24 – 28 September 2010, Cappadocia, Turkey
Most people who have traveled to Turkey will inevitably advise you to visit Cappadocia during your stay. Famous for its lunar landscape of limestone rock formations, commonly known as fairy chimneys, we decided to see what all the fuss was about as we headed south to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Eight hours after leaving Safranbolu, we arrived in Goreme, a small village in the center of Cappadocia. Goreme’s hotels have done their best to capitalize on the region’s unique geology by carving rooms into the rocky pinnacles and giving themselves names like Flintstones Cave Hotel. Initially excited to experience cave dwelling first-hand, after four nights of sleeping in dark rooms we concluded that residing in a cave isn’t quite as cool as it sounds. Of course our negative opinion may subconsciously be attributed to the bed bugs we found during our first night in Goreme. Fortunately, we were able to switch rooms after discovering the telltale black spots indicative of a bed bug infestation. Yuck.
The town of Goreme is an deal place if you’re looking to purchase an expensive rug or want to spend time sipping Turkish tea. For avid hikers, however, the real attractions are just outside the city in Goreme National Park. Filled with picturesque valleys, one could spend days exploring the rocky landscape. We only had one full day to hike but made the most of our limited time. Similar to national parks in the United States, the more challenging trails further afield are deserted so after a short walk we had the park to ourselves. At first glance, the park is reminiscent of Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. Valleys filled with fairy chimneys dot the landscape of both but in Goreme National Park, rock-cut churches and pigeon houses are also scattered across the landscape. Although the churches have not been used for hundreds of years, the remains of detailed frescoes can still be seen on the walls and ceiling. It’s not possible to venture into the pigeon houses but we could see them peppering cliffs and fairy chimneys as we walked. These rooms were traditionally used to house pigeons so their droppings could be collected for fertilizer.
We didn’t want to rent a car in Goreme, so we signed up for a day tour to see some sights inaccessible by public transportation. Most of the places we visited during our tour were overcrowded with groups and thus detracted from the experience but our guide was knowledgeable and did an admirable job managing our massive group of nearly 40 people. One of our favorite stops on the tour was a vast underground city used by Christians hiding from Persian and Arabic invaders during the sixth and seventh centuries. Apparently nearly 150 of theses cities exist in the region but many have not been excavated. We visited one of the biggest, once home to 10,000 people. Traveling seven levels down through claustrophobic passages, I found it difficult to comprehend that residents sometimes spent months at a time underground. During our one and a half hour journey into the depths, we saw old churches, kitchens with ovens, stables and a morgue.
Cappadocia is reputed to be one of the world’s best places to take a flight in a hot air balloon. Feeling like this was as good a time as any to give it a try, we splurged on our anniversary and signed up for a sunrise flight. Floating above Cappadocia while crammed into a basket with 20 other tourists was not exactly romantic but it still felt like a special way to celebrate two years of wedded bliss. After a champagne toast, we headed back into town to check out of our grungy hotel and into the fanciest digs of our entire trip. We felt very spoiled as we settled into our large room outfitted with a king size bed, hot tub and shower with 16 showerheads.
We spent a total of four nights in Goreme. The hiking was incredible and the hot air balloon ride was a definite highlight but we generally weren’t as impressed with Cappadocia as other travelers. We’ve seen similar landscapes in the United States and we seem to have developed a particular aversion to very touristy places. Fortunately Cappadocia was a natural stopping point between Safranbolu and the Mediterranean coast, which turned out to be one of our favorite destinations of the entire trip.