We spent several days exploring Cappadocia, in the central part of Turkey. It’s a dream-like landscape that looks literally out of this world. Thousands of little smoke-stack spires rise from the desert moonscape with little
basalt caps on them that look like hobbit chimneys, mountains, valleys, and the famous cave dwellings make the landscape feel somewhere between landing on another planet and stepping back in time.
As has become ritual recently, the overbooked days are filled with exploring, seeing monuments, caves, churches, mosques, cooking, and learning about the history of the land (three volcanoes erupted thousands of years ago, scattering volcanic rock across the top layer of very porous soil that slowly eroded leaving these little stove-pipe structures with end caps), and the people (Greek, then Roman, then Christians, Ottomans and some Greek inhabitants that were forcibly sent home in 1924 leaving abandoned towns, and tons of cave dwellings). After mental saturation for all of us, we are heading out on the Aegean Sea aboard a gulet (large wooden Turkish sailboat with three masts, made for cruising the Mediterranean, about 100 feet long) where I’ll try to recap the highlights of Cappadocia, Ephesus and Izmir. Here goes… read on at your own peril.
Underground City of Kaymakli
This was a wild visit; we literally went into the ground, through a small opening in the cave wall and descended into a cave village that supported 3,000 people over 1,500 years ago. What they don’t tell you at the entrance is seemingly obvious but learned through experience: it is not designed for people over about 5’5” and is sub-optimal for 6’3” people who easily suffer from claustrophobia. Now we know!
The caves were all hand-carved by villagers, possibly Hittites, and enlarged over time by the Christians who had to hide during many empires – but most notably the Roman Empire. You enter the first chamber and stand in awe at the opening room, with little ante-chambers and divots in the walls for holding food and goods… and then just marvel that there are hundreds or thousands of rooms like this that go ten stories underground (we only went down exploring three stories deep – which was plenty to get the heart rate racing and the mind thinking about earthquakes and roof collapse probabilities). The ingenuity and dedication of the people to survive underground makes you reflect, and then to learn that there were possibly 150-200 of these underground villages is mind-boggling.
We finally emerged from the labyrinth after about an hour of exploring, going through maze-like tunnels and into large rooms (a huge kitchen, with smoke covered ceilings, bedrooms, animal stalls, ventilation tubes that were a hundred feet deep, dining areas, churches, all carved underground), and past huge rounded boulders that were used to close off the tunnel in case of attack. Stepping back out into the fresh air and sunlight was a relief, until we were told we were sleeping in a cave hotel for the next few days in Cappadoccia!
Balloon ride over Cappadocia
Well, it’s what you do in Cappadocia – go up into the air at sunrise in a hot-air balloon and glide down a path the wind takes you along cave filled rock formations, through valleys carved out of the rockscape and over the thousands of little fairy-chimney rock structures… with 99 other balloons (possibly while singing “99 red balloons”).There’s this constant pull between being mesmerized by the insane rock formations below and just watching all of the 100 balloons rising and falling through the mountains, valleys and landscape (while the Chinese tourists yell out from their balloons at anyone in earshot “HALLO, HALLO, HALLO!” – we tried to ignore them for as long as possible, but finally you simply must concede to the power of the Chinese persistence with a sheepish “hi” and wave that sends them into a frenzy looking for another target to “HALLO” at).
We’ve ballooned in Scottsdale before, so the magic was a little less inspired, but we really were in awe of the pilot’s skill at coming so close to the canyon walls that you can pick a flower from the meadow, or his ability to kiss the balloons off one another and then shoot up into the sky to look directly down on another balloon… or the highlight of the trip when he softly touched us down on top of our landing trailer (we had a huge crash landing in Scottsdale, with yelling, hitting trees, everyone huddled in the baskets, squeezing the squealing kids, a woman bloodied, before finally coming to a stop half on our side and half upside down). It was cool and a must do. Okay, check – we did it and it was indeed awesome.
Cooking class in Sinasos
Look, I like to eat as much as anyone… but cooking isn’t really my thing and it’s my blog day so here you go: we went into an old Greek restaurant, met some wonderful women who had seemingly been straining over a kitchen oven for centuries by the lines in their faces, and we sliced vegetables, rolled out dough, peeled the heck out of aubergine (eggplant), and then helped make baklava and some vegetable stew thing. That’s all I have on this topic.
I get that food is an integral part of a culture, but peeling vegetables and putting stuff into a pot and rolling dough inside of a kitchen that looks strangely pretty darn similar to every other kitchen in the world (small modifications) seems oddly similar to me in California, Bali, Sinasos, Cambodia, Beijing… ok, I’ve made my point. Get me to a museum, church, mosque, square, cave, hike, ride or anything outside the kitchen. Sorry Brandy, it’s true. I hope you still love me. It was kinda’ fun though, I have to admit.
