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UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme Open Air Museum

Cappadocia


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Edit from March 2019: There wasn't enough room in the title, but the UNESCO Site is actually called 'Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia'. The open air museum is only part of it.

After our second breakfast we began our tour of the local area. To do this we joined up with a tour run by a local travel agent and organised for us by our hotel; usually we prefer travelling independently, but decided to give an organised tour a go this time.

We visited two sets of rock formations first- climbed around and admired some 'fairy chimneys' and some shaped like other things- for example a camel, a hand, two whirling dervishes, the Virgin Mary with her arms crossed.

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There were some fantastic views of the Devnent Valley and the wider Cappadocian landscape - all creamy and pinkish stone, olive trees, small fields of pumpkin plants, vineyards... Some of the rock formations had dwellings in them, now empty; two had been churches.

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At the first one I had an accident - I walked into the end of an olive branch, which scratched my forehead quite badly. Not much blood at all though luckily. The scratches stung like mad for a while but don't hurt at all any more. They are however embarrassingly very visible.

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In the nearby town of Ürgüp we were given a tour of a government-run Turkish carpet workshop - it was interesting to see some weavers at work, a man getting silk threads from cocoons of the silkworm and hear a bit about the process of making the rugs.

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It did however end with half an hour of sales techniques being tried on us, which we could have done without. After showing us round, the main guy herded us all into a big showroom, gave us tea, coffee or the local spirit and talked about carpets while other guys showed them to us. Then he gave an order, stepped aside and a crowd of salesmen all came in and nabbed us sitting targets... Cue awkwardness all round. There were some absolutely gorgeous rugs, but quite rightly (given how incredibly long each one takes to be made by hand) they were all extremely expensive, so we didn't get any. I don't think anyone actually bought anything.

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Lunch was very good - a collection of various salads and hot dishes, with some lovely puddings; fruit jellies, syrupy batter balls, fruit and a delicious chocolate blancmange-type thing. The view we got from the terrace outside was fabulous, too. We saw man-made door-shaped holes in cliffs and rock formations in the distance- apparently these were pigeon houses! Like dovecotes I suppose.

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We were also shown round a pottery workshop, saw a pot being thrown and painters painting plates by hand in traditional patterns. This time we weren't given the hard sell, which was good, but we still didn't buy anything because even the smallest thing was too expensive.

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We also saw a historic fortress very dramatically set within one giant rock formation, but people aren't allowed to climb it for safety reasons. So we only looked from afar.

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Last up was the place I most wanted to see; the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of rock-hewn churches. It's part of the Göreme Valley, itself part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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I loved the creamy curves of the stone, and the frescoes within.

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One of them, the church of St Barbara, had some very enigmatic, simple red frescoes which looked almost like Aboriginal Australian rock paintings. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside.

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I also loved the small but excellent exhibition of photos of Cappadocia taken from hot air balloons, which was in another of the churches.

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I did have another accident here though - this time I stepped into a hole and bashed my shin against the edge of the metal grille. The grille was supposed to cover a whole hole where a grave had once been, but stopped short. This is the chapel where it happened;

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For dinner that evening we went a café recommended in my guidebook; I had a delicious spiral vegetable- stuffed pastry thingy with tomato sauce and yoghurt, and Dave had a tuna salad. I had a chocolate and caramel Turkish ice cream to follow, but Dave didn't have anything.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged art cappadocia turkey museum dave fortifications natural_wonder unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

Hot air balloon flight

Cappadocia


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Well, what can I say...

The time is now 07:45; we got back from our hot air balloon trip over an hour ago and I still haven't come down from my high yet! It was just unreal... The fulfilment of a lifelong dream... And in one of the most wonderful settings imaginable! Floating over fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations, we saw the sunrise, the second-largest mountain in Turkey, vineyards, the Unesco World Heritage Site and an ancient town we'll be seeing from ground level later today, bare hills and enscarpments and last but not least, lots of other balloons. The sight of the sky filled with colourful hot air balloons is something I've always dreamed of seeing.

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The balloon pilots were clearly extremely skilful, able to use the flame and manipulate what wind there was to go within only a few metres of the ground at some points, getting us close up to the World Heritage Site for example, before rising up again. The highest we got was 650 metres (on weekdays they can't go any higher due to aeroplane flight paths; at weekends they can go up to 800 metres).

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Our balloon flight lasted an hour and two minutes (the main pilot told us) and we landed in a harvested cornfield close to Göreme. We were given champagne - it was the first champagne I've ever had that I've actually liked, because I could actually taste the grapes and I couldn't taste the underlying tannins or whatever it is that usually turns me off wine in general. We also got a beautiful flight certificate each.

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Time for our second breakfast now... (our first breakfast was at about 04:30, part of the balloon trip deal). Then on for a day tour of the local surroundings!

