Thursday, April 3, 2014

Kapadokya...That's Cappadocia to You and Me

There's a lot going on in the world today.  Turkey is close to the Crimean Peninsula and not really all that far from the rest of Ukraine.  It's very close to Iran, Syria, Iraq, and all the Stans that used to be part of the Soviet Union.  It's not the most sought after vacation idea in recent times.  I understand that.  However, by the same token, we could say that because of the problems on the Mexican American border, people shouldn't visit the USA.  Let's think about that for a moment.

Turkey is an exotic, friendly country.  Cappadocia is an amazing place to visit.  I once went to the Soviet Union to see Leningrad and Moscow.  As luck would have it, I ended up in the middle of a little problem that they were having (their words, not mine), which was an uprising in Lithuania.  So it goes.  Would I change that trip?  No.  It was the most fascinating trip of my life.  So, Turkey in the middle of all that going on in the world today?  Why not?  What are you going to do, wait until it's all sorted out?  History tells us that it won't ever be sorted out.  So, with that said, I have some great stuff to tell you about.

Fairy Chimneys are the most common image that we carry in our collective conscious of Cappadocia.  Found in the western US and known as Hoodoos, they are old volcanic cones made of tuff, a soft rock form of ash.  The difference between the US version and the Cappadocia version typically is the top knot on the cones.  The difference between Zion National Park and Cappadocia is an explanation that could take me a lifetime.  The short version is that the folks in Cappadocia have been living in and around them for eons.

Cappadocia is part of the larger Anatolia region of Turkey.  It is not along the coast, but is normally reached by taking a tour out of Istanbul.  Urgup is known as the gateway to the region, which has many towns and villages in it, but the center of most tourist activity is Goreme.  Although there are many areas that are fascinating to visit, this is mostly where I've concentrated my topic for this blog entry.

Cappadocia is known for it's pink rock formations, it's cave dwellings, it's amazing history, and it's fairy chimneys.  That's the fact.  What you may not know is that depending on where you are in the area, you may be seeing very different artifacts.  Over the ages this area has been inhabited by many different peoples.  There are many old monasteries and rock churches in the area.  There are also mosques, and Greek temples.  The Ottomans were in charge here as well as the Greeks, the Arabs, and many others.  Each one of these peoples carved out their own little piece of history in the tuff that forms the hills.  You will find columns, frescoes, minarets, domes, fortresses, and many other conflicting sights.  They all come together to make this area one of the most fascinating spots on Earth.

Most buildings in these ancient towns are still carved into the soft rock and are still used.  There are also huge areas that have been turned into open air museums.  Some of the buildings, especially in Goreme have been made into hotels for the growing tourism business in that area.  Some smaller towns are almost completely abandoned and are nothing but places to explore and investigate, but the larger of the towns still function today.  Goreme is a great place to stay, eat, shop for woven rugs and other souvenirs, and see the sights.  It's like staying on a whole other planet.

One of the things that I found interesting about the area that I didn't previously know was that in the middle of that other worldly landscape, there is a lush and beautiful valley known as Ihlara Valley.  There are bridges and other ruins there that remind you of Romans, and there are still lots of dwellings in the rock to look at.  The main trail is almost 15 kilometers long, and has a lot to see.

Whether you like the natural landscape or the buildings in the caves or the luxury hotels carved out of caves, the churches will most likely be the thing you won't forget.  There are approximately 350 rock churches in Cappadocia to see.  This is one of the places in the world where Christians in particular went to practice their religion in peace.  There are hidden churches as well as the obvious ones.

Derinkuyu is a large underground city.  This is another place where people hid in order to live the life that they chose.  Derinkuyu is not the only underground settlement in the area, but it is the best known and the largest.  In it's heyday it used to have a population of around 20,000 people.

While in Turkey, you have to see the Whirling Dervishes.  The people of this religious order spin and spin until they have reached what they would describe as a state of trance as part of their beliefs.  Music and dance are a very important part of Turkish culture whether it be for celebration, religion, or the belly dance.


Whether you enjoy the dancing, the hiking, the eating, the architecture, the religion, the culture, the history, or the weavings, Cappadocia is a world all it's own and a great place to visit.  Now, there are many reasons that this area would be mentioned as an adventure for anyone, but none of these were the initial reason that I mentioned it.

That's right, it's the balloons.  One of the best places in the world to see from hot air balloon is Cappadocia.  Goreme Balloons runs great balloon sightseeing tours that let you take all those fabulous pictures from above that all your friends will be jealous of.  It's hard to appreciate fully the scope of the unique area that we call Cappadocia.  You really do need to see it from the air.  The locals fully understood that and started one of the most famous sight seeing tours ever.  You can't go to Cappadocia without doing it.  Don't even think about it.

Go, see, eat, buy, walk, bike, climb, take photos, dance, pray, but don't forget to take the balloon tour.  It's the best view you'll ever get of the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia.

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