So, the trip to Kapadokya was wonderful! It was one of the best trips of my life, I have to say. Kapadokya is an incredible place for the land, the history, and the people.
Karen and I got a package deal for this trip, since it was our first. We flew to Kayseri, a smallish city in about the centre of Turkey. It is dominated by a huge volcano that was responsible for the unique landscape of this area. Then a van took us to Urgup, which was our base. We stayed in a mom and pop — and grandma and grandpa– hotel that had actually been their home. It was a big house on the main street, with 13 rooms. They were pretty basic, but clean and we had our own bathroom. I think the price was about $10/night, breakfast included. Breakfast consisted of a small mountain of fresh crusty white bread, a hard-boiled egg, a few black olives (not like the ones from Safeway!), a wedge of cheese, some slices of tomato and cucumber, and tea or nescafe. We ate it under the grape arbour as we sat and looked at the green green grass in the garden and the flowering apricot trees. The grandma wore the sort of skirt that women in that region wear– a full skirt sewn across the bottom with holes for the feet. This is called a shalvar. She also wore a colourful headscarf. She spoke German to me, which was helpful, as my Turkish is not quite up to speed yet.
Actually, I spoke all the languages I have there: English, Turkish, German, French, a little Spanish, and even some Japanese! It was quite surprising to fins myself speaking Japanese with the Turkish tour guide!
The first day we were free, so I called my student who was visiting his family in Nevsehir. We took a bus there, so we had our first close look at the countryside. We passed by a place called Uchisar, which means first citadel, basically a big tall rock with caves in it, now with a small town around it. Nevsehir is called that because 700 or 800 years ago there was a “new” citadel built there during Ottoman times. It is being fixed up now, but it is about the only somewhat interesting thing in the town. Isa (his name means “Jesus”, but he is Muslim) took us to the citadel, which was closed, but had a nice view of the city, and then we went to his uncle’s house. Actually, I should write uncles’ house, as the three floor apartment building was full of only his family: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, spouses, children. They were quite interested to meet these foreign teachers. The grandfather and one uncle spoke some German, so we got along ok. The grandfather decided to take us on a tour, so Isa, his friend Mustafa from Azerbaijan, Karen, and I piled into his car and we took off. He drove like a taxi driver, although there was little traffic. I guess it meant we got there faster! First we went to Kaymatli, where there was an underground city built about 2000 years ago. The stone there is tufa, a kind of soft volcanic rock that hardens in contact with the air. The city had been forgotten but discovered by accident in the 1960s. About eight levels have been dug out and they think there are 18 or 20 in all. The rooms included communal kitchens, wineries, store rooms, granaries, sleeping rooms, and hanging out rooms. At certain places there were huge round rocks that could be rolled to cut off a passageway if there were invaders. Some of the passageways were very steep, narrow, and low, so it was a real thrill! However, it was all well lighted, there were grates over the wells, ventilation shafts and other holes, and many places had been adapted to tourist traffic.
We also went to Derinkuyu (“deep well”), another underground city. It wasn’t as good as the first one, as it had been somewhat damaged by water on the first level and the restoration wasn’t very good. It was more visited too, so it had suffered from the traffic. It was still very interesting, however. It was amazing to think of people actually living in these places under the ground in fear but also well prepared against whoever was invading at that particular time. It was also amazing to think that these cities had been forgotten by the locals. In all there are about 37 underground cities, and many of them are connected– by tunnels of course!
Outside the cities were people selling stuff, so of course we looked. There was a very old woman selling handmade dolls and I went to buy one, but the grandfather insisted on buying two for me and two for Karen. We decided not to look at anything else because we did not want him to pay for everything. He then drove us home along the back roads. At one place a new spring had started welling up in the middle of the road. Aside from in the villages we saw very few people. The country was beautiful, with the flowering apricot trees, the spring green, and the huge mountains in the distance. They took us back to the hotel, where we gave them tea and then we had the evening to ourselves.
The weather all this time was perfect– sunny and warm, pleasantly cool in the evening. We walked up to the centre of the town, and walked around looking at things. We had dinner at a nice restaurant and then went to a bar that we had seen earlier. The bar was decorated sort of Turkish style, with the walls lined with a padded bench covered in carpets, low tables made up of copper trays on short folding wood stands, and short stools that looked like mini camel saddles. The owner promised belly dancing, but I guess we didn’t stay long enough. People were dancing, including us, so it was fun. We went in there with a friendly man named Ali, who we had met earlier that day when we went into his carpet shop. He told us a lot about the carpets, how they are made, dyed, what the symbols mean, etc. It was very interesting, but I never did buy one. Anyway, as we had been on our way to this bar, he was sitting outside with his friend and his friend’s family, and they invited us to have tea with them (a very common invitation), so we did. The family left and the two friends escorted us into the bar. Ali was really fun and his English was pretty good. He suggested we go to a disco, so whatthehell, we did.
