On Sunday night I hopped on a bus for the eleven and a half hour ride to the town of Ürgüp in Kapadokya. Kapadokya is in central Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey, and is known for its unusual rock formations, colourful valleys and caves. If you find yourself in Istanbul with a couple of days to spare, this trip is an absolute must. It can be done on a budget or in luxury— being a "hungry" artist, I did what I could with the bare minimum and was happily surprised with just how much I got out of so little.
The bus is overnight, which is fantastic if you can sleep the whole way and potentially boring if you can't and want to look out the window. Luckily I was able to get some sleep as the seats were really comfortable and I had the good fortune of having an empty seat next to me on a full bus. The bus attendant was very friendly and offered us coffee, tea, water and a packaged cake throughout the journey. Just after we hit the road, he sprinkled a sweet-smelling cologne into our palms, which was quite refreshing. I really enjoyed the ride.
If you ever take a roadtrip within Turkey, there are a few things you should know. The rest stop and bus stop bathrooms are not what you'd expect to find in the US; first off, make sure you have plenty of change and a packet of tissues in your pockets. I cannot tell you how many times tissue packets have come in handy. A trip to the toilet might cost you between 50 and 75 kuruş and ladies, few bathrooms have a toilet you can sit on. If you've ever peed in the woods, you'll be just fine. The toilet is a like a large porcelain tile on the ground with a hole in it that you squat above and do your thing. There is no toilet paper, just a pitcher and a faucet, so pick up a few tissue packets at the store. It's not my favourite kind of thing, but I'm used to it and don't let it put you off from a roadtrip in this marvellous country.
We rolled in at around 8 am, I checked into the Kilim Otelli to drop off my bag, shower and get ready for my first tour. I decided to book a package of three tours since I was travelling alone and not familiar with the area. There is so much to see in Kapadokya, that I highly recommend joining a tour or two, there are guides for every language that are both friendly and knowledgeable. Our group on Day One was lead by Fatoş and Yunus of Red Valley Tours— we were only a tiny group of four, which was quite fun. We started off in Devrent Valley, which is known for its bizarre rock formations and fairy chimneys.
Fairy chimneys are tall spires of soft volcanic rock called tufa, that are topped with a harder stone like basalt that is less prone to erosion. The result of years upon years of rain, wind and water carving the landscape is quite stunning, you can sit for hours imagining shapes within the rocks. The softness of the tufa made it easy for people to carve caves into the fairy chimneys— Kapadokya is full of homes, churches and even cities carved into the rocks by Early Christians fleeing persecution from the Romans around 300–1200 CE.
The next few photos are from Paşabağları, which has some incredible fairy chimneys and chapel-caves. The weather was perfect, I could run around in a t-shirt and have a dondurma, Turkish ice-cream, which pleased me.
We then visited a carpet weaving centre. It was interesting to learn about the entire process from pulling silk from a cocoon, to dyeing, to weaving. While I enjoyed learning about the carpets and looking at all the gorgeous patterns and colours, I couldn't help but feel as though we were brought there to buy. I rather would have spent the hour or so hiking— if you aren't into shopping on your trip, make sure you ask your travel agent to book you hiking and outdoor tours. My itinerary said nothing about carpet workshops, onyx shops, or spending time watching potters, so I was a little miffed to be inside on such gorgeous days in a geographical wonderland. All the people in the workshops were so nice though, I had great conversations with many of them and I got to play around with clay in the clay workshop in Avanos.
Here, the silkworm cocoons are being soaked in hot water to loosen the silk threads, which are whisked apart and hooked up to a spooling-type of mechanism. Below you can see wool that has been dyed with baskets of the natural sources of the dyes, and all the beautiful patterns woven by the women in the workshop.
The town of Avanos is known for its centuries old ceramic tradition. The Kızılırmak, or Red River, is the longest river in Turkey and is a major source of red clay used by the potters in Kapadokya. I volunteered to attempt throwing a pot on the wheel, and fortunately I don't embarrass easily— I ended up with a very lumpy slumpy thing and clay all over. I had taken a ceramics class back in college and was terrible at it— I once made a very heavy teapot and sugar bowl, one plate and a whole lot of lumps. There were no teapots to be made that day, and one of my tour mates took a picture of me laughing my head off with my "sculpture" spinning on the wheel. Hopefully she'll email it to me so you can see it.
Towards the end of the day, we headed to Göreme to visit the many caves and hidden churches. Beautiful frescoes are still remarkably clear on the walls and ceilings of the carved churches. Some are quite intricate and others are simpler and more geometric. You can still see stains of candle wax dripping down the walls. I like to imagine what it must have been like for the people who painted those frescoes, climbing up rock faces into small candle lit spaces with their tools...
Our final stop was a panoramic view of Uçhisar Fortress, which as you can see, has an entire network of caves cut into its massive structure. There was a tree with wishes tied onto its branches, and with a strip of blue fabric placed in my hand by one of my tourmates, I tied my own wish to a solitary branch.
Kapadokya is also known for fantastic knitted socks, gloves and sweaters.
I have been wanting a pair of these thick, soft socks for years. I am wearing them now as I type this.
Coming next, Day Two.