Cappadocia: Land Of The Fairy Chimneys

Cappadocia is a magical place, like the setting for a fairy tale or even a metropolis for hobbits.  For millennia ancient seas, wind and rain have carved giant rocks into spires that rise up from the earth.  Some are capped by large plates or cones giving them the appearance of chimneys.  The people who first settled in the area couldn’t believe they were formed by nature but by mystical creatures so they dubbed them ‘fairy chimneys’.  The Cappadocia  landscape is covered with them, in shades of white, gold, rose pink and grey black.  This unique valley drew various civilizations; Persians, Byzantines, Hittites, Phrygians, Turks, Greeks, Armenians and the Ottomans.  They quickly realized that the sandstone and limestone were easily carved, so they bored inside the mountains, into the giant rocks that dotted the area and burrowed underground creating cave cities. The cities would go down several stories (maybe as much as 16 storeys – they’re still excavating) while above ground some of their homes resembled castles.  They turned other caves into beautiful Byzentine churches and Cathedrals, many still containing the colourful paintings on the walls and ceilings. When I was planning my world tour and figuring out where to visit in Turkey, a friend told me all about Cappadocia (or Kapadokya) saying it was mandatory to visit.  She even told me which cave hotel to stay in (Kelebek) and even the exact room (room 11) so I took her advice, booked early and will be forever grateful.  I flew into the city of Nevsehir just as the sun was setting, a bright orange ball of fire that sank into the horizon,  illuminating some of the conical rock formations. As I arrived at the hotel, it didn’t disappoint... it’s undeniably Turkish and undeniably Cappadocian.  Some of the rooms are caves but you don’t get claustrophic, my room was not large but the ceiling was about 7 feet high, marked with the grooves and indentations of the tools used to carve into the rock.  There are also a couple of fairy chimneys that house other rooms.  The view of the valley below is spectacular, surrounded by rose and gold coloured mountains and the valleys dotted with the conical fairy chimneys.

I had planned a 48 hour visit to the area, so of course my first day was jam packed, beginning with a 4am wakeup call for the requisite hot air balloon ride through the valleys.  Several companies offer flights but I went online and discovered the number one rated company is Royal Balloon.  Since I still have somewhat of a fear of heights I decided to go with the best.  It cost a little more than the others, but offered the royal treatment, including a flight of 1 ½ hours compared to the 45 minutes to 1 hour offered by most of the other companies and it also only carries about a dozen passengers as opposed to some that pack in between 20 and 30 people in extra big baskets.  It also boasts that it is the number one choice of visiting celebrities and royalty.  We first stopped for breakfast at their headquarters and after eating I went outside to chat with the pilots who were floating some small helium filled balloons to test the winds.  When the decision was made about the ideal launch location our group of 12 boarded the van to drive to the launch site, passing dozens of balloons in various stages of inflation.  Some were already up in the air, even before the sun barely had a chance to light up the scenery in the valley.  We watched as the crew inflated the balloon, blasting flames inside to heat the air and help give us our lift. Our pilot was David, an Aussie and a 25 year veteran of ballooning, 5years in Cappadocia, and when he was satisfied we lifted off.  Any lingering fear I might have about heights vanished as we started to rise into the air, I felt totally secure in the basket and put my fate in David’s hands. As we soared across the plateaus and dipped down into the valleys the view was out of this world, the sky was dotted with balloons of every colour.  David pointed out all the highlights and answered all of our questions and the view from hundreds of meters above the earth gave me a whole new perspective on Cappadocia.  When we touched down about 90 minutes later I felt completely satisfied by the journey and it was amazing to watch David’s handling of the balloon landing us spot-on the flatbed, so the crew wouldn’t have to hoist the basket. We all enjoyed Mimosas with Champagne as we received our medals of completion.  But my day wasn’t over yet.

Next on my itinerary was a private tour, at ground (and underground level).  I met up with my guide Gonca and driver Rafet and we headed out, stopping at the Panorama vista spot where I had a perfect view of the whole valley as Gonca ran through the history of Cappadocia and the different civilizations that settled there.  Next we visited the Kaymakli Underground City, a series of connecting caves that went down four levels. It’s not for  those who suffer from claustrophobia or asthma… it is often a very tight squeeze, sometimes hunched over to get through the passageways, not because the people were tiny but to slow down their enemies during an attack (it’s would be almost impossible to carry long spears or weapons through the 3 foot high tunnels).  I saw where they cooked underground, ate, slept, kept their animals, but the question everyone kept asking is ‘where are the toilets’.  It seems they used clay pots which they collected and used as fertilizer to grow their crops above ground, when it was safe to return to the surface.  Next stop was the Uchisar Castle, a small mountain that had been carved out as a royal residence.  Unfortunately you can’t go inside the caves but you can climb along the outside of the mountain to the top. Actually it looks more imposing than it was, not a difficult climb at all but the view is spectacular from up there.  We also headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum, the site of several cave churches.  These had amazing Byzantine frescoes on the walls and ceilings that were the most beautiful I had seen so far.  Unfortunately no cameras allowed, and while some tourists took a chance and clicked off a few pictures, my guide was on them in an instant, chastising them and then reporting them to the guard outside.  One of the last churches we visited cost an extra 8TL (about $2.50) on top of the admission price we had already paid.  I decided to pay it anyway and we went inside and was so glad I did.  It was by far the best paintings and best preserved paintings of the entire site…simply magnificent.  Before heading back to the hotel we stopped off at a pottery studio where I saw the underground cave being renovated for a pottery museum as well as some of the artefacts that would be going inside.  We got to see a potter creating a vase using a kick wheel, much more primitive and difficult than the electric wheels that are now used.  Then we got to try it ourselves. There was only my guide and me and a family of four from New Delhi watching the demonstration so one of them jumped up first and tried his hand at the wheel.  It was hilarious to watch, especially with the catcalls from his  family.  When my turn came I wasn’t much  better.  I started off okay but one slip of the hand and the pot collapsed.  Later I toured around the retail area where they displayed some of their best work and ended up buying a large plate that caught my eye. It was unlike any of the other pottery there and was an abstract piece that represented the 3 main religions; Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  I headed back to the hotel and managed to relax for a couple of hours watching another spectacular sunset (what is it about Turkey and the amazing sunsets… every sunset I have seen has been absolutely amazing!), a perfect end to my very busy day in Cappadocia.

