When you are flying out of Istanbul, you need to be sure as to which airport you are leaving from, as one airport is in Asia, and the other is in Europe and yes, they are a long way apart.
I have a titanium knee and it constantly sets the airport metal detectors off. The airports at Istanbul are very security conscious, but even I was not prepared for a female security staff look of horror and alarm when I set the buzzers buzzing. The security lady went from partial boredom to warrior princess in a flick of an eyelid. She had my hands up and was spinning around me patting me down so quickly, I hardly had time to utter ‘metal knee’. She told me to be quiet by placing her finger in the shoosh motion and called over some male officers – I have a ‘metal knee’ I pleaded. Quiet I was ordered and then searched with greater vigour by one of the males. The metal detector wand was then used and when it beeped at my right knee, the officer felt my knee and then said ‘what is that?’ ‘Metal Knee,’ I squeaked! He then laughed and said something to the female security officer and she laughed and all the tension went out of the situation – I would not die today!!!!
We flew to Kayseri in the middle of Turkey, which is over 620 kilometres from Istanbul. From there we organised for our hotel in Goreme to pick us up at the airport. The trip to Goreme took an hour to cover the 70 kilometres.
Okay, so remember that Di and I had been travelling for nearly two years at this point and without being a bit cocky you get a little blasé at times with a new town or location – well Goreme simply blew us away with its uniqueness, and was definitely a WOW moment! I thought we had landed on the Moon!!!!!!!!!! Or at least in Bedrock!!!!!!!!!
Goreme dates back to the Hittite Era, some 1800 BC. The rock below the top layer of earth is Basalt and, as such, it was easier for the local area inhabitants to carve out homes in the rock than to build a place to live – and such it is how a town of caves evolved.
We stayed at two ‘cave’ hotels in Goreme. The reason we chose two was that we wanted the cave experience and thought the more we paid the better that cave experience would be. Remember, we had to book and pay for two rooms as our children were with us, and as such the cost for four nights at an expensive hotel was an issue. Thus we thought two nights in an expensive hotel and two nights in a cheaper hotel was better financially. This turned out to be kind of true, our first two nights were at the Artemis Cave Hotel and this cost us $71 per night per room.
The Artemis Cave Hotel rooms were very large and built into the mountainside.
This is unlike what occurs in Australia in places like White Cliffs and Cooper Pedy where the hotels are built into the ground and are underground caves.
The unusual rock formations are called ‘fairy chimneys’. These fairy chimneys are formed from volcanic ash, earthquakes and erosion. It was into these fairy chimneys that many of the homes, churches and basically the whole town itself were built.
The centre of town has many shops and restaurants but these all blend into the surrounding rock formations, as they are either built into the rock, or are coloured the same as the rock. In fact, I dare say, we found the best Turkish cuisine in Goreme.
Just wandering through Goreme is a rare experience, unlike what we have had anywhere else in the world, as it is like being on another planet.
Overlooking Goreme is a large lookout area, it is easy to find, just look for the large Turkish flag flying above the town. The view over the town is fantastic from the lookout, but I found if you wander some of the paths leading from the lookout you get some absolutely amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
No matter which direction you look you will see the fairy chimneys and there is always a dwelling of some sort built into the rock formation somehow. The fairy chimneys do have a phallic look to them and the ‘valley of the penis’, could cross your mind!!!
There are two main tours from Goreme and the four of us went on the Green Tour, the other is the Red tour. The cost was 50 Euros each and it was for nine hours which included lunch. The minivan we were in had thirteen other passengers and the tour guide spoke very good English.
The first stop was a lookout off the main road on the other side of the valley. Again, the view was stunning. The Turkish custom of ‘luck’ by putting items on trees is very apparent at these lookouts. At this one the ‘evil eye’ amulet to ward off evil spirits was used, but at other locations, it may just be pieces of paper.
The next stop was at the Derinkuyu Underground City. This underground city is multilevel and goes to the depth of 60 metres. It was built in the 6th century. In its day, the city held 20,000 people. The people mainly lived above ground, but when attackers came, they fled to the safety of the underground city. The underground city inhabitants could seal the city as the staircases are very small and narrow. Thus armed invaders would struggle to manoeuvre in the confined space. Only about 10% of the underground city is available for tourist exploration. The city is basically a labyrinth of tunnels that come to an occasional open space where people lived, there are not houses per se.
It was difficult going through the underground city. I am 56 years old with a metal knee, I am not overweight (much!!) and I am reasonably fit, but, you are hunched over for the majority of the time underground and some of the passageways are tiny and you feel like a crab scurrying along. It is manageable, but be prepared to be scrunched up! It also feels wonderful when you can straighten up!!!
The underground city though was fascinating and once my back had returned to normal, I loved the underground experience and all its history.
