Saturday, 14-03-2015 & Sunday, 15-03-2015.
Days 206 & 207.
On Saturday morning, we woke up in cave. Let me just say, sleeping in a cave—at least this cave—is pretty darn good.
Market Shopping and Village Tour
The next morning Turan, our guide from Euphrates Tours, picked us up at the hotel—but this time he wasn't alone. Inside the van we met Bekir (I believe), the patriarch of the home we would be visiting later that day, and his two grandsons. The boys were going to town to hit up the local Internet cafe, and Bekir was going to do some shopping at the market we were heading to.
This market in Ürgüp is held every Saturday (and we were lucky to be visiting on a Saturday), and it was fabulous. It had everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to honey and spices to farm implements and clothing.
We knocked around the market for awhile, relishing eating fresh vegetables again (which were rare in India) and just taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a busy market. See more on our Facebook post about the market. (yes, we have a Facebook page ... feel free to give it a like!) There was a lot of good-natured yelling between vendors and among the vendors and customers.
After we finished our shopping, we drove the short distance to Bekir's home where we got a brief tour and Jackie helped to make dolmas in the kitchen. Soon enough, lunch was served. We ate with the men while the women sat in the room and looked on. In general, the food in Turkey was really good, but this meal in particular was particularly delicious.
After the meal, we got a tour of the small farming village (Ayvali, I think). One of the most interesting features was an outside oven where the community made bread, right there on the street. Unfortunately for us, nothing was baking when we walked by, but it looked well-used.
Then we got a tour of a small mosque near our hotel with a great explanation of salat (the Muslim prayer), prayer times, and what went into a typical prayer session at the mosque. It was really interesting and quite educational.
A brief note on the Muslim call to prayer. If you're traveling anywhere in Turkey, you're going to hear it five times a day. A lot of people complain about this (especially on reviews of hotels). The one that brings out the strongest comments is fajr, the early morning call. The exact time varies (the formula is pretty complicated), but it usually takes place around 5:30 a.m. It didn't bother me because I was usually already awake.
I also found it interesting that the songs of the muezzins (the men who call the prayers) were a lot more melodic in this region than they were back in Istanbul, where the calls had a harsher tone. And every so often in Istanbul, two muezzins would engage in a round or verbal dueling and their their songs would increase in intensity and volume as they sang over one another.
After our visit to the mosque, we went to a Turkish tea house in the village. As famous as Turkish coffee is, most of the people drink Turkish tea or apple tea (which the girls loved). The tea is served in a cool, curved, handle-less glass. When first served hot, holding the glass makes it hard to drink until it cools down a little.
Many Muslims eschew alcohol, so the tea house seemed like the defacto meeting place for men to hang out, watch the news, and play games like backgammon (a popular in Turkish pastime) and rummy with tiles. Jackie played a game of backgammon with Turan. He won, but she had him on the run. And yes, I said men. No women were allowed in the tea house, but exceptions were made for tourists, which was nice (but it still felt a little weird).
We ended the day with a visit to the Turasan Winery, famous for its Cappaodican wines that have won a number of awards at worldwide wine competitions. We tried their special red wines, which were pretty tasty.
Kaymakli Underground City
Our last morning started with rain and hail, but that didn't put us off too much. After all, we were going underground to the Kaymakli Undergound City, which is a major part of the greater Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia UNESCO site.
These caves, which are really an entire city carved out of the volcanic tuff underneath an above-ground city, date back to as early as the 7th century. Because this whole region was highly contested by different groups for centuries, it wasn't unusual for invading armies to roll through the countryside, killing and taking what they needed to keep their war machine moving.
Christian settlers in the region (predominately Greeks) cut these tunnels and rooms under their town to hide from these invaders, first Muslim Arabs and later, the Mongolian invaders and the Ottoman Turks.
The city could hold as many as 5,000 people, and once we were inside we saw plenty of rooms for animals and people, as well as churches, wineries, and kitchens—all with plenty of storage spots for earthenware jugs. The whole city is built around a series of ventilation shafts, and air freely moved throughout the chambers as we ventured deeper into the city.
But human frailty (mine) did us in, and we didn't get to see all of the city that's open to tourists. We'd gotten there early before the big crowds, but as they started to arrive, the rooms got more cramped. Add to that the overall feeling of being trapped underground, and well, I had to retreat. So we did and went to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which was a little less claustrophobic.
