|July 16 -- Nevsehir -- Turkish Hospitality
Our all night bus is a bit of a disaster--uncomfortable seats, no air-conditioning, and it only stops twice in 11 hours for restroom breaks. But we pick up an extra day to spend in Cappadocia, a high and dry plateau in central Turkey famous for its otherworldly rock formations. We start cycling from Nevsehir, and only ride an hour before arriving in Uchisar, a small town dominated by a giant rock formation called The Castle, which has been carved out like Swiss cheese to make cave homes, for which the area is famous.
After climbing and explorng The Castle, we meet a little old lady on the street carrying bags of groceries from the market. She wears the traditional women's clothes of the area, a white scarf wrapped around her head and neck, a billowy, floral blouse, and great baggy floral trousers that are so voluminous they first appear to be a skirt, but allow her to move freely, bending or stooping to work, even in the wind, and still keep her legs completly covered. She takes one look at us and begins talking and motioning us to follow her.
At her house she lights a small portable kerosene stove to make tea and prepares a meal of cheese, olives, bread, butter and the best apricot jam I have ever tasted. All the while she keeps a running dialouge in Turkish, talking so rapidly we don't even get out our dictionary to attempt to decipher, we just use sign language and interpret through her tone and facial expressions as best we can. She it totally taken with Tass, and claps her hands with glee when they laugh together, often grabbing Tass to give her kisses on the cheek.
After our meal she gives us a tour of her small stone house. Upstairs is a big room she wants to show us, her former bedroom. She motions that she no longer uses it since her husbands death. She sleeps on the couch in the kitchen. Tass rocks her arms like she is holding a baby. Her answer is equally sad. She shows us one finger, shakes her head and drops her hand across her face, closing her eyes as in death. Her one child has died. She raises both hands to the sky in supplication, then drops them to her lap. Moments later she begins chatting and laughing again, and hugging and kissing Tass.
Back in the kitchen she tells us she is having knee problems and shows us medicine she takes, then gives a long explanation which we are unable to interpret. We can't decide what to do. We want to give her money for medicine, and yet we don't want to risk offending her hospitality. At last we decide to offer the money. We motion it is for medicine, but she will not take it, even after repeated offerings.
We decide there is no reason to ride further. This is where we want to base to explore the area. We find a wonderful hotel at the edge of town, and check into a cave room carved from volcanic rock nearly 2,000 years ago, complete with our own private rock-hewn balcony.
July 17--Rock Carved Houses Are Cool
|July 21--Life in a Greek Mansion
We hike through Dervant Valley making photos of the rock formations and then cycle to Urgup for a relaxed bruch at a sidewalk cafe in the town square. Above us the hillside is covered with the stone blocks from ancient doorways and ceiling arches, along with fractured cave houses, all that is left of the earthquake damaged older city.
As we leave town we meet a bike touring family from France. The dad is pulling a trailer with their 1 1/2 year old boy inside. The mom's bike has a smaller 'bob' bike hooked behind for their six year old daughter, who has handlebars but doesn't have to steer. However she does have working pedals which she pumps away, legs spinning and body rocking wildly on the saddle, a big smile on her face, helping mom to keep up their speed. We chat and ride with them for a few kilometers. They travel about 40 kilometers a day, which is an impressive distance for the kids in this heat. They are on a one month tour of Turkey.
We stop in Mustafa Pasa for a quick break and like the quiet atmosphere so much we decide to stay. We check into a hotel that was the fomer mansion of a wealthy Greek family (who had to move back to Greece in the 1920s population exchange with Turkey). Our bedroom, a former sitting room, is 50 feet long, 20 feet wide, with a 25-foot high ceiling painted in elaborate lime green, turquoise blue, and pink stripes. A three-foot wide couch runs the length of the room and across one end, seating for 50. One of the shorter walls has couch to ceiling windows which open like shutters, the other wall has wooden cabinets painted to match the ceiling. Three giant rocking chairs with ornate camel heads carved into the arms and rockers sit around a fancy table. The bed is gigantic and although swayed with age it is still comfortable. Our wooden door, with giant wrought iron hinges and handles, is 12 feet tall.
The hotel courtyard is filled with plants in bright blue pots, and has a large area with vine covered tressels for shade. There is no one else staying at the hotel, we have the entire mansion to ourselves. The only other residents are a mother cat, who we dub Miss Feta, for her love of feta cheese which she successfully begs from our table, and also steals from our room at night. She has a single, delightful, 10-day-old kitten, who we call "The Young Turk."
July 22--Relaxing in the Mansion
Our hotel, and the entire town, is so wonderfully relaxing we can't leave. We drink numerous cups of apple tea with the sprite, elderly, mustached proprietor, slip treats to Miss Feta, and play with The Young Turk. We only leave the mansion for a few hours to walk through town. Tass makes numerous photos of unique old doors and we visit a vineyard for more wine tasting.
July 23--Life In A Underground City
Tass gets teary-eyed as we push our bikes over the stone threshold and leave the mansion courtyard. Both of us could have easily stayed here for weeks. We ride through steep rolling hills broken by deep eroded badlands-type gulleys. Mid-morning we arrive in Kaymakli, a town known for its huge underground city. While the people futher north were carving out stone houses in above the ground rock formations, the inhabitants of southern Cappadocia built enormous underground cities, some able to hold an estimated 20,000 people.
First built by ancient Hittites, who found the 55 degree underground chambers cool in the summer and warm in the winter, most cities had three levels. Closest to the surface, the top level was for humans. The second level for animals, the lowest level for storing food.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries persecuted Christians greatly enlarged the cities, some to seven or eight levels underground. They had ingenious ventalation systems for fresh air, and elaborate chimneys to break-up and dispel smoke (and only cooked at night) to reduce the chance of being discovered. They had bathroom areas with composting toilets to reduce smell and create fertilizer, huge rooms for making wine, communal kitchens and eating areas, and giant round granite stones brought down from the surface that could be rolled into slots on key passagways to seal off attackers.
The warren of underground passgeways are not for the claustrophobic. Some of the connecting tunnels are shoulder-width narrow and only four feet high, requiring a hunched shuffle to descend, sometimes turning and twisting along the way. The rooms are mostly small, with lots of alcoves for storage. You would defintely need to get along well with your neighbors to live here. But with the multitude of wine making rooms, they were probably one big happy family.
We cycle north through a terrible, dusty and wind-blown section of road construction back to Nevsehir. Our tour of Cappadocia has come to an end. We get on a night bus heading southwest, to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.