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Around the World in 210 Days

Flying High in Kapadokya

TURKEY | Sunday, 6 January 2008 | Views [1420] | Comments [3]

Today on Alex & Andrew’s Blog is part two of our trip across Turkey, which was probably our favorite.  When you last joined us, we were traveling from Selcuk to Goreme on a 10 hour night bus.  This bus was not as nice as the ride from Istanbul to Izmir.  They did not have chocolate filled cookies or cakes as a night snack, rather they only provided a slab of marble cake for breakfast.  Secondly, in the middle of the night, after having removed our shoes a good two hours earlier, the bus attendant jostled Andrew awake and requested he put on his shoes.  Of course, this request was delivered in Turkish to a sleepy Andrew, and took at least 5 minutes to be completely understood.  Now, you should understand that the buses give a lemon-scented deodorant spray every few hours for your hands to all the clients.  Immediately after asking Andrew to put on his shoes, the attendant doused the aisle with this perfume.  If Andrew had been more awake, he probably would have been offended.  As it was, we promptly went back to sleep.  We arrived in the city of Nevsehir.  We sleepily got our bags, and wondered how we were going to get to Goreme.  This was our first destination on our entire trip that we arrived in town without having secured prior accommodation.  We were ushered to the Goreme turizm office, where travel agents were busy peddling tours, hot air balloons, and the like.  They told us they would take care of our trip to Goreme, which we suspected would include a heavy sales pitch.  We sat with our bags for another 15 minutes before 8 of us were herded into a minibus and began the drive towards Goreme.  (Probably a 15-20 minute drive.) 

            Now Goreme is a place you need to see to believe.  It is one of the oddest looking places, we have ever seen.  As you travel the terrain is filled with mountains into which cave homes have been dug, the landscape is liberally (think hundreds) dotted with fairy chimneys, which are basalt rock formation.  (There were layers of basalt rock, after years of erosion, the pockets of basalt remained, while the softer rock around it was worn away, leaving towering structures called fairy chimneys.)  Truly fascinating.  You imagine that if you grew up here, everywhere else in the world would be slightly too ordinary.

There were three other couples on the bus, all of whom had made previous reservations for housing.  The first couple, Saad and Emma were going to be dropped off at some place called the Shoestring Cave, which sounded right up our alley.  Collette had equipped us with the basic of bargaining.  The litany goes something like:

  1. Do you have a double room available? May I see it?
  2. Look around the room and decide whether it meets your needs,
  3. How much is this room?  Once they state a number, you say, and is that the same if I stay for two nights and pay cash?
  4. No matter what the answer, sneer mildly and say you would like a card with their name and the quote, and say you may return after looking around.  (Ok the sneer was obviously from Andrew) 

Equipped with this mantra, we stepped into the Shoestring behind Emma and Saad, and heard that they had previously negotiated a room for 35 YTL.  (This stands for Yeni Turkish Lira, which means New Turkish Lira in English).  Nevertheless we followed them on their perusal of a room, and attempted line 3.  The price did not go down.  The proprietor was a guy named Isa (translates Jesus), he was wearing very stylish jeans, and an Australian style cowboy hat.  He was friendly and he quickly explained that the price was essentially not further negotiable, and they didn’t take credit cards anyway.  The rooms, were caves that had been slightly modified.  They were cold (which was probably not a modification), had notches dug in the wall for shelves, the bathrooms had been tiled and had a wonderful echo.  There was not a proper shower space, rather the floor slanted slightly towards the drain, and there was a handheld shower head, they were decorated in a modest Victorian style.  Overall, pretty pleasant for 35 YTL (which we should remind our readers was less than the warzone we stayed in, in Marseille), oh AND it came with an awesome breakfast and chay (tea).  Nevertheless, we had to look around.  Still toting our backpacks, we headed out.  We checked out Collette’s recommendation, which was supposed to be around 40 YTL, but had since decided it was worth twice as much and was almost 90 YTL.  No thanks.  We checked out a few more “low budget” accommodations, and almost got roped into one, simply because the men selling the rooms were so persistent.  There we were shown a room which we could have for 35 YTL, and included an electric heater.  Unfortunately the room was dark, was not a cave, and the shower and bathroom were separated from the rest of the house with a shower curtain.  We did look at their dorm rooms which were only 7 YTL.  They were looking at us so expectantly that we decided we needed to confer.  As is want to occur, we spent a good 10 minutes trying to decide, in that time, they sent out not only the first salesman (who explained that we may find other similarly priced accommodation, but that this was a family accommodation and we wouldn’t find friendlier people anywhere around.  We were subsequently approached by another brother, and the cook who explained we would not find a better meal anywhere, and that we could even use the kitchen if we wanted to.  About this time we were both just about beaten down, when we realized that we didn’t really want to stay in this place.  Andrew told the people that we would continue to look around.  We quickly decided we were tired and it was cold, so we decided to go with the Shoestring.  Isa was happy to see us, and let us pick out whichever room we wanted.  We dropped off our bags, and went back to the common room to discuss hot air balloon tours with Isa. 