The disco was in a cave. I don’t know what it had been before, but the dance floor was in the biggest part, with several smaller rooms off it. The dance floor itself was shiny black stone tiles, maybe basalt. The music was great, a mixture of Turkish pop, American pop, and traditional Turkish music. These people love to dance!! Boys dance with boys, girls with girls, and girls with boys. There were even a few children there, so I was watching how one little girl was learning the moves and I was trying to learn from her.
The next day we took our first tour. The first stop was at Derinkuyu, and we didn’t want to go underground again, so we shopped. The next stop was the Ihlara Gorge, a beautiful deep gorge that had some ancient churches in it. We visited only a few of the churches, which were small caves, maybe 12 feet high and in a sort of cross shape. The paintings dated from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Sadly, a lot of them had been vandalized for various reasons, from the Iconoclasts to late 20th century tourists. However, we saw them and were quite impressed to be there. We walked about six miles along the bottom of the gorge, which is about 600 feet deep, walking along and sometimes almost in the river. Finally we reached a small village called Belisirma, which was made up of ancient buildings hugging the side of the cliff. We had a wonderful lunch there with interesting conversations with the English speaking tourists with us. They included a Welsh couple, a Turkish boy, and an Austrian-American who was living in Indonesia.
By then everyone was pretty tired, but we stopped at an ancient caravansary that was in pretty good shape. It was made of stone and you could just picture it full of big camels squawling and colourful men strolling around taking care of them and visiting with other men. That day it was full of tourists. This was on the Silk Road!! We drove for several kilometers along the Silk Road! Wow! Marco Polo never had it so good…
Everyone was pretty toured out by then, so we went back to town. However, after a shower, Karen and I were ready to go out again. We walked up to the centre of town again and ran into the owner of the travel agency, who offered to buy us dinner. We had a good conversation and drank some raki, the national drink. We had good conversation and a little too much raki.
On day three, we took the second tour, which started in a valley whose name meant Imagination Valley. The shapes of the “fairy spires” were very different, so people could look at them as we look at clouds, looking for familiar or wondrous shapes. These spires were formed by the wind and water scouring the tufa under the more durable basalt rocks on top. Consequently, the spires formed underneath, with the rocks perched on top. It is really unique in the world– and I was there!! Wow!!!
The next stop was Zelve, an open air museum. It had been a community of caves until as recently as 1950. However, there were more and more rock slides, so the government moved the people out. You could see where huge rocks had fallen down or where the faces of cliffs had shifted. We walked around a bit. looking at where people had once had their kitchens– for a few thousand years! About 1000 people had lived there at one time. Some of the caves were quite high, so they must have been very limber and sure-footed to go up and down the rock handholds.
We made a quick stop at some fairy spires where apparently St. Paul had lived for a while. Just a little hole in the wall…
Next was a shopping stop at Avanos, where we visited a brand new building built specifically for the tourist trade. They showed how they made pots, etc., but it was not that interesting. We had a terrible lunch in that dull town and were happy to leave it behind.
Next was Goreme, which was the crown jewel of the tours. It is a place where ancient Christians came to live and educate the few locals. There had been a monastery and a nunnery and many cave churches. We could see the differences in the paintings as they had developed various artistic and painting techniques. The oldest paintings were quite crude, red paint on the bare walls in some geometric designs. The last church we looked at had beautiful, though damaged, paintings. The Muslims on the tour were very interested, as Jesus is just a prophet in Islam, and they don’t know the New Testament stories so well.
Finally we arrived back in town. Another shower and another night on the town. This time we duded up, as it was our last night there and we were also running out of clean clothes. Karen and I had dinner in a former caravansary, sitting under the stars drinking a local wine. Lovely!! Then we ran into the tour guide and another guy we had met and went to the disco again. The one guy was kind of a country guy, so he was not that great a dancer– until the traditional Turkish music started. Then his face lit up and he danced very well. It was fun to see. He drove us around the area under the full moon. What a sight!! Cappadocia in the moonlight! I will never forget it.
Finally, the last day. We didn’t have to leave until 7, so we kind of hacked around doing last minute shopping, lhanging out in the park, etc. We met some guys who were fixing up the former house beside our hotel. The two Americans were from Detroit and were in partnership with Ismail, a semi-nomad of the Sari tribe. His family lives in tents and travels with the sheep during the summer. The women spin and dye wool and make carpets all winter. The three guys sell the rugs directly to the customer, a sort of ecotourism that will benefit the tribe and the customer. Very interesting! We also went into an antiquities shop that had various interesting things, and when Karen noticed the canary in there, the owner pulled out a saz, a long thin-necked stringed instrument, and played a song so the canary would sing. We also stopped by to see Ali before we left and then stopped to buy some very last post cards. Then the tour owner saw us and hustled us to the van, as we were a little late. As we drove off, our new friends waved goodbye to us. What a nice place. The people were friendly but not pushy, the land was beautiful, and the sense of history was awe-inspiring.