Cappadocia, Turkey 18 – 5/2014

September 8, 2016

It was a crisp morning in central Cappadocia. Like melting butter, the warm sun was just oozing across the bizarre landscape. It might have been a Wednesday or a Thursday about 300 AD. Beyda leaned out the door of her two-story home and yelled to her husband: “Ahmet, would you please empty the poop pot? It stinks!! And while you’re down there, bring up a jug of water.” Ahmet yelled back, “ Are we out of water already? You use too much!!” Beyza shouted back, “Don’t complain. It was your idea to build our home inside one of these weird stone pillars”.

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The panoramic view over the Göreme area was impressive.

Weird, strange, bizarre, crazy—all can be used to describe the landscape of Cappadocia in central Turkey. Approximately 9 to 3 million years ago, can’t really be exact, sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams, and ingnimbrite deposits were left from ancient volcanoes. After the eruption of Mount Erinyes, about 2000 years ago, ash and lava formed a protective layer of hard rock in the Cappadocia area. Erosion by weather, wind and water left the basalt on top of the softer rock, forming the present day fairy chimneys. If the protective cap falls off, the pillars erode into nothing.

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Uçhisar (also called Uçhisar Castle) is situated at the highest point in Cappadocia, just 5km from Göreme. The top provides a magnificent panorama.

People of the Göreme region discovered that the soft rock called Tufa could easily be carved into houses, churches and monasteries. Some of the churches contain interesting frescoes and elaborate Byzantine art from the post-iconoclastic period (after 842). When the Cappadocian Greeks were expelled from Turkey in 1923 during the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the churches were abandoned and stayed hidden because only the Christians knew where they were.

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Uçhisar, Cappadocia. How ingenious to realize one can carve out a house instead of building one!

The town of Göreme was a pleasant place to wander around. Having a specially prepared cup of real Turkish coffee was a treat. The street markets were a perfect place to restock on supplies. One van even turned out to be a portable hardware store. Looking for a place to camp for the night, we remembered meeting Dawn, a Scottish woman, at a campground in Italy the previous Christmas. She told us about the pension she and her ex-husband had started many years ago. Now, her daughter, Sabina, runs the completely renovated Köse Pension. Apparently, it used to be favored by hippies and overland travelers. We found it just a couple blocks from the center and it was the perfect place for a base. Sabina was very welcoming and gave us permission to park in front of the complex. The Köse Pension is still a favorite for budget travelers, but you’d never know it from looking at the beautiful rooms and the big swimming pool in the pretty courtyard. We indulged ourselves with a fabulous three-course Turkish feast for a reasonable price. As a bonus, we could even do our laundry, something we hadn’t done since we left Istanbul. The smell of fresh bread awakened us early in the morning and to our delight, there was a wonderful bakery just across the street.

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It was a chilly morning when we took off with the hot air balloon to view the Göreme area from the air.

Göreme’s National Park with its strange rock formations has become a popular tourist destination and is a World Heritage Site since 1985. From the ground level it’s quite an amazing place to walk around, discovering the odd fairy chimneys or wondering how long it took to carve out some of these rock homes. Still, perhaps one of the most exciting ways to see this geological wonder is from the air in a hot air balloon. Sabina gave us some tips on where to find a company that was recommended because of their skilled pilots.

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We are ready for an adventure!

As we lifted off the next day that advise proved to be well taken. The certified pilots of these hot air balloons need to read the wind very carefully, judging where the updrafts and downdrafts occur. Their goal is to get you as close to some of the more interesting formations without bumping into them, drifting up high for an overall view and then maneuvering the balloon back to its appropriate landing point. In our case, the pilot was actually able to land the balloon basket in the bed of a flatbed truck. We all piled out and enjoyed the traditional champagne toast that seems to be an essential part of hot air balloon trips.

 

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