Göreme Open Air Museum
It was full-on raining when we arrived at the Göreme Open Air Museum. The place was a monastic compound with many different orders (some of them existing at the same time as others) and is filled with many churches and living spaces cut out of the surrounding rocks, all dating to between the 11th and 13th centuries. A number of the churches have elaborate, colorful frescoes that exist to this day. Of course, photography was not allowed inside any of the churches, but a Google search for "goreme open air church" will return many images.
Guides were prohibited from speaking inside the churches—these discussions caused too much traffic congestion, so now all guided talks have to take place outside the churches. So we set up just outside and got the low down about each church's many frescoes before touring the Apple Church, the Church of Saint Barbara (which had really simple, poorly drawn frescoes), the Saint Onuphorius Church, and the Sandals Church.
The Sandals Church has a picture on the ceiling that some say is a young or teenage Jesus. There is another church, called the Dark Church (because it has no windows) that costs an extra fee to visit, so we didn't check that one out, but it has another picture of teenage Jesus. Apparently teenage Jesus was a pretty rare thing in frescoes.
We also toured a few of the caves that showed what sort of life the monks had, including the kitchens and the dining area, which was particularly fascinating. The whole thing, tables and seats, were carved right out of the rock.
Because of the rain, we didn't spend as much time here as we probably normally would have, but we're glad we got to see this amazing museum. On the way out we did get to see a replica of the Topkapi Dagger in the gift shop, so that was sort of neat. The rain was really coming down by this point in the day, so it seemed like the perfect time to go have some lunch. So we did.
Greek Village of Mustaphapasha
By the time we had lunch and drove to Mustaphapasha, the the rain had stopped, at least for a little while, and the sun came out—perfect weather for strolling through a Greek style village.
The village itself is a pretty quiet little place. It's notable because it was once inhabited by a population of more than one million Greeks (who were Ottoman citizens) who were forced to be refugees from their homeland during the the population exchange that took place between Greece and Turkey in 1923. As a result, many of the houses here are built in Greek style and date back to the late 19th or early 20th centuries.
More Panoramas: Three Sisters and Red Valley
We drove back to Göreme to see two more panoramic views of the surrounding valleys, one at the Three Sisters and the other at Red Valley.
Aside from the Paşabağ (which we'd visited a few days earlier), the Three Sisters is one of the most iconic fairy chimney structures in the area. The view from here was incredible of course, and it gave us a great view of the dark storm clouds rolling in over the valley from the southeast. Here's a wider panorama from the same spot:
The Red Valley was an amazing sight, too, but when we got out of the van, the wind was blowing so strongly from the incoming storm, we didn't have too long to look around.
No, really, the wind was so strong it was pushing us backwards. When the tables from the outdoor cafe that's set up there started blowing across the parking lot, we retreated back to the van and moved on to the next destination.
Our last official tourist sightseeing stop in Cappadocia was at one of the caravanserai that at one time stood every 40 or so miles along the silk road, the spice road, and other trade routes through Turkey. These offering traveling caravans a safe place to stay for the night along the silk road. There were the famous Turkish baths, meals, and massages—all for free. They were supported by taxes levied on goods in the area and helped promote trade and the flow of information throughout Turkey and beyond.
We had just enough time left to stop at Mado in Nevhehir for ice cream. This time we had the thick cuts of Turkish ice cream, made with goats' milk and so thick you can eat it with a knife and fork.
Once our ice cream was finished, we went headed off to the airport. We had a late (10:00 p.m.) but uneventful flight back to Istanbul that got us to our hotel a little after midnight. We only had a few more days in Istanbul, and we still hadn't fully explored the Grand Bazaar or visited the Blue Mosque. So take a guess at what the next post is going to be about.
What We Didn't Do: Hot Air Ballooning
We didn't do one of the activities that makes up the more common sights of Cappadocia—we did not ride over the valley in a hot air balloon. This trip was already breaking our budget a little bit, and the hot air balloon rides are expensive ($500). And the weather wasn't really cooperating, either. But our friends Glenn and Mary Ann (whom we met at Empress Zoë) took one and said it was nothing short of fantastic.
Out tour was an all-inclusive (airfare, meals [except dinner], and hotel). Turan was one of the best tour guides we've had (certainly in the top three). If you're thinking about a trip to see the incredible landscapes of Cappadocia, consider Euphrates Tours/Cappadocia Tours.