Monday, November 1, 2010

(Well, this past week was busy for us. We hosted our first American guests in Istanbul. We explored some of the sites, walked around the city and enjoyed eating at several restaurants. Then, on Friday, Oct. 29, my husband and I left for a 3-day hiking tour in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. I have lots of stories and 350 photos to share with everyone over the upcoming days.)

An amazing adventure is the best way to describe our weekend trek to Cappadocia in the middle of Turkey. 

This region was formed approximately three million years ago when two (now dormant) volcanoes erupted and produced the tuff, hard volcanic rock composed of compacted volcanic ash, and basalt lava.

According to “A Complete Guide to Cappadocia” published by the Cappadocia Tourism Promotion Foundation in Nevşehir, Turkey:

“The basalt ultimately cracked and split under attack from the weather and rainwater seeped down through the cracks and split to slowly erode the tuff itself. The natural effects of alternating very hot and very cold weather and the rain and the wind breaking down the rock's resistance caused (and continues to cause) the emergence of the tall cones of tuff capped by hard basalt which the Turks call “Fairy Chimneys.”
Jason, my husband, stands in front of some of the Fairy Chimneys.
The area definitely is a natural wonder. While we were hiking, there were several moments when I just stopped and gazed out in wonder at the unique rock formations. In my mind, the landscape of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. could be relatively compared to Cappadocia. Take a look at the rock formations for yourself.
The beautiful landscape outside of Göreme, Turkey.   
On Friday, we took an early flight from Istanbul to the Kayseri airport. We rented a car so we could explore more of the area by ourselves instead of in a mass tour group. My husband drove about an hour west to the town of Avanos where we stopped for snacks. Outside of the market, we saw this shopping cart filled with frozen sucuk that was apparently defrosting.
Then, we continued on to the village of Göreme where we had reserved a room at the Kelebek Cave Hotel. The hotel had many good reviews online and our friends had recently stayed there as well. It was perfect! Imagine a hotel built into some of the ancient caves, but with modern conveniences and newer construction.
Kelebek Cave Hotel
After we were settled and had some directions, we decided to explore Göreme and take in some afternoon hiking. First, we headed to the Göreme Open Air Museum, about a 20-minute walk from our hotel. The museum, one of Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is home to incredible rock formations, several former monasteries and churches carved into the rock.

Within the museum, there are 11 refectories with rock-cut churches, tables and benches. Each is associated with a church. Most of the churches in the Göreme Open Air Museum belong to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. Many of the buildings were once connected by tunnels and heavy, round “millstone doors,” which were used to close off these tunnels in times of danger. 

It’s difficult to even describe this area, so I hope the photos speak for themselves.
Red motifs painted directly onto the rock in one of the churches.

One of the museum’s top highlights is the Karanlık Kilise or the Dark Church. Because you must pay an extra admission fee (8 TL per person), it’s less crowded than some of the other churches and surely worth it.

The domed church, a monastic compound built in the 11th century, has one main apse, two small apses and four columns. The walls are decorated with beautiful scenes from the New Testament: Annunciation, Journey to Bethlehem, the Nativity, Baptism, Raising of Lazarus, Transfiguration, Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Betrayal of Judas, the Crucifixion and the Anastasis.  These restored frescoes are supposed to be the best preserved in all of Cappadocia and a good example of 11th-century Byzantine art.

According to the museum’s literature, the church’s name possibly comes from a small oculus looking out of the narthex which only lets in a very small amount of light. This feature is what has preserved the richness of the frescoes. We were able to capture several photos of the frescoes, without using a flash which could damage them. 
Unfortunately, the museum was horribly mobbed by large tourist groups. It was difficult to gain entrance into some of the other churches. We later learned the afternoon is one of the worst times to go. Lesson learned.

After leaving the museum, we walked down the road a bit and saw three camels off to the side. My husband saw “tourist trap” written all over it. He was right, of course, but I really wanted to take a photo with the camels. I told the Turkish man I just wanted the photo for 5 TL, not a ride which cost 20 TL. Well, once I hoisted myself up onto the camel, the man led the animal around the area for 10 minutes. Our final cost was 15 TL, but we got 10 photos from the incident.
After the camel incident, we proceeded to the nearby Love Valley hiking trail. It was supposed to be an easy hike in this picturesque valley filled with some of the tall fairy-chimneys. However, recent rains made the trails and rocks slippery to climb. Then, the afternoon sky filled with more dark clouds. Soon, it went from drizzling rain to downright pouring rain.
Jason on top of one of the rocks in Love Valley.
We ran from the trail, about half a mile, to a local café in Göreme to grab a light meal and dry off a bit. We ordered two Efes beers, water and a minced meat pide to tide us over until dinner.

After an hour, the rain subsided enough for us to return to our hotel. We relaxed for a bit and enjoyed a few cocktails in our room.

Our hotel manager, Hanife, recommended the nearby restaurant, Seten Anatolian Cuisine, which also is related to the Kelebek Hotel. The rain started pouring again so we ran from the hotel to the restaurant.

This white-tablecloth restaurant was cozy, but the lighting was a little harsh and the service could have been speedier. However, our meal was delicious. The food was served on modern china and presented more elegantly than I have seen at other restaurants so far in Turkey.

The menu was filled with seasonal and traditional Anatolian dishes, which I was more than happy to savor. We selected two appetizers - stuffed eggplant patlican dolmasi filled with onions, rice, tomatoes and spices; and stuffed artichoke enginar dolmasi filled with potatoes, carrots, onion and dill. We also were served a basket full of puffy pide bread.
For entrees, I ordered the seasonal delicacy of stuffed squash blossoms which were filled with a spicy rice mixture and served with a yogurt dipping sauce. Jason ordered the mini kofte meatballs served in a bowl filled with a tomato-based broth. This isn't what he was expecting because kofte is usually served with rice and grilled vegetables, but the dish was tasty.
For dessert, we enjoyed the traditional Turkish kabak tatlısı – local pumpkin cooked in a sugar syrup. This version was different because it was spiced with cinnamon and cloves more than others we have tried and cooked in thinner syrup. The Cappadocia region is known for their pumpkins, and they can be seen out in the surrounding fields everywhere.

At this point, I was full, feeling happy from the wine and ready to sleep. We needed to get an early start again on Saturday for our second day of hiking in Cappadocia.
We enjoyed a lovely bottle of Cappadocian red wine with our dinner.

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Sippy Cup Central said...

Your trip looks so amazing. The food, terrain, and the camel ride surely looks like a great weekend.
Sippy Cup Central

Jay Artale (aka Roving Jay) said...

I am a new lover of Eggplant. During my recent trip to the Bodrum area, I had the most delicious, mouth watering smoked Eggplant meze. I want to recreate it now that I'm back in the US, but not sure I can do it justice.

Roving Jay

Helen said...

Cappadocia would be a good place to visit.