By Al P. Manlangit
Right smack in the middle of the Anatolian Plain 750 kilometers from Istanbul lies this seemingly magical land called Cappadocia that has unique geological features with an equally-important part in Turkey’s history. Here lies a sedimentary valley formed by ancient volcanoes 10 million years ago which gave rise to strange rock formations sculpted by wind and water. Early settlers used this soft volcanic soil to carve out houses, churches and even underground cities that extended hundreds of meters beneath the surface.
We flew into the city of Kayseri and took the shuttle to the town of Goreme which was an hour away; this was to be our base for the next four days. Most of the hotels were carved into the rocky spires that surrounded the town and ours was no exception. The only built structure was the reception area and the terraced courtyard but all the rooms including the main dining hall were carved from the soft stone albeit separated by staircases. It sure looked like you were living inside a cave! The only difference was that they were equipped with all the luxuries that hotels have including the mini-jacuzzi in the spacious bathroom.
About 2 kilometers from the center of town was the Goreme Open Air Museum. We walked there after a great lunch of succulent lamb kebabs and stuffed zucchini washed down with sweet fruit wine which was surprisingly good! The Museum can be compared to a monastic complex since the caves have many churches cut from the rocks dating back to the 10th -12th centuries with beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The whole place was surrounded by “fairy chimney” protrusions that made it pretty tiring to be going up and down the vast area so we saved our strength for the climb up to Sunset Point just behind our hotel. Here, you had the best view of Goreme and you could see the entire landscape that looked otherworldly. And, oh yes, the sunset was beautiful!
The next day, we embarked on a whole-day tour that took us to various places of interest in Cappadocia. First stop was the Underground City in Derinkuyu. It was accidentally discovered in 1963 and the stunning 18-storey deep city was found to have a staggering network of ventilations shafts and wells, churches, communal rooms, schools, tombs, kitchens including livestock and entire food supplies that could sustain 20,000 inhabitants. We went down up to 8 floors exploring various passages and rooms as our guide expertly described to our group what life was like during those times. Some places were pretty tight and I wouldn’t recommend these to those who suffer from claustrophobia!
We continued on to Selime where the largest rock-cut monastery in the region was located. The size of the church was astonishing considering that the columns and arches were all carved from the rock within. Frescoes of the Virgin Mary and scenes of the Ascension and the Anunciation adorned the walls though they were barely visible under the years of soot that covered the surface from the time when the Turks used the room for cooking. Trenches including secret passageways with a series of ever-steeper rock stairways continued on to the top of the fortress-like structure. It would take a brave soul to climb up all the way so we just contented ourselves with the astounding views of the rock formations below that looked like a set of the village Tatooine from Star Wars.
No visit to Cappadocia would be complete without going on a balloon ride. This we did in the early morning when the van of the company we booked with picked us up in our hotel while it was still dark. We first had breakfast at their restaurant which also served as the meet-up point for the 16 of us who were going to share the ride before being driven to the staging point. All around us were many balloons being inflated like giants coming to life as dawn started to break and it was a pretty surreal sight! We felt giddy like kids watching everything that was going on and before we knew it, they were ushering us to get into the basket while the pilot, who was located in the middle, started giving instructions on what to do when we land (brace yourselves!).
The ride took an hour as we skimmed through the dips in the valleys barely scraping (it seemed) the top of the rocky hillocks. We finally landed in a grassy knoll and the coaster came to pick us up. I definitely would go on a balloon ride once more!
There are numerous hiking trails around the area and on our last day, we went walking through one of them in Pigeon Valley near the town of Uchisar named so because of the thousands of pigeon houses that were carved out from the soft rock to house the birds who have long been a source of food and fertilizer.
As we watched our last sunset along the trail, we couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the place. There was so much to see and so much to do and our short stay was truly an unforgettable experience!
– We flew to Goreme from Istanbul to Kayseri Airport via Turkish Airlines @ 37 Euros per person. The flight takes 1-1/2 hours. From the airport, take a shuttle (6 Euros) for the 70km trip to your hotel in Goreme.
– We stayed in Artemis Hotel www.artemiscavesuites.com for a large Cave Suite @ 75 Euros per night. The Manager happened to have a Pinoy brother-in-law from Cagayan de Oro. Talk about a small world!
– Our balloon ride was made with Voyager Balloons www.voyagerballoons.com The 1-hour standard flight costed 140 Euros per person. If you pay cash before the ride, you get a 10 Euros discount.
– It is recommended that you book a tour with your hotel. There are Red, Green and Blue tour options with different full-day itineraries. The cost is about 25 Euros.
– If you have a valid US or Schengen visa, you can apply for a Turkish e-Visa online.
Al P. Manlangit
Kuwait-based architect Al Manlangit is a global nomad who goes by the mantra – “Have cash, will travel.” A seasoned photographer who has a gift for words, Al has been sharing his jaunts around the world with Illustrado readers for close to a decade now. Read about Al’s travels in www.sojournalpix.com
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