Before leaving on our trip, we had decided that we would like to take a balloon ride. We read all the reviews on virtual tourist, two guidebooks, and trip advisor and came to the conclusion, that this could easily be the best part of our entire Turkey trip.  Our parents those bastions of adventure, those patrons of travel, those wonderful, warm, loving people decided they would like to pay for our balloon trip, as a Christmas present.  This was pretty imperative to our taking the trip, as it cost more than our housing for the entire month.  But we had read that it was definitely worth it, so we talked it over with Isa, and listened to his recommendations, and booked a flight for the next morning.  (We were a little nervous about the 6:15 am departure time, but were promised to rise with the sun (and coffee and cake)).  We also thought it might be good to take a day tour as many of the sights worth seeing are spread out and difficult to access on your own.  We had three days to see it all. 

The first day, we made a trip to the Goreme open air museum.  This is an area where there are concentrated number of church caves.  Sort of like a state/national park.  We walked around this park for about two hours.  When we were in Italy, we marveled at how beautiful the churches were, how large and developed, the paintings, the columns, and the intricate exteriors.  We were no less impressed here.  With rudimentary tools, the cave dwellers created beautiful churches, replete with paintings, columns, arched ceilings, altars, tables, and more.  They didn’t necessarily have intricate exteriors.  There are hundreds of churches and homes where a group of people called “hermits” came to dwell.  There are still a number of caves which are actively used as homes.  Anyhow, a few hours later, and a good deal colder, we headed back into Goreme and found a café to eat at, with great food and cheap prices.  After that we decided to go back to the hotel.  Any guesses on what we did next?  Yep, we took a three hour nap, huddled below the blankets as the heat was only turned on in the evenings.  Waking up a good deal more refreshed, we decided to play cards in the common area.  The common area is a cave covered with Turkish rugs and pillows, with free internet access on the side.  When we got there, we met a Canadian, a New Zealander, a Fillipino, and a couple others.  They were planning to head into town for drinks and dinner.  After sitting and chatting with them for half an hour or so, we decided to join them for dinner.  We went by a few bars, and tried to determine who had the cheapest beer. We knew we had found our people.  We finally decided on a bar, and Andrew and I shared a beer by the fireplace.  Afterwards we found a Turkish pizza place and shared a nice 5 YTL meal.  Later we relaxed in the common room with our newfound friends (and learned that the Shoestring had a dorm room which only cost 10 Lira per person) until we decided that we needed to go to bed, or we would not be up in time for our hot air balloon.  It was a good start for our first day in Goreme.

