journey:

Our tour of Cappadocia was now over, sans hot-air balloon flight, and now we had to get to the airport in Kayseri and take a 90-minute flight to Izmir and our adventures there are a story for next time. We’d both like to say a big thank you to our tour guide, Ümit, for taking the time to show us around for those two days and if you’re considering visiting Cappadocia, do it and make sure you email Ümit Öçal at destinationexperttravel@hotmail.com or call him on +90 5432297458 and get him to take you around and teach you a thing or two!

Now on to the grand finale — Izmir.

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