Category Archives: Global Travel

Captivated by Cappadocia

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.

Fairy Chimneys
Fairy Chimneys
This is Cappadocia.
This is Cappadocia.

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.

Fairy Chimneys
Fairy Chimneys

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.

Cave Homes in Cappadocia
Cave Homes in Cappadocia

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.

View from the cave hotel.
View from the cave hotel.

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.

Cave Hotel Room
Cave Hotel Room

Within minutes, I ran up the stairs to the top balcony of the hotel and started taking photos. The otherworldly landscape wowed me.

Another view from the cave hotel balcony.
Another view from the cave hotel balcony.

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.

Hiking through the Red Valley
Hiking through the Red Valley
Views from the morning hike.
Views from the morning hike.
Other hikers on our tour.
Other hikers on our tour.

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.

Sulfur causes yellow streaks in the rock.
Sulfur causes yellow streaks in the rock.
Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle

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.

Underground City Rooms
Underground City Rooms
Underground City
Underground City
Touring the underground
Touring the underground

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.

The Entrance Door or Rolling Stone.
The Entrance Door or Rolling Stone.

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.

Grounds of Open Air Museum
Grounds of Open Air Museum
Goreme Open Air Museum
Goreme Open Air Museum
Up and down many stairs.
Up and down many stairs.

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.

Rock Church Exterior
Rock Church Exterior
The Dark Church
The Dark Church

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.

Einstein at work
Einstein at work

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.

Pretty Pottery Plates
Pretty Pottery Plates

 

The Red Valley
The Red Valley

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.

Use your imagination...a camel?
Use your imagination…a camel?

IMG_7590 IMG_7602

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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Abu Dhabi’s Beauty: Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

I made a trip to Abu Dhabi about a year ago and wrote about the magnificent Grand Mosque for Luxe Beat Magazine.

The article was published in May 2014. Please click on the link to read the article.

http://luxebeatmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Abu-Dhabis-Beauty-Sheik-Zayed-Grand-Mosque-UAE-Luxe-Beat-Magazine-May-2014.pdf

 

I’m Alive in the Dead Sea

No splashing. That’s the first rule when you immerse yourself in Dead Sea.  Even a tiny drop in your eyes or mouth burns fiercely.

A Dip in the salty Dead Sea
A Dip in the salty Dead Sea

I wasn’t worried; it was January and I’m a Floridian. Call me wimpy, but I don’t swim outside when the temperature hovers around 40 degrees.  Nonetheless, some do.

Empty beachfront at the Dead Sea
Empty beachfront at the Dead Sea

Israel’s Dead Sea isn’t really a sea; it’s a lake in the Negev desert, about 1,300 feet below sea level. That makes it the lowest point on Earth that’s not under water.

My first glimpse of the glass-like expanse came from Highway 90 (the world’s lowest road) as we drove beyond the Judean Mountains toward Masada. The water looked oddly colored through my camera viewfinder. In some places it appeared neon green and in others, electric blue. Undoubtedly, the water’s mineral content contributes to this psychedelic effect.

Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The bus drove on to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Masada, the ancient mountain top palace-fortress of Herod the Great. Back in 70 A.D. Jews fleeing persecution in Jerusalem joined fellow refugees there. The Romans made violent organized charges and attempted to takeover, but the Jews held out for two years. In the end, they chose suicide rather than be conquered. The site is considered a Jewish cultural icon.

Visitors at Masada
Visitors at Masada

Tourists enter the rather posh Masada Visitor Center and either hike or ride a cable car to the dramatic summit. (Watch the short introductory film first as it helps understanding.) Rising nearly 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea, the hazy views from the plateau seem endless and the 2,000-year-old ruins are impressive and well preserved. Stroll among some original enclosures and other areas and lookouts that have been restored.

Scenic view from Masada.
Scenic view from Masada.

 

On the ride back to Tel Aviv, my group stopped at a seaside resort. Only a few hardy folk felt like a dip, but everyone wanted to see the salty sea up close.

Salt Crystals in the Dead Sea
Salt Crystals in the Dead Sea

As I walked along the near empty beachfront, I passed crusty edges at the shoreline rimmed in white. These salt deposits were created when the water hit the shore and dried in the sun. The Negev gets about 330 sunny days a year, but this day was not one of them.

Nothing grows in the Dead Sea (hence the name) because the salinity is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. The mineral content ranges around 30 percent compared to 3.5 percent in the Mediterranean.  That’s known as heavy water with high viscosity (love that wonderful word I learned in Anatomy and Physiology 101). The surface air is also heavy from mineral compounds in the evaporating water.

Applying therapeutic mud
Applying therapeutic mud

The area’s dark mud or clay is believed to have therapeutic qualities, along with a soak in the briny liquid. The usual procedure is to apply thick mud all over your skin and let it dry for 10 minutes. Then, slowly walk into the water and float on your back. Swimming is not a good idea because it creates a splash. No more than 20 minutes is recommended or you’ll become dehydrated.

 

 

 

Mud Treatment
Mud Treatment

I didn’t partake the treatment on my January trip to Israel, but as luck goes, I made a visit to Jordan five months later. (Jordan is clearly visible from Israel, on the opposite side of the bank.) In May, I whole-heartedly caked my arms, legs and face with mud, chuckled at myself and then sat and baked in the sun.

Laughing at yourself is part of the therapy.
Laughing at yourself is part of the therapy.

 

Feeling rather prune-like, I slithered off the edge of a low platform into the water. I could barely keep my feet down. They wanted to pop up, honestly demanded it, and so, I let them. Floating on my back took no effort because of the buoyant properties of the salt water. As a swimmer, the sensation was strangely different, laughably fun and totally liberating.

Floating in the Dead Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea

While in the water, I rubbed the mud off my skin, which then felt rather slimy, but in a good way.  My hands slid over my skin as if gliding over waxed paper. When I came out of the Sea, I could have recorded a commercial for baby soft skin. The experience brought to mind a costly spa treatment, but a free one you give yourself. Some medical experts say a dip helps those suffering with psoriasis and arthritis. Whether curative or not, who cares? I came alive in the Dead Sea.

 

Alive in the Dead Sea
Alive in the Dead Sea

If you go:

Israel: www.goisrael.com

Jordan: www.jordantours-travel.com