Scott actually got out of bed at 7 am and went out to take some morning pictures. Becky was amazed, as lately he has had difficulty getting out and moving in the mornings. In the early morning, the sky is filled with hot air balloons. Apparently, it is supposed to be an incredible way to see the valleys, but at a minimum cost of 100 Euro for 45 minutes, it is well beyond our budget. All the colourful balloons in the air over the town do make for some great pictures.
Our plan for the day was a trip up to Derinkuyu to see the underground city. It is the most thoroughly excavated underground city (there are many underground cities in the area), and you are able to see parts of the 8th floor (underground) and much of the upper floor. Getting to Derinkuyu involved taking two Dolmuses (mini buses), one to Nevsehir and then a second onto Derinkuyu. While waiting for the bus in Goreme, we met an America lady, Lee, who asked if she could join us for the day. Of course we said “no problem”, and had an great day travelling around with her.
Lee is a business librarian from Atlanta on a six week exchange through work, teaching some courses at university in Istanbul and exchanging information with librarians. Because of the Bayram holiday, she has a week off and so decided to come and see Cappadocia.
Upon arriving in Derinkuyu we noticed a large bustling market, so we walked around to check it out. The market had everything from fruits and vegetables to blue jeans and shower curtains. On the outskirts of the market there were lambs and cows – a special bonus because of the upcoming Sacrifice Festival. We were amused because at this time of year at home, you would see Christmas trees on the outskirts of markets. Here you have live animals. Who knew that on this adventure of ours we would be trading in Christmas Trees for animal sacrifice?
Walking through the market we noticed that the town is much more conservative than the cities. Most of the younger women that were out where dressed conservatively and wearing Hijab. What we notice in Goreme is an absence of women. There are women present, but the proportion is much less than the number of men we see. At our Pensiyon we see the father, his son, and grandson, but we never see any of the wives.
After walking through the market, it was time for our adventure to the bottom of the world. The underground cities date back to at least 1000 B.C. and some say even earlier than that. The caves were known to be inhabited at least 6-months at a time, as a refuge against persecution. We paid the fee and entered the cave at about 12:00. Our guidebook told us to arrive before 11:00 to avoid the tour buses – however, we just don’t move that fast. With it being winter, we have not found the tour buses to be too bad and are usually able to completely avoid the crowds. According to the people at our hotel, now the buses start appearing at 9:30 anyway, so no matter what we wouldn’t have avoided all of them.
We entered the cave and began working our way down. Becky was definitely feeling a little claustrophobic and kept trying to “forget” about the amount of rock and earth above her head. She led Scott and Lee down – with the thought that the sooner we got to the bottom, the sooner we could move back up again. We came upon a room which had a staircase going down. Not long after we entered, a tour group started coming up. The stairwell was technical bi-directional, but really there was only room for people in one direction. The first guide told us it was crowded down there and we should wait. We were happy to let the group clear out before we went in. In the end, it turned out that there were three tour groups down at the bottom level at the same time – we could only imagine how packed it must have been. When we got down there, there was only us and another small group of about 7 or 8 people.
The bottom cave had a church. It did not really look like much, except that the cave was shaped like a cross. Also from the bottom level, there were several smaller caves that were accessed by narrow one-way stair cases. We were glad there was not a large group down there with us. The whole time we were on the lowest level, Becky was paranoid that we would get stuck in one of the small caves at the end of a staircase because a large group of people would block access to the exit. Fortunately, that never happened, and soon enough we were on our way back up to the higher levels.
We also explored various caves that involved climbing through poorly lit tunnels, fortunately we had our headlamps with us. We found one passageway which was completely unlit, and low enough that entry was only possible completely bent over, and followed it for a few meters. After some twists and turns, the light reappeared, and we had a quiet area of caves all to ourselves. We sat there and chatted for 20 minutes or so, and when we emerged there were no signs of other visitors. The tour bus group which entered just after us must have bypassed us while we were hidden away in our quiet corner.