Posted by 3Traveller 01:41 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey hot_air_balloons dave Comments (1)

Arrival in Cappadocia

Istanbul and Göreme


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At 03.15 am we got a shuttle to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Waiting for the shuttle at three am, we were expecting all the streets to be deserted, but to our surprise we saw several men sitting at tables in front of closed restaurants and cafés, chatting with friends. We guessed it might be something to do with Ramadan - I know that they can't eat until sundown, so they need to get all their meals in during the night.

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At the airport there was a beautiful exhibition of travel photography to look at while we waited for our flight, which took off half an hour late at about 07.30.

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An hour and five minutes after that we arrived at Nevşehir Airport, where we were picked up and taken to our amazing hostel/hotel in Göreme.

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Fantastic place, fantastic setting amongst lots of fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations. Our hotel is built into one of them! We were welcomed with free tea, coffee and plate of delicious, moist cheese puff things.

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After half an hour or so of sitting in the lovely courtyard, we were allowed to check in early. Our room is amazing! it's cavernous yet comfortable, with stone walls and ceiling, a tiled floor, cupboards cut out of the walls and archway over the head of our bed. There's a terrace above us with a spectacular view...

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We caught up on sleep for several hours, before venturing out to explore. It is so pleasant here! Just round the corner from our hotel was a large area of ground covered in piled-up blocks of white stone - a stonemason had clearly been at work here in the open air, though he wasn't to be seen at that moment.

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Five minutes later, just as we passed a mosque the muezzin began his call to prayer. After a lovely wander round town we had an early dinner at a café - a Turkish savoury pancake and some rice pudding for me, a sandwich for Dave and a chocolate milkshake each.

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged art night hotel airport cappadocia turkey istanbul dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul


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On Sunday we had a relaxed morning and didn't leave the hostel until early lunchtime. Our destination was the area of Beyoglu, the heart of modern Istanbul. We had spent 95% of our time until then in Sultanahmet, the historic area, so we wanted to see what the modern centre was like. Taksim Square, in the centre, is on a large hill, so we took the funicular railway up there from the tram station. We'd just taken the tram across Galata Bridge from Sultanahmet.

The funicular turned out to be underground, unfortunately, so we didn't get any amazing views on the way up. However Istikal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street, leads down the hill from the square, so we got some good views from there.

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Although part of modern Istanbul, Beyoglu still has some historic buildings. As soon as we'd crossed the square we found a small art gallery which turned out to be in the former cistern building used for Beyoglu's water storage in the 18th and 19th centuries when the population of Istanbul spread. The artwork there was of a good standard, all modern paintings with price tags; each section was dedicated to a different artist and in a couple of them the artists were actually there, working on paintings. It was interesting to look round.

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After that we wandered down Istikal Caddesi, taking everything in. Although filled with international shopping chains, it also has Turkish Delight and baklava shops, 'vitamin bars' (juice bars where the fruits are piled up at the front), cafés with Turkish ice cream stands at the front, shops with foil-wrapped slabs of chocolate piled up against the windows, and some other miscellaneous shops.

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We went into a sweet shop after I noticed a sign saying Marron Glace- I knew these aren't common in the UK so I bought some, and then we noticed the baklava counter so Dave bought us one piece each of chocolate baklava and walnut baklava, both of which were delicious.

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There was an antique book and map shop which we enjoyed browsing; we had a late lunch at café, where we both tried things we hadn't had before- I had a lovely springy textured wrap filled with spiced (not the hot kind) lamb, tomato and onion, and Dave had a similar thing but in a sandwich and with beef instead of lamb; we visited the Catholic church of St Anthony, where I lit a candle and we admired photos of papal visits over the last century.

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We ate lunch upstairs in the café, so we had a good view of the street outside. While we were there, we heard lots of loud chanting begin, and van loads of armed police with riot shields arrived and stood to one side. Part of a demonstration was going on just round the corner. Later on it passed us- very loud, but seemingly not dangerous.

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I also visited a dervish lodge, now a museum, where these followers of the Sufism sect of Islam lived until it was outlawed by the Turkish government in the 1920s. Dave didn't fancy it so looked round the attached historic graveyard while waiting for me. It was interesting to read the given information, see the artifacts from their daily lives (which included musical instruments, turbans, cooking utensils, coffee-making and serving utensils and walking sticks the dervishes used to lean on and sleep as they couldn't lie down on beds) and see the arena where they whirled during the ceremony that required it. They had a map of where else in the world these dervish lodges were; I saw the one in Plovdiv, now a restaurant, where Mum and I had dinner once in May.

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My wrap had been smaller than expected, so to keep myself going after I left the museum I got myself a chicken kebab from a cafe - it was very tasty and the bread had a texture very similar to a ciabatta. Then we walked past the historic Galata Tower and down to sea level. We got ourselves two different types of syrupy batter things from a street seller before we reached the tram station.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:20 Archived in Turkey Tagged art turkey museum istanbul dave procession turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

The Spice Market & a taste of Asia

Istanbul


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The Spice Market was our morning destination on Saturday. Held within a building dating from 1666, it was formerly known as the Egyptian Market because the spices used to be shipped in from Cairo. As well as spices, it sells mounds of fruit teas, dried fruit, shelled nuts, Turkish Delight and wrapped and unwrapped blocks of olive oil soap. I couldn't wait to experience it...

