The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The perfect place to dwell in the past....


Umm, isn’t this our side?” I say to M with a hint of trepidation in my voice.
 M swerves sharply to the left, shrugs his shoulders and replies dryly “He’s allowed to, he owns it, it use to be his farm.” I stifle a laugh and instead groan at his joke as the tractor with its gaily painted trailer thunder past and we move back to the right side of the road. Tractors appear to be the mode of transport here, I’m sure there’s two and half tractors to every car…. and by the half tractor, I mean the little rotary hoe style tractor, also with trailer, we’re seeing everywhere trundling along the road. M is in his element, he’s behind the wheel and sharpening his wits against the Turkish drivers. There’s obviously a method to the madness I’m seeing in the rules of the road here, I just haven’t worked it out yet…. and we’re in rural Turkey where the traffic is a little more sedate.
We’ve arrived in Goreme. But looking at this spectacular and unusual landscape, I could easily imagine I'm on the moon or in the cartoon - The Flintstones. When we first arrived I found myself wondering if I’d booked us into a big quarry instead of a village. Massive holes were being dug, elsewhere rocks and cut block stones laid in jumbled piles, and the noise of trucks and building equipment gave the impression lots of work was in progress.

What appeared to be half finished houses were jutting out of massive rock walls and odd shaped stone hills had odd shaped windows and doors dotting them.  Initially as the bus transferring us from the airport to Goreme had trundled down the steep incline, I couldn’t see the charm or magic this honey colour village was said to ooze and I had a minor freak out at having booked us in here for six days and nights as to whether we'd want to stay in this bizarre landscape for so long. As they say, ‘being unable to see the trees for the forest’, or in my case, ‘the sweetness for the honey’.

We were booked into the Kelebek Cave House and the moment I saw our room all nervousness of having ‘mucked it up’ dissipate in a puff of apple spiced smoke. It was divine. Surrounded in solid rock; walls and ceilings with swirls of carved indents, with old polish floors covered in rich red heavily patterned carpet and adorable kilim covered ottoman stools the room infused romance and old world charm. We were then taken for a tour of the guesthouse’ public areas and upon stepping onto the terrace with the two fairy chimney cave rooms we took one look at the view of the village below and melted into puddles of effervescent delight. Below sandstone homes with terracotta rooves were higgle-piggled with honeycombed mounds, dashes of red and pink peaked around corners in the form of potted geraniums and patches of green lit up the caramel and beige pallet.

As the setting sun painted the sky in the softest pink I’d ever seen and surrounding hills with their cascading ripples of valleys shone a brilliant red, pink and white, the lights of the honeycombed mounds and houses turned the valley and village of Goreme into a twinkling fairyland. This fairyland night glow was topped of by the illuminated sparkle of the Uchisar castle above the valley. 

