Monday, October 10, 2011

Cozy Cappadocia

I just couldn't resist when a good friend from way back in the day says, "You wanna meet me in Turkey?!" Plus, two more good friends were traveling there anyways, so how could I miss the opportunity!?!

Rock caves of Göreme
After much debate on where we should spend the mere six nights, we decided on Göreme--a small village in a borderless region of Turkey called Cappadocia (Kap-a-DOK-ya). Leila and I met at the airport in Istanbul and then hopped on a domestic flight to Keyseri. [sidenote: Turkish Air is uh-mazing; full meals on both flights, including wine!] We'd arranged a shuttle to drive us from the airport to Göreme. It took longer than we thought, and we finally arrived at our small hotel, Koza Cave Hotel, around 11pm.
We were welcomed by the whole family; two brothers, our age, and mom and dad. We got a bottle of wine from dad and opened it up on the roof terrace while he built us a fire from 200 year old wood he salvaged from this property before building the hotel. That's right, he designed and built the hotel--and nearly all the furniture, light fixtures, wrought iron stair cases, everything. The sons also helped with rigging the plumbing, excavating the caves, and generally helping dad. It's an incredible, special place.

[top] Koza Cave Hotel before and after [bottom] details and views from the hotel, everything was made by dad

Our first full day. We woke up fairly early, first at sunrise to the call for prayer, then at 8am; I was so excited to see the area in the daylight. I made my way up to the roof and looked out at the view. It was something I've never seen before in my whole life. These insane rock formations jutting out of the earth, the imposing minarets of the villages' mosques, and then the 100 or so hotair balloons floating up and down like jelly fish in the sky. Unreal. 

We ate a hearty breakfast of homegrown tomatoes, feta, fresh bread, jams, and dried fruit and then made our way to the Open Air Museum. Although it was very crowded with tour groups, it gave us a good introduction to these caves, ancient churches, and some history of the area. The highest mountain of central Anatolia, Mount Erciyes, erupted about 2,000 years ago and the lava and ash flowed all over the valley. Water and wind eroded the soft rock to form 'fairy chimneys' (similar to what you see in Bryce Canyon and National Monument). The locals at the time figured out that they could easily carve homes and churches in these rocks and proceeded to so. Everything inside the caves were carved out: dining tables, seating, shelves for oil-burning light. 

Homes and churches carved out of the volcanic rock
They carved out caves for their horses, with holes in the rock to tie them up, and troughs inside for their water and food. Since the rock is quite porous, it was possible to cook inside the homes without a chimney that would expose the interior to rain and snow. Instead, they carved out a small hole in the side of the structure for ventilation. 

We found a small cafe for lunch and ate lentil soup, veggie kebab sandwich and the local Effes beer. We were dying to check out a hamam (Turkish bath) and we found one in the village center, but didnt get a great vibe from the place. One of our hotel brothers, Sam, recommended the Kelebek hamam. It was twice the price of the first one but he convinced us it would be twice as good. And it was. 

[L] Kelebek Hotel, best Hammam in town; [R] Koza Cave Hotel, best hotel in town
We started off with a 10 minute sauna, then two women met us in the bathing area where we laid down on this enormous hot stone and they gently poured hot water all over us and scrubbed us down with this sandpaper-like cloth. Then they wound up their cloth with soap suds that really looked like a pillow of suds, and sqeezed out its contents of suds and gave us about a 20 minute massage with all the soap. They rinsed us off, dried us with fresh towels and lead back to the 'relaxation room'. We were both so content with just that part we thought it was over. 30 seconds later two different women fetched us and took us to a different room with massage tables. We then enjoyed one of the best massages I've ever had, really from the tip of my big toe to the top of my head. Finally the massage was over we were ushered to the relaxation room again. After a few minutes of thinking it was over (again) one of the massage ladies came in and applied a mud mask to our faces. Once it was dry, we washed it off, took a shower, changed and headed back to our hotel. What an experience! 

[right] bread keeping warm atop pottery-kebab
Right when we returned, Sam was gracious enough to take us to two great spots for viewing the sunset over the valley. On our drive back to the hotel, I spotted Bethany and Kevin walking along the street! Funny site to see friends from home in a small village in central Turkey! 

Bethany and Kevin came to our hotel later and the restaurant picked us up for our dinner reservations right on time. We had a local specialty for dinner: pottery kebab. Yep, they cook everything up in a small clay pot for several hours. To get out the contents you have to break open the top of pot; the waiter let Bethany and I each 'hammer' a pot open. Fun! After dinner we went to a local wine bar and ended the night with a taste of the Turkish ouzo, called raki

Our second full day was equally packed. We started the day very early at 6am to watch the hot air balloons take off in the valley over sunrise. Another incredible sight. I took a short nap and then we ate another Turkish breakfast and finally headed out on our scheduled full-day tour. 

We went to the old Greek village of Mustafapasa and learned about the different architecture of the Greek and Turkish homes. Then we went to Keslik monastery where we saw the intricately painted frescoes from early Christians of the 9th and 10th century. The paintings are well-preserved because the caves let in little light. Many of the paintings were damaged from vandalism in 1700 and 1800s. 

Cave churches and 11th century frescoes; [left] you can see some vandalism where people carved out the
eyes of the saints
We also went to the newly excavated site of Roman ruins, Sobessos. A farmer came across an interesting piece of stone and turned out that a large bathhouse, meeting hall, temple, and wonderfully-preserved mosiacs were underneath his bales of hay. 

[left] fairy chimneys [right] Roman ruins of beautiful mosaics
Around noon we took a short hike to some other fairy chimneys in the Soglani Valley that served as hidden churches for persecuted Christians. The end of the hike lead us to a small village where we sat for a very local meal of stewed meats, lentil soup, and Effes beer. 

Our last stop of the day was the Derinkuyu underground city--and the high-light of the tour. There are many underground cities in this region, but so far this is the deepest one, reaching 55 meters below the surface, with the most levels (8) that can segued from each other. It is possible that this underground city was built in 7th century BC, but no one knows for sure. It is known that Christians escaping persecution lived there, sometimes for two months at a time; and it's estimated that the underground city could accommodate at least 2000 people. There is an intricately planned ventilation and water system, though sanitation is still under question. Also, the city contains a school, church, oven/cooking system, food storage, stables for animals, wine and oil presses.

the underground City, 55 meters below the surface
We finally returned to our Koza Hotel around 5pm. Once again, Sam took us to another place for some sunset views. This time we went to the Uchisar Castle, about 10 minutes away. From here we could clearly see Pigeon Valley, where the villagers bred pigeons by carving out more holes in caves and harvested their feces for painting frescoes. Intense. As soon as we got to the top, my camera battery died! And my spare was back at Koza. Luckily, I had my point-n-shoot, but that was a bummer especially because Sam had some sweet lenses I wanted to borrow. Oh well, I was forced to just take it all in.

In the morning, I couldn't help but watch the balloons again--this time at 7:30am, not 6am. After breakfast, Sam drove us out to a trailhead and we hiked over Pigeon Valley and back around to Göreme. We got back in time for a tour of the 'real' cave rooms at Koza and a short history of the family business. What a special place! I cannot wait to go back!

[next up: Istanbul]


  1. Pretty spectacular pictures! The terrain does have similarities of Bryce. But not the culture. Can't it for chapter 2.


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