Turkey Travel Diary -- Cappadocia: Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities

     Istanbul is amazing but not exactly cheap, and besides I wanted a break from city life. So we hopped on a night bus to Capadoccia (the bus attendant keeps the bus spotless and serves cay along with little packaged cakes that you eat while feeling nervous about messing the bus up with crumbs). When I took of my sleep mask in the morning, I gasped. Cappadocia looks like this:    

And the sky above was full of hot-air balloons.
   There are valleys upon valleys of these "fairy chimneys". If you look carefully they are pock-marked with holes: people have lived in them since times forgotten. 

A live-in cave, Göreme, Cappadocia
Note the antenna...

   And so can tourists: just google "Cappadocia cave hotel" and drool. We settled for a shoestring pension though (20€ for a double room), full of Koreans (who had a great time photographing my kids). The dormitory room was cave, but our room was not. Moments after check-in the owner announced that a day-tour was leaving in 10 minutes. Still groggy from the night bus ride we said yes and rushed to get ready (I started with washing all the socks in the sink, I was obsessed with that throughout the trip). After 10 minutes the guy announced that the tour had no place left, and just as we started flipping though the Lonely Plant for breakfast recommendations he was knocking on our door telling us that not only the tour had free spaces, the minibus was waiting right outside the door! We rushed and somehow got in, with a bag of nuts and fruit for breakfast. We were whisked off to a beautiful viewpoint, then to the 13th century Selime Monastery which looked like this:
Selime Monastery

   We spent a blissful hour or so exploring the magical rooms: some rooms were simply smoothed rock while some (like the chapel) had elaborate arches.
   Then we fortifies ourselves with lunch (where I learned to love pomegranate vinegar), and did a short but sweet hike in the Ilhara Valley with picturesque cliffs rising on both sides (again, pockmarked with cave-dwellings). We were doing the Green Tour but in a jumbled order, in case anyone is interested.

Ilhara Valley
Ilhara Valley

   The whole scenery was a bit Picnic Under The Hanging Rock (lovely, creepy movie).
We picnicked in the middle of a stream:

Ilhara Valley, Turkey
The boulders on the far left are stepping stones to a bench smack dab in the middle of a stream, where I had a cay.

      Then it was time to head into the bowels of the earth. The Derinkuyu Underground City is the biggest of the many underground tunnel systems where entire towns hid during war-times since millenia. They disguised the air shafts and closed the passages with stone doors that had a hole in the middle to shoot arrows through. The Underground City is eight levels deep! Many of the passages were so narrow we had to crouch to get through -- I didn't like that very much being slightly claustrophobic, but the air was really good in there so it felt ok. The most amazing thing was that there were tunnels connecting the City with places kilometers away. How were they dug out and the rock transported out, I can't imagine, especially as they had no way of keeping track of their location (it's extremely easy to completely lose the sense of direction when underground).
    The tour ended with another view-point and a jewelry factory. There I learned that the word turquoise comes from Turkey, and what the difference between Turkish, Chinese and American turquoise is. I adore turquoise but I told the jeweler that I highly object to seeing it cut and polished all smooth. It's the uneven texture that I love.

     Another amazing thing we saw in Göreme on another day was the Open Air Museum. It's a complex of fairy chimneys carved into medieval churches and decorated with byzantine frescoes:

Cave church, Göreme, Cappadocia
You can see bits of the much older geometrical ocher patterns peeking out 

   Some of these churches had hollowed out niches for graves on the floor, I think that the idea was to show humility by asking to be buried where people have to walk over your grave to get inside.

   Apart from that, we vegetated happily in Göreme: ate delicious food, browsed through shops, listened to local music, talked to a guy who had seen UFOs there, and I visited a Turkish Bath. I really have to write about that!

Göreme, Cappadocia
Just another part of the town Göreme

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