"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cappadocia: Merits of the Guided Tour

I've never been a "guided tour" kind of person.  To me, a guided tour means you spend way too much time listening to someone talk about something you don't quite care about, while never having quite enough time to explore whatever it is you do care about.  Hell, I don't even like audioguides.

But, as it happens, Cappadocia is big.  It's a whole region, and if I wanted to see what awesomeness lay beyond the limits of my own two feet, I was going to have to sign up for a tour.  (I guess I could have rented a car, but... yikes.)

And hey, the fact that I needed to be on a minibus at 9:30 AM was really helpful in ensuring that I did not spend half of the day in bed.

There seem to be a couple standard tours offered by various companies, that all pretty much follow the same routes.  I booked through my hostel, and signed up for the South Cappadocia Tour, or "Green" tour.  It looked to be a pretty solidly full day.

We started off at the Goreme Panorama, which I was really glad I hadn't hiked to the day before as that would have been a tad redundant.  (I originally booked this tour a couple weeks ago and honestly did not remember exactly what all was on it.)  Just a quick talk from our tour guide, Vedat, about Cappadocia's history, a couple photos to show the boys back home, and it was back onto the bus.

One of the many little vendor stalls.  I WILL have one of these lamps!
I instantly liked Vedat, our tour guide.  He was friendly and young, down-to-earth and not the least bit saccharine or fake.  We had a couple fun conversations during the longer rides between stops.  He teased me about being a teacher, saying he hated hearing about how teachers worked so hard when they had so much time off.  I returned fire with a few of my better stories (and Rachel's), and asked if anyone from his tour groups had ever peed on his feet.

Our next stop was the Derinkuyu Underground City, but apparently the line to get in was astronomical, so Vedat took us instead to visit Selime Rock Monastery, promising we'd be back to Derinkuyu at the end of the day.

I LOVED Selime.  It reminded me so much of Uplistsikhe, the Georgian cave city I visited with Chris just about a year ago that day!  Vedat was going to give us 20 puny minutes to explore, but I gave him the hard sell and got us bumped up to 35.  Go me.  And I did need every second of that, believe me.  This place was so cool!

Right as we got back on the bus, it started to rain.  Perfect time to stop for lunch on a covered wooden porch overlooking a river!  The food was really good and my fellow tour-goers quite friendly.  An excellent lunch.  Then it was just a short drive to Ihlara Valley for a short hike.

It rained on us, but hooray for North Face rain jacket and quick-dry pants!

And then, we drove back to Derinkuyu and this time there was practically no line at all.  Vedat was hilarious as he tried to get us all ticketed and shepherded in ahead of this massive group of Chinese tourists.  We made it, yay. :)

Derinkuyu was mind-blowingly impressive.  I forget how many levels there are in total, but the first eight are open to the public.  Contrary to some popular belief, the people didn't live in the underground cities all the time, only when threatened by invading armies.  When that happened, they slipped quietly away to hang out underground for a couple months until the baddies up above got bored and went away.

Unfortunately, the cave city was the first time during the day that I felt that Vedat was kind of rushing us through.  I made sure to ask about every opening and passage that I saw, and he was pretty good about letting me explore, but I still would have liked some more time.  Oh well.

Finally, for our last stop we had one more "photo opportunity" overlooking the aptly-named Pigeon Valley.

It was here that the group became acquainted with Turkish Viagra.

I bought some naturally dried apricots and some peanuts that had been rolled in honey and sesame seeds.  Delish.  The vendor also managed to sell a tiny pot of "Turkish Viagra" to a very nice Indonesian man traveling with his family.  "Is like a BOMB!" the vendor promised.  One can only hope.

Back in Goreme, I found Fat Boy's, a Lonely Panet-recommended restaurant and pub, and had some  hummus.  After my huge lunch on the tour, I couldn't have handled anything more!  Then I went to find the also-Lonely Planet-recommended Red Red Wine House, specializing in local Cappadocian wine.  It was adorable but I was the only tourist there, and the only wines he had by the glass were house red and house white.  One of those things that would have been spectacular if I'd had a travel buddy to share it with, but on my own it only ended up being slightly awkward.  Proprietor was incredibly nice though.