The sound of horses hooves clip-clopping on cobblestones along with a ring of bells woke me just as sunrise was poking its rays across the valley. Pulling a robe over my jim-jams,  I rushed out to our private little balcony that overlooked Goreme and searched the skies for balloons. I couldn’t see any. Thinking they may be coming over from the other side of Kelebek, I went to the dining terrace but again the skies were empty. A stiff breeze was blowing, the skies were turning mauve to blue and it was freezing cold. Ice cold. I rushed back into our room and huddled under the big duvet that weighed a tonne but was so toasty warm. M was awake, but he looked dreadful. The sniffle of two days earlier had become a full blown flu.
M was determine to soldiered on though, and dragged himself out of bed to the dinning room that was laid with the most scrumptious Turkish breakfast to melt the tastebuds along with the most sumptuous views and then we walked down the hill to the main centre of town. We didn’t go very far before we came across a sign declaring “the best coffee until Oz” caught our attention. As embarrassed as I am to write this, I have to say after only a week into our Turkey ramble I was desperate for a coffee that tasted like home. Turkish coffee can be pretty good I agree, but it can be so strong and black, it reminds me of an advertisement once shown on Australian TV, where the call line was “Got any blacker….” Milk is just waved over the top. We couldn’t resist, sank down into a seat and gingerly ordered a 'flat white'. The barista knew exactly what we were asking for and made it to perfection! For the next five days Café Safak became our bolt hole for coffee, along with a contingent of other aussies visiting the area.  The Mamma of the café was Fatima and when she first heard we were Aussies she greeted us like family with a warm embraced and told us about her son, Ali now living in Melbourne – the ultimate home of coffee in Australia! The barista was a lovely young Afghani man called Mohammed (for some weird reason I kept calling him Oostas….not sure where I got that from, but I was so embarrassed when it suddenly dawned on me that I had his name wrong) who was a former translator during the recent war and was now awaiting resettlement. I can only hope his wishes of resettlement in Australia can come true for him as he has such dreams and hopes for the future, which in part. includes owning a coffee shop – he’ll be an absolute asset to our coffee-loving nation if he does because his coffee is some of the best we’ve ever tasted. It also turned out that apart from serving up great coffee and a wicked prize-winning lentil soup, this little café had a side business in cooking classes.
M and I quickly booked ourselves in for a half day course for the following day, which takes place in Fatima’s home and is taught by her daughter. The house turned out to be a cosy little cave abode, complete with fairy chimney roof and carved out alcoves inside. M and I had wanted to do a Turkish cooking class but found the classes in Istanbul out of our budget allocation. Fatima’s home cooking class fitted the bill perfectly and we cooked up a storm of traditional Anatolian dishes. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make such great tasting Turkish fare and was stunned at the ingredient combination and techniques used. We made so much delicious food it was impossible to eat it all for lunch (but we gave it a good try!). M was waning, his nose was running like a tap and he’d developed a chesty cough, so he returned back to the guesthouse whilst I wandered out of the village and to the Goreme open air museum.
It was packed and cave viewing space was at a premium. The area of Cappadocia was at one stage a refuge area for Christians in the 4th to 11th centuries and thus the open air museum is abundant with churches, hidden in tiny hidey holes with tunnel entrances, some double storey. Many of the cave churches had signs asking for no more than 15 or 20 people at a time inside but of course nobody, including the tour guides, took any notice and everyone would pack like sardines into the ancient hollowed churches. It was also signed that the taking of photos was not allowed and at first (though I perfectly understand and agree with the reasoning - to protect the colours of the frescos) I was a little disappointed, but this very quickly dissipated when I realised that by not looking at the frescos through a camera lens and spending time trying to set up the ‘perfect picture’, I was actually looking at the incredible artwork and really taking in the fine detail. I couldn’t take my eyes off the frescos, some had been there for nearly 1000years and were still clear and colourful. I’d paid extra to see the Karanlik Kilise, also called the “Dark Church”, found I had it all to myself and spent close to half an hour just taking in the ambience and exploring the lines of artists of eons ago. This is the most decorated and close to in perfect condition of the Goreme cave churches and is absolutely stunning. Worth every extra lira paid over the cost of the main museum ticket. 
