Having arrived in Cappadocia the day before...
Wednesday, August 21st
Since the sites of Cappadocia are dispersed across an entire region, and, in particular, the most impressive underground cities were not nearby, I deigned to join an organized tour group for the day.
So a little minibus came by my cave hostel in the morning and collected me. In addition to myself and the tourguide, the group consisted of two women from Brazil, a father and his daughter from Curaçao (though the daughter has been living in Amsterdam), and a whole family from Sudan (!!).
First we walked through some of the narrow canyons near Göreme, which was fun. There were many dovecots carved out of the canyon walls, and the canyon floor was narrow and winding -- sometimes we had to go through tunnels that had been carved through the walls. Most surprising of all, when you thought you were deep in the winding labyrinthine canyons you'd suddenly come upon a little stand where some enterprising local was selling freshly squeezed orange juice and hot tea. Want a cold soda? They'll go into the cave behind them and emerge with a soda as cold as if it had been refridgerated.
This ended at an abandoned Greek town, which had also been carved into hillsides, but had been depopulated during the "population exchange of 1923," when all Christians were expelled from Turkey. Many of the cave dwellings here had fallen into an advanced state of disrepair due to earthquakes, but several were being renovated into hotels for modern tourism, and we even got to poke around some that were in good repair and for sale as modern residences. It was kind of interesting to see them with bare walls and floors, since the ones I'd been in before, such as the hostel I was staying in, had the floors covered in rugs and with various pieces of furniture they are quite nice (if a bit cold) and, you know, hobbit-hole like.
Next we were taken to a buffet lunch for tourists at a nearby hotel ... I heaped my plate with a sample of many different things here and... found them all to be awful. In 2009 we went with a tour group from Selcuk to Pamukkale and I remember at that time as well we stopped at a similarly awful buffet set out for tour groups. Terrible that many tourists probably only go on organized tours and may leave thinking this gross low quality buffet food is representative of Turkish food.
On the bright side, the hotel was on the edge of the town of Üçhisar, with this view of the Üçhisar "castle" rock.
Next up was what I'd been most looking forward to, the visit to the underground city! We went to the Kaymaklı underground city, which is only the second biggest of the Cappadocia region, but still is said to have contained up to 15,000 people!! That's huge for even an above-ground city at the time!
There's over 200 underground cities of at least 2 floors in the region, 40 with at least 3 floors, and it is said they used to be linked by underground tunnels, which is also very impressive since they cover an area around 40 miles in diameter (wild estimate)! For example Kaymaklı was connected to the biggest one, Derinkuyu, by an 8 km tunnel.
The first room we entered was the stable, since their animals weren't terribly keen on traveling much further into the caves. This kind of reminded me of the part of the book The Hobbit where they're in a cave with their pack animals and Bilbo awakes to see goblins leading the animals away deeper into the cave.
It was here that our tour-guide was set upon by an angry Muslim man who vehemently disagreed with the tour guide's statement that the underground cities were used by 7th century Christians to hide from Arab raiders. He insisted it was either Arabs hiding from Christians or Christians hiding from (Byzantine) Romans, and he was quite insistent about it. Both of his theories are deeply flawed though, as there are churches within the underground city, and the Romans were christian.
The tunnels were super neat though. Four floors are open to tourists, but it goes much deeper, and its just packed with rooms and side tunnels. Chimneys and air vents were disguised under rocks on the surface, and/or wells sunk from the surface also served as entrances/exits. Immense granite millstones were located near most of the entrances and could be rolled into place to block the passages from intruders. Each had a little peep-hole in the middle.
Its really amazing to behold the scale of it and to imagine it actually teaming with people who lived there. In addition to living quarters and churchesand stables there were various other specialized rooms, like a whole winery, and a bronze smelter.
Apparently after the underground cities fell into disuse in ancient times they were gradually completely forgotten about. This one was recently rediscovered when a shepherd followed a lost goat into a hole in the ground.
In conclusion, so neat!
On our way back to Goreme we passed through Üçhisar again, and on the other side of the above-pictured castle rock we were taken to a jewelry workshop where they of course tried to interest us in fancy jewelry that had been crafted there. I did learn that turqoise is so-called because it comes from Turkey (and Turkish turqoise is a slightly color than that of the US Southwest).
That evening I was looking for a good restaurant to eat dinner at, and particularly roving about the corner of town where more locals seemed to be eating. I paused in front of a restaurant I thought I saw some locals eating at, it turns out they weren't locals, but I paused long enough that the guy whose job it is to try to talk tourists into coming in started talking to me. It looked pretty decent and I was tired of looking for a place and the guy made me laugh, so I took a table there. That guy's name turns out to be Tolga and I actually greatly enjoyed chatting with him. His English was very good, I think he'd spent a little time in Philadelphia or something? Tolga's dearest possession appears to be a horse, and his eyes light up lovingly when he discusses it.
I had the "teste kebab," which apparently is a Cappadocian specialty. They seal this stew-like concoction in a clay pot and put it directly in the fire. When it is ready they set it on your table and knock it with a hammer to separate the two halves of the clay pot. I also had some Cappadocian wine, which to my utterly undiscriminating wine tasting abilities tasted pretty good.
There was also fresh bread and some delicious dipping mixture of olive oil and more than a dozen different herbs and spices.
Being as I was sitting outside (I'm not sure they had any indoor area) near the main entrance, I got to talk to Tolga a lot, and then a group of Koreans came by, and I'm not sure they stopped to eat there but they were very funny and another server and I were both drawn into the conversation.
That night I believe I was once again the only occupant of the ten bed cave hostel room, more Game of Thrones! Really the only story line I'm really into is that midget fellow. People mucking about in the snow was progressing painfully slowly and its hard to get into that girl godmoding out in the desert.
Tune in for the next episode, wherein I almost die, possibly twice, and run into those Koreans again in the most unexpected place!