I'd had such a good time with Vedat on the Green Tour that I decided to go ahead and sign up for the Red Tour the following day.  This was sort of the "lighter" tour, and would be even lighter than usual for me because it included a trip to the Goreme Open Air Museum, which of course I had already seen and convinced them to give me the tour minus the price of the museum ticket, and to drop me back at the hotel before visiting the museum at the end of the trip.  Considering the museum was supposed to start the tour, I thought this was incredibly nice of them.

The Red Tour (North Tour) started off in Cavusin, which was home to an old Greek cave settlement.  Abandoned after WWI, these cave homes were much newer than those from the Byzantine era, and so in places still looked very much like the shells of houses.  They were all built into the side of a cliff, and like everywhere else you could just climb and romp and explore to your heart's content, and if you fell to your death, well, on your own head be it.

The allotted half-hour was not enough time.  I wanted to poke my head into every alcove and investigate every hidden turn.  Every time I visit a place like this, I think about how great it would be to be able to see an artist's rendition of what it might have looked like at its peak.  Obviously those doorways in the last photo were at one time much more grand.  And how did the people move about?  Were they part mountain goat?  Or were there ladders and pulleys and such that obviously could never make it to present day?

Anyway, even if you don't do the guided tour, I highly recommend checking out Cavusin!

But for us, it was back on the bus and over to Pasabag, or Monk's Valley.  Yet another awesome weird alien landscape for me to fall in love with.  The rock here was practically alabaster white and eroded away to a fine grit almost like talcum.  It made for fun moments when the wind picked up.  The valley is named for St. Simeon, who apparently retreated here when he got too famous.

Bright white!

Love the pathway of steps worn into the soft rock.
Just to the right of this ridge, I spotted an old wooded ladder and a hand-lettered sign inviting people down to see a "hobby garden".  So I went to check it out.  There was the nicest man waiting under a shade awning with a cup of apple tea for me!  He had a couple things for sale, like tea leaves and home-dried fruit, and bottles of his homemade wine, which I really really wanted but he was asking 40 lira!  So I regretfully declined.  Besides, to climb back up I needed hands at a few tricky parts, and wasn't exactly sure how a bottle of wine was going to work out.  I also had to sadly refuse his offer to tour the garden, as my bus was leaving soon.  He really did have a pretty sweet setup, and I wish I could have stayed longer.  Oh well.  Should you for some reason find yourself at Monk's Valley, look for this guy.  His English was excellent and his apple tea delicious.

After Pasabag, we stopped for lunch at this very fancy buffet!  I rather liked yesterday's casual lunch at the riverside better.  But the food was good, even if my second batch of tour companions were some of the quietest people I had ever met.  I tried to strike up conversation a couple times but to no avail.  It was a rather silent lunch.  After all that, we bussed to a pottery shop in Avanos, and got a quick tour followed by a demonstration on a kick wheel.  After we watched the master at work, our guide asked if any of us wanted to try.  Well, of course I did!

Tiny secret -- I took pottery lessons for a couple years in my early 20s.  I am by no means a talented or accomplished potter.  But I was kind of excited at getting to show off a little. :)

Not a bad effort, if I do say so myself!  However, any vase that I might have created is, of course, completely eclipsed by the EPIC PANTS I was given to wear during this particular adventure.  I wanted to take them home and they would not let me.  (Also, just want to make it clear that I did not leave the hostel like that.  Those are not my pants.  No, they really aren't.  Stop laughing.  Asshole.)

After all that, it was time for a couple more "photo opportunities" at Ugrup and Devrent Valley.

The "family" rock chimneys, the symbol of Cappadocia

And then the rest of my group went to the Open Air Museum and I went to enjoy a glass or two of Cappadocian white on the roof terrace.  I mean, I was on vacation.

View of Goreme from Shoestring's roof terrace

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