Cappadocia by Air!

Originally published on 7 September 2011.

Whew! Yesterday was quite a day! Probably our most relaxing yet, actually. We started out with a late breakfast (made to order, included in the hotel stay!) and took to the hills! First stop: Reservations for a hot-air balloon ride! I was the only one who’s really interested in going—yep, had to be up at 5 in the morning!

Next stop: Open-air Museum! It’s an area where several early Christian churches are dug out into caves. Many of the huge caves around here have been usedas homes as late as the 1980s, although some of them look loved in even now. The churches haven’t been used for a few hundred years, though.

On the road, we got a bit side-tracked and went up to another church on a hill. We got up there and were about to turn around, but the guy who seemed to be in charge was very nice and let all three of us go for the price of one ticket. It’s inside an above-ground rock formation, which I find really interesting. We got to go in, and I was a little bit surprised at how small it was. There are many many cave churches around here, and they’re all small. It made me wonder how many people attended a service, and how they conducted services. The man at the place showed us a beautiful set of frescoes (paintings) inside on the ceiling—it’s amazing how long they’ve lasted!

The guy was very nice and asked us in the ticket office for tea, which is typical of the people here. They’re really very hospitable! The tea was very good, and while he didn’t speak a whole lot of English, he spoke enough to have a bit of a conversation with us. He also showed us a brochure of things to see around Cappadocia (by the way, it’s pronounced Cap-a-dok-ee-a—sort of like “okee dokee” haha). He had to leave to attend to more customers, so we took the brochure with us and were about to be on our way. But on our way out, he stopped us because he wanted us to see the “Pigeon House” in the back. We almost declined, but figured why not! A pigeon house?

So we trekked back there, taking pictures of wild-growing pomegranates and olives along the way (so cool!), but when we got up to it, we were a bit underwhelmed. There were holes in big (read: HUGE) rock, which we assumed were for pigeons. Bigger than what we thought a pigeon could carve out on its own, but ok. Maybe they used to have massive pigeons here.

So then Mr. Ticketmaster came up behind us and started explaining what it actually was. He said we could climb up (there were holes that looked about right for climbing), so I happily obliged!

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to me, Mr. Ticketmaster alerted my dear travelling companions that they should go up the back way, which happened to be a hidden entrance! So there I was climbing my little heart out and wishing I’d given my camera to Andrea or Dan instead of having it in my pocket, and the guy says, “Wait! Problem!” And I was thinking, “What? This is getting easier as I go up; what could be a problem?” He started saying something about my friends, so now I was getting really confused. And finally, I hear Andrea and Dan from up at the top, “Hey! Yeah! We’ll help you up!”

AH! They totally startled me, but what a funny joke for him to play! I was absolutely falling for the assumption that he wanted me to climb through the larger of the two pigeonholes! So then he helped me climb down, gave me a good-natured pat on the shoulder, and showed me how to get up inside around the back. What a sweetheart!

So then he explained to us the REAL purpose of the structure… They used it for making wine! There was a carved out hole on the floor, about 2 or so inches deep, and he said they used to put the grapes in there and stomp on them with their feet. There was a hole going out of it where the juice would drain out to another carved-out place where they would gather the stuff for wine. It was still stained bluish-purple! There were also shelves where they would keep the wine until it was ready. Pretty cool… just like I Love Lucy did it! 😉

Second purpose of the structure: Homing Pigeon House! That’s right, they really used homing pigeons, and they kept them in this place. 

And so then it was truly time to leave. We still needed to get to the museum! But first we stopped at a bathroom where we figured they’d have toilet paper. Never miss an opportunity, you know.  We had been stranded without the essentials just the day before!

Now moving on. (The bathroom was nice, by the way!) To get to the museum, we needed to walk through a street bazaar. Fair enough. They were selling anything and everything Turkish and touristy you can think of, as well as food and fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice! We didn’t stop for any, but it was neat to see everyone out and about doing their thing. We also stopped to pet the camels along the way. Sorry, no pics of them. 5 Lira for a pic, 20 for pics and riding. I’ll get a pic when I ride one!

