Subject: 2 Weeks in Turkey - Part 6, (Last) Cappadocia (long)
Hi Ziners,

Day 13 & 14 25 & 26 September Arrived in Goreme on the all- night coach at 7 am and had a bit of fun with the hotel. I had originally been booked into a cave hotel in town. My travel agent changed it, telling me that the new one was a better hotel but on arrival I discovered that it was another one a-w-a-y on top of a hill and far out of town. I insisted that the local agent return me to the original one right in the town, and in a fairy chimney. We had a few words, but everything worked out nicely. Luckily for me the original hotel had a cave room that would become available at 10 am. So I plopped my luggage in the hotel lobby and went out to eat breakfast, explore the town, buy some film and absorb the atmosphere. Nice little place that 'felt' good.

A couple of hours later I was picked up at the hotel for a small group tour. Our first stop was at one of the many underground cities located in this area. Seems that the Hittites were the first to begin to dig the soft rock out of the caves and to enlarge them. These tunnels extend for miles, much larger than the modern town above them and mostly inter-connect with each other. As the generations passed and new conquerors came each of the extant local populations used the tunnels to hide in and for defense. They were extended and enlarged by many peoples. In the 11th & 12th centuries they were used by the Christians to live in during the raids of the expanding Arab Empire. Some of the underground cities have extensive rock drawings or icons, especially in the churches.

The one we visited, Derinkuyu in Neveshir, did not boast of a church, but did have an underground wine press, an assembly hall and what the guide described as a confessional. This latter was a very small U shaped room carved out of the rock so that people could enter from one side and leave from the other.

We went for a panoramic view of the valley of the fairy chimneys in Pigeon Valley. These are the result of three pre-historic volcanoes surrounding the area. The hard basalt rock formed caps on softer types of rocks. Erosion has removed much of the softer stone leaving that portion under the harder rock in place. It is a fantastic sight to see and beyond my powers of description.

The weather was really hot 35C. We had a nice surprise when the guide took us to the Ilhara valley. A tree lined stream, cool air and babbling water were marvelous! We walked for 4 of the 14 km. trail from Karagedik church to Belisirama, eating lunch in a stream side restaurant at the end of it.

Here too in the Ilhara valley are many churches, some with frescoes and icons. We saw only one. The paintings are peeling and scratched, not in very good condition. According to the guide there is no plan at present to restore them.

After lunch a visit to Avanos, and a ceramics factory. The fantastically fine work of the hand painters on thepottery was amazing to watch. I couldn't help thinking of the description of Orhan Pamuk in his book "My Name Is Red". He writes a great deal about the miniaturists of the late 1500's and how they invariably went blind. The work these people were doing was as delicate as the use of a brush with a single hair and they had to bend right down close to their work despite modern lighting.

From there the drive back to Goreme passing many rock caves and pigeon houses was interesting.

Exhausted from the overnight coach and a full day of touring I had a light supper of a delicious dish of Turkish yogurt with sliced cucumbers in it and a pide, a kind of Turkish pizza.

I needed to get to bed and had a really early start in the morning.

Sunday morning I was up before the sun rose. At 5.30 am I had to be at the hot-air balloon tour office. Luckily it was just some 100 meters from my hotel. I couldn't help thinking what would have been if I had been in that other hotel away up on the hill! Never more thankful for my little immersion heater, a cup of hot coffee felt really good at that hour.

What can I say? I haven't the words. The immensity of the hot-air balloon itself, the thinness of the material, the early morning hour, the size of the flames shooting out of the heater, I am at a loss to describe it all. Absolute silence, not even a bird and then *boom* the flames roar and heat up the air inside the balloon making it fight to rise while still tied down to the jeeps and 4WD vehicles

And if that is hard to put into words, well the experience itself of floating gently and silently over the fields, over rock valley, over fairy towers and fantastically shaped rocks. All I can say is if you ever have the chance... Do It! There is nothing like it. Ballooning can easily become addictive...I'm almost glad that it isn't available at home.

While the sights, the feelings, the people and the balloonist himself were almost an existential experience, the mundane world inserted itself. I had forgotten to take an extra roll of film! Berating myself out loud I was surprised to hear a young couple next to me offer to burn a CD from their digital as soon as we landed. What wonderful people! Young, on their honeymoon, it was her birthday and yet they had time for a complete stranger. I thanked them as best I could and we did do just that.

After landing I remained light headed and feeling as if I was still up in the air, a kind of natural high. It was marvelous. A breakfast was provided, but I couldn't eat yet, another cup of coffee was sufficient for me.

I was prepared to cancel the tour for that day and just sit and ruminate on the wonderful experience that morning, but after returning to the hotel and having my breakfast there I did decide to join the tour. I wasn't sorry, but I do want and need to travel by hot-air balloon some time again.

Today's tour took in Urgup, the Caravan Saray, Uchisar and Cavusin.

A visit to the Open-Air museum in Goreme gave us a closer view of the rock caves and churches that we had previously seen from a distance and a chance to walk around inside of them. Aksaray and the mushroom chimneys towered over us as we walked a short distance in rock valley.

The guide today was an historian and had many interesting tales to share with us. He gave us a synopsis of 5,000 years of history in = and hour; an amazing feat.

Lunch was good, but geared to the Western oriented tourist. Only the salad was Turkish in essence.

At 5.30 I was dropped at the dolmus that would take me to meet the bus at Keyseri. From there to the airport for a short flight back to Istanbul.

Arriving back at the Accura hotel felt almost like coming home. A short walk up Sultanahemt brought me to a nice restaurant for a good Turkish dinner.

Next morning I held a serious debate with myself. Should I return to Topkapi, as I had thought I would or do something that I hadn't as yet done? The travel agent would pick up my luggage and store it at his office.

I remembered that Miriam had told me the tram goes right down to the wharf area. I hadn't seen it, nor had I ridden the tram, so that won. Walked along the length of the wharf sightseeing and enjoying. It got awfully hot after a while and I passed a boat that was loading for a 2-hour cruise up the Bosphorus as far as the entry to the Black Sea. Hopped on and enjoyed seeing so many of the sights that I had seen from land from a different perspective. The Blue Mosques is especially beautiful from the water, towering over everything else in the vicinity.

Afterwards I returned to the travel agent's office, had yet another glass of apple tea (sweet and delicious) and was transported by dolmus to the airport for my flight home.

Hated to say good-bye to Turkey, but it was good to get home again. I don't know if I will ever have the chance to visit Turkey again - there are so many places to visit and things to see - but I do recommend to anyone that has not been there to visit.

Debbie - Israel