I was also intrigued by the small oblong holes in the floors of the churches or cut into the walls. These were graves, most were empty but some had the remains of those who’d walked the fairy chimney landscape some 1000 years ago. The graves were tiny holes, child like in size and it had me wondering about the height and body size of the inhabitants of the area. Other caves had home ‘furniture’ carved out, a large rectangle block with a trench circling it was a table and chairs. Large round holes in the middle of the floors, black from years of fire burning – the ovens. Another had a big square slab carved, a very hard bed. This had me ruminating that some things appeared not to have changed in Turkey – the beds we've so far slept in were also HARD. The modern day artistry antics of my fellow tourists also had me intrigued. By this I'm referring to another ‘scene’ I'm seeing unfolding at major landmark sights – the staged photos of the ‘flash-dressed girlfriend' and her adoring photographer boyfriend.  I first saw it in Istanbul and thought I was seeing a fashion photo shoot, but the exact same thing was happening in Goreme and I realised it was just an everyday tourist, only it wasn't the landmarks that was in the clickers sight.  Along with intently viewing the frescos, I followed a young couple around and observed their happy snap routine.  The young woman was glamorously dressed in a long flowing skirt, with high heeled strappy sandals, a beautiful sleeveless 'Sophia Lauren' shirt and a large floppy summer hat ringed by flowers.  She looked divine, but her attire was completely impracticable, especially the heels.  She would drape herself across the rock ledges, her delicate billowing skirt spread across the granite and she'd peer wistfully into the distance whilst her erstwhile partner clicked away, sometimes she playfully hid in the doorway of the cave and peer around, other times she stood close to the ledges with a dramatic cliff face covered in dovecotes in the background and give a sultry pout.  I found it an interesting way to document your tour of Goreme and honestly don't remember them entering any of the actual churches.  The other thing I found interesting was that it was quite a hot day and by times end I was beetroot red from the sun and covered in a film of dust that blew up from the rocky paths,  Miss Cappadocia still looked flawless without a hair out of place.  Did I have any envy about this, you bet I did! 
When M was starting to feel a bit better a couple of days later we decided to explore some of the valley's and started with the Love Valley.  Finding the Love Valley (or any of the other valley's) entrance however  was a little bit of a hide and seek game for us.  We could see these valleys, we knew they were there, but we just couldn't seem to find the entrances to them, or if we did, ended up getting ourselves lost and off track. Love Valley was our first hiking foray and it definitely lived up to its nick name.  Up close the formations certainly did have that phallic appearance. That aside, the tall almost perfectly round rock trunks were extremely dramatic.  Another attempt of exploring the valleys was when we tried to find the Red Valley.  I thought I had read that the Church of John the Baptist was in the Red Valley and proceeded to lead M on a wild goose chase (as if he really wanted to see another church!) in search for it.We left the village of Cavusin and unintentionally followed a tour group into the valley behind the village.  Again the landscape was incredible, at the beginning filled with old abandoned cave houses, some which still had gorgeous interiors.  We kept our distance from the group, but I had surmised they may also be heading to the church and so we began to purposefully follow them. We went deeper into the valley.  The day was starting to heat up and I was starting feel the effects of an oncoming flu. My nose starting to run and my head fuzzy.  We powered on until eventually the tour group and us all ended up on a hill top with the most panoramic view.  But I couldn't see anywhere the church.   I decided to ask the tourguide if we were heading in the right direction for the church.  He smiled, pointed into the distance at a large rock formation and said, "Yes it's over there."   M & I waited for the group to continue, we took happy snaps and then whet towards the rock forms.  No church. 
We kept going, until we found ourselves at the next valley of Pasabagi, near Zelve.  We turned back and hiked back to Cavusin, both out of water, both very hot and bothered.  Half way there we decided to cut across the hills towards the village that looked like it was 'just there'.  We found ourselves standing on the precipice of a large cliff with no idea of how to get down. 
Walking along it we could see parts of the cliff were covered in caves and these caves were holding bee hives.  Below the cliff was farm land and a track leading to the village.  In the end we scrambled and slid down the lowest part of the cliff we could find (I know, very foolish!) and wandered through fields of grapes, onions, tomatoes and apricot trees all planted together.  I was fascinated to see this way of companion planting and how the fields produced so much fruit with out the farmers having to resort of large monoculture farming practises.  The bees were in abundance here and part of the way along we crossed paths with a tortoise.  I have no idea where his closest water supply was as the fields seemed so dry and the one person we came across was a woman with bucket in hand laboriously watering her grape vine stumps. When we eventually arrived back at Cavusin  we learnt that the church we were searching for was in fact in the old town area on a small hill.  M refused to climb any more mounds and went back to the car,  I intended to see this church, climbed the hill and found it closed.

