- The beautiful village of Göreme
- Exploring Cappadocia on foot and by scooter
- The history of Cappadocia´s crazy rock formations
- Underground and rock villages
- Winning the World Cup 2014
- How to keep a budget
we are currently in Istanbul, our last stop in Turkey, where we are hosted by super friendly Samet. I will write a separate news mail on Istanbul, as there is so much to see, and especially eat, that it deserves a separate mail. Last time I wrote we had just left the gritty city of Diyarbakir and arrived in Cappadocia.
The beautiful village of Göreme
We arrived in Cappadocia with a night bus from boiling Diyarbakir. This is the one thing that Celia really knew she wanted to do before even coming to Turkey. To be honest, I had not heard of it and neither had I seen pictures. We tried to couchsurf, without much success as there are no hosts in the heart of Cappadocia, I reckon because the well-developed tourism industry would give them quite a hard time if they did appear.
Cappadocia refers to a territory that lies mostly within a triangle of three larger towns: Nevsehir, Avanos and Ürgüp. It is unique in the world for its surreal rock formations, especially its rock cones, which pop out of the soil as far as the eyes can see and easily reach 20 and sometimes up to 50 metres.
We headed straight for the centre of this area to the village of Göreme and I have to say that it was one of the most picturesque and beautiful towns I have ever been to. Set within a valley, people used to live in rock cones until around 50 years ago, when they discovered the tourism potential of their homeland, built normal houses for themselves and rented the caves instead. It is very small and you can walk everywhere. Unfortunately, we did not sleep in a cave, as we could only afford the budget options in this pricey place, still the two accommodations we chose were very comfortable and one even had a pool.
Exploring Cappadocia on foot and by scooter
Coming to Göreme, however, also meant leaving unspoilt Turkey behind us. Up to then we had been to Eastern Turkey where people are more conservative and tourists harder to come by. This has the great advantage that you get to see the authentic culture while people just get on with their daily lives, rather than staging something for tourists. We are very happy to have done the trip in this direction, otherwise we would not have been able to witness real Turkish hospitality and kindness. In Göreme, for instance, the tourists outnumber the locals and, with very few exceptions, all the people we met were simply trying to make money off you. This is partially the reason why we moved so quickly from east to west and skipped the entire southern coast. Nevertheless, it was not only convenient to stop in Göreme but also one of the best things we have done on this trip.
To explore the area, visitors have four options: renting a vehicle, trekking, a hot air balloon or a tour. When you arrive you are bombarded with tour operators. I have done many tours in my travel life, some exceptional and some rubbish, and can kind of tell the difference in advance. Our intuition and our wallets told us not to participate, and from what we gathered it was a good idea. Then the hot air balloon, which this region is famous for and which you will see on all the pictures: 150€ for 1.5 hours… Even if it sounds amazing to fly at sunrise close to the rocks, a five days budget spent before you even have breakfast is not possible. Trekking, being for free, was the obvious choice. The problem was the crazy heat, especially at the beginning, which made walking impossible until 4pm. We did do one small trek through the so-called pigeon valley, and walked past beautiful rock formations. At some point, we must have taken the wrong turn though and Celia had to crack out her finest climbing skills to reach the top of the valley. Finally, renting a vehicle. Car, too expensive. So it came back to my favourite means of transport: Scooter!!! Yeayyyy! There is nothing I love more when travelling than renting a scooter in a cool location. So we did and managed to drive 160km in one day in this small area with our beloved Pièrre (name we gave to it), who made it up 20% inclines and through some questionable dirt tracks.
The history of Cappadocia´s crazy rock formations
Before I explain what we visited, maybe some information on how these rock formations even came about: a long time ago, a couple of volcanoes covered this area in ash which once compressed turned to tuff. This is quite a soft material and erosion plays its trick on it. The reason why cones occur is that there are also layers of harder basalt on top of the turf, which erosion cannot take away that easily. So what remains at the end is a landscape of cones (layer of basalt with tuff underneath). With regards to the mushroom cones: this happens when on top of the cone there is another layer of basalt. In this case the base erodes more quickly and leaves a sort of hat on top of the cone. At some point, the base will not be able to sustain the weight and eventually these stones all fall down and a normal cone is left.
With the scooter we just cruised through the landscapes, stopped every now and then and walked around some cones and valleys. It was a great way to explore the area and despite being our most expensive day so far, it was still much cheaper than any of the other options.
