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Goreme in the Heart of Cappadocia

By Ben and Hannah

snow 4 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Goreme: Open Air Museum

Goreme: Open Air Museum

We woke up to snow this morning. This quick change from summer t-shirt weather less than two days ago to freezing temperature today seems to be in character with the bizarre Dr. Seussian landscape that surrounds us. Goreme is a very compact tourist town set in the midst of hundreds of conical peaks, fairy chimneys and undulating cliff faces. The chaotic build up of cave hotels, restaurants, carpet stores, souvenir shops, hot air balloon operators and mosques makes for a scene beyond all imaginings.

Our first destination today was the Goreme open air museum which is just on the edge of town. The venue is a powerful magnet for tour buses. Even at this time of year the amount of tourists arriving hourly is quite large. It is a very international affair with tourists from Europe, Japan, Korea and North America all well represented. The throngs have given birth to a gauntlet of kiosks and stalls just in front of the entrance to the actual museum site. Part of the hawkers of wares were a father and son duo with three camels available for pictures and rides. Although an unusual site (it is not our first encounter with camels this trip -Morocco had it s fair share) it somehow it didn't seem at all out of place for Goreme.

The open air museum consists of a high concentration of churches and related dwellings carved into the surrounding cliffs and conical prominentories. The area has been occupied since the time of the Hittites through the Roman period and was a Christian stronghold on through to the early middle ages. The history since that time is a bit unclear. Compared to many of the cliff and underground dwellings we have seen thus far in our travels these spaces have some of the best preserved fresco work in the area. There is not a lot of variation in what is depicted and Saint George and the Dragon figures quite predominantly.

Some of the rooms that we enjoyed most were the refectories with their carved stone tables and benches. Some looked like they could seat upwards of sixty people. I imagine these would either have been home to gatherings of boisterous conversation, discussion and debate and at other times, depending on the religious community, eerily quiet communal meals. It would seem that the winters here could be somewhat bleak with no greenery in sight but there was the small consolation that at least the rooms were relatively warm even without heating.

Goreme: Open Air Musuem Site

Goreme: Open Air Musuem Site

Even with all the tourists the museum was a good place to visit. It certainly is a well-maintained and protected area. Elsewhere we have seen a lot of graffiti carved into the stones and a good deal of garbage around. Perhaps it was this clean and safe atmosphere that led Muriel and I to be a bit silly and suggest that Abby and Hannah ride a camel. We also thought it was another opportunity to help Abby overcome her fear of domesticated animals in general. As parents we want to be thorough in our children's education. You never know, she might end up working around when she's an adult

Muriel and I were well aware that camel riding is one of the ultimate experiences in terms of tacky tourist things to do and that the operators of such enterprises are often more than circumspect. But if you approach the whole experience with that foreknowledge it still can be a fun and informative tourist culture experience.

When we had passed by the camels a couple of hour earlier, upon our entry to the museum, the father and son were verbally advertising 5 lira for a picture with the camel and 10 for a ride. When we returned they were now calling out 10 lira for a picture and 20 for a ride. What a great illustration of the concept of supply and demand. We didn't want to bite for 20 lira a piece but the boy said both girls could ride for the price of one. Isn't that capitalism at its finest? We willing allowed ourselves to be drawn in for the 12 dollars Canadian. It was a short ride but fun all the same and we took pictures and a short video. As expected, after the ride was done the camel herder tried to charge us 20 lira per girl by trying to catch me on the fine print of our unwritten agreement. In true tourist bravado I just handed him one 20 lira bill and walked away. Yes the tourist was only going to allow himself to be ripped off instead of outright robbed. As they say, "once a camel salesman always a camel salesman."

As I said before, this was a true experience of tourist culture. When we participate in that culture we willingly allow ourselves to be hunted for our money once we enter the "marketplace." We have little right to complain when we are bagged as the prey. On this occasion it was not a problem since we entered it expecting nothing more and certainly got nothing less.

Camel Ride Goreme

Camel Ride Goreme

From Goreme we set off to explore the nearby area. Just by curiosity and following some more obscure roads we came across Love Valley an amazing display of the true and relatively unspoiled Cappadocian landscape. From there we wandered some more roads and entered a small village known for its pottery. Rather than be held totally hostage in a pottery store where there were no other customers we entered a pottery shop that was being assaulted by a busload of tourists. This way we could look at the wares relatively unmolested, at least for the first few minutes. The pottery work looks like a mixture of styles from Greece, Portugal and Persia. Muriel bought a couple of very inexpensive dishes. We are not sure if they will make it home in one piece but we will try. The last dish she bought was in Portugal, and it ended up being ejected out of the back of our car in Sicily along with a laptop and other assortment of family possessions. Let's just say I am writing this post on the laptop but the Portuguese dish has been repurposed as road surfacing.

During our visit to the open air museum Abby had hit her head quite hard on one of the low entrance tunnels. During our visit to the store it seems like the true extent of that impact was making itself known. Abby was developing an excruciating headache and feeling nauseous. We headed back to our hotel. Since my back is still causing me no end of problems I volunteered to stay with her. We rested for the afternoon and to be on the safe side I didn't let Abby sleep or have any computer screen time. By the end of the day Abby wasn't feeling great but still a bit better and no worrisome signs of a severe concussion have presented themselves.

Hannah and Muriel headed out for some more adventures in the afternoon. I will turn over the blog to Hannah to give an account of their experiences.