The next morning we woke up at 5:30 and were excited enough about the balloon that we didn’t need to snooze.  Andrew put on his long johns and two pairs of pants, we both pulled on extra pairs of socks.  We sleepily made our way down to the common area where we met up with Saad and Emmanuelle who were also taking a morning balloon ride.  The balloon company picked us up at our hostel and drove us off to the launch site.  There we had three cups of tea and two pieces of cake a piece, and we took a third piece and put it in our pocket for later.  We watched as they filled the hot air balloon, then we piled into a 9 person balloon basket.  We were in the compartment next to Saad and Emmanuelle.  The balloon was held down (not by sandbags, like the cartoons), but by a Jeep.  After the balloon was fully inflated, they untied it from the jeep, and we slowly rose into the sky.  The sky was already light, but the sun had not risen.  In fact, the sun seemed to rise with us, the pink sky lightened and the sun peeked between the rock formations.  It was beautiful, and very still.  It was a strange sensation, Andrew describes as being in the Wonkovator-that is it was like an Elevator that could go in all directions, very smooth and it felt oddly stable. There was no sense of vertigo or any fear of heights.  It was just a beautiful ascent to view the remarkable rock formations.  On one of the day tours they offer a panoramic viewpoint of Goreme, but we were glad we didn’t go on that, b/c this offered not only a panorama of Goreme, but the entire region.  It was simply a wonderful surreal experience, and yes it was cold too!  The pilots of these balloons delight in their superior flying skills, and our pilot was no different.  He dipped the balloon low into a valley of fairy chimneys and paused to pick some berries from the balloon basket.  We were close enough to people’s houses that they came out and waived to us.  One woman was greeting us in Turkish and the pilot and her struck up a short conversation as we flew by.  An hour later we touched down amidst cheers, champagne, and flight awards.  It was pretty cool, and we kinda regretted not taking our camera. No, no, we will post pictures some day for all to see. Thanks Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad.


After going back to our hotel and eating a second breakfast (we had to get our 35 Lira’s worth of course) and freezing for a little bit, (the night before our travel alarm clock registered the temperature as 50 degrees), we decided we would like to stay in the dorm room and save a little money.  We loaded up our bags and headed to the dorm room (which only had 5 beds and was much warmer than our previous room).  That day we scouted out various tours to see what the town had to offer.  If you are going to Goreme, the answer is: there are three tours, the second one is the one everyone takes, and they all cost the same amount.  As we couldn’t decide between them, we decided we would see the points of interest on our own the following day before we left for Istanbul.  We met up with the New Zealander from the night before, Christopher, and the three of us, via minibus, headed for the nearby town of Avanos, which is famous for its pottery.  The less popular day tour makes a stop in Avanos, and we learned that the tour guides are encouraged by commissions to sale pottery to their clients.  This leads to them being taken to pretty commercialized pottery factories, where prices are marked up.  We instead targeted the inner town and searched out the lesser well-known pottery stores.  All of them are very eager to have you look around and are more than willing to show you how they throw clay and even let you try if you like.  We watched such a demonstration in which the potter was a 12 year old boy, and really talented.  We decided not to give it a go ourselves, and instead picked up some pottery.  Avanos could be a Mexican town.  The entire town seems to be built on the making and selling of pottery and there are even life sized stuffed donkeys at several shops, which Andrew was quite tempted to make a souvenir of.  The shops are built into several layers of caves, and seem to go on forever.  A lot of the potters also make their own wine and you are encouraged to sample it as you browse. (Which is a pretty smart sales tactic, if the wine were a little more heady.)  We tasted a quite watery house wine, from wine glasses made at the shop, and then continued on our way. 

The next town we wanted to visit was Mustafapasa.  The wiki explanation of the town:

“It all began with the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923. This treaty, which ended Turkey's 4-year long independence war, entailed a population exchange between Greece and Turkey Muslims living in Greece and Greek Orthodox living in Turkey were deported. A total of two million people were displaced.

 Sinasos, dotted with mansions, used to be a town where the rich Istanbulite Greeks had their summer homes. The town's Greek residents were exchanged with a Muslim population that lived in a mountain village near Greece's Macedonian border. They were not Turks; they spoke no Turkish and no Greek. They spoke only Macedonian.”