As we climbed back up, Scott was thinking “that’s it?”. It really did not seem like much, but as we worked our way towards the exit, we found many more cave rooms, including the stables, wine press, dining hall, and a school room. It felt like we could get lost in the maze of caves; however, they have blocked off various areas, so you generally do not end up back where you were without retracing your steps. Several times we thought “have we been here before?” only to discover a whole new room that we clearly had not seen yet. Becky ensured that we systematically explored each nook and cranny, going clockwise around every cavern that we entered.
Once we had thoroughly explored the caves, it was time to re-emerge to the light of day. We found a nice bench and enjoyed our snacks (buns and oranges) before hoping back on the Dolmus to Nevsehir. Since we still had daylight left, we decided to check out the rock formation that sticks out above Uchisar (the Uchisar Castle). The formation can be seen on the horizon from many places in the Cappadocia valleys.
We arrived in Uchisar just in time to find the castle and make our way to the top just before sunset. The view was spectacular! We could see many of the valleys throughout Cappadocia. At the top, there was a group of women sitting and holding their hands in a prayer position. At sunset they began to chant. We did not recognize the language they were speaking, and could not tell if their chanting was Christian or Southeast Asian (although they were Caucasian women, so Becky’s guess is Christian). They were still meditating when we left, so we were unable to ask them.
As we climbed down from the castle, the muezzin made the adhan (Call to Prayer). Being on the hill, you could hear the call echoing in the various valleys below. It was beautiful.
We decided to look around Uchisar a bit and possibly find a restaurant for dinner. Lee wanted to see some of the hotels as the guidebook recommended Uchisar as an alternative to the backpacker haven that is Goreme. We found that many of the recommended restaurants and hotels were closed for the season, but we did stumble upon the Cappadocia Cave Resort. It looked quite luxurious, so decided to go in and ask if we could see a room. This was mostly Lee’s influence, she and Becky were much more enthusiastic about the idea than Scott, although he came around eventually. They obliged us with a complete tour of the facilities. It is quite a beautiful hotel with an amazing view down into the valleys of Goreme. Apparently, they get many Japanese customers as they even had a small Karaoke lounge and a sushi restaurant. The spa was interesting too – in addition to the normal pool, hamam and steam room, they also had a snow room (with ice machine) and a salt room where walls were covered in salt and a machine atomized the salt (good to help Asthma apparently). Upon departing we asked about the price for the standard room – a whopping 330 Euros per night! We could not believe the excessive price tag. The place was nice, but really we could not see anything that warranted that much of a difference from the prices in Goreme. We’re paying 50 Lira (approximately 25 Euros), and the CCR isn’t anywhere close to 10 times as nice.
Since we did not find any place interesting to eat in Uchisar, we decided to head back to Goreme for dinner. Upon reaching the Goreme road, we were told that the Dolmus was finished for the night – the same person also offered to give us a ride for 10 Lira. He refused to bargain on the price – we offered 8 Lira. So, we decided to walk a bit and then hitch a ride. We walked about a kilometer to a bus stopped and hitched a ride from there (Goreme is only 6 km from Uchisar). Upon arriving in Goreme we saw the last dolmus arrive – so the person who told us they were finished had lied and was clearly looking to make a few Lira from stranded tourists!
We had a lovely dinner at the Orient Restaurant. Having three people instead of two opened up our options for sharing Meze and a bottle of wine.
After dinner, we needed to find a way to get Lee back to Urgup where she was staying. We confirmed that the dolmuses had stopped for the day. It was only 8:30 pm! At this hour, the taksis (taxis) know that there are few options, so they charge a fortune (30 YTL for 6km). Lee decided she wanted to try her luck hitching a ride. We walked her to the intersection of the Urgup road and waited with her while several cars went by. Eventually someone did stop. He thought he was picking up all three of us – which is probably good. We hope that Lee got back to her hotel safely.