That’s [Kap—ah--dōk—eeyah]. I mentally debated for quite some time whether we should risk spending Christmas trapped in a frigid, snowy outpost. Two years ago we were sipping pineapple smoothies along the river in Luang Prabang. Before that we were picnicking on an ancient temple in southern Mexico, savoring avocado tacos and Corona. And I’m such an Arizonan wuss! I swear I’m just not built to withstand temperatures below 60 degrees… so frankly I was not expecting to have a merry Christmas. But I desperately wanted to visit the fairy chimneys I’d heard so much about, to explore the valleys of bizarre landscapes, and see the so-called cave hotels.
Welcome to Cappadocia!
As it turned out we had a streak of WARM sunny days! No snow or rain in sight, we spent 4 days walking through the valleys, which have been carved into outlandish rock formations (a special combination of soft volcanic rock layered with a stronger one causing uneven erosion). For centuries, early Christians carved homes into the rocks, hiding from persecutors, and even dug entire underground cities. Many of the caves are intact, with easily discernible features such as the pigeon homes (looks like shelves built into the walls), wine stomping basins, storage areas, etc. They say the Christians kept homing pigeons to send messages back and forth, which have now become extinct.
We spied a hot air balloon in the Open Air Museum
Explaining the built-in pigeon homes and wine storage
In front of Pigeon Valley (or Penis Chimney Valley)
Rorschach test: what are these?
Most of the nights we stayed in Göreme, one of the main towns with various hotels built into the rocks. There are also several restaurants, cafes, and antique & handicraft shops, but it’s very much a town developed completely around tourism. This time of year there were very few tourists, so we easily got beds in a cheap but pretty hostel, called the Nomad Cave. Run by a friendly Turkish woman, and providing a comfortable sitting area and free internet, we happily crashed in the communal cave room, though I must say a room full of breathing bodies and dirty clothes combined with the natural stench of a dark cave emitted an even more potent funk…
Our hostel room at the Nomad Cave
Rooms really are built into the caves!
Peering at the town from inside a cave
For Christmas day we splurged on a hotel in a nearby village, more money than we have ever paid for a bed, but so extravagantly luxurious we had to take the plunge. The hotel, the Village Cave, is built into the rocks where the owner was born and raised. Until the 1950’s people still lived in the cave houses, but now are abandoned and crumbling.
These caves, facing our hotel, were lived in until the 1950's
Wanting to make the most of our hotel stay, we spent the afternoon in our room, enjoying Christmas treats I had packed away, reading our Christmas cards, and even did a session of yoga! Our room was beautiful, kept warm with a radiator, and had a hot steamy shower with pressure... What could be better?
Pull-ups with the pigeon homes!
Super comfy, sinfully luxurious
Also in the hotel were a young American couple and their Canadian friend, currently teachers in Doha (Qatar). They talked a great deal about the life and culture of their city, and despite the people’s excessive wealth there are still endless social and environmental problems (not too far off from Albania). In the late evening they took off for a bar in town; meanwhile, we stayed with our new Spanish friend (he’s hitchhiking to India, sleeping in the caves) by the crackling fire, sipping hot chocolate and beer.
Hallway to our room, lined with water-eroded ridges
Village Cave lobby, we sipped drinks fireside on Christmas night with our new Spanish friend
We tried to stay as long as possible in the hotel the next day, but around noon the owner kindly asked us to vacate our room for the next guest. We reluctantly packed our backpacks and said goodbyes, then walked the 2km back to Göreme. (Stopped along the way upon invitation for tea, as well as a backgammon lesson from the elderly shop owner)
Enjoying tea by the Samovar, we didn't want to leave....
Back in Göreme, and again at the Nomad Cave Hostel. We dropped our bags (again in the cave) and set off for another town to explore an underground city. Several underground cities have been discovered, with layers going 14, 19 + levels under the surface. Tourists are allowed to dart around 4 -5 levels or so, getting lost within passageways, popping heads into multiple rooms at once, ducking and crawling through odd shaped corridors. After a thorough exploration we set off back for town, since the sun was setting and we hitching. We had missed the last bus to Göreme, but that gave us time to stop into a store for a baklava break (by this point I was really refining my baklava selection-- happy to discover the Albanian style is still my favorite).
Brief pause during our excursion in the Underground City
Good thing we're not claustrophobic!
Eventually we made it back to the Nomad, with plenty of time to relax in the lounge area and chat with the handful of Korean and Japanese backpackers also traveling through.
Final day was full of sunshine and gave us a chance to walk through Love Valley, full of giant fairy chimneys and rock formations. Plenty of abandoned cave homes built up into the rock faces, some isolated towers that I imagine once housed large farming families. I can picture them clearly—old Turkish man in his knitted skull cap, picking grapes; his wife in her flowery headscarf tending the fire and baking bread, their 8 children running mischievously around the valley, perhaps the older ones grazing the family’s goats… I have lots of fantasies when I travel!
What lies yonder in the Love Valley?
Them chimneys is huuuuge!
So a few hours later we arrived in another village, one with a complex of cave homes (now deteriorated and abandoned) and even a cave “castle”! Actually, the castle is a large hill that has been hollowed out with a maze of passageways and caves, probably never having housed a royal family of sorts, but still impressive. From the top we enjoyed a 360° view of the surrounding gorges, wishing we had more time to stay and explore…
The "castle" of Uçisar
Shops selling trinkets outside near Uçisar's castle
Our stay in Cappadocia was simply peaceful, surprisingly beautiful weather and a feast for the eyes. I’m just going to have to stick a bunch of pictures down here to give something of an idea, but I doubt it will do the area justice. :)
Peering down at other caves, can you imagine them inhabited?
Not exactly the pot trees we have in Lazarat...