Driving through Cappadocia – Day 7
Posted by Mardee on May 11, 2007
Check-out time was 10:30 am so I hurriedly packed up this morning (and found my digital camera battery charger that I thought I forgot to bring – hooray!!!) and made my way up for my last breakfast here. Afterwards, I ran over to one of the local tour agencies and bought a bus ticket for Antalya. From there I will head to the beaches of Olympos and Ciralli tomorrow morning. I was dreading this overnight bus trip, but the only other real solution was to rent a car and that ain’t happening… I still had to figure out what to do with the rest of the day, since my bus didn’t leave till 9 pm.
As I made a quick stop at the ATM for cash, I was greeted by a car pulling up and 5 men getting out – 4 in business suits and one in uniform with a rifle. Evidently they were filling up the ATM. I was a little unsure why it took 4 men in suits to do this (the guy with the gun was understandable) but evidently they have their methods. Right before they were ready to leave, they unlocked the secured waste container that houses ATM receipts and proceeded to dump it all in the public trash can. I think I’ll try to find some other place to pitch my receipts…
Back to the hotel to check out – at that time, Sergio and Altan offered me a deal. Altan would spend the day driving me around the area to some interesting places for 60 lira (about $45). Wow! I jumped at it – a private car and driver for that price for practically the whole day? Incredible! I grabbed my purse, we jumped in the minivan and began the tour.
The first place on the agenda is a castle in Üchisar – this is a huge cave that sits way above the ground and was used as a fortress. The idea was to walk to the top and look at the view. Needless to say, my phobia got in the way and we had to quit halfway up. It was still an impressive view, nonetheless. Altan didn’t really understand – he kept saying, “It is safe!” I didn’t have the Turkish to explain that it’s not a logical reaction or a safety issue.
On our way out, we passed a camel sitting near the exit. There are several camels around – the locals sell photo ops to the tourists. I feel sorry for them – all they do is lay around all day until someone wants to get their picture taken riding a camel. Altan told me that this camel’s name was Hydar and he was 69 years old.
After that excursion, we went on a panoramic driving tour of the area. Our first stop was Rose Valley, so called because the cliffs and caves in the valley and hills are a deep rose color. We parked the van and then walked up to the top of the hills and just stood for awhile, drinking in the scenery. We were the only ones around, although Altan told me that the area gets quite crowded later on. The top of Rose Valley is a popular viewpoint, especially at sunset when the rocks glow red and orange in the warm light and the car park fills with coaches and buses. I’m sure it’s a lovely sight but I would rather have the peace and quiet.
As we left, Altan casually asked me if he could take me to his uncle’s house in Avanos. His mother was there and he wanted me to meet her. Needless to say, I was thrilled – it’s not often that a traveler gets to meet local residents on their own turf. We headed down the road towards a village containing a small “suburb” of pinkish and yellow houses. After pulling up, we were met at the door by Altan’s uncle’s wife, who seemed fairly young. We took off our shoes and proceeded inside.
I was introduced to Altan’s mother and grandmother, who is 96 years old. They were watching television (a Turkish game show featuring lots of swimwear) and finishing up their lunch. They offered me cha and then we all began the process of sizing each other up – I’m sure they were as curious about me as I was about them. His aunt wore contemporary clothing – a knit shirt and slacks. His mother and grandmother, however, were in the same type of “peasant” clothing I’ve been describing before; the loose-divided Turkish trousers, white scarf covering the hair and a wool vest or sweater worn over a blouse.
Altan’s grandmother called me over and began showing me photos of her when she was a younger. One black-and-white photo from the early 1930′s showed her in an exotic Turkish ethnic dress with gold bangles and chains that was evidently for a special occason. It’s strange to think that she was alive when sultans still ruled Turkey – Ataturk didn’t nationalize the country until around 1928.
When we finally left after about 45 minutes, we kissed cheeks in the Turkish custom and left. It was such a pleasure to meet them and I appreciated their generousity in inviting me in (not that they really had a choice). Both his mother and grandmother looked very weathered – probably from a life spent outside in the hot Turkish sun. I later found out from Altan that his mother is 3 years younger than me – I had assumed she was at least 5 years older.
We then did more sightseeing in Urgup, which has some unusual rock formations. I had been considering staying in Urgup rather than Goreme and was happy to conclude that I had made the right decision to go with Goreme. It’s a much smaller and more intimate atmosphere – Urgup was beautiful and interesting, but more spread out and much larger.
The underground city in Ozkonak was the next stop. There are 3 in Cappadocia and all date back to around the 7th century B.C. This one was discovered in 1972 by a farmer who wondered where his excess crop water was disappearing to. He undercovered a hidden room underground. Further excavation revealed as many as 10 underground floors with storage and separate defenses for each floor. Only 4 floors are open to the public, and it was quite an experience going through.
You have to crawl through the tunnels to get to each new floor and only then can you stand upright. Huge stone circles sit at each entrance, which were rolled in place to block an enemy attack. In addition, holes were placed above each entrance – if the enemy came, hot oil was poured through the holes onto the soldiers below. The Phrygians were the first to build them, however the Christians later enlarged the underground city. It was the principal place of hiding for the first Christians who were escaping from the persecution of the Roman empire. Cappadocia was where St Paul established a Christian community and where he also sought refuge. The underground cities in Cappadocia had built-in food storage, kitchens, churches, animal stalls, wineries, ventilation ducts, water wells and a missionary school.
Finally, it was time for a late lunch and we headed back to Avanos to a restaurant Altan knows called the Zelve Restaurant. Everyone there knew him and kept stopping in to check on us and say hello. The restaurant itself was incredible – it was probably the best meal I have had in Turkey since I got here. The lamb kebabs were tender and tasty, as was everything that came with it. And the food kept coming – we got 3 different kinds of bread, each one better than the last, a luscious salad, and a spicy dip made with eggplant and coated with a rich pomegranite sauce.
After we finished and before I could even blink, the dishes disappearance and Turkish coffee and dessert appeared before us. Let me just say one word about this dessert: The. Best. Dessert. Ever. (okay, that was 4 but it deserved them). This is my new favorite dessert – I think it even beats out sticky toffee pudding. It’s called “kunefe” and consists of shredded phyllo dough that is mixed with cheese and honey and then baked in a small round dish. It’s topped with crushed pistachio nuts and (need I say it again?) is incredible! It puts baklava to shame…
Finally, we were heading back to Goreme and the end of my stay in a perfect place. After finishing a few errands, I picked up my luggage from the hotel, said my goodbyes to Sergio and Altan, and made my way to the local square to pick up the bus for Antalya. I spent the time talking to a trio of young people from Singapore who had just graduated with degrees in accounting and were taking a trip before entering the job market.
The bus got there right on time and I threw my luggage underneath and got in. Two Korean girls who were also leaving Goreme were sitting near me so we started talking. They are also college graduations who are treating themselves to a trip abroad before work starts. The lights gradually went out and I settled down for a night of not sleeping… I really envy those people who can sleep anywhere.
Tomorrow – bus experiences and my arrival in Fethiye (yes, I changed my itinerary again!).