Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cappadocia--wonderland of fairy chimneys

Cappadocia has intrigued us for years and we knew we had to visit this place with it's weird landscape (or it's fanciful "fairy houses" if that's what they are…"as folks use to think"). After our extended stay in Istanbul we had an early flight to Kayseri and arrived in Göreme by shuttle in time for a late breakfast / lunch while they finished preparing our "cave" room. 
(They said it was a cave room and it was shaped kind of cave like but it truly did not appear to be dug into a "rock" at all.)
The breakfast spread at Sultan Cave Suites
Cappadocia is pretty much in the center of Turkey and has a history dating back 4000+ years. The landscape looks like something from a wild dream. Rock formations created by 3 volcanos erupting a million or so years ago and the ensuing erosion (glaciers, rain, wind) leaving columns with caps of harder material, and fanciful stone peaks. Over the centuries various groups have carved homes, churches and even monastery towns into the rock.

As the weather had continued to get colder we were thrilled to have the wool gloves that we bought in Istanbul. We even added wool socks purchased in Goreme in preparation for our planned early AM balloon ride. Actually we wore them constantly as it only warmed up again on our day of departure. (The week before we arrived there had been unseasonably warm weather. But we got the unseasonably cold weather. Sigh…)

Our first view of the landscape was at the Goreme Open Air Museum which consists primarily of monasteries including churches, communal dining/study areas and separate sleeping quarters. The buildings are decorated with paintings in Orthodox style (colorful, old, extensively damaged but with some fine work still remaining.). For a great description and photos, see: http://www.goreme.com/goreme-open-air-museum.php

Strolling through the market/souvenir stands we picked up a snack, a chip kebab - a potato spiral on a skewer,thicker than normal chips, and quite tasty. 

Bill enjoying his potato kabap

Morning in Goreme means balloon rides over the hills and valleys. We had booked a deluxe flight with a maximum of 12 passengers and with a 90 minute flight (rather than a much larger group and a 45 minute flight). With the strange weather flights had been cancelled during recent days. And while the idea is to go up for sunrise, we had a few delays as they waited and hoped the weather would settle down. We were one of the early balloons to go up; later flights were cancelled that day. In fact we only got a 45 minute flight but we were happy with that. From our perch in the balloon we had spectacular views of valleys, villages and surrounding countryside. We also enjoyed our after flight champagne and snacks. 

After a brief stop at the hotel for breakfast we headed out for a walk on one of the many trails that crisscross the valleys and enjoyed being close up with the dramatic rock formations. The colorful Rose Valley gave us an opportunity to see the geologically different layers in grey, green, yellow, rose & white. 

Layers of color
Note the caps of harder stone left after the erosion

There were also scary steps steps cut into the stone to access the living areas that were typically set up off ground level. 

We enjoyed tea time at the picturesque old Cavusin cave village and then moved on to the Monks Valley (Pasabag), where many mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys surround St. Simeon's monk cell. A 4wd adventure down a winding, steep road brought us to lunch in a restaurant carved into the rock. Continuing the rock house theme to an extreme is the Kaymakli Underground City, where life underground was a reality. The city was excavated and expanded over time as protection from invaders (Romans, Persians and Arabs). Narrow low tunnels connect communal cooking, dining, storage areas and wine making facilities as well as private sleeping quarters. Round stone "doors" provided more protection from the outsiders.
"Pitted stone" in communal kitchen showing the
results of years used to grind spices 
Bill ducking to go through one of
the taller tunnels
Another day we enjoyed the 7 km hike in the Ihlara Valley along the Melendez Stream near Güzelyurt. OK, all that detail doesn't mean much to us either but we included it for future reference.  Basically it was about a 1 hour drive southwest of Göreme. The most difficult part of the hike was the steep steps down to the base. Along the path are Byzantine churches with religious paintings and houses carved into high cliffs. Early settlers used the high valley walls as protection from invaders. 

Pat in Ihlara Canyon
Paintings on Cave Church in Ihlara Canyon
Our small group include the guide and a young couple from Bosnia & Herzegovina. For the first 4km we had the valley to ourselves, A second entrance and facilities for a lunch/tea stop added many more hikers, including a large group from Google. At the 7km point we concluded our hike with a trout lunch near Belisirma village in a cabana over a stream with a table setup in Ottoman style (cushions to sit on, covered in fabric woven in typical Turkish rug designs). 
Preparing for lunch
On the return to Goreme we explored the Selime Monastery and Cathedral, cut into the rock at the end of Ihlara Valley. A short, steep climb took us to the entrance (note the lack of steps or hand rails). The size of the site and rooms was very impressive. While built as a Monastery it was adapted for use as a fortress by the Byzantine and Seljuk armies.
Enroute to the Monastery...no rails
Selime Cave Monastery...each of those arches around the top are
at least 6 feet high. And yes it is all carved out of a large pinnacle.

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