“Get thee to a Turkish Bath.” Shakespeare (no, not really kids).
Strange, I thought to myself, heading to the Turkish bathhouse – I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve had tons of massages (sports, deep tissue, thai, Balinese, etc), and taken a plunge in Russian bathhouses and Roman baths… but I’ve never been in a Turkish bathhouse. Man, have I been missing out – but you need to center yourself for the unparalleled experience of being literally “man-handled.”
Ok, I’ll keep the lurid details private (things like having my face buried into the literal fur of a barrel chested Turkish man who was ordering me around while working my head and neck muscles) but here’s the sequence: undress, put on a reddish sarong wrap, walk by some old Brits looking defeated in the lounge area who blurt out “good luck!” and “be strong” and “don’t come of the sauna early, or he’ll get mad at you” and “please god don’t ask for hard pressure” (which I mistakenly did), sit in the dizzying hot sauna for 15 minutes, make the mistake of trying small talk and asking my masseuse’s name (no response), get ordered (lots of bossing around and ordering, no charm in these mustached Turkish meat-eaters) out of the hot sauna and into a giant marble room with seating stalls and a central marble “box” that has the boiling heater under it with a mosque like domed stone central roof with a single glowing lamp hanging down in the middle of the room, forcibly seated into a corner stall, cool water continuously poured over my head until the heat stroke slowly faded from the sauna, then ordered to lie on the marble table (damn, it’s boiling hot… but I’m not complaining to this guy or I might not make it out alive), some rubberized sandpaper glove gets put on and like a power sander set on high I get a few layers removed (thanks? I’m not sure I need that epidermis anyway), then back to the water bucket pouring over me, then some crazy magical bubble machine soaks you in slippery bubble oil like a car wash, then a rub and squeeze thing that is bruising, cuts off circulation, and somewhat relaxing all at the same time, then he squeezes and pinches your skin in a clapping and pinching motion that had me seeing stars (biting down on my lip, never conveying weakness to the brute), then a massage that would land someone in jail in the USA – really more of a beating and punching and elbowing type of thing, then a head massage and scrub where he bear hugs your face to his chest while scrubbing away (dear God), and finally a rinse before being told you can now enter the cold plunge.
I’m not sure what just happened, but it was awesome and I cannot wait for round two. Next time, not in a centuries old authentic Turkish bathhouse with a gorilla.
Bicycle ride around the trails of Cappadocia
We’ve now ridden bikes all over the world, and have realized part of the experience is persevering on bikes with flat tires, loose chains that fall off, seats that slide down to the seat-post and gears that don’t shift – I am happy to report that Cappadocia didn’t disappoint.
We biked out of town down to the sandy dirt pathways that winds through the countryside and past cave dwellings in just about every hillside. We continue to be very proud of the kids and what they are willing to dive head first into or persevere through and they peddled their little hearts out through the sandy dunes and up over little mountains.We stopped off to try to pump up our flat tires (the guide was unconvinced that more air into a tube with tears is ineffective – evidence still didn’t seem to persuade him so we rode away on rims) and grabbed some Turkish coffee for Brandy and a fun game of Backgammon between Brayden and dad. The dice were loaded, and only came up doubles for the little man so one of us peddled off after a victory dance and the other had to hang his head low for the return ride. But… redemption will come my friend and you won’t have your lucky dice next time.
It was a fun day and a great way to see the countryside and get a little exercise in the process!
Turkish rug cooperative and gallery in Cappadocia
This was a spectacular experience that was really unexpected; we learned about the history of Turkish rug making, the intricate process of weaving silk, Turkish knot tying (two knots), historic rug design, and the weaving process.After our ‘rug making school’ we went down into the gallery and were served tea while the men rolled out rug, after rug, after rug all the while explaining the patterns, knot density, materials (silk, wool and cotton, wool and wool) and history of the rugs. Brayden asked to have a centuries old $180,000 rug rolled out for him to evaluate. He liked it, but allowance left a little on the bill so he’ll have to wait.
We learned so much that I’ll just try to bullet the most interesting facts about the process of making silk, dyes and weaving rugs:
- To color the wool or silk or cotton, the Ottomans and Turks used all natural dyes, including: rose matter (red), bock torn/turmeric/chamomile (yellows), indigo/dyers wood (blue), walnut shell (brown)… and greens or other shades were a blend of the core colors.
- The average age of the dye, if done properly, is 135 years.
- There is one mile of continuous fiber on one silk worm cocoon.
- You boil the silk cocoons for one hour and then use a natural fiber brush to grab the silk fibers and then spin them on a loon to separate the fiber.