M was chaffing at the bit to get behind the wheel and drive so we hired a car and headed for Soganli, the most divine little cave village of the Cappadocia area (in my opinion).   The landscape here looks as if it's straight off the celluloid strips of a Star Wars film, even though not a single shot of the movies footage was ever filmed here.  My initial reason for coming here was to buy Peanut a doll this village is famous for. It's debatable as to whether the dolls are cute or fuggly but they certainly are unique and the selling of them is hotly contested by the womenfolk who make them.  As I went to make my purchase I had the feeling my choice may have started a fiery debate as to who had made the better doll and the fact I was buying just one doll didn't seem to sit right.  Surely I was to buy more.
The highlight of visiting this village was walking along the creek and finding the 'dome church', a beautiful little church with Romanesque arches and cornices and a perfectly cut out dome in the centre.  On the outside it just looks like a cave mound, inside is a totally different picture.  Next door to it is the "Hidden Church" and it remained hidden as we were flat out finding anything that looked like an entrance.  Once we had left, walked the river and back around and visited the  Karabas church (Black Hat) that we saw where the opening for Hidden Church was.  Way down the slope behind the Dome Church.  
The pinnacle of Goreme trip was the Balloon Ride.  Never in my life have I ever had any desire to ever put myself in a basket and float 1000metres into the sky to be held there by just a sheet and some rope and have a whopping great flame bursting up into said silk sheet. 
But I could not visit Cappadocia and not do what is considered one of the great balloon rides of the world.  I had to just stuff my fears, anxiety and freakouts down into the pit of my stomach, 'man up' and jump aboard the floating basket.  The first night we arrived in Goreme we booked our flight for early in the week,  just in case the weather turned bad and we had to cancel and find another day. Which apparently is what had happen to all the balloons on that first morning.   The breeze was just too stiff for floating.  Our flight was scheduled for the 2nd morning of our stay and we got up at 4am, packed into a bus, drove 100mtrs from our guest house, off loaded, ate a sumptuous breakfast and jumped back on the bus to drive near to Nevsehir where we watched the balloons inflate.  There was trepidation as to whether we'd get up and our pilot, Mike, was positive we would but the authorities were holding us back for more favourable conditions.   Sunrise came and went and it began to heat up.  We'd dressed to icy pre-dawn conditions and were now pulling the layers off. Finally very close to 7am we were given the all clear for take off and there was scramble to the baskets.  Mike was keen to be first off the ground and I think we came close for as we rose so did all the others and the sky filled with 100 balloons.   I held my breath and at the same time hung on for dear life as we rose higher and higher into the blue and sailed across the valleys.
Below the formations unfolded and at times the valley 'ripples' looked like  delicate entwined ribbons.  At times we just sat in sky, not really moving for wind was still and other times we went round in circles as if caught in a whirlpool.  Occasionally we dropped low and gently brushed across the trees top.  It was all so magical.  All too soon it ended and popped the champagne cork and toasted our flight.   As we did this  I noticed a strange rock formation on a far-away hill and after asking if it was a ruin, was told it was the work of some aussie graffiti-er (very tongue in cheek).  Mike then explained it was the landscape artwork of Australian sculptor Andrew Rogers and consisted of a number of rock sculptures including a horse which we could clearly see from our far view.
We didn't find it hard to fill our days and all six were crammed full with incredible views, experiences and discoveries of ancient rock villages.  Every morning except the first we would wake to the "Voosh" of high air pushing a confetti of balloons across the village and every evening we'd dive into delectable delights of Anatolian cuisine.  The family of one restaurant we dined at for a number of nights welcomed us as family every eve and greeted us as friends every day as we walked past.  We felt so at home with them as the mumma (also a grandmumma) proudly showed us her little 6mth old grandson and told us he was grumbly with teeth.  Even on the day we left, Mamma came out when she saw us being driven down to the bus, stopped our driver and gave us a glorious warm heartfelt  hug, something I needed that day, as we'd just been rung with news.  My own dear precious grandmother had just passed away.

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