The Turkish town is called Mustafapasa.  Anyhow, the three of us planned to go to Mustafapasa, and we needed to go to a town called Urgup to get there.  We hopped on a minibus to Urgup and got off at the town square.  We must have looked confused, because a gentleman approached us and asked where we were going.  Being naturally suspicious, we told him and expected him to show us how to get there via his carpet shop or something.  But no, he led us to the correct bus stop and even went and checked the schedule and then waited with us for awhile.  He is a good example of the type of hospitality we found throughout this region.  Anyway, Christopher had to catch a bus back to Istanbul that night, and after doing some math it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to get to Mustafapasa and back in time. So we decided instead to explore Urgup and try Mustafapasa the next day.  We all had doners at a local café, and the owner gave Chris a cup of tea on the house.  We found a wine storehouse built into a cave which was lined with 80 and 90 year old bottles.  We wanted a wine tasting (surprising huh?), but our staring at them in anticipation did nothing, so we simply took pictures and left.  We went buy a shop filled with rugs and other Turkish memorabilia.  The lady who was running the shop was named Sule.  When Christopher asked how the Turkish coffee pot worked, she quickly invited us into her kitchen and made the three of us cups of coffee and baklava.  Turkish coffee is made by heating a copper pot (lined with tin) of water, sugar and coffee grounds.  You bring the water to boil once (until it almost boils over), and pour a third of the mixture into the waiting coffee cups.  You repeat this process two more times until the cups are filled with the thick black liquid, resembling mud more than coffee.  Then you slowly drink the mix careful not to disturb the sediment on the bottom of the cup.  It is the strongest coffee we have ever had, and might also be useful as axle grease, but it surprisingly grew on us and even Andrew (Mr. “Why would I drink coffee when Dr Pepper tastes so good?”) was enjoying it by the end. We chatted with Sule until our coffee was finished, and spent a little more time browsing the shop. Another point about Turkish coffee is that fortunetellers like to read the muddy goop left in the glass to determine peoples’ futures. Luckily for us, Sule did not claim to have any psychic abilities, so we did not have to hear about any impending doom facing us on the rest of our trip (although Andrew’s dad is quite adept at keeping us up to date on the many perils we will face in each country).

            We rode back to Goreme and relaxed in the common room that evening, meeting more travelers and rolling our eyes at a particularly grumpy man who we would be sharing our dorm with that night. Isa sent in one of his employees with a bowl of popcorn, which as a delightful snack to go along with the complimentary tea that he also provided. Lounging in the common room was one of the things that made us feel quite happy with our decision to stay at the Shoestring. And the free popcorn just sealed the deal. A little later, a group of about 8 of us, including Isa, decided to go out for dinner and drinks. Isa took us to the Safak (Sunrise) Café, where we ate burek (not as good as Hande’s) and chatted it up. Afterward, we went over to the same bar as the night before, and Andrew played a couple rounds of pool (and lost both). Our hot air balloon friends, Saad and Emma, rented a Nargila, the Turkish version of a hookah pipe, with apple scent. We tried to create smoke rings, in vain, save one very wobbly circle of Andrew’s that quickly broke apart. It was a unique experience, but the once or twice that we actually breathed in the smoke pretty much guaranteed the nargila will not be a regular activity for us. Plus when you can’t blow the smoke rings, the attempts to do so make you feel increasingly silly.

            That night, we grabbed up a couple dorm beds and said good night to the grumpy man that was taking the hot air balloon the next day. Around five in the morning, Andrew woke up, shivering violently, and found the dorm door to be gaping open. The grumpy man was no where to be found. We put two and two together and decided that he was punishing us for his grumpiness.

            In the morning, while packing our bags up, we discovered one of the pieces of pottery we bought in Avanos had broken, so we added a second trip to Avanos to our day’s itinerary in hopes of getting a replacement (as it was so shoddily padded in a single piece of newspaper).

            For our last day in Goreme we planned to visit the most interesting site on the day tour that we had opted out of taking. That is, Derinkuyu, the underground city near Nevsehir. Again, Wikipedia time:


“The historical region of Cappadocia, where Derinkuyu is situated, contains several historical underground cities, carved out of a unique geological formation, and were largely used by early Christians as hiding places. …The troglodyte cities at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli are two of the best examples of underground dwellings.


