The center of Turkey, Baloons and caves.

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Flag of Turkey  , Cappadocia,
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Siberia now, internet is slower than a Lada. But we are so much behind, so here is

Our flight to Keyseri in the heart of Turkey was scheduled for around eight o'clock. Another very early morning for us. We checked out of the hotel before the Imam did his sunrise prayers. A very friendly taxi driver was already sitting in the lobby waiting for us, and forty five minutes later we checked in on our flight at the Turkish Airline counter. It was smooth sailing so far. But then airline despair began. As the clouds over Istanbul turned black and were filled with rain, the airport operations slowed down to a grinding halt. All the flights out of Istanbul were showing delays, and so was ours. After an hour, we were offered a sandwich and a drink. We rather had the plane leave on time, but still, it is a good gesture and something you won't find anymore at any major carrier in Europe or the US. We found a little corner in the departure hall where we had 1 little bar of internet connectivity. So here we could check the web a bit while waiting. The delay increased up to more than two hours, but eventually we could board our airbus for the short one hour flight. We were impressed with the service level and the quality of the flight. The seats were comfortable, and after asking the hostess we were moved up to the exit rows. There was even food served on the 1 hour take off and landing exercise.

It was after twelve when we set foot outside of the airport of Kayseri. The transfer bus was waiting for us and in no time we were on the road, off to Goreme. This is the touristic center of Cappadocia, a little town filled with hotels, balloon operators, quad rentals and travel agents. We were picked up from the airport together with three other people. An older Indian woman whom was traveling for a while and a couple from California. The guy was chatty and friendly, his wife looked like she did not amuse herself that much. After a short drive in the bus, which was bloody hot, as the driver switched between the AC and the window every 5 minutes, we were dropped off at the travel agent. Here we were welcomed by the owner and got a cup of lemon tea. The travel agent tried to sell us a Turkish evening, but we all found the 35 Euros quite steep, so thanked him politely for the offer.

After the short stop we were transported to the main bus. It was quite a big bus, and not quite what we expected. We were told the group would be 10-12 people, this was more like 30 people. As the tour set off in the morning while we were waiting for our flight at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, we met up at one of the stops. It was your average tourist trap stop. A pottery place where they made plates and ports from the clay from the red river. The prices for the handcraft were touristly steep of course. We spend about 5 minutes here, before being transported to a lunch place.

It was a buffet at a tourist feeding hall. There were at least 5 other tour buses parked outside, so you can imagine the crowds, all following their leader holding up the flag or the teddy bear. The food at the buffet was good but this would certainly be a place that we would avoid under all circumstances. So far this tour was not very impressive, and certainly not what we were presented. We were contemplating renting a car and explore Cappadocia on ourselves.

After lunch the group was rallied and transported to Goreme National Park. This is an open air museum featuring the first churches out of Christianity. Not that I am very religious, but still I like to see these historic sites and learn about the profound idioticallities that took place in our history. We rented an audio tour at the museum entrance as we did not expect too much from our very young tour guide, Cihad. But as it turned out this bloke was well educated on the history of the site, and on the history of his region. He was actually very good in answering questions and explaining the sites. We walked through the churches which are carved out of the soft rocks. It was not allowed to take pictures inside as a photo would damage the paint. Yes I can understand that flashes are not very good for these old paintings, but then again, when you don't use flash it should be OK. It is probably the same as with the decorations in the Sistine Chapel, someone owns the rights to the postcards. So anyhow, I took a snap of one of the churches, standing next to a guard, pretending I don't understand, so that you have an idea what it looks like. The Churches are the birth place of Christian religion. Originally the place was inhabited by Greek and Romans. These people carved the buildings into the soft rocks, creating sort of man made caves. The inside of the Churches is decorated with the same religious scenes over and over. We were told that this place was kind of a training site for priests, and it was here that they were educated on the religion and on how to spread 'the word'. After the Ottomans took ownership of the region, they violated the frescoes that were then hundreds of years old. They scratched out the eyes of the pictures of the saints, because in their believes they could not be worshiped this way. So much for tolerance of mankind, and another perfect example of the idioticallities of religion.

In about an hour or so we walked through the most important sites and were directed back to the bus. Outside there were some camels that could be ridden by tourists. And there was, as with every site in the region, a small market of people selling souvenirs and drinks. We enjoyed a freshly pressed grenade-apple juice and walked around the market for a bit.

