Cappadocia – June 2019

Flew to Kayseri on Monday, June 3rd which was about 1 1/2 hours from Istanbul. Picked up by our guide Omer and driver and it took us about 1 hour to get to Urgup. We are staying at a beautiful cave hotel “Yunak Evleri”. 

“Cappadocia, a semi-arid region in central Turkey, is known for its distinctive “fairy chimneys,” tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley, Göreme and elsewhere. Other notables sites include Bronze Age homes carved into valley walls by troglodytes (cave dwellers) and later used as refuges by

This is an area of Turkey that we have always wanted to come to, to see the cave dwellings, underground city and the rock formations. We made our way down to the centre of the small town of Urgup and walked around to get our bearings. Back to the hotel to get settled in, but opted for a cold beer on one of the numerous decks before a rest and then late dinner outside.

This hotel and grounds simply take your breath away. I mentioned beer…..a very good very popular Turkish beer is Efes. I think I might have 5 or 6 beer throughout the summer in Calgary after a hot day of gardening. I have now way surpassed my quota of beer. Hey…..it’s warm and thirst quenching. On another note, have been enjoying the fresh fruit drinks here.

Lovely dinner out on one of the numerous decks. Have really enjoyed the Turkish food. Lots of lamb, which the three of really enjoy.

I talked about beer which is very good, but oh my gosh, the wine, what a surprise. The Turkish wines we have tasted have been absolutely wonderful. Among the three of us, we have laughed about this. The first night we arrived in Istanbul, I had a glass of wine and Faye and Robin had a beer. I told them the wine wasn’t bad and they both had a taste and said it wasn’t very good. So since then, every time we comment on how good the wine has been, they both say….yes, except for our first night in Istanbul…..alright already. I was tired and had jet lag. It was red and I was thirsty!

The subject of the Muslim faith comes up often, especially now since it is Ramadan. It finishes tonight, Monday. Our guide told us that in 1924 there was a population exchange between Turkey and Greece. This agreement was reached just after Turkey won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. “Treaty of Lausanne involved an agreement between Greece and Turkey to forcibly exchange around 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians and a lower number of Muslims in the largest population displacement of modern times.” In other words, the Turkish government wanted Turkish people back in their own country.

Tuesday morning arrives and we are up and 4 am for our 4:30 am pickup. We are going on a hot air balloon ride. None of us have ever been, so a real experience. The company we are with is called Royal Hot Air Balloons and our guide told us that they are very reputable.

We stop in the small town of Goreme, which is where the hot air balloons take off. We are given the option of breakfast, but we pass and simply have tea/water. All the companies are waiting to hear from the Turkish Air Ministry whether or not the conditions are acceptable for flying. We were told that no balloons were allowed to fly yesterday as the winds were too high. The Air Ministry took over this function a few years ago as there were many accidents in prior years with unreputable unlicensed companies. This is a good thing. We get the all clear and everyone is very happy. We are driven to a field and cannot believe the amount of balloon. We are told that a maximum of 150 balloon are allowed to fly each day and they only fly once in the very early morning hours. To watch them inflate the balloons is half of the experience. There are hot fiery flames going up into the balloon to inflate them. Are we actually going to get in a basket and rise up above the earth while the pilot blows more hot flames up to keep us flying?

Oh well, our wills are up to date, so what the heck!

We are told that everything is ready. A maximum of 12 people plus the pilot in each balloon. Four sections to the basket, so three people in each quadrant, actually perfect. We start to rise, what a sensation as one sees the earth fall beneath you and to look around and see another 150 balloons rising at various intervals. They are very safety conscious these days around this whole experience. The sun is rising, the landscape below is ever changing….took way too many pictures, but one can’t help it.

After our 1 1/2 hours up in the air, our pilot lands the balloon right on the trailer being pulled by the truck…unbelievable. They communicate while we are still in the air and depending on where the wind is blowing the truck/trailer head where they think they will land. At the end of the balloon ride, we have some champagne, cookies and chocolate covered strawberries and we each get a gold medal! Not sure why, but accepted it graciously.

Back to the hotel and we all go back to our room for a snooze. Meet for breakfast and Faye and I head down to the town, about a 15 minute walk, to go to the coffee shop that Omer told us had good coffee. The town is very quiet, and the coffee shop is closed. We find a small coffee shop a few doors down and there is a family of women having their Turkish tea and breakfast. We ask for a cappuccino from one of the young ladies who speaks a little english. We ask why the town is so quiet and are told that it is the day after Ramadan and Eid begins for the week. The custom is for families to get together. I believe that the reason for no men here is that there was just a call for prayer and every thing simply opening later.

