Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Visiting Cappadocia, Day Two

So, Cappadocia... Our second day and the morning following were a lot more fun, mostly because we went more for experiences rather than sightseeing. As I said in the last post, to me, Cappadocia is a one-hit wonder -- at every site, you're going to see a rock-cut something. And while it is really amazing and interesting that people had the tenacity to carve into these rocks and then live in them, at the end of the day, it's still a lot of rocks.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that everyone in our group agreed one of the best parts about the trip was the (free!) organic breakfast tour we went on through the delightful Kelebek Cave Hotel, which housed us for two nights. (The hotel was awesome -- I would probably come back just to stay there again and swim in the pool.) We took an open-air tractor-buggy to the owner's family farm, where we had an amazing Turkish breakfast of olives, tomatoes, menemen, cucumbers, cheese, dried apricots, strawberries, and more. We all really enjoyed this glimpse into Cappadocia's agricultural life, and the food was delicious.

We even got an up-close look at a couple of Kangal dogs, which are these huge Turkish mastiffs. As I recall, someone said this particular dog is only about a year old.

We spent the afternoon sightseeing around the area south of Goreme. We started at the seven-level Derinkuyu underground city, which was built more than 1,000 years ago by the area's Christian inhabitants as a hiding spot for when invaders swept through. Information seems to vary on the interwebs, but according to Lonely Planet, there were more than 130 underground cities in the region, and Derinkuyu had about 10,000 inhabitants.

Derinkuyu had a church, wine vats, a baptism pool, bedrooms and clever rolling stone doors, but there aren't any informational signs, so it's best to either go on a tour or hire a guide at the site. Otherwise, you'll have absolutely no idea what you're supposed to be looking at, and the site will seem like nothing more than -- wait for it -- rocks.

After Derinkuyu, we drove to the town of Sahinefendi and the archaeological excavation site of Sobessos. Although the Cappadocia tours include Sobessos, there's not a lot to the site and at the moment, it's not very well signed. The Internet tells me that it was a fourth-century Roman settlement and that excavations began in 2002, but I can't confirm that either bit is true. When compared to the rest of Turkey's ancient sites, Sobessos is a disappointment, but the drive there and beyond was lovely -- if you go, it's probably best to think of it as a pit-stop on an afternoon's road trip.

After Sobessos, we headed to Urgup for a very late lunch (or, perhaps more correctly, an early dinner). Since we were all starving, we didn't spend any time looking around, but from what I briefly saw, Urgup looked charming and probably deserved a bit more of our time. We spent the rest of our evening in Goreme, another charming town and our base. It was surprisingly quiet considering the amount of big tours we saw, but I fondly remember its mid-summer laid-back atmosphere from three summers ago. There's just something about it, some intangible quality, that I just love.

Of course, Cappadocia is famous for its hot-air balloons tours*, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention them. I went on one of the balloons three summers ago -- it was a lot of fun, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that watching the hot-air balloons might actually be more breathtaking. We had a spectacular view of the balloons going up in the morning from the various outdoor areas of our hotel, and our friends could even see them floating across the horizon from their room (Arch room #3). Watching the balloons, even at 6:30am, was just unforgettable and another experience that outshone ordinary sightseeing, so much so that I'm devoting another post just to photos. (Having said that, you should still totally go on a balloon ride...consider this an extra option.)

*Shortly after I wrote this post, a balloon hit another balloon during a morning ride in Cappadocia on May 20, causing the lower balloon to fall from the air, which resulted in the deaths of three Brazilian tourists and injuries to a number of the other passengers. According to the newspaper, this is the first hot-air balloon accident since 2009, which is a pretty good safety record but no doubt little consolation to the Brazilians' families or the other injured tourists. Not surprisingly, hot-air balloon bookings in Cappadocia are reportedly down 20 percent.

But having said that, I'm ending with the Goreme Open-Air Museum, arguably the region's most popular sightseeing attraction and absolutely its best, even if it does involve, yes, rocks. Even though we had to rush to the airport, we ducked in here for about 45 minutes on our last morning. There are perhaps about 12 churches and chapels that you can pop into at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a number of them still feature beautiful and colorful frescoes. We went around 9am this trip, and the museum was unbearably packed -- when I went three years ago, I visited late in the afternoon, and it was nearly empty. Just a little tip from me to you. :)

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