Riviera to Cappadocia

We are coming up from the coast of Turkey (here) after spending aDrive to Konya2 wonderful time enjoying the historical sites and the Turkish coast. Drizzling in the early morning, we started our day’s drive to Cappadocia. The early part of the drive was to ascend up to a level of ~1,000m. Drive to Konya1As we made the ascent higher the landscape begins to change, from forests to sparse vegetation and eventually grasslands.

Spiritual centre

Arriving at Konya, we headed to the crowded Mevlana museum. Mevlana Museum4Home to the mausoleum of a Sufi philosopher, the site is thronged by crowds of devotees. Within the museum is a collection of old manuscripts, carpets and rugs. In the middle of the building is a series of tombs with turbans indicating rank of the person interred there.

Sufism is a mystical dimension of Islam. The whirling dervishes are not performing a dance (a mistaken view), but in a state of connection with God. Said to have arisen in reaction to the worldliness of the Caliphate of the 7th-8th centuries, Sufi practice can be found in a broad swath of Central Asia.

Where we headed on to lunch next was intriguing – it was a “hotel” that is supposedly more than 800 years old like the 龍門客棧… Said to be around since the time of the silk road, it was also supposedly a caravan stop. Perhaps in the days of ode the camel trains came in here for a rest. In any case the lunch here was more flavorful than elsewhere, as we had stew and a variety of breads that probably the silk road merchants ate too.

Then we continued on our journey for the next 3 hours. Along the way, we noticed numerous melon farms with their crops harvested. They are not for consumption, but cultivated for the melon seeds. And then all of a sudden, we were in Cappadocia. Yeah right. That’s probably because we took a pause to examine our eyelids…

Located in the very center of the country (ok debatable), Cappadocia is the home of oddly shaped geographical formations of rock Pigeon valley1– that people still live in (well at least in some of them). It was too late when we arrived to visit the underground cities nor the formations so we went to Pigeon valley for a photo stop. Here we took our first glimpse of the landscape that we will have a full days to explore. Pigeon valley2Pigeon valley is so named because here you will find the world’s greatest collection of dovecotes. Funny thing though we did not see flocks of pigeons or doves though a lot of “homes” were built for them. We really wondered hard why…

Pigeon valley3As we took our photos, we noticed Mount Aktepe in the far distant – which looks like the Grand Canyon with the sediments of rock. Wow. But with the day coming to a close, the temperature dropped precipitously and that drove most back to the coach for the ride to our hotel. We checked into the Tourist hotel (what a name right?) located within the Goreme Open Air museum.

From the hotel, it was just a short walking distance to the rock formations. But that was not what we did early next morning for it was

Hot Air Ballooning over CappadociaBalloon setup

There are some places in the world where it just does not do justice see the place from the ground only. But not all places are suitable to view from up in the air. Cappadocia is one of these places, which combines spectacular views with the infrastructure to afford such an activity. Indeed, one would be missing a lot if you did not do the hot air ballooning.

Balloon Fireup1Firstly, it is an early morning activity. We were awake by 5 am and whisked away to the staging area to board the balloons. It is cold in October, as we found out when we got out of the vans. As the men worked to set up the balloons, we shivered in the cold with tiny cups of coffee that weren’t hot enough.

Fire in the hold!Balloon Fireup2

Finally, we are aloft. It takes a lot of effort to blow sufficient hot air into the balloon and to maintain the air at a temperature to raise the whole structure with us in it. But as we took off, we began to see numerous other balloons doing the same thing all across the plains below us. Being amongst the first to rise up has the advantage of seeing the whole of Cappadocia just as the sun is about to peek out from the horizon. It is an especially memorable time for “honey mooning” couples to take this flight of fancy together. See how happy they were!

Balloon flyover1The geography of the land below us illustrates how harsh the living conditions must be for the people who inhabit this region. The amazing structures of homes carved out of rocks and the underground are stuff that imagination is made off, but here we can see it all from the air. Many were abandoned only in the 1950s, when government gazette this area to be protected. Sometimes our balloon pilot maneuvered close to the structures that we could almost reach out and touch it.

Cappadocia lies in the eastern part of Anatolia and is generally at an altitude of ~1,000m. Although there are volcanoes in the area, they are dormant and the area does not appear to be seismically active in the current eon. Hence, the region has been home to a tradition of building homes within the earth Balloon flyover9(subterranean) with multiple levels beneath the surface. Such structures would not stand the test of time if the area is seismically unstable. Anyone have an update?

After slightly more than an hour, we ended the morning with a champagne toast and a certificate that we had flown over Cappadocia – small souvenirs of a trip that will be well remembered. Don’t be afraid of the height – it’s safe, scenic and thrilling to take in the spectacular views as the lands below awoke to a new day. We enjoyed it. We are sure you will.

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Was Fantasia inspired here?

