Friday, Sept. 24
I think there are only a few views, people or places in life with a first impression which takes your breath away.
Cappadocia, Turkey is one of those places. My poor explanation of the city and the pictures will never do it justice. In brief, it was like seeing something we thought only existed in text books, that you would never actually get to see or touch.
Pulling up to Goreme, on our overnight, 11-hour bus ride from Istanbul, we caught a glimpse of the mountains. It was about 8:30 a.m., so the sky was still a sunburnt orange, adding to the city’s allure. The mountains are shaped like Dairy Queen ice cream cones – smooth, curved and beautiful. But the hills are hallowed and lined with small windows. Apparently, people were living in the caves until the 70s. The Turkish government deemed cave dwellers a national embarrassment and evicted them.
If you’re a Star Wars buff, or Planet of the Apes fanatic, then you will have a brief idea of what it all looks like. It’s a sandy, dusty area, packed with half demolished caves, open structure buildings and ruins that used to be places of worship.
Here’s some points I found on the internet:
– Because many of the people who settled in the Cappadocia area were Christians in the time of Roman persecutions, the soft rock and underground passages made it possible to locate entire cities below the surface. When invaders would come to harass the locals, they would quickly move to the underground quarters and roll a boulder over the entrance. (This was during a time when Christianity was not a recognized religion.)
– As many as seven or eight levels can be found in the cities.
– At one time, every home in the village had an entry into the underground. Now, many of the access routes have been closed off. It is estimated that about 40,000 people could live in one city underground.
Our hostel happened to be in a cave, which was amazing. We rented a scooter our first day in the city. It was the best decision of the week. Before coming to Cappadocia, a tour guide in Istanbul tried to sell us a package deal for the next three cities for 300 Euros each. Thankfully, we said no. He told us there was no way we could do it all on our own, but we showed him.
We rented the scooter for 40 Turkish Lira and ended up seeing the entire city on our own. Well, we hit all of the good spots, anyway. While exploring, we took a wrong turn and ended up at the edge of the valley. It was breathtaking. Thankfully we had some candies, chips and water to celebrate with a little picnic.
Last night we made an amazingly delicious dinner (when I say we, I mean Matt). It’s hard to find any chicken or meat in the stores – we’ve only seen one package of chicken, which was about $10. (It’s amazing what we take for granted at home. We literally went to every shop in the city looking for meat so we could prepare our own meal.)
We ended up buying some fresh vegetables and used the last of our gluten-free pasta. We bought a $5 bottle of wine and sat on the floor of our cave room. Overall, it was a great day.
This morning we woke up at 5 a.m. so we could watch the sunrise. Cappadocia is famous for having a ton of hot air balloons take off in the morning.
We jogged up a hill, dodged some of the rock formations and found a good spot. We planted ourselves on the ledge and watched as the hot air balloons filled up and took off as the sun was rising. We were up there for two hours. By the time we left, there was about 48 balloons in the air.
After a cave nap we went to an underground city called Kaymakli. It had so many interesting features – a wine cellar (the most important, obviously), ventilation shafts, storage rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, churches and bathrooms.
The city was built 65 meters deep (214.5 feet). Kaymaklı is one of the largest underground settlements in the region and is still used by the locals for storage. There are nearly 100 tunnels in the city.
It is definitely the worst place on earth to discover you are claustrophobic. Going through the city takes about 45 minutes – so when you’re in, you’re in.
I had to calm myself down a few times, thinking, “It’s OK – people lived here. Kids grew up here. You can do it.” Luckily, I didn’t freak out, and neither did Matt. But we did see some lady legging it to the exit.
We were so fortunate that we decided to do all of the tours ourselves. We ended up taking the local bus to and from the underground city, literally saving us hundreds of dollars. It cost us two Turkish Lira each, each way. We were the only non-Turkish people on the bus.
Even though they always charge us double the local rate, we’re really starting to get the feel for making our own way.