After leaving Derinkuyu the mountain scenery was just so wonderful. There were magnificent snow-capped mountains off in the distance and we all pleaded with the guide to stop and let us take photos – he agreed but pleaded with us not to get run over and watch out for passing traffic – he also said if we were Chinese he would not stop, as they could not be trusted in the traffic – got to love Chinese tourists the world over!!!!
The Selime Monastery or cathedral was the next stop. The Selime Monastery is a very large religious structure built into a mountain and dates from the 8th century.
This fortress like structure has many rooms, even a winery!!
The paths up and down are clearly marked but are worn down to gullies due to erosion and can get a little slippery.
The cathedral in the monastery is surprisingly large with unbelievable carved columns in the rock face.
The view from the top of the monastery is very good and you will simply click away with the camera. It was pretty easy getting around the monastery but it does get slippery. I loved the monastery.
It was then time for lunch and we got to know our travelling companions much better. We had a lovely Indian brother and sister, three people from South Africa, a Lebanese family of three, three people from Japan and a South Korean couple. They were a great bunch of people.
The lunch was good and the restaurant was situated alongside a quaint little river.
After our late lunch it was off to the Ilhara Valley, the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Cappadocia!!! The tour bus dropped us on one side of the valley and we climbed down several hundred steps to the river below. We then had a 50 minute walk along the river bank and were picked up by the tour bus.
Again, the scenery is awesome, the climb down was not hard, the river is pretty, the walk along the river bank was easy and we got to stop at several little churches along the way.
All the while we were dwarfed by the canyon walls surrounding us.
Eventually we came to a café by the river and it was time for tea and coffee!!!
The tour bus picked us up and this was a fitting end to the tour.
I thought the Green Tour was well worth the money and a fascinating experience. The people on our tour were lovely and the guide was easy-going and informative. We did though have a ninety minute drive back to Goreme at the end and had plenty of time to catch up on sleep before arriving back after 6pm.
We then moved to the Maccan Cave Hotel and paid $45 per night per room. This hotel was cheaper and the rooms a lot smaller. The rooms were built into the side of a mountain but they certainly did not have the same cave like feel to them. The Maccan Cave Hotel did though have a wonderful breakfast area with astonishing views over Goreme.
There was also a roof top observation deck in this hotel. We would buy a few beers and a bottle of wine, a packet of Doritos and head outdoors to the observation deck at night after dinner. It was FREEZING!!!!!!! But once we scraped the ice from the seats and table (I kid you not), and we wore all of our warm winter clothing (first week of January), the night-time views over the town of Goreme were wonderful. These wonderful views were then complimented when the haunting Call to Prayer suddenly rang out!! You know you’re not in Kansas then Toto!!
On our second full day in Goreme, we all just set off to explore the many trails that weaved through the valleys around Goreme. The sun was out and it was a lot warmer than it had been. We walked to the lookout and from there followed our nose along the ridge and down into the valley – the path is well-worn and the view is worth it.
Di soon left us as she wanted some ‘Di Time’ and the two kids and I continued on our own.
Whilst there were three of us we were pretty conservative with our ‘off the beaten track’ approach and whilst Charlotte was with us we saw some wonderful scenery.
Eventually Charlotte too felt alone time was needed and she returned to Goreme. This led to Jesse and I doing what boys do and adventure became somewhat more riskier!!!
We followed our noses into several canyons and came to places where we needed to be mountain goats to get through – but we got through. There were parts we climbed up makeshift wooden ‘ladders’ to continue our journey – but we got through. There were times Jess had to pull and push me up a rock face – but we got through. After all the climbing and clambering over rocks etc, I looked pretty messy – but we got through.
The canyons were great fun to explore. We found a path out of the canyon and the view was magnificent. We then found an easy path on top of the ridge back to Goreme, but we wanted more, so once back at Goreme we set out on another path to Pigeon Valley.
Pigeon Valley is where thousands of pigeon houses have been built into the rock formations. In years gone by there were literally hundreds of thousands of pigeons here. Each pigeon house had its own marking near the entrance identifying who owned that articular pigeon house. The Pigeon Valley walk is pretty easy-going.
Other than parts of the canyon these hikes were all done in the immediate area surrounding Goreme and at no time did we feel lost or unsafe. Walking through all this unusual landscape certainly felt like a good old adventure I used to have when I was kid and the world was so new…., and I did it with my kids.
Do I recommend Goreme, ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is an amazing place. We were there only four days but I could have stayed longer. I would love to truly explore all the hiking trails.
Goreme though is a tourist hotspot for another reason and that is ballooning – you cannot come to Goreme without ballooning and that will be discussed in the next chapter.
The Turkish adventure with the kids continues…………………………….