An October 2009 trip
to Cappadocia by Owen Lipsett
Quote: Many visitors spend just a day or two in Cappadocia, I spent a week and a half. Whichever period (or more likely somewhere in between) you decide to spend, I hope these tips will help you appreciate this unique region.
Besides its topography, it’s famous for two unique types of dwellings left by Greek Christians who inhabited the area until the population exchange of 1923: underground cities (although these were first built by Hittites) and rock-carved homes and churches in the fairy chimneys. Both were intended as escapes from marauding Central Asian tribes (some of whom included the ancestors of modern Turks) although ironically today it’s the exposed valleys that provide a respite from daily assault by highly organized (and in my experience, exceptionally rude) tribes of package tourists on what were once hidden refuges! Hiking through Cappadocia’s valleys and visiting its underground cities and rock-carved churches are the reason most people visit, although you should set aside quite a bit of time for just sitting around and appreciating the landscape, the key is not to rush the experience.
Getting to and Around Cappadocia: You can reach Cappadocia easily by bus from the rest of Turkey, it’s approximately 4 hours to/from Ankara, 10-12 hours overnight to Fethiye, Antalya, and Istanbul with a variety of companies. While most off-season services just go to Nevsehir, the regional capital, if at all possible get a bus that takes you directly to Goreme, as many services do during the summer. Whatever you do, don’t listen to the people who board the bus at the Nevsehir bus station and claim to offer a minibus service to Goreme – they are touts for some of the less reputable pensions in town and the price of the "free minibus" will be an expensive tour or hostel stay!
In Cappadocia, it makes most sense to base yourself in the town of Goreme, which is within an hour’s walk of all the sights described in this journal except for those in the "Green Tour" entry. As a direct result of this convenient location, it has most of the area’s accommodation (and tourist agencies), particularly at the budget end, although there are better high-end restaurants at Uchisar. As stated above, a number of buses from outside the region go directly to Goreme, and there are relatively regular dolmuses (inter-town minibuses) to various surrounding towns, which can drop you off at the trailheads of various walking trails.
General Tips:In addition to its central location, part of Goreme’s charm is that it contains a fair number of inhabited "fairy chimneys," the uniquely pointed (and somewhat phallic) soft-rock structures from which Cappadocians have carved their home from since time immemorial. You can even sleep in one of these (they’re advertised as cave rooms), although my experience (and that of many other people I spoke to) is that the novelty wears off after the shorter of fifteen inevitably damp minutes or your first flea bite, whichever is shorter. Traditional "arch rooms" are much more comfortable.
Pottery kebabs – literally meat cooked inside a sealed clay pot that is then served to you, are a delicious regional specialty that are worth trying, provided you eat meat of course. They should be ordered at least 3 hours in advance so that they can cook properly and this is only possible at Dibek, the best traditional Turkish restaurant in town.
Despite the presence of a "sunset" platform in Goreme, the sunsets are something of a disappointment as its located in a valley. Sunrises are much more interesting and have the added advantage of letting you watch the 40 or so hot air balloons that go up over Cappadocia each morning.
Tours are often cheaper (and never more expensive) when booked through agencies in town rather than your accommodation, itineraries are standard, so ask around for prices, which should be around 50 TL for a basic full-day "Red" or "Green" Tour, although only the "Green Tour" is worth doing as you can easily visit the sights on the "Red Tour" just as easily and more cheaply on your (and at your own pace). The same goes for hot air balloon rides, although these are much more expensive (in excess of 100 euro in many cases), since this affords you the opportunity to avoid paying a commission in the price and haggling the price down.
Hotel | "Rock Valley Pension - A Mixed Experience"
Location: The guesthouse is located at the far edge of Goreme in a valley, which is a wonderful location. More of an issue is your location in the guesthouse –all the rooms facing the street are noisy, as vans from the balloon company show up at 5 am to pick people up for balloon rides.