Unfortunately the next day wasn’t quite as perfect.  I had arranged a tour to take me to the monastery so I could visit the cave cathedral before my flight later in the day.  I got to the office at 9:30am for the bus pickup and was told the tour was cancelled.  They said I could join one of the other tours  but I said I had already visited all those sites the day before so they said they could put me on a tour with another company.   A few minutes later a van drove up to whisk me to the parking lot where I would join the tour.  When the guide then explained the itinerary to the group my excitement deflated.  We would start with the Panorama vista and then go to the Underground City before heading to the valley for the hike to the monastery.  I had already been to Panorama and the Underground City but decided I would go along for the ride in order to visit the Cathedral.  I mentioned to the guide that I had been there and done that and he said we would be going to a different underground city, the biggest one that was 8 storeys deep, so I joined the group for the underground tour.  But it seems once you’ve seen one cave city you’ve seen them all.  It may have been bigger but it looked the same to me, what was different was the explanation.  Not all tour guides go by the same book.  Some of the information contradicted what I had been told the day before and the other information filled in some of the gaps from the previous day, so it wasn’t a total wash.  Next we headed to the Ihlara Valley, a beautiful natural park like setting. The valley was surrounded by huge cliff faces on either side with caves carved into them, including a small church with some very primitive paintings inside.  The hike was very relaxing as we walked along a path alongside what was once a river but is now not much more than a big stream.  About an hour later we stopped for lunch, chatting and sharing our Turkey travel stories.  When we were almost finished I glanced at my watch and panic set in.  It was 2:30pm and my flight was at about 5:30.  I would have to get back to the hotel, pickup my bags (about an hour away) and then head to the airport (another 30 minute drive) and be at the airport one hour before my flight.  It was still going to be tight.  The tour had still not reached the monastery yet but I knew I had to cut it short.  I went in search of the guide and told him there was a problem, I needed to get back to Goreme as soon as possible.  He said there are no taxis but he would call around to see if there was someone who could drive me.  About 20 minutes later he came back to tell me he had found someone who could drive me but it would cost 150TL (about $100usd), I didn’t have much choice since it would be a lot more expensive to miss my flight and my hotel check in.  I agreed but I was fuming that the tour company could screw it up so badly.  I had told them when I booked the tour originally what time my flight was.  The driver arrived and we took off in his  older car, flying down the roads at top speed.  The heater was broken in the car and was blasting us with hot air and combined with the hot sun made for a couple of very sweaty guys.  We swerved around tractors, cars and trucks at over 100km/hr.  I was belted in but still white-knuckled it the whole way.  We finally pulled up to the tour office/hotel around 4:15pm, about an hour until my flight and still another 30 minute drive to the airport. I ran inside the office and quickly spewed out my story.  The tour operator asked ‘are you sure your flight is at 5:30pm because the only flight out of Nevsehir is at 7:30?’ I said ‘yes, I’ll show you the information.’  I pulled out my notes and discovered she was right, my flight didn’t depart at 17:50 but at 19:50!  I had risked life and limb and never did get to see the Monastery.  Lesson learned: keep all of my flight information with me at all times, check and double check!  Still my 48 hours in Cappadocia was a magical experience and one I won’t soon forget.

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4 Responses to “Cappadocia: Land Of The Fairy Chimneys”

  1. Ceyda
    July 20 at 10:46 am #

    Great post and pictures! Was fun reading about it after hearing about it from you on the shuttle to the airport, can’t wait to read the other posts, and you’re so right- nothing like sunsets in Turkey!

    • Darren
      July 20 at 11:56 am #

      Thanks Ceyda! It was amazing… and so were the sunsets! Great to hear from you… please stay in touch.

  2. carms
    July 28 at 11:40 pm #

    Glad to see you made it ok- funny about the time (now, not so much then, probably)- just found your card- will have to come back and check out the rest of the site with all your amazing travels
    -carmen (from nyc)
    ps- I will send you the monastery pics, as promised- overall not so great but there was one good room- an old church- unfortunately didn’t come out so well on film

    • Darren
      July 29 at 2:46 am #

      I can definately laugh about it now… and actually after a few minutes I was laughing about it then too. It was just a stupid mistake… so ya gotta laugh… glad to hear I didn’t miss too much at the monastery. I will post one on here when you send it. Great to hear from you again and yes stay in touch!

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