DSCF0173_4879 (1024x368)1) the entrance to Goreme National Park/Museum with town of  and Uçhisar Castle rising from its centre (double click on this photo for a larger view)

We flew Turkish Airlines the 2.5hrs south and east of Istanbul to the town of Nevşehir to spend some days exploring Cappadocia.  Cappadocia is an area of some 40 square kilometers bounded by two very distinct (and extinct) volcanoes – Erciyes Dağ (3916 m) and Hasan Dağ (3253 m) – with several UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered over its various valleys and mountain ridges, including two subterranean cities, Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu. Cappadocia is famed for its volcanic rock formations known as ‘fairytale chimneys’ or hoodoos, which, over the centuries, have been home to troglodyte villagers, Christian monks fleeing Roman prosecution, merchants who paused here while traveling the caravan route to/from the Far East and, today, boutique hotels. The area is endlessly fascinating and I truly loved the time we spent here and would highly, highly recommend a visit if you can.

You will need to either rent a car to explore the area or you can – as we did – hire a car and driver for your touring (this will run you US$100/day or thereabouts).  Guides for the various sites you decide to visit are additional though you may be able to forego them with a good guidebook.  We made our home in Cappadocia at the gorgeous Hezen Cave Hotel, a 5-star boutique hotel complete with rooms carved out of the rock in a very small town called Ortahişar that has AMAZING views of  Ortahişar Castle, a huge chimney rock carved at the time of Hittites that stands some 86 metres high.

IMG_3794 (1024x545)2) arriving at the wee Nevsehir Airport

DSCN1815 (1024x768)3) this way to our hotel

DSCN1445_4899 (1024x753)4) the hotel’s lobby

DSCN1437_4891 (1024x638)5) our room is between those two umbrellas

DSCN1444_4898 (1024x768)6) the hotel grounds

DSCN1429_4883 (1024x745)7) our livingroom

DSCN1431_4885 (649x1024)8) the bathroom

DSCN1428_4882 (1024x768)

9) and the bedroom built into the cave walls

DSCN1824 (768x1024)10) the tunnel leading to the main building

DSCN1446_4900 (1024x768)11)  our view was magnificent during the day – that is Ortahişar Castle

DSCN1656_5108 (1024x768)12) and at dusk when the moon rose

DSCN1826 (1024x768)13) and at sunset

DSCN1669_5118 (1024x766)14)the main building lit at nighttime

DSCN1668_5117 (1024x768)15) and the view during night when the town – and castle – lit up

We spent a day touring the Pigeon Valley, climbed Uchisar Castle (which is the highest of the rock formations in the Cappadocia area), and wandered amid the ruins of churches built in the area since the 4th century at Goreme Open Air Museum. These were fascinating. Goreme was a destination of choice of Christians being persecuted and they built many fabulous churches within the rock formations. If you do go, it is absolutely worth it to pay the extra Turkish lira to visit the “Dark Church”, which was built in the 6th or 7th century and later (circa 11th century) decorated with vivid Byzantine fresco scenes of the New Testament (sorry, picture-taking is not allowed inside). They are stunning and worth a visit to the Open Air Museum alone. It is also well worth the climb up the VERY winding road at the entrance of the Museum to take pictures of entire area with Uchisar in the background; just watch out for the cars and buses negotiating what is a terrifically steep, switch back road.

DSCN1448_4902 (1024x641)16) Pigeon Valley, which, as the name implies was used for the raising/breeding of carrier pigeons

DSCN1484_4937 (1024x942)17) Uçhisar Castle entrance

DSCN1482_4935 (858x1024)18) at the entrance you can buy all sorts of goodies

DSCN1483_4936 (1024x611)19) dried fruits galore eh!

DSCN1475_4929 (1024x768)20) starting the climb up with the town of Uçhisar in the background

DSCN1454_4908 (1024x768)21) nearing the top

DSCN1452_4906 (1024x744)22) at the top you can see Mt. Erciyes in the distance

DSCN1462_4916 (1024x763)23) moi at the summit

DSCN1466_4920 (768x1024)24) trying to look Turkish at the summit

DSCN1700_5144 (1024x768)25) Goreme Open Air Museum grounds

DSCN1694_5138 (1024x768)26) more of the Goreme Open Air Museum grounds

DSCN1715_5159 (1024x768)27) looking back down to the entrance of the Museum

DSCN1717_5161 (1024x768)28) frescos inside the Church of St. Catharine

DSCN1718_5162 (1024x768)29) detail of the saints (you can see later inhabitants did deface many of the scenes)

DSCN1731_5175 (1024x757)30) this is taken from the top of the road leading to the Museum

DSCN1737_5181 (1024x768)31) here’s the view looking the other way toward Uçhisar

DSCN1735_5179 (1024x768)32) the mountain goats were also enjoying the view with me

DSCN1725_5169 (1024x768)33) there’s Uçhisar Castle which I climbed earlier that morning

DSCN1749_5193 (1024x768)34)  Uçhisar taken with my telephoto lens

DSCN1728_5172 (1024x768)35) what a view despite the threatening weather!