We are told that the Government has declared that there will be 9 days off after Ramadan. I asked our guide if this was normal, he said “no”. The skeptic I am, I asked if this extended holiday had anything to do with the fact that the government party lost elections in three major cities and another round of elections is happening on June 23rd. The guide just smiled.

We spend the day by our hotel pool, lovely setting.

Omer picks us up the next day and takes us to the Goreme Open Air Museum; which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. These caves were originally a Monastery and Church dating back to the late 4th century. These caves are a result of volcanic ash and were occupied until the 13th century.

We decide to visit this morning as is a very hot day…..good call.

There are well preserved paintings on the walls of the church. The pictures of various saints tell stories and teach religion at the same time for those that were illiterate. The archeologists have been able to date the three various styles of paintings from the various colours that were used. Iconoclastic period (Byzantine) shows a muddy red and the 11th and 12th century show icons with faces. There are two types of paintings on the walls. One referred to a “seco” which means that the paintings were applied directly to the walls (these don’t last as long) and “fresco” where a plaster was applied and paint put on overtop. Unfortunately photos cannot be taken inside; which is of course to preserve the paintings for future generations to see.

Omer tells us that some people lived in caves till the 1980’s. After viewing a few of the churches (really small rooms in individual caves) we see a convent for nuns and a monastery for men. These individual caves are joined by hallways to various rooms including dining rooms, food storage, bedrooms and their own church.

Each of the small churches have names..The apple church, the sandal church and the church with snakes; normally based on paintings inside the individual churches

We note that the government has applied plaster to the outside of the caves in order to prevent further erosion.

We often wondered what the small holes in the rock surfaces were as we had seen them in the walls near our hotel. Omer explains that these were called “pigeon holes”. Pigeons would live in these holes and the local farmers would cultivate the “pigeon poop” for fertilizer for the fields. As these holes are very high up, the farmers would get to the top by using the cave below the holes and climb up some inner steps.

When we were picked up at the airport in Kayseri, we noticed that the airfield was surrounded by military planes. Omer tells us that one of the government airfields is just behind the main airport. Every young man in Turkey must complete compulsory military service. In the 1930’s that time was 4 yrs, reduced to 2 1/2 yrs in the 50’s, then 21 months, down to 18 months and they are now talking 12 months. There are now 1 million people serving in the military in Turkey; including women.

What I haven’t mentioned before is the Turkish alphabet. Previously an arabic script was used by the Ottomans and we are told that this language did not have all of the phonetic sounds that were used by the Turkish people. Only 5% of the existing population could read this alphabet. In 1927, Ataturk (the leader of the independence in 1923) introduced the now “Turkish alphabet”. It has 21 consonants , 8 vowels and there are no W,X or Y’s. There are also many “umlaut’s” used over vowels; which indicate a different pronunciation. Robin said I should simply write…”It’s complicated”. I have tried to learn a few words; but have almost given up as when I use the phrases I have learnt; I get a quizzical look!

Our next stop is the Underground City of Kayakli. I am a bit claustrophobic, but Omer tells me just a couple of sections where we will have to bend down. I decide to try it as once never knows if you will return. This underground city was used in times of invasion to hide the women, children, older people and the sick. There is no sunshine down here, but a system of air shafts were built.

The tunnels could accommodate up to 4,000 people at one time and they had enough food preserves that they could stay up to 10 months. When there was no war, the various rooms were used for food storage. We note a dug out in the kitchen floor with a half cylindrical shape coming from it. This is the cooking fire site and the cylindrical shape helped provide air for a continuous fire. A constant temperature of 15 degrees celsius was maintained with the help of carpets on the floors and walls. Niches in the walls for linseed oil lamps, storage areas for food, squares in the floor where they would stomp grapes with a channel for the juice to go into a container, black ceilings due to the cooking and long tables and benches carved into the floor for seating and eating. We are told that the people cooking would also put small stones on the cooking fires to keep down the flames and mainly cook on the remaining heat of the fire. We also see a basalt stone, which they surmise was used as a mortar and pestle to grind spices.

The archeologist surmise that different rooms used for various storage depending on the size and temperature of that specific room.

