Cappadocia part 1

Underground cities, fairy chimneys and the troglodyte lifestyle – what’s not to love about Cappadocia? The last leg of our Turkish experience has us in a fantasy land – a heavily touristed fantasy land but a fantasy land nonetheless. We only got a hint of this when pulled into the regional hub of Nevsehir. Soon, though, we were on a dolmuș to Göreme. We passed through the town of Uçhisar, full of cave houses, fairy chimneys and home to a mighty castled hewed from the volcanic rock.

Our base is Göreme, which I constantly mispronounce as “gözleme”, which is a Turkish crêpe sort of thing. The tourist information guy rang our guesthouse, and they sent a van to get us.

First we went to a different guesthouse than the one we’d booked. Not a good sign. Alarm bells were ringing as we politely asked the guy to stop screwing around. Turns out he had a better offer from some tour group and decided to give away our room to them. His solution to this problem was to book us in somewhere else. Tell me a point in history where a bait and switch worked in the consumer’s favour.

So he relents and we end up at our guesthouse. Of course they had a room. It was a big cave room, dark and a bit musty. We reckoned since we’d booked a fairy chimney and only got a dank cave we were entitled to a discount, you know, to the price of the room we were actually going to be staying in. He didn’t like this plan much. We got to fighting, but at the late juncture we threw our bags down and determined not to have the guy ruin our stay. We were in Cappadocia! Land of unique rock formations, including fairy chimneys (a type of hoodoo), caves and all sorts of cliffs and gorges. Hiking central for the next week.

Our wonderful host, apparently having calmed down a bit after realizing that 8 nights is a lot of money, offered us a welcome drink. Then determined that he couldn’t make tea for me. A Turk not willing to make you tea – that is an insult and the point was not lost on us. Fast forward a bit. We’re back from a walk around town and wanted to check our email. The hotel had advertised WiFi, but upon inspection this was not working.

The sun had set and it was getting cold in our cave. No worries – the place has central heating, right? Says so on the website. Well, it does. They just didn’t have it turned on. “It’s hot during the day, that heats the room up, so we don’t turn the heat on,” he says. Dude. It’s a cave. The sun doesn’t heat up caves, not any I’ve ever been in. Besides, we’re the customers and we want some damn heat. The guy offers an extra blanket.

Suffice to say, we checked out in the morning, after a lousy sleep. Our new hotel – friendly owner to start with. It’s also a cave room, but with bright lights, satellite TV, nice furniture, heat that’s turned on…and the coup de grace, in-room Wifi. That is very handy here, since most hotels only have lobby Wifi (it doesn’t do well in cave rooms unless it is in the room). Sure, it cost us more money, but it has thus far been worth every lira.

Next, the exploring. The first stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum, an impressive collection of churches carved into the rocky hills outside of town. These have some great frescos painted onto the walls and ceilings. Christians lived here for safety reasons during the Byzantine days, and retreated to the sheltered valleys and caves during the Muslim invasions a few centuries later. The Muslims, in true unsportsmanlike fashion, defaced the Christian icons. You’d think they would have had better things do to, but apparently not.

Next up was a tour of some far flung sites. There are over 200 underground cities in the region, and we toured the largest. It has 8 levels. Air came in through a giant air shaft, water from a well. The air shaft was covered with tree branches and leaves to help protect it from invaders. Cooking was done at night only so the smoke wouldn’t tip off the location of the underground city. The one we went to had a population between 5000-10,000 and included a 9km shaft that connected it with another underground city nearby. All in all, I would go insane in such conditions, living in a tiny room in a cold underground cave with hardly any light. But it was a survival thing.

The Ilhara Valley has some cool sheer cliffs and a fast-flowing stream. This provides it with good vegetation in contrast to the grim surrounding landscape. We saw more cliffside churches and cool rock formations.

Next day the hiking began in earnest, through the Red Valley, down into the town of Cavusin, which has an entire city carved into its hill and finally to Pașa Barga, an impressive collection of fairy chimneys. The hike was a hike, but the scenery was out of this world – the photos tell the real story. I believe those will come when the entire Cappadocia trip is finished.

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