Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Monastaries, Valleys and Underground Cities

While neither Sarah nor I are big fans of tours, we figured that the best use of our last day in Göreme was to take a day tour that would allow us to see some of teh major sites in the area we'd missed. So, with a night bus ahead of us that evening, we boarded a tour bus to spend the day running around Cappadocia.

The first stop on our tour was a view of Göreme and its surrounding valleys. We'd make several stops at view points that day, and each followed roughly the same routine. The bus would pull up, all of us would pile out of it. The tour guide would announce: "Take pictures! In 5 minutes, we go!"

Another stunning picture of the Goreme area. (Sarah doesn't like this picture because the wind made her look like she's wearing high-water bell-bottoms.)

So, five minutes later, we were back in the bus. After driving for about a hour, we reached Sileme Monastary. This monastary was similar to some of the others we'd seen over the last couple days, but on a much larger scale. After a breif introduction by the tour guide, we were set free to explore its various caves and chambers.

The Sileme Monastary, perched high above us.

One of the chambers in the monastary, with two stories and elaborate arched architecture... amazingly all carved out of the cliffside.

Remains of frescoes on one of the monastary walls.

After about an hour, it was back on the bus. And a few minutes later, we stopped at another view point. This one was called the "Star Wars Place" because apparently some establishing shots were taken here back in 1977 for the original Star Wars. "Take pictures! In 5 minutes, we go!"

Another 30 minute drive brought us to the Ihara Valley. Here, we unloaded form our bus again and decended into the steep valley. Unlike the surrounding countryside, the Ilhara valley was a lush, green space with a small river running through the center of it. After looking at an old church carved into the cliffside, our group took a three kilometer walk down the river valley. As we walked, Sarah and I agreed that we could have easily spent the entire day wandering through the valley and exploring the numerous caves and rooms hidden in it.

Looking down into the Ilhara Valley. The valley runs approximately 15 kilometers, but we'd only get to see a small portion of that.

The sheer cliff faces of the Ilhara rise above us like the prow of a boat.

Halfway through our 3k "hike" the group stopped to rest. Like several others in the group, I took the chance to wade into the river.

At the end of the walk we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. As we ate our meals, we talked to a couple of other American's we'd met in our tour group, Andrea and Tara, and the outgoing Italian, Alessandro. Andrea was starting a round the world trip herself. It was the first time in a long while that we'd encountered another person doing a round the world trip, and it was the first time we'd talked to one while we were on the tail end of our trip. It felt sort of being on the other side of a looking glass: Surreal, but good.

With lunch done, we climbed back into our bus and drove another 30 minutes to an underground city. Apparently, there's roughly 100 underground cities in the Cappadocia area. Originally used by the people of the area as a place to hide when invade, some are now open to the public for sightseeing.

The one we visited was purportedly the deepest. There were eight levels that were open to the public, with another eight still lay below them waiting to be explored by experts.

Honestly, it was really cool. If I had been twelve years old, it might have been my most favorite place in the whole world. Seemingly endless tunnels and caverns burrowing deeping and deeping into the Earth, eerily lit by a networks of lamps. Even as an adult, I couldn't help but think of playing Dungeons and Dragons as a youth, or fancy myself as a modern day Indiana Jones.

The happy couple, about seven stories underground.

I will say though, that it wasn't a place for the claustrophobic. Some of tunnels were so narrow that you nearly had to crawl to get through them. And, in the small chambers that marked the 8th floor down, you could feel the depth and earth around you. Also, like many things in Turkey, the number of other tourists and tour groups pushing past added to the sense of claustrophobia. But, even with that, I still wished I was young and could spend the day playing in the caves with my brother.

Sarah demonstrates how narrow some of the tunnels in the underground city were.

Emerging into the glare of the daylight, we stumbled back to the bus half-blind. Another thirty minutes drive brought us to another view point: The pigeon valley, which we'd seen portions of on our first day. "Take pictures! In 5 minutes, we go!"

But, after taking pictures, we weren't herded onto the bus again. Instead, our guide took us across the street to see an onyx carving demonstration. This was, of course, a shop. And, after the brief (yet actually kind of cool) onyx carving demostration, we were led into the shop where people tried to sell us stuff.

Sarah had actually won a carved onyx egg during the demonstration, so while the rest of the group fended off salespeople, we stood in the corner, clutching our egg and sipping complimentary hibiscus tea.

Entertaining, Alessandro decided he wanted to buy a silver bracelet. The main problem though, was that it was a woman's bracelet. This confused the salespeople to no end, but Alessandro was insistent and managed to convince them that he wanted to buy it for himself, and finally they relented. Sarah pointed out that this was the first time on the trip that a salesperson was reluctant to sell a tourist something. In most other countries, the salespeople would have happily stated that the bracelet was "for woman or man" if they realized they had a prospective buyer.

Done with the shop, we were also done with our tour. The bus dropped us off downtown, and we said goodbye to the people we'd met that day. Returning to our pension, we finished packing, went out fro a quick bite to eat, and then boarded our night bus for Anatalya. Another 10 hour bus ride ahead of us. Sigh.

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