- To make one silk thread used for rug weaving, you spin together 15 individual threads.
- Silk is the second strongest natural fiber after spider web.
- The Chinese invented silk spinning 2,500 years ago.
- Asian wool is yellow on the cocoon, Brazilian is gray, and Turkish is white (because of the type of worm and mulberry plants that they eat) – which, if you recall, we saw the yellow silk cocoons in Cambodia.
- A silk white moth lays 35 eggs.
- The larvae come out (little white worms) and eat mulberry leaves… and eat 600,000 times their body weight in their four month existence. You can literally hear them eating and chewing!
- They then incubate for 33 days in their cocoon, and after metamorphosis come out as a butterfly (unless they are boiled and turned into silk thread… sorry gents).
- The Turks use a double knot in their rug weaving, different from all other great rug making traditions (Iran/Persian, Chinese, Tibetan, Nepalese, etc).
- After making a double knot, they continuously stamp down the rows to get them tight and dense and aligned and then cut off the excess thread with a specially designed pair of sheers.
- It is literally back-breaking work, and hugely time consuming. A weaver can work one rug for years.
- The size and knot density and material define the quality, and here goes the knot density per square inch: wool is from 100 to 225, cotton and wool is from 144 to 324, silk is from 324 to 3600!
- There are 21,000 registered historic designs on record with the official Turkish rug cultural authorities.
The whole experience was educational and inspirational. We helped cut off the frame a smallish silk rug that the weaver had been working on exclusively for seven months and had just finished that day. It puts dedication and persistence into perspective.
We came away with new knowledge and appreciation for a remarkable art form and part of the Turkish culture that we just loved! Thanks gents for a great, great, great afternoon… and thanks for letting the kids spin some silk and sit and weave a few Turkish knots and help make a little corner of a Turkish rug.
Goreme – Christian cave monastery and open air museum of cave churches
Saving the best for last in Cappadocia is visiting the Goreme “museum” or collection of amazing cave dwellings and churches in the mountainside and cliffs on the outskirts of the modern city at the end of our visit. We did just that, and while we were exhausted from everything we saw in Cappdoccia, we were inspired to get a burst of adventuring and learning one last time before heading out to Bodrum.
The early Roman Empire was a bad place to be a Christian, where you could be persecuted, fed to lions, forced to fight in a coliseum (although the Ephesus coliseum would be an epic place to go down in a blaze of fury against another gladiator or wild lion, if it had to go down that way), stoned to death, crucified… well, certainly you get the idea. Solution? Convert to paganism and worship idol gods like Zeus and Nike and Hermes? Never. Take it underground and build a network of hidden sanctuaries carved deeply into the rock wall faces, and create a monastery of teaching and prayer in hidden caves? Check!
We went from cave to cave, climbing stairs to elevated caves, ducked through tunnels carved through the mountain into larger cathedral rooms, and were pretty much in awe at the power of belief and what man could create as a monument to their Christian religion 1,500 years ago. There was a kitchen, a dining room (with a dining table and bench seats carved right out of the rock), storage rooms, living quarters, and, of course, churches and rooms of worship covered in rock art and magnificent frescoes showing Christ, from birth to life to crucifixion and resurrection.
Much of our trip has been learning about persecuting the ‘other’ and repressing minority cultures and religions and peoples, and our family processing how dark many parts of humanity are… Goreme was a little brilliant light lit from a unique experience living in the shadows of an empire and despite all odds continuing to believe.
Guray Seramik – Pottery museum and cave
Guray Seramik is a pottery museum and center where they have preserved some pottery, some as old as 4,000 years, and continue to perpetuate the ancient Turkish tradition with modern design and art.
We saw and learned all about the wheels where they spin red clay (terra cotta) and white clay into beautiful sculpted pottery pieces.Then we walked through the furnace room where they slowly bake the clay, between 850 and 1200 degrees Celsius for up to 18 hours.
The art is colorful and beautiful, and shaped into vases, decanters, bowls, plates and wall art. Yet another magical Turkish tradition that we fell in love with.
We went headfirst (sadly for Brad, headfirst into the low ceilings quite frequently) into embracing cave existence, exploring many cave homes around Cappadocia and staying in one of the many, many cave hotels. Our hotel was wonderful, but yes – it was a series of cave passages and cave rooms and named the museum hotel. We loved it, but someone needs to literally “raise the roof” in these rooms!
That’s a lot, but it was action packed and really lovely. Consistent with just about everything so far in Turkey, we loved it all!
Here is a video of ballooning (set to the music from the whirling dervish evening), and some clips of rug weaving and a Rumi reading from an amazing artist who paints on leaves.