I’ve had a busy two weeks and now an opportunity to collect my thoughts as I take this bus ride from Cappadocia to Ankara and from there a flight to Trabzon on the Black Sea. Various family members have been pressuring me to visit Cappadocia and so as I was in the area, as it were, and on the way east I thought why not. I should have flown from Istanbul to one of the local airports, either Nevsehir or Keyseri, but being a train enthusiast I took the train. Bit of a mistake as Istanbul’s main train station is closed indefinitely which means a long Metro ride or traffic-ridden taxi to the station at Pendik though there is a ferry from Eminonu which might have been the best option. Excellent train to Ankara with speeds up to 250 kmh it only took four hours, there was a café car and the loos were clean. Arriving in Ankara there was a quick and cheap taxi ride to the bus station for the bus to Goreme in Cappadocia (tickets at desk#50). The buses are becoming more like airplanes with seat back screens for movies, a steward who serves tea and sandwiches plus reclining seat backs. Not too painful.
Arrived In Goreme (Guh Reh Meh) in darkness, found taxi, delivered to hotel for about $2.00 and the main man greets me with a ‘what would you like?’ Shortly afterwards a bottle of the local red appeared and after a couple of glasses I went to bed. Morning came at around 5.00am and there was an intermittent roaring noise above me and I immediately thought, dragons! Grabbed some clothes and went outside ready to do my St George act (kidding) and there was Goreme in daylight with all its fantastic Fairy Chimneys and above were hot air balloons, lots of them, forty or fifty, I didn’t count. What an amazing sight to start the day. The Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia are now world famous, I’m sure you have seen photos but just in case – they were formed over the ages from deposits from two local volcanoes being eroded away leaving the local sandstone, protected by a layer of basalt, which the local people have carved away to create storage areas, flocks and herd shelters and now, hotel rooms. I read somewhere that the landscape resembles a Salvador Dali fever dream. True.
It gets better! There are underground cities! Nine or ten stories deep! The guide warned that with high blood pressure, a weak heart, claustrophobia or a nervous disposition one shouldn’t descend. I did. It was truly evocative. Originally dug by the Hittites in the eleventh century who found raids from invaders tiresome (Persians, Alexander the Great etc), they would dive down under the ground at the first sign of attack and close the door with massive circular stones. Unbelievably these ’doors’ have spy holes to see who has come knocking, also suitable for shooting arrows through. It is estimated that 2,000 people could live in the city for up to six months, but imagine the smell! There was a winery and kitchen area, little caves for a family and on the bottom floor there was access to an underground river. We crouched and almost crawled down and down and it got colder and colder and we all got dirtier and dirtier. I banged my head a few times but all in all it was a high point of Cappadocia for me.
If all that isn’t enough there’s more! 12th Century churches. Lots of them. When Christianity was outlawed by the Roman Empire many Christians fled to this area which with its underground cities, remoteness and hidden valleys provided a reasonably safe haven. Hewing away the soft rock they created very tiny churches, some holding only ten people. The frescoes they daubed on the wall are still visible though not in a very good state of repair but they are there nonetheless. Some of the frescoes are being restored by, if I understood it correctly, an Italian University. I’m not sure if this is a great idea but what do I know.
Cappadocia then, what a great place and I’m so grateful to Nat and Erin for keeping up the pressure on me to visit. The local wine is drinkable, the food is abundant, accommodation is widely available from one to five stars, it is rumored that there are over 200 places to stay in the tiny town of Goreme. I wonder therefore why the place wasn’t packed with North Americans and Western Europeans. It wasn’t. I met Indians, locals, Chinese and Central Asians but no Westerners. Perhaps it has something to do with Iraq and Syria being just down the road?
Moving on, well backwards actually, before Cappadocia I spent a week in Istanbul which is as exotic as ever. I wised up a little and bought an ‘Istanbulkart’ which allows one to travel on buses, trams, Metro and ferries and with the aid of Google maps and its timetable widget I easily navigated the city and ended up in some rather “interesting’ parts! After a few days the shopkeepers in my neighborhood stopped trying to sell me carpets and many a happy tea break I took on a stool on the sidewalk. I went back to the old favorites, The Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosques, Topkapi Palace. Took a ride up the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Ate leisurely meals and went to bed early, got up early and walked the streets in the early morning before it got hot. Again I have to say I got lots of the look that said ‘Goodness a Westerner’, but I felt quite safe everywhere I went, there are soldiers with large guns patrolling and even the occasional tank! Maybe its Erdogan but lets not go there just now.
Before I go I have to tell what happened before that. I went to Prague. There was a Montessori Congress there and both Julia and Sophie (niece) were booked in, so I kind of tagged along. What a beautiful city and we all agreed that it really isn’t like anywhere else, though Vienna and Edinburgh were mentioned. We rode around on trams, frequented cafes, went for a cruise on the river, visited castles and cathedrals, just generally had a great tourist visit. Shame that the Most Beautiful Library in the World was closed but just another reason to visit again.
Thank you ladies.
The famous Charles Bridge in Prague.
The ‘Fred and Ginger’ Building, Prague.
Ceiling of entrance to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.
Look at that rug!
Trying for the arty shot….
This one came straight at me.
Deep underground at Kaymakli.
Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia.
The Man, Woman and Child.