We left Aleppo at 5:00 a.m. to begin our marathon trip to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Three buses, one border, and 14.5 hours later, we arrived in the town of Gor√∂me just as the sun sank below the horizon. We were truly feeling the time crunch now — with only 16 days left to go before our ship sails for home from Southampton in the UK, we’d decided to visit Cappadocia instead of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. I guess we’ll save that for next time! The Cappadocia region was just too much of a draw for us. The pictures looked otherworldly, and it sounded more than anything like a very relaxing destination. Cappadocia is famous for it’s rock-tower landscape, which really has to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of spires of stone stand defiantly against the sky in every direction, and many of them are carved out with old cave dwellings or rock churches. We checked and re-checked our schedule, and decided we could afford two nights in Gor√∂me. We checked into Flintstone’s Hostel, which (like many of the hotels and hostels in the town) had several of it’s rooms built into caves. Our cosy cave had a window, which was nice, but more importantly it had a large, comfortable, clean bed. We collapsed into it and didn’t move again until morning.
After an excellent night’s sleep, we rejuvenated ourselves with showers and a delicious breakfast in the sun on the hostel’s terrace. Even from there we had stunning views in every direction. After a couple of coffees and tasty apple teas, we laced up our shoes and headed out for a long walk. Our first day was spent almost entirely on foot. We walked for about 5 hours, but since Meghan had been feeling sick since leaving Aleppo, we limited ourselves to exploring only one of the nearby valleys. We were happy just to enjoy the atmostphere in Gor√∂me, where we could sip on tea or swim in our hostel’s pool while Cappadocia stood spectacularly all around us. The town itself was intertwined with the landscape, and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish which came first: at times the buildings seemed to grow from the rock itself, and at others it was the rock that seemed to grow from the buildings. It was a wonderful effect.
The next morning I woke up early again, with sunrise drawing me out of the warmth of our bed. I grabbed the camera and a jacket (didn’t want to make the same mistake I made in Palmyra!) and hiked up onto the ridge behind our hostel. As the sun began to colour the sky, the landscape began to sprout large, colourful domes everywhere. They were hot air baloons! The Cappadocia region is famous for its hot air baloon rides, and while I’m sure the view from the baloons was fantastic, I think that watching the baloons take off against the sunrise was also a pretty magical experience. I started to count them from my vantage point. On my first pass I counted 20 on the ground. The sun started to peek over the horizon as the first of the baloons took to the air. Count again: 32 this time. Baloons were starting to rise seemingly out of the earth itself, climbing out of neighbouring valleys into the air over Gor√∂me. As the sunrise reached its most beautiful moment, I lost count at 53 baloons in the sky. The sound of their flames punctuated the otherwise still morning air, and some of them passed so close above my head that I could make out faces in the baskets above me.
Feeling slightly better, Meg joined me for breakfast, and we decided to rent a scooter for the day in order to visit some of the harder-to-reach areas around town. Our first destination was the underground city at Kaymakli. The city was first established about 2000 BC and was mainly used as a refuge in times of war. There are 8 levels of corridors and rooms dug out below ground, but only the first four are accessible to visitors. The network of tunnels is unbelievably complex. Two thoughts came immediately to mind as we explored the depths. First, how did people ever live down here, so far from light and air? And second, how did they create such an intricate and complicated layout, and dig out out well enough to last 4000 years? It was quite claustrophobic at times down there, but we were only visiting for a short time. Imagine 5000 people living below ground for months at a time. Incredible. Not for me though, thanks.
Next we scootered our way over to Love Valley, one of the most postcard-worthy areas of the Cappadocia region. Parked on a lookout high on the side of the valley, we looked down on dozens of rock columns reaching up from the floor below. While we had to laugh a little at the undeniably phallic overtones that these columns presented, we were simultaneously stunned into silence, awed by the strangeness of the landscape before us. In the distance, cliffs of red and white stone rose to a magnificent plateau, seemingly designed to catch the rays of the setting sun. Below us the valley contorted its way back and forth, opening up a rift in the earth and filling it with trees and stone towers. Beautiful is not a strong enough word.
As the afternoon waned, we drove up to a lookout to watch the sunset over a picnic dinner of chicken kebap sandwiches. As has been the case with so many other spectacular places that we’ve visited, the sunset really seemed to bring out the best qualities of the landscape. I think that the actual moment of the sun setting is not the actual highlight — it’s the minutes immediately following, when the sky fades through yellows and oranges and into a deep blue-black, and the earth below fades slowly into silhouette. Cappadocia’s sunsets didn’t disappoint.
We returned our rented scooter and headed for the bus station with our backpacks on our backs. Next stop: Istanbul, by overnight bus. The kilometers are really starting to fly by as we bee-line it back towards Canada now…