DSCN1753_5196 (1024x768)36) we walked from the Open Air Museum into Goreme town itself and passed these and a little artisan shop

DSCN1754_5197 (1024x768)37) where it seemed the habit was to tie cloths onto this tree

DSCN1755_5198 (1024x768)38) G goes to inspect

DSCN1763_5206 (1024x768)39) G adds his glass evil-eye token to the tree for good luck

Like Istanbul, the food in Cappadocia was excellent and the wine superb, plentiful, local and cheap. We enjoyed several great meals including a lunch in Goreme in a restaurant along the main strip (Goreme is very touristy and tourist-friendly so language is no problem but if touristy places are not your thing – as is very much the case with G and I – it is best to get in and get out of this place quick) and two outstanding dinners in our little town of Ortahişar at a tiny, quiet, family run restaurant situated on the edge of a gorge a scant 10 minute walk from Hezen Hotel.  Unfortunately, neither of us can remember the name of this little gem (I blame too many bottles of Turkish wine!) – we think it may be Tandir Cafe? but don’t quote me on it – that was frequented by locals which is always a good sign.

DSCN1778_5219 (1024x768)40) one of the over-the-top shops in Goreme

DSCN1774_5215 (1024x768)41) lunching at A’la Turca restaurant in Goreme

DSCN1773_5214 (1024x768)42) these were lamb croquettes with potatoes …. mmmmm

DSCN1832 (1024x768)43) G heads down to what we’re calling Tandir Cafe restaurant in Ortahişar; the restaurant is that wee building in the centre of the photo perched on the edge of a gorge

DSCN1676_5122 (1024x768)44) inside the restaurant … it was ‘heated’ by that stove in the centre

DSCN1833 (768x1024)45) ah so good, Turkish wine is a revelation and if only we could get it here

DSCN1681_5126 (1024x768)46) this was a pasta served with a yogurt sauce – very different but very good

DSCN1836 (1024x768)46) another night we had lamb stew

DSCN1837 (1024x768)48)… and lamb shank

DSCN1684_5128 (1024x768)49) here’s the open air restaurant with the restaurant owner’s son hard at work

DSCN1800 (1024x768)50) and here is the restaurant in I shot a took with my telephoto lens from the top of Ortahişar Castle (see how it is perched on the edge of the gorge?!)

For some reason that defies logic, I was all hot and bothered about visiting one of Cappadocia’s two underground cities. So we found ourselves one morning at the entrance to Derinkuyu City in line with umpteen other, by and large Turkish families, waiting to enter. First built by the Phrygians way back in the 8th-7th centuries BCE, this city was enlarged by Byzantines as a place of refuge from the raiding Umayyad arabs and likely could have accommodated – wait for this – some 20,000 citizens (having descended into this ‘city’ I doubt this sincerely, but heck, I’m not a scholar of this period so who knows)! What is interesting is the city contained food stores, kitchens, stalls, churches, wine and oil presses, ventilation shafts and wells and descends 8 levels to a depth of 85 metres.

…But back to the line. We are standing it seems an hour before getting to the ticket window, we buy our ticket and are then off going down, down, down into increasingly dark, narrow, congested passageways. And by narrow, I mean tiny, cramped spaces where you almost need to crawl to get to the next chamber. And then we hit a roadblock where we do not move for many minutes as to proceed further downward there is but one stairway that folks going down – and coming back up – must negotiate. So here we are pressed like pigs in dank spaces and all I can keep thinking about is how this part of Turkey is prone to earthquakes. Can you say panicking! Claustrophobic panicking! When we – it seems hours later – finally make it to the point where we can descend down the stairway, I’m saying to G, ‘nope, no way; I’m done with this adventure’ and promptly take the conveniently located emergency exit provided (as no doubt there’s been others like me in this same dilemma before) and up, up and ever up we go to light, and open space and sunshine.

All that to say, if you do go, give it a try but Derinkuyu is not for the faint of heart. How the hell did people live down there!?

DSCN1486_4939 (1024x768)51) at the entrance to the underground city (they should post a warning here!)

DSCN1480_4933 (1024x768)52) inside the city – initially – I’m all smiles amid the open caverns and bright lights … but don’t let this fool you … horrors await the further down you go!

