I gave in and made this Turkey series into five entries. I figured the hot air ballooning in Cappadoccia deserves an entry of its own. But that would be for the last entry so I ask all of you to hang in there because this fourth entry on Goreme and South Cappadocia is just worth posting as well.
The ten-hour night travel to Goreme is quite comfortable. We just slept our way through it! There are no direct flights from Denizli (where Pamukkale is) to Nevsehir (where Cappadocia is) but many buses ply that route (schedules here). Magnificent Travels booked us on the night trip in the Metro Bus Company which makes much more sense because it saves us money from renting accommodation and saves day time. The Metro bus is clean and has ample space and leg room. It was full with mostly Turkish people and a few foreigners including our group of five. Our bus arrived in Pamukkale’s bus terminal thirty minutes late but it promptly left when all the passengers have tucked in their luggages and taken their seats. We have a badass lady (she looks really young I’m tempted to call her a ‘girl’ hehe) conductor who has colored hair, tattoos and piercings. After settling in our seats, we talked and slept! That’s how tired yet giddy we were. There were several stops along the way but we were too tired to go down until we reach the second to the last stop to Goreme (we were 7 hours in the trip). My friend Jou and I went down and used the restroom. It was raining hard and we had to ran to the small building that houses a restaurant and a bazaar. We also bought water, grilled cheese sandwich and gozleme, a traditional Turkish pastry that is made of hand-rolled dough lightly brushed with butter and eggs, filled with various stuff, and cooked over a griddle. Ours had cheese (because we love cheese so much we eat it every time it’s available!). It was a light snack that proved to be delicious and filling that got us through the remaining part of our journey.
Now here’s what’s amazing with our Turkey trip so far. We have always been given favorable weather… the weather that is favorable to us, whatever we wish for the day! Before we left for Cappadoccia, we were pining for snow. We’ve been in Turkey for four days now with not a sight of the white matter; we were beginning to be heartbroken. Why go to Turkey on winter time when we can’t even see and feel snow? Sayang naman ang outfits! Haha, kidding. I know we were all praying for snow on our approach to Cappadoccia… lo and behold, while we were still on the bus, the scenery slowly changed. We saw the rain turn to little solids and slowly, the world outside turned white! We were excited; ‘OMG is that snow?!?’ It is indeed! Once again, our prayers for the weather we liked was heard. Well, if there’s five of us praying for the same thing… that would be hard to refuse yeah? Haha! Thank you, Lord! #weathergirls
Our bus made the final push to Goreme, a small town in Cappadocia located in the Nevsehir Province of Central Anatolia. To us, it looked like we arrived on a little Christmas Village. It was freezing cold with the snow turning into rain. We were wet and cold and we arrived earlier than the schedule that’s why our driver from our hotel, Kismet Cave Hotel, wasn’t in the small bus station yet to pick us up. We wanted to go around already but we stood frozen outside the Tourist Information Center while calling Nihat of Magnificent Travels. He promptly called Kismet and our driver arrived with a really small car. Uhmn, how are we fitting five luggages, five persons, and five hand carries in it? Haha! The driver informed us that our hotel was really near and he would take our luggage first and come back for us next.
The Kismet Cave Hotel is one of the many “cave” hotels in Goreme. Now when I mentioned “cave” did you think the dark formation in the ground complete with stalactites and stalagmites? Nope. The “caves” here in Cappadocia are more like the fairy chimneys they are known for. They are rock formations that was formed by volcanoes a long, long time ago. Ancestors carved in rooms and voila… they now have caves, most of them turned to hotels by their grand grand grand children. There are so many cave hotels in Goreme that you will get lost in them. Good thing, Kismet is just near the town center and we can walk easily to and fro the two places. We were led to our rooms and we freshened up for our tour for the day.
Around 9:30 in the morning, our tour guide (whose name escapes me yet again), picked us up from Kismet. This time, we had a Canadian couple, two sisters from Hong Kong, and two Americans in our tour group. He called our group “Orange Team”. Quite unusual because no one among us was wearing orange! Haha! Our guide explained that we are going on the “Green Tour.” In Cappadocia, tours are packaged by color. The Green Tour will take us on a one day tour to South Cappadocia. Before explaining the places we will go to our guide noted the weather and explained to us that it is a very unusual time to snow in Cappadocia. While it was “winter” during that time, it was the first snow of the season and it was unusually heavy. They haven’t encountered that much snow in a day prompting the tourism agencies to cancel the hot air balloon that morning. While we got really giddy with the snow that morning (courtesy of our prayers and wish probably hehe), we were worried that they might cancel the hot air balloon which we’re scheduled to do the following day. Ahhh prayers up again for a favorable weather! This time, no snow and more sunshine please!