…Derinkuyu Underground City provided a refuge for the region's inhabitants through the ages, for early Christians as well as possibly earlier dwellers, to Greeks hiding from the raids of the Umayyad Arab and Abbasid armies. The cities contained food stores, kitchens, stalls, churches, wine and oil presses, ventilation shafts, wells and a religious school. The Derinkuyu underground city has seven floors and a depth of 85 m and could have sheltered thousands of persons.”


That’s right, it’s seven stories deep. Half way down we came to a well that spanned the entire depth of the city, and it was only then that we could really see just how deep into the ground these people built. We trudged our way through each story, mouth agape at the intricacy of the manmade caverns, the kitchen with chimney, the dining areas and wineries, and the giant round stones that could be rolled in front of passageways to keep intruders at bay. It was fantastic. We were happy not to be on the tours, which scuttled passed us periodically like little subway trains making their way from stop to stop (and about as crowded). They were not even taken to all the small off-shoot tunnels, and in fact after emerging from one long, narrow passageway we heard the guide say that they would not be going down that tunnel because it was “a crypt and oftentimes had a bad smell.” Since Andrew’s shoes were on and we had not smelled anything, we were fairly certain that was the guide’s way of avoiding extra work…

            After Derinkuyu, we traveled back to Urgup for our second attempt at seeing Mustafapasa. We misunderstood hand signals to mean the bus would be arriving at 1:30, when in fact the man was telling us it would arrive in 30 minutes, as in 2 o’clock. So we waited around, and played a few rounds of 20 questions. Andrew quit after failing to guess Alex’s “fuzzy dice,” which he was particularly disgruntled by because we were surrounded by dolmuses with fuzzy dice and more hanging from each rear view mirror.

            We finally caught the bus to Mustafapasa, and before boarding helped the man who told us when it would be arriving by carrying a 50 pound bag of rice to the cargo bay. Mustafapasa was a very small village set in a hill, and was a great little walk. We found crumbling Greek-inspired buildings, snow-covered walking trails, and little kids who seemed to be practicing some very profane English, although it could have been that they have some phrase in Turkish that sounds something like “Fut lu.” We explored for about an hour before deciding to turn back so we could get to Avanos before everything closed down. We arrived in Avanos as the sun was setting, and jogged our way past pottery shops to get to the one that had sold us the poorly-padded pottery. It was closed and locked. Dejected, we made our way back toward the bus, which we knew would be leaving in 20 minutes (the next one after not leaving for another hour, which would have cut it close with our departure to Istanbul leaving soon thereafter). We passed one shop that we had noted for being inexpensive and having a very nice proprietor (who the day before had offered us freshly baked potatoes) so we decided to stop by. He did not have the same piece as the one that had broken, but he volunteered to glue it back together for us free of charge. We were quite pleased with him, and bought a few more trinkets before going back to Goreme.

            We spent the remainder of the night in the common room again, exchanging emails with the people we had met. Emma and Saad were to be in Istanbul soon, so we made plans to cook them Mexican food when they came through (they did indeed come by, just two nights ago, in fact, and we had a lovely fajita dinner). We said our goodbyes and made it to the bus stop, snacked on leftover junk food, and then caught the bus home. Turns out it was only the bus to nearby Nevsehir, where we had to make a transfer in an hour. So we walked into the waiting room, and searched out some free seats. The only ones were in the corner where about five shawled women and two men were congregated. Having heard that men are not allowed to sit next to women at times, Andrew was nervous to sit, but the women gestured openly for us to join them. No one there spoke English except for one man who knew a few more English words than we knew Turkish. It was a humorous conversation that consisted mostly of us shaking our heads apologetically at not understanding, and the women laughing up a storm at us. We determined one source of humor for them was how bundled up we appeared, with sweatshirt, jacket, scarf, hat, and gloves. They thought that was hilarious. We ended up drawing on a notebook to explain we were traveling around the world, and pointing at our rings to indicate being married. It turned out the English-speaking man was also recently married to one of the women sitting there.  After 45 minutes of conversation, we realized that we were close to missing our bus (go figure), so with a hasty good-bye and an iyi aksamlar we ran for the bus.  They had already closed the luggage bay, so we asked them to open it and jumped on.  The trip home was fairly uneventful except for the time Andrew was jostled awake once again to a request for him to put his shoes back on.  (It’s not that we ignored them the first time, its that we asked everyone in the Shoestring common room if it was ok to take your shoes off, and they assured us it was no problem—they were wrong.)

