This is the first of a sporadic series of posts highlighting places we’ve been to and found to be especially memorable and enjoyable. Whenever either of us is asked where’s the most interesting place we’ve traveled we answer “Cappadocia”. If you aren’t familiar with it Cappadocia is a region in Turkey. (It is also a region in Turkey if you are familiar with it come to think of it.)
Blonde was planning the Turkey trip and Brunette immediately piped up that we definitely had to go to Cappadocia. Blonde had never even heard of it but quickly realized that going to Cappadocia wasn’t “on the way” to anywhere and would add time and cost. But it sounded fascinating and Blonde was a high-roller at the time (at least she was working for a living) so off we went.
There are a number of ways, all inconvenient, to get to Cappadocia. We flew to Kayseri where we were picked up by a van and then seemingly kidnapped. The countryside was dark, the roads winding and the driver quite possibly lost. Although it should have only been about 80km from the airport to where we were staying it took a couple hours to get there. But we did get there (possibly the driver called in a ransom for us and realized that we weren’t worth kidnapping).
We had arranged to rent a little restored home in Uçhisa for our stay and it was cold and pitch black when we arrived. The house (more of a housette) didn’t have central heating, a microwave, TV or even a hair dryer (quelle horreur ) which officially qualified it as being a primitive location. However, on rising the next morning all was forgiven. Brunette got up first and looked out the kitchen window at a bright, sunny day and saw colorful hot-air balloons floating over what looked like a lunar landscape.
Outside the front door was an old Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and with a child, both being pulled in a cart up the cobblestone street by a donkey. That was the first sign of something that fascinated us about Cappadocia – the frequent sense of being in another century. The women all seemed to be working hard – in the fields, taking care of children, making food, and gathering wood to burn. The men all seemed to be sitting in cafes smoking and wearing sports coats or suits that looked like they were 40 years old and which, if inhaled, probably could have instantly given the sniffer lung cancer. The men managed to look very serious at the same time as looking very lazy. The women were unsmiling, and all appeared to be ancient. It boggles the mind to picture the Cappadocia selection for Match.com.
In the window of our kitchen there had been placed a basket containing fresh French bread (a French couple owned the house), feta cheese, eggs, yogurt, coffee and tea and apricot jam. Fortunately, Brunette has the wherewithal to take baskets of food items and turn them into meals and the whole experience was quite pleasant.
So why did we love Cappadocia so much? Not because it was a hotbed of beauty tips or boy toys but because it is unique, uncrowded, not commercialized for the most part and fascinating from a historical and visual perspective. Also its museum is outdoors – no need to stare at exhibits and try not to giggle because we’re giving a dirty or snarky interpretation to everything. You don’t need headphones or have to ponder the artist’s childhood – you just look around. The outdoor museum is Goreme Open-Air Museum. It’s a Unesco World Heritage site and consists of a bunch (archealogically precise term) of rock-cut churches, refectories (dining hall if you have a blank look on your face like we did) and frescoes of early illustrations of Christianity. It was built in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries back when all of the coffee drinking men last went shopping for clothes. There’s a fee of 15 TL to enter. It can get very hot in Cappadocia so go in the morning or late afternoon or you may end up feeling like you’re in an ancient pizza oven.
Another thing that adds to Cappadocia’s lure is its underground cities. There are supposedly more than 40 underground cities although only a couple have been excavated because of a lack of funding to do more. The various theories about the cities mainly describe them as places to endure harsh weather and harsh invaders who were not bringing good news of religious tolerance. They have many levels, entire underground kitchens with underground chimneys, stables where animals were kept, water supplies, basic toilets and satellite TV and free wi-fi. (OK, the last two aren’t true but they at least made you think for a second there.)
Another thing unique to Cappadocia is the “fairy houses” nature has built from the effects of years of wind and rain eroding soft volcanic rock created in the time period from the 4th to 13th century AD. The fairy houses make you feel like you’re a character in a Smurfs cartoon. There are also cave houses that were dug out of the same soft rock and which were homes to people well into the 20th century when most of the residents were “relocated,” although some remain.
It would probably be possible to roam around Cappadocia on your own – if you don’t mind waiting for donkey traffic jams to clear up – but we used a private guide – Suleiman – who drove our pampered Rich World butts around. He was excellent and even took us to his uncle’s cave hotel for dinner where they treated us as honored guests and refused to allow us to pay for our meals (saving us the usual bolting when the bill comes).
If you’re feeling jaded, bored, the need for some history or just in a search of a place you can mention at the next family get-together your obnoxious brother-in-law can’t claim he saw from a cruiseship, then consider Cappadocia – but bring your own date.