Underground and rock villages
So far I have only described what nature did in this area. Equally relevant and much more interesting for me is how humans interacted with these rocks formations: Cappadocia, which lies in Central Anatolia, has been inhabited for thousands of years. Humans have carved caves, houses and entire villages into the soft tuff. They used a wooden, hand-held tool with some spikes and gradually excavated cones and sometimes entire hills or rocks. These homes provided shelter from rain and sun alike. Moreover, they made small holes into the outside for pigeons to come and poo. The birds were eaten and the poo used for the fields. The only problem with these homes is that erosion, as explained before, tends to destroy turf quite quickly, so many were left after a while because their crumbling nature became too dangerous. Nowadays, some still exist, but most are left and restored for visitors to visit. The nicest come with a hefty entrance ticket, so we decided to hit some more remote once and I just loved it. This one place (see pictures 17-20) was on top of a hill and has become quite inaccessible over the years. Celia could only visit the ground floor caves because all the other areas required some proper climbing skills (and no fear of heights). I went up a few floors and from nowhere, ended up in these man-made, carved churches in the middle of a rock. They had everything here: stables, kitchens, living spaces, churches. Amazing.
With the scooter we also went to Derinkoyo, which houses one of the many underground cities that used to be scattered around this area. People did not only create towns in rocks, but also underneath the surface. They did so especially to hide from foreign invasions, particularly in the 7th and 8th century, when Arabs sacked Central Anatolia. I didn´t know that such places even existed and visiting one of them was among the best experiences of this trip. Derinkoyo, for example, used to host up to 10 000 people on more than 25 floors reaching a depth of 80m. Remember, all of this carved out of rock by hand. As you can imagine, if you want to live down there and make fire for lighting and cooking, you need a very good ventilation system if you don´t want to suffocate. They created an entire system of ventilation which allowed them to have fresh air even in 80m of depth. They had animals, places of worship, kitchens, water sources and even places to make wine. We went there around noon, when tour groups go for lunch, as we had been told before that otherwise you will not enjoy it, because most of the time you have to crawl down tunnels where just one bent over persons fits and if you have congestions down there I can get very annoying. For us, it was simply great. There were only a few Chinese scattered around and we were left to ourselves to discover the accessible parts. It was a fascinating underground maze and imaging that people lived here for year left me speechless. It was just one of those sights that you don´t expect and that are simply breathtaking which reminded me a bit of visiting Kong Lor Cave in Laos.
Winning the World Cup 2014
Outside, we hoped onto Pièrre who brought us back safely to Göreme for the main event of last week: the World Cup final! In the guest house, just the day before, a man came into the dorm, saw my ubiquitous Bayern Munich jersey and just shook his head: he was not only Brazilian and had seen the match. He was in the stadium in Belo Horizonte when the king of football was knocked of his throne. His flight out was the next day and here we were, talking about the game together. We watched the match against Holland together, which did not help. Anyway, on the 13th we went to what seemed the place to be in town with 2 hours of advance, as I needed to have the best possible spot. We tried playing some cards to kill the time, but I was far too nervous and we soon gave up. Surprisingly, there were not a lot of Germans (they are usually everywhere), and most people seemed to be cheering for Argentina for some unknown reason. When Götze finally scored, the only other German at the bar and I jumped up, screamed (I had no voice the next day, imagine if they had scored more than once…) and congratulated each other. What a victory. I went to bed very happy, after a day on the scooter visiting the most amazing sights and landscapes and then winning the World Cup. Einfach Top.
The next day we convinced a hotel owner to allow us to use the pool and just chilled next to the pool and had ice cream. We had great plans of getting up at 5am to go trekking. But having gone to bed at 2am and just won the World Cup, we decided to have a celebratory day at the pool instead.
As you can tell, there are no culinary anecdotes in this news mail. Unfortunately, Göreme was too expensive to indulge in any of its potential delicacies. We resorted to the cheapest places in town which served quite bland food. But I can promise that I will make up for that in the next, as we have been very busy eating our way through as many specialities as possible under the guidance of our host Samet here in Istanbul. So you, and of course we, are in for a treat!
How to keep a budget
Budgeting has generally been very hard. This is the first time I backpack near, and soon in, Europe. Usually I pay quite a bit for a flight and then easily live off 10-25€ a day, including transport, accommodation, food and even some tours. Not in Turkey, and most definitely not in Greece. Just the bus from Istanbul to our next stop, Thessaloniki, will set us back 35€ each, a one and a half days budget. It does make it a bit hard and if I did it again I would plan better, especially transportation. On a good note, the high prices led to us doing couchsurfing properly for the first time. Not only have we not paid for around 11 nights, but it has been a great experience (with the exception of nudist Gandalf in Diyarbakir). Our current host is giving us great advice on what to see and in the evenings, when he finishes work, he always shows us around and brings us to his favourite places, which you would never reach with a guide book or by yourself.
I hope we can find some hosts for Greece as well, it has proven more difficult than we thought.
Anyway, we are off to the Asian side of Istanbul today and tonight Samet wants to introduce us to Istanbul´s famous night life. Sounds great, if it wasn´t for the lack of clothes on my behalf: the fanciest I can pull off are my dirty black trekking shoes, stained trekking trousers and a smelly Bayern Munich shirt. Let´s hope they have a fancy dress party, then I can pull of the Bavarian globetrotter.
Speak to everyone soon,