Since we went to bed so early the night before, we were up by six am. For those who know me – I know! Who would think I was capable! Actually, waking up early and heading out to the still-cool terrace in shorts and sweater to update the blog felt very good. The light was clear and we were delighted to hear the jets of the hot-air balloons coming over the ridge behind us to float over the town below.
A friendly stray dog decided I was its new best friend and cuddled right up to me. I was a little nervous about fleas, but decided it would be ok as I was having a shower later. Breakfast was served just after eight am, but we had lots of time as our tour was to pick us up at 9:15 or so. Breakfast was definitely better than the Ogulturk – the typical Turkish breakfast of egg, bread, sliced cucumber & tomato, sliced soft cheese, olives and, instead of rockhard cookies, slices of fresh peach and watermelon. Very nice!
The shower – not so nice. This was our first experience with the classic Turkish shower, which sprays water directly on the floor in the same room as the toilet. That in itself wasn’t a problem, but the upper shower head-holder was broken, and the hot water was not very, and the water pressure would make a weak-bladder’d gerbil puff up with pride. Not the best or cleanest I’ve ever felt. Oh well, it’s all part of the adventure, right!?
We took the opportunity of our first clear (though temporarily clear) WiFi connection to use Skype and call our various parents using Skype. I have to say, other than sitting around talking to a computer like idiots, Skype is very, very cool. Two half-hour calls to Canada cost all of $.60? Incredible. I love the internets.
Al, one of the Canadians, asked for a Skype lesson, which I was pleased to give. He was a mac-guy himself and looked a little envious of our portable technology.
A man came to pick us up in a van just as promised, and we were whisked away to the neighbouring town of Urgup to the head office of Rock Valley Tours. On the way, we picked up Buzz and Lee, two men from Seattle who were going to be flying out of Cappadocia after the tour today. They had been on the ‘Green Tour’ yesterday, which went to an underground city and an archaeological dig. We were doing the ‘Blue Tour’ today, and the ‘Green Tour’ tomorrow.
Rock Valley Travel’s office was beautiful: behind a high stone wall, we walked through a doorway onto a stone pathway between lush green lawns. At the end of the pathway was a lovely stone house where we met up with the other tour taker, a lovely girl from Argentina named Drinella? I’ll look it up. She was a recent Master’s graduate from City College in London and was taking some time to travel before heading home to work. We also met our guide, a young man named Adil who was also a recent graduate: in Turkey, to be an official tour guide, you need to take a four-year degree at an university. You study languages, Turkish history, crowd control and first aid, among other skills! You also do a practicum where you travel Turkey to see the most famous sights in person. Adil was very nice, as were our other tour takers. We also had a driver, an older man who didn’t speak much English.
Rock Valley promised small tours and five people definitely counted as small!
Our first stop was ‘Imagination Valley’, so called because the hoodoos are such strange shapes that you can imagine them to be all sorts of unusual shapes: llamas, camels, ships etc. Unlike other tours (in big buses) who just looked out at the landscape from either the upper or lower viewpoints, we actually got to take a little walk among the pillars and feel like we were getting away from the crowds.
Next we went to the monastery at Zelve. The stone, called tufa, of Goreme is very soft, covered in another layer of harder rock. This is why the erosion (mostly wind, according to Adil), has carved such interesting shapes, and is also why people were able to carve into the rock so easily. In early Christian times (which were pretty darn early; Turkey is fairly close to Jerusalem, and lots of important Biblical figures show up here), the monks, wishing to retire from a secular life (and also hiding from the Romans and other nasties), built their monasteries into the rock. We saw churches, store-rooms, dining halls, and kitchens (black smoke on the roof and fire-pits complete with draft channels in the floors).
I was very pleased at my camera’s performance, as it could often ‘see’ details in the dim rooms that I couldn’t see with my naked eyes.
Zelve was apparently still occupied by some villagers until the 1950’s. Crazy!
After scrambling around Zelve, we stopped by another area of fairy chimneys, called Pasabaglari. They were fun to scramble into and onto, and the stalls selling tourist stuff were extensive. One of the men from Seattle bought a little metal Aladdin’s lamp covered in ‘precious gems’. Awww – such cute gems!
We headed up across the river to Avanos, which is noted for the red clay that lines the river banks, and therefore for the red terracotta pottery they make there. We went to a ‘Kulture’ centre to watch a demonstration of traditional Hittite pottery making with a kick-wheel. This would of course be followed by a tour through their gallery and souvenir shop! Actually, the demonstration was quite interesting and our guide through this part, Ibrahim, was very kind and genuinely proud of the work they were doing. He also brought us samples of Cappadocian wine to try (well, I had chai, but I sipped Steve’s wine – it was ok).
Our Argentinean girl did the next demonstration, wearing a pair of clay-caked pants about 20 sizes too large. With the help of the first demonstrator, she made a pretty passable pot and was a good sport to boot.
We then went to look at a man free-handing the painting on a large plate that you could tell was going to be just stunning. We had the different techniques of painting (hand painting or painting over a carbon design) and the different levels of quality (detail vs. simplicity, richness of colour etc.) all explained to us, before we went to the showroom/shop. This was so that we knew that the expensive stuff was worth the money – truth be told, it was. Not, mind you, that I’m prepared to spend $1400 on a plate, but it really and truly is art. Ibrahim was very nice in showing us around some more, and he was genuinely happy to be able to show us what his country was capable of producing. At no time did we feel like we had a hard sell, and really, it was like walking around an art gallery. We got Ibrahim’s card for their store in Istanbul and he advised us we were to tell them that we were entitled to the 20% discount we would have gotten in their showroom for going around the tour. Since there were some very lovely mid-range pieces, we will definitely go there when we’re in Istanbul again.