            We arrived Christmas morning around 8 o’clock, and were home by 9.  Rather than taking our customary nap, we plugged in the Christmas tree and hung out for awhile.  We knew Hande and Collette’s friend was coming in from the states and that we would all be having a Christmas dinner, so we went down to the bazaar and picked up some fresh vegetables.  We came back and started cooking up a storm.  We cooked pumpkin pies, a walnut pie (as pecans were not available), stuffing (which we still don’t like), and a particularly delightful pear and walnut salad.  After picking up Julie, Hande came home and cooked the main dishes—burek and Fasulye Yemegi (a green bean casserole dish), and Collette, true to her previous conversation with Andrew in which she informed us she loved pumpkin pie so much she wrote an essay in school titled “Yummy Pumpkin Pie,” was the official taste-tester and spice consultant. After we and Hande had cleared out of the kitchen, Collette whipped up a tub of garlic mashed potatoes, which Andrew was excited about after having discussed with her the notion of “you can never use too much garlic”). Another guy we had met at the Christmas party, Chad, showed up, and Christmas dinner commenced. Everything was fantastic, and for Andrew (and Chad, according to his raves) the highlight of the feast was the walnut pie. As pecan pie is Andrew’s favorite, he was skeptical about this “walnut” variety, but it turned out wonderfully. And from what we could tell, Collette thought that our pumpkin pie was “yummy.”

            After stuffing ourselves thoroughly, we opened presents. We gave a set of ceramic wine glasses to Collette and hand-painted bowls to Hande, which we had found when we were in Avanos. They gave us a much needed sewing kit (as we had lamented that within months our clothes would no doubt have fallen apart) and a beautiful water color painting of the Istanbul skyline at sunset. They also gave Andrew a magnet with a painting on it from a local museum, and Alex received a pair of copper inlaid earrings. We knew we had gotten the better end of the deal, and when Collette shared her cheddar cheese (straight from Wisconsin via Julie) we both thought about staying permanently.

            Who would have thought anything could top this? Two nights later, we met up to go shopping in the Spice Bazaar, and on the way home, Hande and Collette steered us down a side street, at which point Hande mysteriously disappeared. We chatted with Collette until she returned carrying a plastic bag. Andrew was instructed to close his eyes, and Hande pulled out a mystery object. The two of them began tapping on the object, and told Andrew that if he could not guess what it was, he wouldn’t get to keep it. Clank clank clank, went the mystery object. Andrew strained to determine what the metallic, thuddy sound was… could it be? Surely not… but it was! A shiny, maroon, 12 ounce can of liquid heaven. Andrew’s last Christmas present. Andrew cradled it in his arms on the drive home, and decided to wait until after dinner to fully experience its splendor. Alex and Hande made a run to the grocery store, and Alex returned bearing a very necessary bag of pretzels, which Andrew used to “salten” his tastebuds so that he could truly savor the sweet deliciousness.

            That concludes the previously missing December blogs. Stay tuned, because our next blog might just have a surprise guest appearance!

Tags: Mountains




This is absolutely amazing and made me smile over and over. What remarkable experiences you two are having. Thank you for sharing the details and wonders with us!

Love you,

  Sandy Jan 7, 2008 7:22 AM


you Mustafapasa'd at least one McDonalds in all this

  Richard Jan 9, 2008 4:34 AM


richard and sandy do you not wish that when andrew was small and asking for all those really expensive Christmas presents that you could have given him a can of dr pepper and all his dreams would be fulfilled? oh why do our kids not tell us the true wish of the heart. so much cheaper. happy to hear that you had a wonderful day and were with people that you really like. if you could not be here at home then at least you were with some that feel like family. love you both. have a wonderful holiday. love mom

  mardi Feb 20, 2008 5:12 PM

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