To the museum! It’s called an open-air museum because it’s all outside. It’s this well-preserved area of REAL cave-dwellings that are hundreds, some over a thousand, years old! There are several churches there to see, all of which have some sort of artwork on the walls and/or ceilings. It seems like all the churches there were Catholic, or at least early forms of Catholic. Many of them put a lot of emphasis on Mary, and the paintings looked a lot like stained-glass, so maybe that’s why they started using stained glass—it looked like the paintings and frescoes they uaed before? Anyway, they were very unique. Most, if not all, of the churches showed that primitive paintings of red crosses were painted first, then the frescoes were painted on top of those The guy in the church outside of the museum said the cross there was painted in the 9th century, and the frescoes were painted in the 10th century.

I am very curious about these early churches and how they conducted services and what their traditions were, or their reasoning for doing what they did in worship. The churches were also very tiny. How many people did they usually fit in there? Did they have more than one service? Why were there so many of them so close together? Perhaps this was the original Bible Belt!

But seriously, I wonder a lot about them. Is what we can read from history very accurate? I prayed that this trip would help me come to a better understanding of the beginnings of Christianity, and behold! I am certainly curious enough to do some independent research when I get home!

The most impressive site, though, was at the very end—of course, you should always save the best for last! One of the churches is named the “Dark Church” because there was almost no light that has ever gone into it on a consistent basis. The frescoes are almost perfect—like they were painted yesterday! No pictures were allowed, but it was so beautiful. We stayed in there a good long while looking at it all. A guide came in at one point and started explaining some of the pictures, but we could all see what they were anyway. Andrea and I both said we’re curious about the things that weren’t totally clear. If ever you come to Goreme (pronounced “Go-re-may”), it’s worth the few extra lira to see something so well-preserved!

By then it was about 2:30 or so, and we were HUNGRY! And so we decided to stop in the place with the nice bathrooms. =) It’s a very nice place, although I can’t remember what it’s called! It’s just down the hill from the Open-Air Museum, and right across from a pottery shop and one of the hot-air balloon take-off spots. We picked it because we’d heard about the smashing pottery meal we needed to have—and they make it! It’s called a pottery kebab (or kebap, depending on who you ask!), and it’s stewed meat and vegetables (or in Dan’s case, only veggies!) that have been slow-cooking in the clay pots over the fire for several hours. You order what you want, they bring it out, and you get to use a metal stick to open it! Very cool and VERY Cappadocian! Either we were super hungry, or it was just that good—I think we would all agree it was just that good! I also got yogurt with honey for dessert. I like the stuff I can get at home, but I wanted to try the “real” stuff. Very good! Chunkier than what I get from Giant or Trader Joe’s, but I liked it!

Next up, more pottery! Since there was a pottery shop right across the dirt road, we had to stop in! All the shops we’ve stopped in seem to be run by families and going back several generations. I think we all bought something there. I got a small pot to use as a bud vase back at my apartment, and I’m very excited about it! I was looking for one the day before in Adana, but never did find what I wanted. But this is it! It’s got the traditional Hittite design on it, so it’s very Turkish and it’s hand-made, hand-painted ceramic from Cappadocia! Andrea and Dan also got things there, so it’s a good thing we stopped in!

On our way through town on the way back to the hotel, we stopped in some places to find out about renting ATVs or a car so we could go see things in the more out-lying areas. We ended up meeting this really nice man (forgive me for not remembering his name!) at one of the rental shops. He gave us a good price for a rental car, ATV, and/or balloon ride. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my money back from the ride I’d already purchased and get the better deal on the balloon ride, but he was nice just the same. Dan decided to go on back to the cave hotel to get some work done (bummer—having to work on vacation!), so Andrea and I explored some of the other shops for ourselves. We made a friend in the last shop we went in because Andrea struck up a conversation (I didn’t start it this time!). She told him she’s from Atlanta, and he started in on a story about a time he was in Atlanta, and before you knew it we were eating Turkish Delight and we made a friend! I like it, folks!

For pictures, click here!

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