It’s a wonder to know that the formations in Cappadocia were formed from the erosion of sedimentary rocks by rivers and streams (sounds like the mesas of Southwest US). Of course this took time, in terms of the thousands of years for us to become witness to the work of mother nature. Goreme is the center of such formations and you’d have a field day exploring the caves and structures.

Today, a large part of the city has been incorporated into an open-air museum where a large number of churches built into the rock formations are preserved. You’d be able to see carvings and paintings on the walls of the cave churches.

Known as “fairy chimneys”, these formations look like mushrooms with large stalks supporting them. In the past, people lived in them and they still do in some parts of the city. Clearly, you can see the sedimentary layers of rock with the darker portion at the top differentiated from the layer(s) below it.

Home in a mushroom!?

An interludeCarpet Factory1

It seemed that this is a tradition – ie to visit a carpet store at every city. Before we could get to the Pashaba valley to view yet more mushroom shaped chimneys, we were brought to a local carpet merchant. Ok, so let’s digress and delve a little into this symbolic product of middle Asia.

First, it is good to know that silk carpets are not necessarily the ones that are shiny contrary to expectations. Those are most likely cotton. The merchant claims that real Turkish carpets are double knotted – hence not possible to reproduce via machines and that handmade carpets are thus more valuable. Yeah they surely market themselves to be superior and different from carpets made elsewhere… remember never to ask a barber if you need a haircut.

Would you believe that Turkish carpets in the 15th and 16th centuries were best known through European paintings? After being offered drinks (Turkish tea, Apple tea, Coffee, Raki and soft drinks), the presenter will ask his assistants to lay out the various carpets on the floor. Prices offered were at the level of thousands of US Dollars. Not sure how the bargaining was done but it was sure not cheap and definitely above our pay grade. Obviously we did not buy anything.

After this intermission we continued to Pashaba valley where we viewed more mushroom chimneys up close. This morning we had seen them from the balloon and now we have time to slowly savor the views of the enchanting formation that can be said to have probably inspired Fantasia… enjoy the photos since we cannot describe it any better than the 1000 words that pictures are supposed worth.

With all the sightseeing done for the day, it was time for the shopping. We stopped at a store selling gold and silver jewellery made with Turquoise, Onyx factory1Onyx and other precious stones. Spent a lot of time there doing some damage to the wallet… they’ll get you somehow. Final shopping stop for the day was at the ceramic shop. The same family has apparently been running this shop using techniques from more than 2000 years ago. Not that THEY have been here for that long though… Onyx factory2A large variety of ceramics are made here and they vary in price from 10 liras to many thousands. Guess which ones we bought?

Culture night in Goreme2We made our way back to the hotel as the sun was setting. After dinner, we were transported to a local tavern where we watched traditional Turkish folk dancing. The dances and costumes looked distinctly central Asian and so does the music. The highlight of the night was Belly Dancing and we had it captured on video…Culture night in Goreme1 As usual, many were called upon to dance awkwardly on stage. Probably for the performers’ amusement. As the night wore on, many got tired and we eventually left at 10pm, heading back to pack and sleep for another long day.

Subterranean cities

Drive to KaymakliBut then, that’s not all in Cappadocia. In addition to fairy chimneys, the region also boasts of one of the largest preserved underground cities in the world.

In ancient times, people who lived on these open plains were vulnerable to invading armies. Anatolia was the scene of invasions from Persians, Greeks, Romans and various central Asian peoples (including the people who became Turks). Underground City Kaymakli7As such, they would carve out living quarters underground, in which they can hide out until the invader(s) left. Some of these underground cities were meant to house thousands and had provisions to last for months!

We explored one such city in the town of Kaymakli, in which you can explore up to four floors (underground floors that is). In those days, the deeper you had your property, the more valuable it was! Said to be able to house about 4,000 people, the underground city has sections of apartments for families, kitchen areas, Underground City Kaymakli1food storage and air shafts for fresh air. Water is apparently not an issue – as the water table is well within reach at these depths.

These underground cities boast impressive defensive measures. One such tactic includes a maze that eventually leads to a cul-de-sac. Slits in the walls allow the inhabitants to shoot arrows at invaders trapped. Talk about punishing trespassers! You need to be here to experience it for yourself.

With that we end our tour to this part of the country, having ticked all the check boxes of the to-do list of sites, sights and scenes to capture forever in our heads.

And it also concludes our little series on what you can see and do in the central part of Turkey. From here we flew back to Istanbul (here) where we continued our exploration of the city. It has been two weeks and we had done quite a fair number of things. The vast country has tremendous extremes in terms of scenery, cultures and climate. It certainly have the history and antiquities too.

Spending just one week will be grossly insufficient to see more of Turkey in slight detail. Two weeks sound about right. But then there is still the northern and eastern ends that remain untouched. Perhaps that is why we know that we will be back!

This Journey took place in October 2010

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