Monday, May 13, 2013


Welcome to post #2 in my dispatches from our April trip to Turkey. Post #1, on Istanbul, is here (or, you know, just scroll down). I'm rolling these out slowly, mostly because I really can't be snarky or wry about this trip, and I'm disgusted by my own use of "wonderful" and "divine". Hyperbole does not become me, but such is the price I'm paying for having my mind blow on this trip.

Cappadocia (cap-uh-dokey-yu, ish), a desert region in the center of Turkey, is wildly different from anywhere else I've been, or even seen in photos. Because of its geological makeup, it has a hundreds of thousands of caves, both natural and manmade, as well as alien-looking rock spires.
Face in the rock!
Cave church
Looking out at one cave church from inside another cave church
You guessed it: cave church
Mike in a...fill in the blank
Don't think we didn't giggle at these "fairy chimneys"
Early Christians took refuge in Cappadocia and built vast underground cities that could house thousands of people for weeks when the Romans ruled through, looking to persecute some Christian butt. We toured the cities, and while it's difficult to imagine what life was like underground, it was stunning to see how well organized the caves were: there were rooms for sleeping, for cooking, for winemaking, even for livestock, with ventilation shafts to keep everything as fresh and as clean clean as you could hope for in the early AD years. I had only the very smallest of claustrophobic panic attacks.
Aboveground caves dotted the sides of the cliffs everywhere we went. Some are still in use, packed full of potatoes and citrus, but most are empty. Sometimes what looked from far away like wee caves turned out to be pigeon perches, which the ancient locals built to encourage the birds to settle. They'd then use them for food and their droppings for fertilizer. Now you can pay a few lira to feed the remaining pigeons, which my dad did with gusto.

We spent half a day in Goreme's open air museum, which is essentially a series of churches carved into the hillside. They were decorated with frescoes both elaborate and basic, and are preserved quite well since, you know, they're inside. And apparently the Romans didn't get around to messing with them before becoming Christians themselves.
Fresco inside the Dark Church in Goreme. Jesus looks like Mike!
We stayed at the Hezen Cave Hotel in the small town of Ortahisar. The hotel itself was divine - amazing friendly service and decor - and was, you know, a hotel made up of a series of classy caves, which is bad ass. It had a view of Ortahisar Castle, which, along with Uchisar Castle, is one of two giant rock formations in the area that were turned into what seemed more like ancient military installations than what we might think of as castles. But who knows, given that the area is still developing its tourism industry and it's hard to get a good picture of the history beyond all the churches.  We climbed to the top of Uchisar Castle, where I was delighted to find a juice vendor. If you haven't had fresh orange/grapefruit/pomegranate juice on a sunny day on top of what is one of the weirdest geological phenomena in the world, well, I highly recommend it.
Ortahisar, our local "castle"
Uchisar Castle and evil eyes
Looking down on gnome houses from Uchisar Castle. They're actually about 6 stories tall.
Chilling on top of Uchisar Castle
We had two wonderful meals in Cappadocia (aside from the usual gorgeous breakfast spreads). One dinner was our first night, at a tandir (Turkish tandoor) restaurant right by our hotel. It had a view down a valley to Ortahisar castle, and it was my first delightful dip into manti, little dumplings in a garlicky yogurt sauce. I've been stalking where to get them in San Francisco, and I pledge with my hand on my heart that SOON THEY WILL BE MINE.
Cappadocia wonderful meal #2 was at what our hotel proprietor assured us was the best restaurant in the area, Ziggy. They had a multi-course fixed menu, with a vegetarian version for Mike, including the best mezze platter of the trip. All dolma should be made with chard instead of grape leaves. No slime, no chewiness, just a little bit of give and a clean flavor. Dessert was the stuff of dreams, a twist on traditional borek - a savory cigar-shaped cheese pastry - that miniaturized the pastry and ditched the cheese, replacing it with a doughy center and dusting it in cinnamon sugar. Thank god for raki, a strong anise liquor that burns the palate but soothes the belly.

One sundown we had local wine on the terrace of our hotel, listening as the call to prayer sounded from several mosques and echoed around the valley, and the sun set on Ortahisar Castle. It all felt unreal, alien in the most delightful way. Cappadocia was charming and beautiful and bizarre. I will be back.

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