Rooms: These vary considerably in size and quality. Some have pleasant painted designs on their interiors, others look like they were thrown together the previous day (in every sense). This variation is even more pronounced with respect to the size and quality of the bathrooms. One room (#2) has no ventilation in its bathroom and its own ceiling fresco of mold The furnishing of the rooms themselves consist of beds (all comfortable), a bedside table or two and sometimes drawers. Towels were provided but soap was not.
Service: The owner, can be extremely polite and helpful or hostile, depending on his mood. The trashcans in the toilets (which are where used toilet paper must be placed in Turkey) are not changed except when guests leave unless you bring the can outside the room yourself. (There’s only one key to each room). The included breakfast was rather small compared to elsewhere I went in Turkey, although you do have the choice between a Turkish village breakfast (eggs, olives, tomatoes, bread, and cheese), cereal, French toast, an omelette, or scrambled eggs. You can also buy water and beer throughout the day at standard prices.
Please see http://www.rockvalleycappadocia.com/ for further information..
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 7, 2009
Rock Valley Pension
Isali Mah. Iceri Dere Sok
Goreme, Turkey 50180
+90 384 271 2153
Attraction | "Goreme Open-Air Museum"
The Dark Church (Karanlik KiliseThe most interesting and the most recent church in the museum, this church dates to the 12th century and derives its name from either the fact that it is hidden (you have to follow a winding tunnel to reach it) or the fact that its frescoes almost hidden before they were restored. It’s worth the extra 10 TL (which also makes it relatively unpopular) because it contains the finest frescoes in the museum, apparently the extra cost is intended to help pay for their continuing restoration. Although the frescoes are well lighted, it’s worth bringing a flashlight (as some guides do), to examine the details. The frescoes themselves present the life of Christ, including the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism, Raising of Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem, Last Supper, Betrayal of Judas, Crucifixion, and Transfiguration.The Apple Church (Elmali KilisePerhaps with the most vivid colors of any of the churches in the museum, and the best preserved of the churches, this church has frescoes of both old and New Testament scenes. In some cases, where these frescoes have fallen off or were destroyed by time (or iconoclasts), there are harmonious red ornamentation instead. Indeed, harmony is an important element of the decoration of this church, it’s impressive how seamlessly the scenes depicted complement the carved contours of the church and vice-versa. Unlike the Dark Church, where the dominant background color is blue (derived from expensive azurite), in the apple church, the background is primarily the gray of the rock, further contributing to this harmony. The church’s name derives from the fact that there used to be an apple orchard in front of it, which has long-since collapsed.
The Buckle Church (Tokali Kilise)This is the largest and best preserved church and actually located on the far side of the road, outside the valley in which the other churches in the museum are located. You show your ticket from the rest of the museum to enter. It consists of both an "Old Church" and a further "New Church" hewn out of it, although both date to the 10th century. The Old Church section contains various scenes from the life of Christ, as does the New Church, but they are from distinct styles with very different color palettes. Since many scenes, such as the Crucifixion, are repeated in both sections, I found it interesting to compare the changes in style and improvements in physically representing human beings accurately between the two churches.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 7, 2009
Goreme Open Air Museum
1 Mile Outside Goreme
Zemi Valley: This Valley is perhaps the longest of those in this entry, but the easiest to follow since the path literally runs along the bottom of the Valley. Unfortunately, it’s also the only one than can only be entered at one end – it’s theoretically possible but extremely dangerous to hike out of the far end of the Valley, so I’m describing this hike as a four hour round trip. To get there, follow the road out of town toward the Goreme Open Air Museum and turn right at the sign, just past a kiosk that sells water and beer. This is the greenest and shadiest of the Valleys near Goreme (the others are quite dry) and therefore the best to walk on a hot day. There are small plots of cultivated land all along the path, while grapes grow wild in several locations. If you wash these grapes, they’re safe to eat, but be sure to do so surreptitiously so the local farmers don’t think you’re stealing from them. There are some cliff dwellings you can visit via a ladder, but the most interesting sight in this Valley are likely the trees whose branches grow at an acute angle to their trunks, making them look like giant feathers.