As Abby wasn't feeling well, we left her and dad behind and went to do some more sightseeing on our own. Mom was new to the car (his name's Zephyr), so it naturally took her a little while to figure it out. This meant stalling a number of times outside the hotel. After we got over this speed bump, we were off. However, Mom still hadn't quite mastered the gears, and we stalled once, twice, eight times in the middle of a busy road. It didn't help that we were on a hill. There was nothing I could say to help, and Mom was growing increasingly agitated, so I closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. Then she said, "Oh, I'm in third gear! I should be in first!" And we were zooming up the slope, leaving the other frustrated motorists behind. I could've been okay with all that, if we hadn't left the camera behind. But we did. Both of us grudgingly agreed that we would regret it if we continued on without it, so we returned to the hotel. Mom asked me to please come back after I'd picked up the camera, which was difficult when the room was so cosy and warm and the outside a chilly 2 °C. I resisted the temptation, though, and we departed for the second time.

Cappadocia Scenery

Cappadocia Scenery

We stopped at a few viewpoints to take in the strange and wonderful scenery. It would have been a little easier to appreciate had it not been for the cutting wind that greeted us whenever we stepped out of the car. We saw three large fairy chimneys dubbed The Three Beauties, which were a bit lumpy and odd-looking, to be honest. There was a market nearby, and we walked through the stalls quickly so as not to attract too much attention from eager salespeople. Eventually we decided it was time to head off, and made our way to the white car parked along the side of the road. As we both pulled on the doors, we noticed a rather startled man staring at us with his cell phone pressed to his ear. We both bolted to our car, which was just in front of his and incredibly similar in shape, size and colour. I told Mom to drive, just drive, and we sped off.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the end of my embarrassment. Our next stop was at a steep cliff overlooking the interesting and otherworldly valley. As the wind was still ferociously cold, I ventured out to take pictures alone. Mom said that she could see the view just fine from the warm interior of the car. I stayed out as long as I could, enjoying the vista despite the frosty air, and then jogged back to the warm refuge of our vehicle. It seems that smallish white cars are popular in Turkey, because I'd gone up to one not ten feet from ours and pulled on the door, only to be met with the confused face of the woman sitting in the front seat. I darted back to our car, where I was greeted with a mixture of empathy and mirth. All I knew was that if it happened a third time, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to blog about it. At least we were both at fault the first time.

Spring Arrives in Cappadocia

Spring Arrives in Cappadocia

We descended further into the valley, and came across a busload of tourists snapping photos of the odd rock formations. I took a few pictures as well, but after a while they all started to look the same. It's the sort of landscape that you could conceivably spend a whole day walking through and admiring, but need only a few shots to capture. You really have to go there to appreciate it. I've found this to be true on many occasions, especially when I look through all the photos we've taken this trip.

We returned to find Abby still sick and Dad still stiff. Neither of them were too interested in venturing into the outside world for something as unimportant as food, so the two of us headed out once more in order to find ourselves something to eat. We went for lunch at a little cafe in town and had their lentil soup, which was perfect after having been out in the wintry air for the past couple of hours. We had a friendly server, and were soon engaged in a lengthy conversation with him (good thing the restaurant wasn't too busy). His name was Abbas, and he had moved here from Afghanistan. He had learned Turkish in three months, and his English wasn't half bad either. He had plans to eventually emigrate to Australia, where he has a friend that he met and worked with while in Turkey. He's had quite the interesting and tumultuous life, from working with computers in the US army to leaving his family of eleven behind when he was threatened by the Taliban because of his military service. You never know who you'll meet when you travel.

Thanks for those stories Hannah. I will wrap up the rest of the day (Ben writing here).

Cappadocia Scenery

Cappadocia Scenery

We ended off our day with dinner at Cafe Safak (Hannah and Muriel went there earlier in the day for a light lunch), a tiny and inexpensive eatery that is well recommended on the TripAdvisor website. Our visit to this location and what resulted was a true illustration of serendipity. I may have alluded to the concept of serendipity in one of the over 130 postings we have created so far. For those not very familiar with the term, it refers either to the accidental discovery of something pleasant or the natural gift for making agreeable, precious or useful discoveries by accident. I would not say that our family has serendipitous abilities. However, I think we are getting better at planning for happenstance. If you put yourself in a greater variety of situations and environments something is bound to happen. If something does happen you need to have planned to take advantage of it. In Guzelyurt, Muriel and the kids passed on an invitation for tea by the operator of a tourist office. Afterwards, they regretted their decision. They had not expected something like this to happen on their walk. Perhaps partly as a result we were a bit more ready to take advantage of the unsought for.

Perhaps, I am building this up a bit too much, but I need to make some sort of story to keep everyone reading. After we had ordered our meal Muriel started flipping through the menu and discovered a small advertisement for Turkish cooking lessons. The cook for the cafe offered instruction on making some typical Turkish dishes in her home kitchen. We were scheduled to leave in the morning to Ankara and the cooking class was supposed to go on into the early afternoon. We resisted the temptation just to say oh well, better luck next time. We asked for the class to start a bit earlier and Muriel contacted our apartment owner in Ankara and said we were going to late. In a twinkle of an eye Hannah and Abby were enrolled in a cooking class in a private home (a cave home by the way). The only problem for them is that they had to pack, have breakfast and be ready to cook by 9:00 am tomorrow morning. Thats how it goes with happenstance. Stay tuned for the next blog post where you can hear about this great experience.

Posted by KZFamily 12:52 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey goreme

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Yes you are the tourists on the camel... did the camel smell?

by Helen Koning

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