The tunnels leading from room to room are very narrow and very low, but once you get into a room, once can stand up. The low, narrow tunnels would slow down any enemies, if they were able to enter, and give the people time to escape.

These caves were dug down vertically, then horizontally for a floor; and this continues down to 6 floors. We visit three floors and apparently we only see 6% of the city. Apparently a lot of the tunnels have filled with dust over the years. The top floors were used as stables and holes in the floors for their feed.

They also had emergency exits and means of blocking exits if they had to. Big rocks to block the entrances would have had to be carved down here, no way for the people to bring them down as the rocks are bigger than the tunnels. One big rock that could be rolled to block a tunnel, reminded me of “Raider’s of the Lost Ark” where Harrison Ford is running down a tunnel with a large boulder bearring down on him. Glad we saw these, but sure wouldn’t want to live down there! I think Robin hit his head a couple of times as we were walking through the tunnels.

We stop for lunch in the small town of Avanos and try “Barek”, filo pastry filled with either spinach/cheese, eggplant and minced meat. We also try the drink called “Hosaf” which is made with apricots, raisins, plums with cloves boiled in water and left to “plump up”. Very good and thirst quenching. I love the places that the tour guides take us to….their local knowledge really helps with this; as you visit restaurants you would not normally have a chance to frequent.

The town of Avanos is known for its pottery and rugs. The Red River flows through this area. It is 125kms long and goes into the Black Sea. A natural spot for making of pottery due to the clay found along the river.

Although we visited a rug store and bought rugs in Istanbul, we opted to visit this rug manufacturer as they have their own silk worms and weave their own silk. We learn that the double knot system is classified as a Turkish rug and a single know is referred to as a Moroccan or Persian. For the wool rugs, different types of wool are used. In the east of Turkey, where it is colder, the wool produced is longer and stronger, so this wool is usually used for floor carpets. In the west where it is warmer, the wool is thinner and softer; so these rugs are used for walls to help keep the temperature moderate in homes. We had watched one of the Master Weavers work and she was amazing to watch; again a very intricate design.

The owner who has explained the rug making art to us, also mentions that the “front side of the carpet is what you fall in love with” and the back side is “what you pay for”. The more knots per square inch, the more expensive. All the various patterns of the rugs tell of story and usually relate to a specific area of the country.

Once again, Faye is honing her mastery of “rug knotting”. A woman waves Faye over and tells her to sit down and she will show her what to do. This time the rug is cotton. I tell the owner that Faye has done one knot on a rug in Istanbul. He says that the women that is showing Faye is not one of his employees, but she is simply visiting. He does know her and says that she is indeed a master weaver. He tells me that their shop teaches women to become weavers. They get government subsidies to teach women (usually widows) to become self sufficient.

We are then taken to a side room where the silk is taken from the cocoons and spun into the size of thread they will need for specific carpets. This may take up to 375 single filaments to make one thread. A very interesting process. They receive large bags of cocoons and they only use the male cocoons. You ask how does one know the difference between a male and female? We asked that specific question and are told that the male cocoon is oval and the female is shaped like a peanut. They put the cocoons in water and with a whisk brush, they are able to grab a piece of thread from each cocoon and join them together and put them together to weave on thread. Very interesting process to watch.

We then drive to Monk Valley, the area known for its “Fairy Chimneys”. This place looks like a lunar landscape. These chimneys were formed when many centuries ago lava spewed, went into the sea and cooled down. With erosion and earthquakes affecting these large blocks of lava, they were spilt and the end result is the single chimneys. The caps were formed as the harder material was at the top of the rock formation and a softer material in lower layers.

A final stop to view the Imagination fields and again a type of chimney and these forms leave more to the imagination.

Omer also tells us a little more about Turkey. He tells us that Turkey produces 75% of the world’s hazelnuts. These are grown in the Black Sea area along wth cherries and tea. The south-east of the country produces cotton, cork, pistachio’s, oranges, melons, pomegranate and tomatoes. West of the country is known for figs and olives. He tells us that the best Baclava is in the South-east as this is where the pistachios’ are grown. In the south east of Turkey, the farmer’s will normally be able to harvest two crops of corn and wheat. We see vendors in all the towns/cities we have visited selling roasted corn on the cob and/or selling corn kernels in cups.

Another great day of touring with our wonderful guide, Omer.

The next morning, we are picked up and driven to the airport for our 1 1/2 hour flight to Izmir, then a 1 hour drive to our hotel near Sirince.

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