Our first stop in our Green Tour is the Derinkuyu Underground City, one of the best preserved and deepest underground cities in Cappadocia. We travelled 45 minutes to the underground city and spent an hour and a half discovering its eight levels open to visitors. If you’re afraid of tiny spaces and is suffering from any heart ailments, asthma, or high blood, we suggest skipping this part because this required us to go up and down many roughly-hews steps and bend and squeeze to fit tiny hallways and rooms. It’s also a bit difficult to breathe in the underground city because an additional depth of air is added, much like diving deeper into a pool of water. I mean of course we could still breathe inside but an unfit person can go out of that cavern with body aches! Haha! True story (OUR story).
The Derinkuyu Underground City was formed during the Byzantine Era; it was used as a protection from Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine wars in 780-1180. It accommodated 20,000 people and had the usual amenities like stables, cellars, storage rooms, wine and oil presses, and chapels. Christian natives took refuge in this place from the Mongolian incursions of Timur in the 14th century. The tunnels were discovered in 1963.
The underground city at Derinkuyu could be closed from the inside with large stone doors (like the one above) with each floor closed separately to protect the people inside.
By the time we reach the area known as the animal shelter, we were all heaving and puffing from going up and down the staircases and finding our way in the narrow passages. This, folks, was an adventure on its own. We were relieved when we got outside, breathing normally and enjoying the snow. Pagkakataon na para mag-enjoy ng bongga sa snow yeyyyy! Obviously, I wasted no time running in the snow-packed ground, taking pictures, and making little snow balls.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to make a snowman or even throw snow balls at each other. We let the kids in the neighborhood throw snow balls at us. We left Derinkuyu and went to our next destination: the Ihlara Valley, a 16-km long canyon lined with rock carved churches. While we’re traveling, we noticed that the sun was shining already and the snow outside was slowly melting. A good sign since we wouldn’t want to be drenched in rain and snow in the valley. It also made a very beautiful backdrop of the valley. Again, in the many times we’ve experienced this in our tour in Turkey, our jaws dropped and we were stopped in our tracks by how glorious and magnificent nature is in this side of the world…
The Ihlara Valley is a 14-kilometer canyon with a depth of approximately 100 meters and was formed by the Melendiz River a thousand of years ago. It sits between Mount Hasan and Mount Melendiz. We entered through the most popular entrance that opens to the fourth kilometer of the valley. We went down 360 steps, 360 SLIPPERY steps to reach the valley below.
A few steps further and we reached the Church of Daniel or the Church of Pantassa. It has a free cross architectural plan and has frescoes of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Magi. It was truly breathtaking; some of the frescoes were well-preserved and the colors are still vibrant.
We thought our sightseeing of the valley was done when our guide led us to the small park showing an illustration of the entire valley.
Whoah, that is one huge valley! Who in their right minds would trek and hike that?! Apparently, we are! We thought we will just view it from above but no, we were told we were going on trekking. Uhmn I’m sorry what?! Our guide was probably laughing inside when he saw our unbelieving faces when he said we’re walking 3-4 kilometers! My friends were looking at me (the mastermind of this itinerary) like they wanted to clobber me with their cameras hahaha! They didn’t sign up for two hours worth of trekking! Hahahaha! TIP: There is an option to skip the trek. Just tell it to your guide before descending the steps. You will go with the van directly to Belisirma Village skipping the hike. Don’t do that. No matter how unused you are to trekking, Ihlara Valley is worth the leg pain.
It’s not a difficult terrain to trek but the grounds are wet and slippery making it hard to hasten our pace. Add that to our bodies and stamina unfit for this kind of activity (duh what stamina?!) and we were doomed to make the two-hour trek into three. Hahaha! Our fitness issues aside, walking in the Ihlara Valley is a very pleasant experience. Seeing the trees all around us is very soothing and the rush of the Melendiz river just a few meters away from us is very relaxing.
During the first few meters of our walk, we kept close to our tour guide and our group who are obviously very fit for this trekking. After a while, we were increasing the gap and our guide kept on shouting “Orange Team, Orange Team!” urging us to go faster. But we couldn’t. Our boots proved to be very adept in handling the slippery paths but there were just some instances that we suddenly slip on the melting snow. Good thing, we catch ourselves before we get into embarrassing episodes for the following tour groups to see. We decided to slowly traverse the path (and to heck with our guide and companions who went ahead!). We just enjoyed the scenery, laughed at our near misses, took lots of groufies, and let all the other tour groups pass. Kami, chill chill lang. Literal! We’re supposed to look and breathe in our surroundings right? There was no memo to bypass all the beautiful views just to make it at a certain time right?!?
