Sunday, 8 April 2012

IATTOUR March 28 to April 1, Cappedocia

View from the from the front of the Hotel.
Goreme, Turkey 

We arrived into Kayseri around 930pm in a bit of a snow storm, a shock to Elaine and my delicate systems.  Our driver was there to greet us and deliver us to our hotel in Goreme in the centre of Cappedocia province about an hour away.  The Arch Palace hotel owner was there waiting to greet us and get us settled.  As things were pitch black on the drive we had no idea of what the surrounding terrain held in store for us the next morning.  Looking out our room window early the next morning we saw a floatilla of hot air balloons drifting over the town; Elaine was now very excited for the balloon ride.
Our hotel put on a great breakfast spread on the roof top terrace, with views of the whole town.  After eating our fill, Mustafa--Arch Palace gave us a briefing on the area and things to do and see.  He arranged to take us down to catch the Dolmus (communal bus) to Zelve to one of the main historic sites which was one of the earliest monastic cave settlements and latest to be abandoned (50's). The topography is dramatic, with crags and pinnacles and steep valleys, and freedom to climb around and look at all the caves, nooks and crannies along with a number of remaining paintings.

All over the valley the there were remnants of the dovecotes- pigeon roosts...mainly to collect manure.

Jan headed back to Goerme by Dolmus and we struck out by foot down the road to Pasabaglari, the site of some of the most impressive three headed lava tubes in the region.

We might have one or two too many photos of the "fairy chimneys"--and yes, they do look like something else.
I thought it was your turn to ask for directions!
From Pasabaglari we struck out cross country to find the route that Mostafa told us about in the morning to get to the village of Cavusin.  It was a fun hike passing through small vineyards and valleys with more abandoned cave dwellings.  Just before the town we found a Cavusin Church cut into the hillside which is a World Heritage site filled with amazing wall paintings.  A bit of a warning here--don't lean against any of the brick work filling in the "windows".

"Old" Cavusin has a spectacular section of intact abandoned cave dwellings.  Apparently locals are being allowed to refurbish the caves to current standards, but with no outward physical alterations allowed because of Heritage status. Our balloon pilot said that it was about triple the price of a new home to renovate an old one.
"New" Cavusin

Strolling through the take off site to preview a trip
Our pre-takeoff dinner the night before at "Top-Deck's" Cave restaurant,which belonged to a cousin of our hotelier. The food was divine!   Mustafa-Top Deck suggested dishes (soup, mezes and an entree) and tailored for us in amount.  He claimed he could turn vegetarians into carnivores and eggplant despisers into cravers...all true.  Jan was in the latter category.  She spent the night trying to get his recipe for the eggplant dish...and finally got it before we left town.
Up before dawn the next morning we were collected from the hotel along with a few other souls and taken for our last breakfast along with lots of other flyers.  Our group was defined by who our pilot was- Fatih-and we moved along to the launch site in the hills.  We got to watch the whole process of getting the balloon up and going, with many other balloons being readied sounded like a herd of fire breathing dragons fighting with each other from the roar of the burners.

I think someone started singing "Up Up and Away"!

Cappadocia by balloon at sunrise.  Our best idea ever!  Our pilot was quite the wit, answering that this was his first flight--he had googled how to fly a balloon and was ready to go.  We think we counted 40 balloons aloft.  In the peak season Fatish said there are more than 120.  It seemed crowded at times with 40.  Very sad to land, we received our flight certificates at the conclusion along with a champagne toast.  The names didn't really match which was part of the charm (Jabet and Tony Sorensen). A great way to start the day....but there's more! 

When we arrived back to the hotel at 0930, Mustafa was able to arrange a car rental for us for the day for our excursion to the underground city in Kaymakli, the Ihlara Valley and Guzelyurt.  What Mustafa didn't really explain was distances and our little map was a bit exaggerated in one axis and not so much in the other, this was a lot of country to cover and be back by 1930 hours to head to Turkish Night.  Off we went...

Not satisfied with letting Elaine deface Turkish heritage sites, Tony and Frank get into the act...(This was just pretend folks--luckily there were lots of close facsimiles to aid our ruse)

The underground city had about 8 levels and over 800 rooms, with tunnels running every which way.  Janet was a trooper to navigate the complex, bum hip and all..we were impressed.  The city was created as a defensive measure to avoid persecution for political, ethnic and religious reasons.  In the region there are many other such complexes which are being excavated for public viewing.

Leaving the site, we headed across a spectacular high plain with snow covered peaks.

Into the Ilhara Valley, site of many more cave dwellings along a river valley.  It is possible that part of the Star Wars trilogy was filmed in the area.
Mmmm...craziest recipe yet.  Take tahini, sweet molasses and marshmallow fluff.  Marble on a plate and dip bread in to eat.  Soooo good! We stopped in at a riverside restaurant in the canyon for lunch (delicious fish).  The true water-side tables weren't occupied yet.  During a post-luncheon walk, a short wind storm brought down a tree trunk, narrowly missing the owner's car.  We decided to shorten our hike.
Janet and I had a detailed conversation with the little girl and mother in the photo.  We learned that the daughter was now 6 and 1/2 years old and would be in kindergarten.  We also learned that the mom was only too happy to have her going to kindergarten (she was pretty busy).  All this in "momspeak".
It is hard to imagine how much time it took to create these churches or the amount of detail that was put into the design.  This church was at the top of a canyon wall and accessible only through a narrow road.