Our next stop was Selime Cathedral/monastery which could double as a set from some Star Wars movie (though that is rumour and scenes were not filmed here).  Selime was an important Christian site constructed around the 13th century. The cathedral, per se, is carved out of the rock and is actually the largest of its kind in Cappadocia. Alongside the cathedral are numerous other caves and rooms that were used by the monks (living quarters, kitchens, chapels).  It was a very neat site easily accessed directly from the road and well worth a stop to explore.

DSCN1571_5023 (1024x611)53) at the entrance, you can see just how close to the road the site actually is

DSCN1582_5034 (1024x743)54) exploring the ruins with these very cool looking darker coloured fairy chimneys

DSCN1588_5040 (768x1024)55) moi exploring on high

DSCN1591_5043 (1024x768)56) seems I’m very happy to be here eh!

DSCN1607_5059 (1024x768)57) here is the inside of the cathedral itself

DSCN1609_5061 (1024x768)58) the interior did have frescos as well but they are now covered over with black soot

DSCF0164_4871 (1024x368) 59) here is a panoramic shot (double click this one to make it larger)

DSCN1637_5089 (768x1024)60) G goes down one of the very narrow pathways to the entrance

DSCN1621_5073 (1024x768)61) looking out to the Ihlara valley

DSCN1624_5076 (1024x768)62)  the view from the window

DSCN1620_5072 (1024x768)63) the view looking up inside one of the chapels

DSCN1569_5021 (1024x768)64) here is the nearest village to Selime

DSCN1628_5080 (1024x768)65) moi

IMG_3846 (1024x765)66) G shoots the hoodoos

67) a short video panoramic of Selime

DSCN1547_4999 (1024x739)68) this is just up the road from Selime, a place called Bezirhane, which had (on left) a church called Ala Church with frescos from the 12th and 13th centuries and  (on right) a linseed press which produced linseed oil

DSCN1549_5001 (1024x768)69) here is the inside of the church with its frescos

DSCN1555_5007 (768x1024)70) here is the linseed press

DSCN1556_5008 (1024x768)71) and here is where they tied up donkeys to go round in circles to work the press

After visiting Selime, we drove across to the Ihlara Valley to the Ihlara Gorge as we wanted to hike this natural wonder. The government has set up a very pretty hike of a section of the 16km long gorge that wanders alongside the Melendiz River. Our driver dropped us off at the top entrance and then we hiked down the gorge to meet him again at the bottom. At the bottom you can also stop for lunch at a handful of basic restaurants set on the river. The hike takes, oh, about an hour and a half or so.

DSCN1494_4946 (1024x768)72)  you can get a sense of why this is called the Anatolian Plain eh

DSCN1501_4953 (2) (1024x512)73) very pretty

DSCN1558_5010 (1024x768)74) a view of the gorge stretching out seemingly forever

DSCN1503_4955 (1024x768)75) heading down into the gorgeous with dozens of Turkish families (I note that whilst we were in Turkey it was a national holiday so families were out and about everywhere during the week)

DSCN1513_4965 (768x1024)76) we took the path less traveled along the far side of the river

DSCN1531_4983 (1024x768)77) it’s almost Monet-like eh

DSCN1525_4977 (1024x768)78) very tranquil

DSCN1520_4972 (1024x654)79) here is one of the restaurants where you can stop and have lunch and tea (so cute!)

DSCF0144_4856 (1024x834)80) our driver recommended Belisirma

DSCN1545_4997 (1024x768)81) it was very good with fabulous bread and good strong Turkish tea

DSCN1546_4998 (1024x730)82) we had this chicken bake with quinoa (yummy!)

DSCN1538_4990 (1024x768)83) the ducks paddled their way back and forth as we ate

DSCN1654_5106 (768x1024)84) on the way back to the Hezen we stopped at this historic kervansaray (literally ‘caravan palaces’)  – which were inns used by traders plying the camel trains from the Far East to Europe during the 10th century

DSCN1646_5098 (1024x701)85) here is the central tower of the building now a roost for pigeons; traders could stay up to 3 days at each site

DSCN1648_5100 (1024x738)86) basically tells us this is an official rest stop for caravaners

DSCN1783 (1024x768)87)  meanwhile back in Ortahişar, I found this collection of cats hangout as I wandered the town to go climb the Ortahişar castle

DSCN1779 (768x1024)88) here’s how folks in Ortahişar live

DSCN1780 (768x1024)89) there’s where I’m heading to – Ortahişar Castle

DSCN1811 (768x1024)90) I’m going waaay up there

DSCN1787 (768x1024)91) climbing this and …

DSCN1794 (768x1024)92) scrambling up these

DSCN1788 (1024x768)93) the view at the top is certainly worth it though!

DSCN1806 (1024x768)94) a rainbow came out for me even!

95) here’s a video I took from the top of Ortahişar Castle looking over the city during the call to prayer

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