Back on the bus we were transported to one of the three castles in the region. Or actually a viewpoint from where we could see the castle. The castles here are like everything else, carved out of the rocks. The viewpoint was like everything else too, a little market where souvenirs were sold to the passing tourists.

After this stop we were done for the day, and we were transported to our hotel. We had a small group of people, consisting of the Indian lady and the American couple that we met at the airport transfer, two guys from New Zealand and another couple from Saudi Arabia. It was a long day and we were both desperately in need of a shower. We picked the hotel (hisarevi) from a brochure at the travel agent and did little to no research on the place. So we had no idea on what to expect. All we knew was that the hotel was small and it was a 'cave' hotel. And indeed that is what it was. The place was located in a town called Nevsehir. This literally means middle castle, and it was the town around one of the three castles that guarded the Cappadocia region.

At first the check in to the hotel went a little problematic. The travel agent had ordered a twin room according to Ismael (the owner of the hotel). Our little piece of paper which was our confirmation letter showed clearly a double room. But after showing our disapproval, maybe a bit strongly after being awake since six in the morning, we were upgraded to a 'suite'. Whoohoo we thought, and made our way down to room number 17. We dragged our suitcases down the stairs and entered our cave. As we entered the room we realized that this was certainly not the Fairmont nor the Four Seasons. The suite was no more than two rooms in the cave. The first room was a seating area. Here the cushions on the wooden bench were prickly and the ceiling was so low that I could not stand up straight. The second room was our bedroom. Luckily the ceiling was high enough for me to stand but it all felt quite claustrophobic. The room was spartan, only a bed and a fireplace for winter, further nothing. Not even a phone or TV. The bathroom was basic as well, and we had to take our well needed shower in luke warm waters as the solar heated boiler did not have enough capacity.

After freshening up we decided to escape our cave and get some food in the hotel restaurant, and see if we could get some Internet connectivity over there. We succeeded in getting wireless access in the lobby / restaurant so we quickly checked some mails and stuff. Then we moved to the terrace. We still had a little connectivity there. Soon the other travelers, the Indian lady, the Aussie guys and the couple form the US joined us. We had a couple of wines and chatted for a bit. From the terrace we had a lovely view of the fortress rock. And in the night the lights show different figures in the shadows of the rock. Ismael joined us and explained the figures that could be seen in the shades. Around eight we all went down to have dinner. We decided to get one big table and have a dinner together. The food was simple but tasteful. There was no menu, just the food prepared that day by the lady of the house. We found the Hotel more like a hostel, but it was good. We learned to know some other people and enjoyed sharing the stories of our travels. We also learned that we were very lucky with our travel agent, as most of the people had big problems there. Some where literally ripped off by their agents back in Istanbul. After a long day and an enjoyable full night, we descended back into our cave. Tomorrow we will be picked up around 09:30 for another day of touring. But now that we have a little group that got to know each other, we figured it would be more fun than today's tour, we'll see.

We did not hear the Imam doing the sunrise prayers but the alarm clock woke us up in time for breakfast. Our pickup was scheduled for 09:30. Breakfast was simple, just a boiled egg, some cucumbers and tomatoes and a few slices of bread with jelly. At breakfast we met our fellow travelers. A new girl, Christy, had joined the group, she was miserable as her travel agent had screwed her over as well. After spending a night on a night-bus she reached Goreme, but there, the promised transfer to the hos(s)tel did not show up as the agent did not book it. Everyone tried to help her out booking a flight back to Istanbul as she did not want to take the horrendous night bus again, so this was the entertainment for the morning while we waited for our Cihad, our tour guide.

Finally around 11:00 a driver showed up and we were on our way. This time we had a small bus, it was just the group from our ho(s)tel and a couple of Japanese boys and girls. As everyone kind of knew each other it was good fun along the way. At our first stop the driver just left the bus without telling anyone what was going on. We all sat there for a few minutes until one of the New Zealand guys, Chris, climbed over the driver seat and escaped out of the bus to check out the situation. It turned out that we were waiting for Cihad at this meeting point along the way as he had a whole other tour bus to guide as well. Once he arrived we all got out and had a walk through the rose valley. We saw beautiful rock formations and scenery along the way, but it was very very dusty. Especially near the end where we had to walk on a dirt track where an occasional scooter or car threw the dust up. At the end of the walk we reached the Surgeon City. Another city carved out of the rocks. Legend has it that a famous surgeon lived here, hence the name. We climbed the ruins for a bit before heading back to our mini bus.