Linseed Oil Press

Being very obedient tourists (not), we took this sign to heart and drove directly to Guzelyurt (great name, huh?).  On the way, we spotted villagers going about their daily chores--herding sheep, washing clothes, clearing fields and riding donkeys.   
Does this dress make my ass look big? (quoted from a favorite greeting card)

It's not very hard to imagine the First Crusaders coming through Gurzelyurt on their way to the Holy Land--or Hollywood using this as a backdrop for "The Way of the Rose". 

Elaine coming up the Rabbet Hole-Holy Well
If you have ever watched an episode of "Little Mosque on the Prairie", you will identify with the  young, hip, clean-shaven, blackberry-carrying Imam of the Mosque. He was very happy to show us around.  Although originally a Byzantine Church, it was repainted inside and is now a museum/Mosque.  The pulpit was a gift from Peter the Great of Russia.  After our trip down to the Holy Water well, the Imam wittily blessed us and found us some Islamic/Christian brochures.  He was so busy doing this that, he missed the start of call to worship. It was neat hearing him broadcast from the Mosque speakers.  We like to think that he used his cell phone to trigger the village call to worship as he was visiting with us--that's the kind of guy he was.

Do you think that this donkey knows it's a donkey?  The road was blocked off by the flock and 3 Sheppards, with the help of several Anatolian Sheppard dogs moving their charges along.
Random shots on the return to Goreme.

Photos from our evening out--pretty full day! What Turkish Night would be complete without "Ali" Yasar Baba's Cave?

The ghostly whirling dervishes were mesmerizing at the beginning of the show.  The show then moved into regional folk dances and the the act got less classy as the audience joined in.  Below you will find us getting into the act, which involved dancing out and around a fire in the courtyard.  After a few rounds of instruction, we were able to do that without crashing into each other. Then the professionals took over again and did more than a few numbers--finishing with an amazing knife throwing demonstration that involved at least one lubricated guest.  I think only one person was injured in this demo.
Turkish feast

Our favorite participant of this evening was the crazy toupeed, raki-fueled gentleman from Taiwan who REALLY got into the belly dancing act, to the great embarrassment of our table-mate from Hong Kong.  I think it was watching his toupee flop about as he tried to shimmy by manually moving his nipples up and down that finished us off.  Now we see what Raki looks like from the other side.
We really congratulated ourselves on choosing the best day for the balloon ride/day trip as the next day it was snowing and raining hard requiring umbrellas and boots.  Okay...sandals with plastic bags in them as dictated by baggage space. 

Undeterred we set off to find "Love Valley" and visit the Open Air Museum.

We couldn't resist--Turkeys in Turkey.  There were also Anatolian Sheppards (in Anatolia) guarding the sheep and cavorting through town.

The Outdoor Museum in Goreme is a must-see.  It was built near the established village to house an early Christian community with many churches carved into stone c 4th century AD.  Cappadocia is where St. Basil, St. Gregory and St. George (he of dragon-slaying fame) came from.  The many churches in the museum area include the Apple Church, the Dark Church and the Church of St. Barbara.  The best of these is the "Dark Church", which retains it's full-colour frescoes because of little outside light.  Visitors walk in amazed silence as they view the elaborate scenes from the New Testament.  The scenes resemble those in Chora Church, but without the mosaic overlay.  Even though it was low-season in Goreme, there were more than a few bus loads of tourists.  Thankfully, (most) tourists can't jump or climb.

Near the shop in the photo, Janet, Frank and I first met the "grumpy man". One morning, we walked into his shop and found his prices well below all others.  As Janet and Frank debated whether the table cloth would fit their table, he took offense (maybe thinking they wanted a lower price), grabbed the cloth, folded it, returned it to the shelf and demanded they leave.  Janet sheepishly took it back down, found some other items and tried not to make eye contact.  After she paid him, he almost smiled and said, "my prices best in town!"  She agreed, thanked him and we backed out of the shop.  Sadly, I wanted one too.  So back I went, but this time the shop was full of tourists.  He quoted me a price about double what Janet paid and I said to Tony--just take it--and we aren't telling Janet--she'll think I am a chicken!  Luckily, his voiced price was a show for the other tourists and he gave me the same price--telling me as I left--"my prices best in town!"  We loved that grumpy man and later found that he was a town character who was known to argue with and chase buyers out of his shop.

Any girls in this family?

Need an extra room...get the pneumatic chisel out!

Do Janet and Frank look preoccupied?  The story goes like this.  We caught the 11 bus at 11:30 out of Goreme and all was going sort of well.  We met a lovely Turkish family when we changed buses in Neveshir and chatted while waiting for the next bus.  Then things took an ugly turn as we found ourselves sitting--on the wrong bus--in our new friend's seats.  They were very confused, as were we.  Quickly scrambling onto the milk-run bus for Ankara,we discovered that it was due into Ankara at 6 pm, but we had to be at the airport for the 7:30 flight, which meant a taxi ride from the bus station to the airport.  Yikes!  As we fought against panic, we made a new friend--a delightful 23 year old military officer/helicopter pilot trainee who was returning to Ankara.  We latched on to him like glue as he guided us through to the bus depot and into a waiting taxi.  I am sure he said, "get these crazy people to the airport before they pass out".  A few things were broken in the process--Janet's lovely bowl and definitely the speed limit.  But...we made felt like we were in the Amazing Race!
Our next stop is Bodrum, door to Ephesus (EFES in Turkish--the reason for the brand name).

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