If I was enticed by Istanbul, I was utterly captivated by Cappadocia. Ever since I’d seen a poster of hot air balloons flying over a strange landscape and discovered it was Cappadocia, I wanted to visit. Now, I was on my way.
If you are visiting Istanbul, Turkey and wish to see Cappadocia, it’s easiest to fly (a drive takes over ten hours). Turkish Airlines will get you there in an hour, but you’ll still need transport to Goreme. Judy and I had the treat of being met by a driver who took us directly to our hotel, thanks to arrangements from Barefoot Plus Travel. This company helped coordinate and timely maneuver us through many parts of Turkey.
I peered out the car window and saw snow-capped mountains in the distance, a surprise to me. Who knew you could ski in Turkey? As we drove on, the scenery changed to farmland. About 8-10 minutes before we reached Goreme, the landscape underwent a total transformation. All of a sudden I felt like a tiny gnome in a field of giant mushrooms. The whimsical high rock formations look like mushroom caps and are called fairy chimneys. The effect is enchanting.
As we proceeded into Goreme, the rock shapes changed into large domed humps or sharper edged boulders, and many included doors and hollowed out windows. Now I felt like I’d dropped into Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s neighborhood of cave homes. There is, in fact, a Flintstone Hotel, but we stayed in a cave hotel named Lalezar.
Our cave-like room had white-painted curved rock walls that created a spacious feeling. A double and single bed, plus bathroom, fulfilled our needs, but we had no window. Most of the other rooms included openings, but ours was a less costly choice. You can’t beat $33 per night for lodging, a traditional Turkish breakfast and 24/7 availability of coffee or tea.
Within minutes, I ran up the stairs to the top balcony of the hotel and started taking photos. The otherworldly landscape wowed me.
Next morning we were picked up by van for the first of our two small group full-day tours. These tours are the easiest and most convenient way to see what is important in Cappadocia. We began with an hour and a half hike through the Red and Rose Valleys. The walk yielded a feast for the eyes and heyday for photographers. At times, we looked down on towering boulders, pinnacles and pleated folds in the soft volcanic rock that looked like wind-blown sand dunes. Occasionally, the hike took us down into the bizarre wonderland formed by erosion.
Later in the day, we stopped at a few scenic overlooks, one included cave homes with yellowish streaks caused by sulfur and the other was a castle. Well, the guide called it a castle, but I would say it’s a fortress. The highest rock, Uçhisar Castle, has been a lookout tower for centuries. Due to safety concerns, no climbing is permitted.
Lastly, we were taken to an underground city of tunnels, a labyrinth of rooms that extend seven or eight levels into the earth. The volcanic rock is soft enough to carve initially but hardens when exposed to air. The hidden chambers were used by as many as 10,000 residents to hide from invaders.
One must bend over to move within the tunnels, and the floor is uneven but well worth the discomfort. We saw massive rolling-stone doors that were used to prevent invaders from entering. A variety of rooms were used for food storage, pressing grapes, keeping livestock, and smaller family rooms for sleeping and cooking. The clever inhabitants dug deep wells and shafts or chimneys for ventilations. They also built churches. Sometimes hiding in these underground cities was necessary for months at a time until it was safe for the villagers to return outside.
On the second day of our tours, we started at the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984 and an outstanding one in my opinion. Here, we entered exquisite frescoed rock churches in varying degrees of preservation. Most of these chapels belong to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.
I photographed one while standing outside, but otherwise no interior photos are allowed. We paid a small extra charge to enter the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise)and by all means don’t miss it. This astonishing rock church surrounds and embraced me with a force I’ve rarely felt. The frescoes are in mint condition, colorful, captivating, and emotional in detail. The interior is arranged like a modern church with an aisle, apse, and side chapels.
We also stopped in nearby Avanos at a pottery firm where we met the famed artisan, Galip Korukcu, often called Einstein. He has been the creative genius behind decorative pottery in this area for decades. We watched him throw a pot using a foot-powered potters wheel and also observed some of his students drawing and painting designs on raw pottery.
In one particular room, we were mesmerized by Galip’s glow in the dark works that sound funky but are actually gorgeous. Had I money in my budget, I would have purchased a plate to hang in my home.
Over two days, we climbed up and down hundreds of stairs and tromped many miles through a variety of treasures within Cappadocia. The landscape is like no other, but the place is one I can wholeheartedly recommend to curious travelers and photographers. Hikers and bikers love the region because there are many open trails for them to explore. We, however, saved the best for last, an exciting adventure that most tourists to the area splurge for — a hot air balloon ride.
Please return to bylandersea.com to see those photos of our hot air balloon ride.
All photo copyright Debi Lander@bylandersea.com
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