It was time for lunch, for which we were brought back to the ho(s)tel. It was a lot better than the big food factory from the day before. But the meal was pretty similar to the dinner that we had yesterday. After lunch we headed out to the pigeon valley, another little market with souvenir stalls and a view over the pigeon valley. Pigeons were a big thing to the first inhabitants of the region as they used them for communication, eh a world without Internet. They also used the eggs as a wash to preserve the frescoes in the churches. That ended up working very well as they are still in pretty good shape considering that they are around 2000 years old.

The next stop was the tourist trap for the day, some jewelry store where they made things from the local minerals. Yawn.. And after that we were off to the main attraction for the day, the underground city. Actually the whole region is covered with underground cities. We learned from Ismael at the ho(s)tel that Nevisehir had an underground city as well, that was now used for storage of limes and other things that need cooling. The city was quite claustrophobic, we went three levels deep to see the various rooms and hear the history. But I was glad that I saw daylight again at the end of it. We learned that these cities where hideouts where the Christians sought shelter if they were invaded by roman armies. It's funny to hear the different stories from around the world. A week ago in Rome our guide claimed that the Romans did not pursue Christians and were tolerant of them. Here we hear that the Romans hunted them down and slaughtered them. Go figure.

After the underground city our tours were done, Cihad dropped us off at the ho(s)tel and on our way we stopped at a grocery store to get some snacks and wine. When we arrived at the hotel a few other travelers had arrived. Another American couple form Saudi Arabia and a young British couple that Christy met back in Istanbul. We all chatted a bit and exchanged travel stories and dramas. And again everyone tried to help Christy with her airline ticket issues. We enjoyed another meal at the ho(s)tel, but by now I have had enough of stuffed eggplants. We had an early night as tomorrow we have to wake up before the morning prayers. Why? Because we are taking a hot air balloon ride over the Cappadocia hills at sunrise..

Even before the Imam sang his prayers we were up and about. It felt like the middle of the night, and actually it was. The stars in the sky were clear and the evening air was cold. There was hardly any wind which is good for balloon flights. We were all ready to go. Us and Christy were scheduled with the same company, so we got on the transfer bus together. The driver seemed a bit lost in Goreme where he had to pick up more people, but eventually we made it to the launch site. It was an amazing sight. Around 40 balloons were being set up as we watched and had a little breakfast snack. Soon our balloon was ready so we boarded the basket. There were around 16 people in four sections of the balloon. Each basket had 3 or 4 people. We only had 3 in ours. When the burner in the middle was lit you felt the heat. Especially me, as I am a bit taller than most people. After a brief safety formality the burners soared and we slowly took in to the skies. At first the balloon stayed low to the ground skimming the trees and the rose valley. But when we reached the cliff we aimed upward. The balloon pilot was proud to reach an altitude of 1200 meters. The views were amazing, the sunrise and the sea of balloons around us. The whole flight took around an hour. We took lost of photos, but near the end of the flight our old faithful SLR camera decided it was its time, so it died on us. When we descended we were surprised by the landing method. The balloonist actually aimed for the trailer behind the jeep on which the balloon baskets are transported. And with a perfect aim he dropped the balloon right on top of the trailer. On the ground we enjoyed a glass of bubbles before we were brought back to the ho(s)tel. All of this before 09:30, the day had not even started.

At the ho(s)tel we had our egg and piece of bread for breakfast, and the rest of the day we decided to take it slow. We had no tours planned and I had to do a bit of work. Later that day we headed out for lunch. We decided to walk in to town a bit to find some outside food, as the ho(s)tel food became pretty boring. On advice of some of our fellow travelers we found a small restaurant near a park called Kultur Park. It was a typical Turkish place with pillows on the floor. So we sat down and had a feast of Kebab. We did not understand squad of the menu, so we asked the waiter for a mixed kebab. The food was delicious, but the bill was a bit of a surprise. You would expect a cheap meal here in the middle of nowhere, but as the menu did not have mixed kebab, they ended up charging us 3 main dishes, chicken, beef and lamb.

After we came back from lunch Ismael invited us to go to a Haman (Turkish Bath) later in the afternoon. Around four o'clock we headed out with our host. We booked the whole place just for us so that we could have privacy. It was an interesting experience. First we washed ourselves in the Haman. Then we had a hot sauna for about 15 minutes. And after that we had a traditional soap bubble massage. It was very nice, but a bit awkward as the massage is done by Turkish men. It all took around an hour, and after it we felt reborn and refreshed. Back at the hotel we chatted around a bit with the people. And we had another early night as we were beaten by the early morning and the long day.
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