Want to see a place that is magical, astonishing and entirely unbelievable? Visit Cappadocia in central Turkey for one out-of-this-world experience. Spectacular land formations converge with exemplary culture for an experience of a lifetime.
We landed in the city of Göreme from Selçuk on one super long bus ride that passed through Ankara. It is difficult to know all major holidays while traveling, but our time in Turkey coincided with one of the largest Muslim holidays of the year, Eid al-Adha. Thus busses were booked and we added an extra four hours of travel time just to get to Cappadocia. When we finally did arrive, we staggered out of the mini bus completely in awe. Enormous cones of rock scattered the landscape. Each miniature mountain had been hollowed out with windows, rooms, and elaborate entrances. Everywhere we looked was a cave home or cave hotel towering over the city. We explored the city for a short while, but our afternoon ended quickly as the clouds closed in overhead and our daylight disappeared. For dinner found a cozy restaurant with some pide (Turkish style pizza) and clay pot roast.
We awoke in the dark. Despite our desire to sleep in, we were eager to climb to the Göreme lookout point. We ascended to the ridge to discover eighty hot air balloons preparing for take off. There was a silence in the air that was broken by scattered rough coughs of enormous torches heating the gigantic balloons. In the faint light the balloons slowly rose from the canyon. They drifted into the air and above the horizon. The colors and designs of each balloon varied- there were stripes, checkerboards, rings, flags and advertisements decorating the orange sky. The sun peaked over the mountain ridge in the distance and the balloons rose higher and higher. After an hour of flight the balloons steer themselves to an opposite canyon and land effortlessly on trailers waiting for them. The balloon travelers viewed the drastic landscape from the sky, but we wanted to explore the canyons on foot.
We began our hike at the top of the Red Valley, looped into the Rose Valley and returned to Göreme. In our first hour of hiking we immediately found a new friend, Spotty, a friendly stray dog that loved to walk and show us around the canyon. There were some sections where we needed to climb a ladder into narrow tunnels. Spotty would pout, we would say goodbye, then five minutes later he would return to us jumping up and down excited that he found another way to the trail. He reminded me of the sweet dogs that hiked with us in South America.
The cliffs in these valleys are amazing. Huge ridge lines of rock overshadowed our trail. Looking into the rock face we would see a carved window. We approached one former habitation to find a beautiful church, full of colorful plastered and painted frescos. We were mesmerized by another church down the trail; an enormous cathedral, a man-made cavern carved out of the rock. Columns and beams were cut from the original rock as one continuous formation. The church was beautiful, welcoming and peaceful. After a few pictures, we continued our walk through the canyon. The colors of rock were fantastic with subtle pinks and oranges contrasted with bright whites and drastic wave-like erosion grooves.
The next day we explored the valleys to the west, the White Valley and Love Valley. We descended from Uçhisar and into the deep canyon. Within a half hour our perspective was cutoff and hiked deeper into the canyon. Two hours into our walk and we realized that, although beautiful, we had been hiking the wrong canyon and we were lost. We refueled with some Turkish delights. We crossed a few ridges and found our way to the Love Valley. Sixty foot fairy chimneys stood as prominent, and slightly phallic columns in the valley. We continued our hike to the adjacent city of Çavuşin, picked up a local bus and returned to Göreme exhausted.
With all this hiking our lunch times have been sporadic and our hunger voracious. It seems to be a common occurrence for us to push hard to see sights all day and when we finally stop for a break we are eating lunch at 4 o’clock. The go-to place for a quick and delicious bite are the many döner kebab stands throughout every Turkish city. Chicken or lamb is layered onto a spike and rotated slowly over a flame until the meat becomes juicy and delicious.
The cave buildings are everywhere. One enormous one is Uçhisar castle. This gigantic rock has been carved with at least ten stories of rooms and chapels. The look-out point can be accessed around the side of the castle and offers excellent views of the nearby cities and valleys.
The best preserved churches in the area are in the Göreme open air museum. This collection of eight or so fairy chimneys and cliffs house beautiful chapels decorated exquisitely with colorful frescoes. One frustrating part of Turkey has been the constant demand for entrance fees from tourists. I am happy to be a tourist, but frustrated when I am considered a cash-cow. The last time I felt like this was in Cuzco. Of course we payed extra to get into the dark church. Hiding behind one of the columns, I befuddled the security guard and took this photo of the ceiling. Breaking the law for the blog!
Deeper into the earth we explored. A short bus ride from Nevşehir and we were descending a set of stairs into a underground city of Kaymakli. Eighteen hundred years ago, christianity was just picking up momentum. In order to protect themselves the people dug out elaborate tunnels, ventilation shafts and locking doors deep into the earth. We climbed down a stairwell, through a dimly lit hallway and room after room showed a history of food storage, wine making and cooking. There was even a place for livestock to be kept safe. The entrance fee covers a lit path the descends one hundred feet (30m) down through six levels of the eleven that exist. I counted at least six sections of the city that were not lit; I strapped my headlamp on and I climbed into the darkness. I crawled on my hands and knees and eventually the tiny hallway opened up into a room, another hallway and I found a bigger room. Sections of rock were carved out to hold a round door used to block the passage way. Deep and alone and feeling like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, I turned around and returned to Carmen.
Cappadocia continued to take our breath away. The natural formations of rock alone are spectacular. Combined with colorful balloons, cavernous underground city’s and cave churches makes the region a magical and unbelievable place. This is one of the best places we have ever been, go here!