Because we were so slow in our trek (I say we were going on a moderate speed, mabilis lang sila!, haha), we didn’t get to see the other churches that our guide might have been pointing at from the path. We missed the Church of the Dark Breach, the Church of St. George, the Church of Bahattin’s Straw Rick, and the Highest Church. However, we had the time to listen to the stream and breathe in fresh air.
After an hour trekking, we were supposed to stop at a cafe in the middle of the valley for 15 minutes but since we took quite a while reaching it, by the time we arrived, our tour group companions were already on their feet for the second part of our trek. WTH?!? Kami na lang ang mga babaeng pahinga, go! So we continued on despite our feet crying for mercy. Our knees will never forgive us from this onslaught. LOL. I kid. The next part was easier because the paths were becoming drier and drier, with the sun shining high above, the path gave way to solid, more even ground. Our winter boots were in their element. We met several tour groups; they were from the village and going to where we came from. The girls and I were snickering when we saw them wearing white, still clean rubber shoes. WHITE! Good luck with that. If they only knew the places they will tread… they might have considered changing into more rugged footwear haha.
We finally caught up with our tour group on a shaded space under huge trees with a view of the rock mountain with tiny holes carved in them. Our guide was asking what we think are these tiny holes for. Being the Miss Know It All that I am, I answered, “pigeons!” And he laughed and said I’m bright. Hello, I listened in the van when he launched into an introduction of the Green Tour. Apparently, I was the only one listening intently (ako na bibo!).
We thought the hiking is over when he said, “I have some bad news for you. You still need to walk 300 kilometers to the restaurant where we’ll be having lunch.” We all groaned and dragged our tired feet to the restaurant at the edge of the village. Hahaha! Our lunch was one of the most delicious we had in our tour:
After filling our stomachs with great food, we continued our tour to the wonderful rock-cut monastery in Selime at the end of Ihlara Valley. Buti naman di na kami pinaglakad!
As you can see from the pictures above, the snow was already melting and we were a bit relieved that maybe tomorrow will be sunny enough to go on hot air ballooning. Cross fingers! Anyway…
The Selime Monastery is the biggest religious building in Cappadocia with a cathedral-size church. If you’re imagining domed cathedrals like the ones in Europe, uhmn not quite. This church is astonishing in its size considering that it is carved in a rock. Selime was home to various civilizations including the Hittite, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Many leading clergymen were educated at the Selime fortress monastery. It has their quarters and kitchen. Only a small portion of the fortress can be visited and involves climbing. What is with these physical activities in this Green Tour?! Hahaha! Anyway, two of us decided to sit this one out while three of us braved our way with our guide to the top of the fortress. TIP: Don’t be afraid of climbing the seemingly open smooth rock, if we did it (judging from our pffftness), so can you! Be careful though.
It was a great view from above but it’s also dangerous. There is little guard rail to stop you from falling. So we mostly kept to the middle of the open spaces. Our very helpful guide left us at the top after enumerating a few facts of the place. He waved us off and said, “I’m giving you 20 minutes. See you below!” Wow. Haha! So we took the time taking photos (ano pa nga ba?). We had doubts if this place was worth climbing but when we got back to Riyadh, I read an article that this place is one of the most life-changing trips one can have. Whew! Yes, true that!!!
Our final stop is the Goreme Panorama. It was the perfect end to this trip because it was truly breathtaking!
After a few minutes taking photos and being blown away by the Goreme Panorama and Pigeon Valley from a distance, we were taken to another jewelry factory. Prices here are more expensive than the ones in Pamukkale so we only looked. After this, our tour ended. We asked our tour guide to let us off in the town center so we can look for a restaurant where we can have our dinner. Actually, we were already eyeing a Korean restaurant we saw on our way to the underground city. Yup, we were in Turkey but we ate in a Korean restaurant! Haha! I guess we already had too much of the Turkish mezzes that we wanted something Asian.
Having a Korean restaurant in Goreme is a testament to the number of Koreans that visit Turkey, haha! We saw it fitting to have some good bowls of egg noodles for a very cold night. Our dessert is at an aptly named coffeeshop in the town square.
We also shopped in a little souvenir store across Coffeedocia. We found the chicest olive soaps in nice tin cans, cheapest keychains, and zultanite rings. TIP: Hoard as many pashmina scarves in this shop for only 9 TYL. They’re so cheap but they’re really soft and smooth. Our biggest regret is not hoarding enough of this scarf/shawl for pasalubong (and for ourselves). Yup, even though I bought five pieces and my friend bought ten, they weren’t enough. Haha!
If you ever visit this shop, please bring us more 9 TYL pashmina shawls!
We went to bed with a prayer that tomorrow will be bathed in sunlight so that our hot air balloon schedule will push through. What do you think? Did we ride that hot air balloon? Did the prayers of the weather girls got answered again? The last of my Turkey entry on Cappadocia is up next! Promise, I won’t make you wait long this time. 😉