Rose Valleys: There are quite a number of entrances and exits to these valleys, which run into one another, to hike their full length, follow the road past the Goreme Open Air Museum from Goreme, which turns up sharply around a hill and has what looks like an entry to the Valley (on the far side of the road, to your left). It’s possible, though challenging to enter here, but it’s better to keep going, past a campground, to several defaced signs, which in fact are signs to enter the Valley, crossed out by greedy tour agencies to convince you to take their unnecessary "guided" tours. This Valley offers you the opportunity to see a variety of churches and Cappadocia’s most attractive and varied rock formations. This hike ends in the little village of Cavusin (which is much quieter and less touristic than Goreme but has fewer places to eat and stay), should take around two hours. It’s possible (though there’s no clear path) to walk to the Devrent Valley from Cavusin. Alternatively, once there you can hike up the hill behind town to the Church of St. John the Baptist and various ruined cave dwellings, which offer pleasant views around the area.
Love Valley: Perhaps the hardest of these Valleys to walk and certainly the hardest to find the entrance to (it’s best to ask in Goreme), which is located just past a fork in the road between Goreme and Cavusin, this valley takes approximately 3 hours to walk if going from Goreme to Uchisar (plus an hour or so to walk to the trailhead) and less if you’re going in the reverse direction. It’s also possible to combine with the Pigeon Valley in a loop, as described above. The Valley takes its name from the many phallic fairy chimneys at its center, but otherwise is perhaps the least visually remarkable of the valleys described here. The fairy chimneys take their name from the belief of locals that fairies must once have lived in them. If you’re in a rush, the chimneys are relatively close to the beginning of the trail so it’s possible to just walk up to them and back to the trailhead in an hour or so.
The cities were subsequently abandoned once the Ottoman rulers (the last of the invaders) had established themselves and a modicum of stability and began to be discovered once again (by accident) in the 1940s. Derinkuyu is the largest and best known but far from the only one of these cities, which may number in the hundreds. The city itself is claustrophobic but not unsafe, the ventilation is quite good as a result of numerous airshafts, and the extent of the city is quite impressive – my group visited at least 8 levels. The uppermost levels were used for livestock, thereby giving invaders the impression that there was nothing beneath them. Perhaps not surprisingly, the inhabitants of the city also had a wine-press on this level!
After an hour’s visit and a half hour’s drive later later, the tour reaches the Ihlara Valley, home to an even greater number of well-preserved rock-cut churches than the Goreme Open Air Museum, although since the tour only spends a little more than an hour here, you only have the chance to visit two or three of them. (If visiting the Valley on your own, it’s possible to walk its whole length in an enjoyable 5-6 hours although you’ll need to stay in the vicinity the night before and the night after to do this.) Part of the church of the Valley is its lushness, in contrast to the rockier valleys of Northern Cappadocia, it’s bisected by the pleasantly flowing Melendiz River which waters quite a number of trees on both sides (although I only saw one bridge between them) and generally cool it. The Valley is also much deeper than its counterparts in Northern Cappadocia. After an hour’s walk, you reach a complex of restaurants, some of which allow you to eat in platforms located on stilts above the Melendiz River and all of which have tables for sitting by the river. I found the fresh local trout delicious and the overall quality of food much higher than at similar touristic restaurants elsewhere in Turkey.
The tour’s third stop of interest is at some ruins above the town of Guzelyurt which your guide may claim were as a location for filming the original Star Wars movies. My guide was fortunately honest enough to explain that this story is apocryphal, as they were in fact shot in Tunisia, although it’s certainly apparent how gullible visitors could be persuaded otherwise. In any case, the scenery is interesting and the dwellings carved out of the rocks (including several churches) make for a pleasant assemblage and provide nice views over the road and town below. Depending on your luck, the tour either continues to Uchisar to visit the fortress, or (as was my luck) to an onyx factory for a five minute demonstration of how knick-knacks are made followed by a stop in the adjoining jewelry shop where the only customers appear to be tour groups. Needless to say these stops aren’t officially listed in the itinerary, but an honest tour agency may tell you whether they’re not included! (Although since the agency earns a commission on such visits, they serve to lower the overall cost of the tour.)
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