Thursday, November 4, 2010

The local mosque’s morning call to prayer woke us up extra early at approximately 5 a.m. on Sunday. The prayer sounded like it was coming out of a loudspeaker next door. It wasn’t, but the still air must have carried the noise easily.

We tried to go back to sleep. An hour later, signs of dawn were starting to appear. I decided to get up quickly so I could see the hot air balloons taking off into the morning sky. Jason was still trying to sleep.

I bundled myself up in warm layers and grabbed the camera. I went up to our hotel’s terrace to take photos of the balloons just starting to climb into the sky.

Although we would have enjoyed taking a ride, the cost was too expensive - 150 Euros ($210 USD) per person. With two more trips planned in the next two months and Christmas gifts to buy, we decided to pass this time.

By 7 a.m., the Cappadocian sky was filled with numerous hot air balloons. It was an amazing sight to watch!

After another traditional Turkish breakfast, Jason and I checked out of the hotel and drove southward to the underground city of Kaymaklı. Along the way, we stopped back at the Göreme Panoramic View Point to buy some souvenirs and a pair of knitted gloves I had eyed yesterday.

Kaymaklı, open to the public in 1964, is one of several underground cities in Cappadocia. This city is the widest one and once housed between 2,000 and 5,000 people – with the highest population being during war time. It covers an area of approximately 4 km² / 1.5 square miles. Early Christians took refuge here, creating a whole system of tunnels, wells, ventilation shafts, sleeping quarters, storage rooms, a large kitchen, stables and more. Even the surrounding fields and village houses were connected to the large underground city by long tunnels.

Map of the underground city
Since we weren’t in a large tour group, we decided to hire a personal guide to explain the history of Kaymaklı. Our guide, Mustafa whom was recommended by our hotel, spoke very good English and was full of history. The cost of 40 Turkish liras was well spent. We never would have learned as much about the city if we had toured it solo. 

The city consists of 8 underground floors; only 4 of them are open to the public today, and low, narrow and sloping passages. The winding and numerous tunnels were meant to confuse the enemies and help provide escape for the city’s inhabitants, Mustafa told us.
Storage areas for wine, olive oil and water.
The central kitchen where they could have a fire below in the pit and cook in large pots.
Grain and dry storage areas.
Next, we headed toward the town of Ürgüp – 39 kilometers (about 24 miles) northeast from Kaymaklı.  We stopped along the way to take several photos of the fairy chimneys.
Our main purpose for driving to Ürgüp was to stop at Cappadocia’s largest winery – Turasan Winery. The winery, one of six in the area, was established in 1943 by H. Turasan and now is being run by third-generation family members. After paying 10 lira per person, we were given a personal tour of the factory and learned about their wine production, followed by a wine tasting. I felt we received better service one on one than being in a large tour group like we saw coming and going there. We tasted one white wine called Emir, made from all local grapes, and three red wines, including a fabulous 2008 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot that won a gold medal in Turkey. Luckily, we can easily find Turasan wines here in Istanbul.

Now, I was hungry. We drove into the center of Ürgüp and parked the car. We decided to walk around a bit to see where we wanted to eat. We stumbled upon a nut and spice store called Naturel Kuruyemiş, Cumhuriyet Meydani No: 28. This store was full of spices, nuts, dried fruits, “lokum” (Turkish Delight) and more. I was in heaven! We bought some nuts, chocolate covered dried apricots and pomegranate “lokum” that contained hazelnuts and pistachios. The owner was very friendly and patient as I tried to speak some Turkish with him.

On the left, you can see large slabs of the colorful "lokum."
Just around the corner, we spied a restaurant, Teras Café, which featured a lot of outdoor seating so we could take advantage of the wonderful sunshine. We both ordered a simple meal of tavuk şiş kebap and an Efes beer.
After lunch, we drove from Ürgüp to the village of Çavuşin, where we could park and access the Rose Valley trail for some more hiking. The sky was a gorgeous, bright blue and reflected off the rose colored rocks in the valley. We hiked up and down amongst the rocks and along a streambed for about two hours. We had a great afternoon!
The local "taxi" near the trail.
Jason hiked down to the edge so I could take this photo.
We saw several grape vines like this one along the trail.
Inside this cave you can see the remnants of another ancient church.
Now, we had some time to kill before we headed back to Kayseri for our evening flight to Istanbul. We decided to stop in nearby Avanos at a pottery store I had seen when we drove through on Friday. We were given a pottery wheel demonstration at Kapadokya Seramik, a fourth-generation family business. The store consists of four display rooms filled with beautiful, handmade pottery items. Of course, we got sucked into buying several pieces, but some will be for Christmas presents.

Then, we headed back east about an hour to Kayseri. We found our car rental place, but still had some time to grab a light dinner before we headed to the airport. We stopped at Hacibaba, Sivas Caddessi 13/A, and ordered red lentil soup, a minced meat pide and a strange soup that I didn’t know. Jason wanted to be adventurous and I told him “good luck.” The soup turned out to be a traditional tripe soup that is very salty and a bit sour thanks to the addition of vinegar and lemon juice. I took one bite and that was enough for me. Jason finished about half of it. Well, you never know unless you try.

As always, all good things must come to end. We had an amazing time exploring Cappadocia during our three days. I’d highly recommend this trip to anyone who visits Turkey.
Hot air balloon ride in the late afternoon over Rose Valley.

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