Before we got there, however, we found ourselves wandering around the Main Market, which fills the streets around the Spice Market. In fact we had quite a job finding the latter due to the mazy street layout and all the market stalls! The Main Market was very interesting to look round in itself. It was filled with stalls selling a wide range of household goods, including wicker baskets, cooking utensils, tools, t-shirts, hats, headscarves, jeans, knives, plastic toys, towels, pets (cages of birds, green lizards and white rabbits), pet food, blocks of coloured soaps and some jars of live leeches in water.

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Needless to say, once we found the Spice Market I loved walking round, savouring the colours and the mix of exotic scents. I wished my family were there to appreciate it all, especially the piles of huge juicy-looking dates which they would have loved but were wasted on me. I bought some 'meatball spice' (which smelled genuinely lovely) and some 'Turkish saffron' which I've since found out is not saffron at all but a cheap imitation called safflower. I should have been suspicious about the price not being sky-high!

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These are the surroundings of the Spice Market;

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I had read somewhere that the Turkish Delight at the Spice Market is not actually that great, and the best place in Istanbul to get it is from a shop nearby. Before we set off to find it, however, we went to different shop nearby which apparently has the best baklava in Istanbul - at least we tried to find it, but didn't manage to - it was supposed to be in the main market, but around where it should have been we only found a baklava shop of a different name. We bought some from there anyway, as it looked good, plus some Turkish rice pudding. It was lovely, so no regrets.

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It was between one and two o'clock by now and we needed to move on to catch a ferry to the Asian side, so we decided to look for the Turkish Delight shop on our return to Istanbul before we go back to Bulgaria, instead. Before we got on the ferry we had a tasty 'Balik Ekmek' each; this is an ultra-fresh fish fillet thrown onto a grill and then stuffed into a huge crusty roll with some chopped lettuce and raw onion. Lemon juice and salt are optional condiments. These are made and sold on the seafront.

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The ferry trip was a great experience. It was a commuter ferry, not a public excursion one, so it only cost about 2 lira. It took about 20 minutes and we loved all the different views we got of the skyline. Minarets, skyscrapers, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower... We passed a French destroyer docked at the headland next to the palace; Dave said he thought the small black and white flag displayed on it was the international quarantine signal.

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On arrival in Asia, we headed to Kadikoy produce market, where the locals go apparently. We just window-shopped instead of actually buying anything, but it was good fun to see all the different goods; fresh fish, containers filled with honeycombs, the biggest cherries I've ever seen, other fruit and vegetables, yoghurt and cheese, baklava, eggs, olives, dried peppers, crystallised and dried fruit...piles of colourful soaps, too.

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Something the Asian side had which we hadn't seen in the historic European area was sideless carts piled with antiques or secondhand books. These were wheeled about the streets and then set down for a while for people to browse at. Some if the books were in English, but none we wanted to buy, though I did enjoy having a look at a book for adult English as a second language learners which was published in the 1950s... I regret not buying that now, actually.

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Another thing we noticed was groups of older men sitting around cafe tables playing a particular game which involved a lot of clicking, sliding about and picking up rectangular cream counters. Some other cafés had younger people playing backgammon and other board games.

The last thing we did before returning to Europe was to have Turkish coffee and a Turkish dessert called 'Kazan dibi'. I tried some Kazan dibi once at the Lucky Man restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria (a place with a small Turkish population); the stuff I had today proves that what I had in VT was genuine. It's delicious, if filling!

Some photos from the return ferry trip;

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On our return to Europe we decided not to get the tram back yet, but to walk across Galata Bridge to the other European side first for a look around. There were loads of fishermen on both sides of the bridge, using extremely long lines. One of them caught a fish just as we walked past him- it flopped around on the ground for a while before being captured and put into a container of water alive.

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The Strait of Bosphorus, while not crystal clear of course, was much cleaner than I was expecting for such a big city. We spotted a few white jellyfish and some small silvery fish (maybe sardines?).

For dinner we had another 'Balik Ekmek' each, from a cafe on the seafront; they were even better than the ones we had earlier!

When we were back in Sultanahmet and walking from the tram station to our hostel, we couldn't help but notice that hundreds, even thousands of people were pouring in from every direction and settling themselves and their families onto rugs spread out on the grass in Sultanahmet Park. We guessed that it was due to Ramadan- people sharing the breaking of the day's fast with their friends and family in a shared environment. It was nearly sunset by then, so this was more than likely.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges market turkey istanbul asia ferry bosphorus dave turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

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