Saturday, September 29, 2007

A lot of hot air

Cappadoccia is Tourist Turkey there is no doubt. We are visiting Goreme's Open Air Museum. It's a small area packed with rock-cut churches which are covered on the inside with defaced frescoes. We have paid a whopping 10 Turkish Lira each to enter and now find we can't get in any of the churches because there are pack after pack of tourist groups who have rolled off their buses and joined a crocodile of other groups. Each tour guide spends 15 minutes inside each church talking about goodness knows what (if only we could hear them!) and then is ─▒mmediately replaced by the next group. It appears endless so we go and sit in the shade for a while. Finally there's a dip in the flow and we squeeze ourselves in between a group of Australian teenagers who could possibly be evangelical christians and a gaggle of young Japanese who say "ohhh!" everytime they enter a church. Ultimately we are disappointed - we might have sight fatigue or tour group fatigue or both.

The landscape around Goreme is pretty weird and wonderful. It looks like a flat plain has been split into many valleys full of oddly-shaped rock formations. The rock is formed from volcanic ash from ancient eruptions. Some of the valleys have water and are cultivated mainly with fruit trees - apple and pear - and grapevines. Other valleys are dry and barren and full of misshapen rock sculpted by wind, water and humans. This is cave country. Whole villages full of cave houses. Whole caves full of villages - there are at about 36 "underground cities" where villagers dug down into hillsides to build labyrinths. We visit one and it's a strange place - about 9 levels deep. Forunately it is lit and signposted - it looks so easy to get lost - and only five levels are open. These places date back to the 7th century BC and possibly as far back as Hittite times (way back). The walking through the valleys is also fun and on one day we climb up and out after a pleasant shady walk with no sense of where we might be or what direction we are going in. But we are not lost - from on top you can see the lie of the land.

We're staying at the Kookaburra Pension. The owner is the most miserable and moody Turk we have come across. He looks and acts like a drinker. However, his pension is very nice and we have a barrel-vaulted room with rugs and there's a roof-terrace to sit out on and meet others staying here. We recklessly eat our breakfast here, opting not to pay the extra for one to be provided, and people ask us quietly, with a nod to the surly owner, "Doesn't he say anything to you?" He doesn't, but he does accuse us of stealing a guidebook from his bookshelf. In fact he accuses everyone in turn. It's amazing he has any customers.

Each evening has been spent chatting to Warren and Gail, youthful septugenarians from Canada, who are heading to the Middle East like us. They are full of stories which Warren peppers with phrases like "Holy Hannah!" Gail has decided to take a hot-air balloon ride over the wonderful landscape. Some mornings we have been awake early enough to see a balloon floating over Goreme. The rides all set off at sunrise - what was one company's good idea has now been copied to excess and the rides are compulsory for the tour groups. We are tempted by the idea but put off by the cost. However we agree with Warren to climb the highest ridge overlooking Goreme at dawn to catch the take-off of the ballons. It's a wonderful sight - 28 balloons lifting out of the valleys as the sun comes up. The wonder is enhanced by the early hour and the peacefulness of the scene which is only interrupted when a gas-burner roars more heat into a balloon. They float over us and off into the distance.

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