Next we were off to lunch, which was… well, it was weird. It was in an underground restaurant, but one which was obviously brand new. It had mosaics on the floor and ‘old’ beams, but was completely and utterly for tourists. And speaking of tourists, the place was full of them! There were three ‘arms’ of tiered seating, and we were at the top of one of the arms. The food was good, and traditional, if mass-produced. A big production was made over the opening of a clay jar out of which came a very nice stew. The only thing is that traditionally, the clay pot would have been broken, not just opened with a flourish! Ah well, the uud player they had at the centre of the area was very good and was a joy to listen to. I even ate beans. And raw onions. Really, Turkey is no place for pre-conceived notions of what food is good. Except olives – I draw the line at olives.
Adil warned us that he had been told that our next stop, the Goreme Open-Air Museum, was incredibly busy. We headed over with trepidation and excitement. The Museum is another little valley full of beautiful churches carved into the stone, complete with monasteries and their accoutrement. The churches mostly date from the 400AD-ish time and have both Iconoclast paintings (all in red paint, and with no or very few renditions of Jesus) and 11th century frescoes (which are beautiful and look just like illuminated manuscripts of the time).
Adil wasn’t lying: the place was packed! We waited for five or ten minutes for the tour groups to clear the rooms before we could even go into the churches. Each tour guide was supposed to have three uninterrupted minutes to give their spiel but in reality, Adil spoke for about 45 seconds before the hordes shoved their way in. It was really challenging to look at everything, so Steve and I resorted to just taking pictures of the amazing frescoes so that we could look at them at our leisure later.
Our tour-mates were a little jealous of the results we were getting, so I offered to send them cds of the photos we took there. They seemed quite pleased, which is nice, because we liked them 🙂
Steve ran into the people he had chatted to outside the museum in Ankara and joked around with them and their tour guide. They were on day five? of their twelve day tour. What a whirlwind! We were ok with it being busy and in fact declined seeing the Dark Church (for which there is another fee) as we knew we could come back later in the week and see all the churches again. Adil seemed both relieved and disappointed. Mostly he was just frustrated: you could tell he took pride in giving a good tour and was being stymied by piles of people all over the place.
After being led through another gauntlet of souvenir and ice-cream places back to the tour bus, we had a bit of a wild ride to a lookout over Goreme and the Pigeon Valley (from the other side of the valley from our pension). There was a few trinket-sellers here and one of them had hung a vast number of blue-glass evil eye charms from the branches of a dead tree right on the cliff edge. The sunlight sparkled through the eyes and made them glow. Beautiful!
It was pretty windy, and Steve and I were standing at the far side of the lookout. An extended family with a rather serious young son came by and Steve mimicked being blown over the edge of the cliff. The mum of the family thought this was hilarious and began to play along as well, until we finally got the boy to smile. In gestures and our baby-Turk, they asked us where we were from and we told them ‘Kanada’ to which they responded with huge smiles and pats on the arm!
Back with the group, Adil and the Argentinean woman were enjoying tiny cups of Turkish coffee (kahve). I asked for one too, and was brought a much larger cup! I didn’t want to have everyone wait, so I took a big, warm, gritty swig. I had forgotten that Turkish coffee comes with grounds complete, so you have to wait a minute for them to settle before imbibing. Ah, fibre! I waited a minute before the next drink and it was actually very good. And cheap, too! only 1.5L.
Moving very quickly, we were back on the bus to drive five minutes up the road to the viewpoint for Uchisar Castle. We got to take pictures of the obligatory – and very, very patient – camel. Apparently they only charge you if you want to sit on the camel to have your picture taken. I got the impression that we would have gone right into the Castle except that we spent too much time in the Goreme Museum and drinking kahve at the viewpoint.
After that, we were dropped back at the pension’s door by just after five pm. All in all, we felt like we got our money’s worth: we had lunch, all entrance fees, our driver and guide in a comfy bus with three other nice people all for only 60L per person. What a steal!
At the pension, I was delighted to see that the kitten I had spied earlier wolfing back someone’s leftover breakfast cheese was being petted and loved in the common area. She was a very winning kitten but almost entirely skin and bones, but it looked like she might have found a home.
We made arrangements to move into the room that Al & Rene had vacated. It didn’t have much better airflow, but at least it was entirely above ground. The only non-cave room was right above our old room and Steve felt it would not have been much of an improvement in the moisture department.
We thought it would be a good idea to have a cheaper dinner, since last night’s dinner had been about 40L and we wanted to make up ground for our $150/day budget as the tours were a bit more than we had expected. We had decided not to do a balloon ride since getting the extra week off work as the cost of a one hour balloon ride would be almost that entire week’s travel budget ($180US per person for one hour!). Having a cheap dinner was no punishment, really. We asked the Russian man where he got the pide he was eating, as it looked so good. I thought he said ‘Expert Pide’ but when we walked into town, we couldn’t find a restaurant by that name. We found an ‘Express Pide’ instead, and the food was incredible and the bill less than 15L!
We headed back up to the pension after petting some cute stray dogs (though in Turkey it’s hard to tell if something is stray or just out on a spree). We petted the kitten a bunch and worked on the blog and headed to bed, exhausted but happy.