After our post-balloon-watching-bliss cat nap, we rallied and embarked on our all day Green Tour spanning the entire Cappadocia Valley. We started off at an incredible vantage point right outside of Goreme -overlooking the entire city, framed by fairy chimneys and the Rose valley.
We then drove out to Selime Monastery, an enormous cluster of rock mountains that had been carved out for monks in the 13th century. They had fashioned the entire area into a functioning monastery – complete with kitchens, churches and living areas. Painted frescoes and elaborate carvings decorated the insides of the church auditoriums. There were ovens carved out in the floors, chimney holes for smoke, cut-outs in the walls for hanging oil lamps, and perhaps most intriguing – “pigeon holes” carved out along the sides outdoors. These were used to attract pigeons, so monks could gather their poop, which apparently makes for great ammunition.
Nearby was Ihlara Valley, the longest valley in Turkey and fifth deepest valley in the world. We hiked through a portion of the valley before ending for our lunch break. Ihlara Valley made the perfect hiding spot for Christians against Roman invaders, so this area was built and sustained for long-term dwellings. Similar to the Monastery, the Valley was full of pigeon holes, carved out living spaces and churches dating back to the Byzantine period.
After a jet-lagged day and half whirlwind tour of Istanbul, Ev and I jetted off at 3:30 am the next morning to catch a short flight down to Kayseri, in central Turkey. We spent two days in the town of Goreme and touring the surrounding area, Cappadocia (or Kapadokya in Turkish), which seriously felt like a scene out of a Dr. Seuss book!
Cappadocia is a surreal desert wonderland –filled with rock formations, fairy chimneys, colorful valleys, and steeped in history, going all the way back to Alexander the Great’s reign. While it definitely feels like a tourist village, the commercialization isn’t oppressive and as obnoxious as I’ve seen in other towns. Small rock homes, laundry lines, and gossiping elderly ladies squatting around their front doors are interspersed between budget hostels, bus stops and cheap eats.
We took an ATV tour the first afternoon that had us zooming over and around Swords Valley, Rose Valley, Meskendir Valley and Zemi (Love) Valley. All of these sights were fairly close to Goreme, where we started, so it was feasible over the couple hours we had on the ATV’s.
The trip was definitely rushed though… I could have easily spent half a day at each area and still felt rushed. Fairy chimneys and oddly shaped stone structures dotted each region, houses and churches carved into the volcanic rock, squash patches and small vineyards dotting the scenery.
Anyone who knows me knows I love food. The smells, the colors, the anticipation and culture around it. One of the biggest highlights of traveling to a new country is experiencing all the foods and understanding the social norms around dining. Food brings people together, so it’s only natural that one of the best ways to learn about a new place is through eating!
Turkey’s Top Hits:
Traditional Turkish Breakfast: this is served almost religiously in Turkey. It consists of some olives, cheese (usually feta), sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, a boiled or fried egg and some french bread
Doner Kebabs: Sold at almost every street corner, these are cooked on a rotating spit. When you’re ready for your kebab, the guys manning the spit will saw some off into a sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and spices.
Kumpir: Baked potatoes stuffed with unlimited ingredients – olives, red cabbage, cheese, corn and spices.
Turkish Ice Cream: Unbelievably chewy, in completely new flavors (honeydew!) and served via an elaborate cone flipping show at street stands.
Fresh Squeezed Pomegranate Juice: Tangier and thicker than any pom juice you’d find in America. When pomegranates are in season in the fall, they squeeze them fresh on the street, with a steel press contraption, and hand it over to you in a tall glass, cool and foamy up top.
This was in Pamukkale, Southern Turkey; the name literally is Turkish for “Cotton Castle”.
I mean, look at how incredible the landscape looks through these crummy iPhone photos! Pamukkale Park consists of a series of tavertines and hot springs. The hot springs are said to have beneficial health properties -helping high blood pressure, improve circulation and benefit skin diseases. They precipitate calcium carbonate, initially as a gel-like substance, which then hardens into the snow white tavertines. In order to preserve the natural beauty, and to not hinder new tavartine formation, visitors are not allowed to wear shoes while touring this geological phenomenon.
Ev and I spent two days here in the middle of our Turkey trip. It could easily be seen in one day (that’s actually what a lot of tourists do, overnight buses each way to/from other sites & towns), but we wanted to take our time, relax and soak in the views. We toured the neighboring ruins at Aphrodisias, took a break from kebabs and had Korean food for dinner one night, smoked hookah while watching the sunset, caught our breaths a million times and took a plethora of photos. We stayed at Arkadas Pension, run by the sweetest old lady who made us traditional Turkish breakfasts and fed us welcome tea. The town of Pamukkale really doesn’t have much, since most of their business happens during the day… but Ev and I took full advantage of the handful of restaurants, and got a slice of New York clubbing at their “Soho Fun House”. And by New York clubbing I mean running into two locals at a bass-pounding, neon-flashing bar. It was great, silly fun.
Hierapolis sits on the top of Pamukkale -this town was a Greek spa town, created for the ancient wealthy, and later abandoned in the 14th century. For the same ticket you can climb all the way to the top, and tour these ruins as well. I definitely regret not being able to spend more time in Hierapolis. We wanted to catch the sunset at the tavartines, and ended up racing against the sun through the ruins.
We were so close to scratching Pamukkale from our itinerary… it can be a pain to get to (flying to Denizli and then taking a dolmus shared van, or riding overnight on an 11 hour bus ride) and isn’t really close to a lot of other site geographically. But it was so so worth it! The nature Turkey has to offer is surreal & unfathomably beautiful.