Other trips

Other trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Copenhagen

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Ethiopia, Kenya, S. Africa, Zimbabwe, UAE and Denmark

Panama, Colombia, Ecuador (Including Gallapagos), Peru, Bolivia, Chile (Including Easter Island), Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pinnacles, Cones and an Underground City in Cappadocia

We wanted to visit the Cappadocia region of Central Turkey after hearing about it from our daughter, Natalie, who visited Turkey a couple of years ago but didn’t have the time to visit magical Cappadocia. In Cappadocia, there are unimaginable rock formations, spectacular valleys, ancient cave churches and underground cities that reach many stories beneath the surface and could house thousands of people.

More than 100 million years ago, 3 volcanoes in Cappadocia erupted, dropping lava, mud, and ash over the region. Over eons, the explosive products cooled and compressed to form tufa, a soft, porous rock easily worn down by erosion. Water pored down, carving and separating giant ridges the rock into gorgeous valleys. Wind further whipped around the formations, further shaping them into elaborate pinnacles, cones, pillars and mounds. Harder layers of rocklike basalt resisted erosion longer and often ended up balanced, like hats, on top of a tall cone. Oxidation gave the formations color, and then humans began to do their own carving and shaping.

After pulling an all nighter at the Antalya Airport on the Mediterranean coast and not being able to check our bags in until 2AM for our 3:40 departure to Nevsehir Airport, an hour west of  the town of Goreme where we were staying in Cappadocia, we were just the wee bit tired getting to the hotel around 9am! Nonetheless, after dumping our bags at the Elysee Cave House, we decided to hop onto the all day Ilhara Valley Tour leaving at 9:30. Steven was quite happy doing it as it meant that he could sleep while on the bus and only had to awaken when I prodded him saying the bus was stopping at an overlook or having to get out and hike, eat lunch. It also meant that neither of us had to make any decisions all day long!

The Goreme Panorama was our first stop and what a sight it was to behold the breathtaking views. Steven and I both remarked on the similarity to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah but the size and sheer number of spires, cones, etc is far greater than those at Bryce.We only had about 15 minutes to take in the sights, grab a drink of cay, i.e. strong Turkish tea served in small glass cups on a saucer and/or buy any souvenirs before being herded back on the bus.

Cappadocia, our guide told us, is an Old Persian translation meaning Land of Beautiful Horses. The region has such a harsh climate, with temps in the summertime reaching 40 degrees with little rain and no humidity and bitterly cold and lots of snow in the winters. Combine that with an equally harsh and mostly barren landscape and one understands why it was the land of the horses.
Next up was a stop at the Derinkyu Underground City, one of 36 underground cities in the area; only 10 are now open to the public though. All the tours stop at this one though because it’s the largest and the deepest at 85m; it has 16 levels and up to 1,300 people could survive living entirely underground for up to a month at a time. It was built by the Hitites and then used by the orthodox Greeks from the 4th through the 11th centuries. It received UNESCO designation in 1964. We spent about an hour down there which was quite enough for me, thank you! It was certainly eye opening to visualize how people coped living in such confined quarters and to see the morgue, the ventilation system, the cooking area, the stables, etc.

One of the tunnels

At the bottom of the tunnel, 50 m underground in Level 7, was the Meeting Point. It was the biggest area and everyone could see each other in only that space. When people broke the rules, punishment was meted out in front of everyone in the Meeting Point, our guide stated.
After seeing quite enough of the Underground City, we were driven for about an hour to a great little restaurant and the site for the start of the afternoon hike.
The chicken sis or shish kebab was one of the best meals certainly in Turkey at this restaurant that seemed to cater exclusively to tour groups. Our group sat down at big long tables already set with dishes and cutlery, the guide explained the 4 menu options, we all ordered, had our drinks, then ate the delicious lentil soup and a salad. Within 10 minutes from the time we ordered, our piping hot lunches appeared – I don’t know how the restaurant staff did it!
The rain had started in earnest while we were eating but most of the group chose to go on a 2.5 mile hike through the Ilhara Valley anyway. It was much like hiking at a number of mountain parks in Colorado in the sense of following a stream, seeing wildlife on rocky cliffs and the terrain was also similar. We saw several signs to churches in the valley but our guide kept us on a short leash and we weren’t allowed to detour, much as we wanted to!

We hiked to the bottom of the canyon before beginning the actual hike through the valley.

 The guide did lead us to one lovely old church called Agacali before we continued our walk in the Ilhara Valley.

Next up was a visit to the Selime Monastery where we scrambled up over rocks that we could only reach by walking through crevices so narrow we could only put one foot in front of the other. Was I ever glad that neither of us had wider feet as we couldn’t have reached certain areas.

One of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen was field upon field full of apparently harvested huge pumpkins, not surprising when 95% of the country's pumpkin industry is in Cappadocia! But the guide explained that the pumpkins are only grown for their seeds, a snack loved by Turks. Once the seeds are extracted, the pumpkins remain on the ground until some are used for animal food.

The tour’s final stop was at Pigeon Valley; we had seen hundreds of pigeon holes in the rocks throughout the day but only learned here that the people carved the dovecotes or holes into the rocks to attract pigeons in order to collect their droppings for fertilizing their crops, especially vineyards.