Editor’s note: Timing is everything. Tomorrow is Turkish date night for A and me, and today we get treated to this incredible look into a cool country by Sam! Check out all his articles by visiting his index. And please, if you like what we do, consider becoming a sponsor through our Patreon page.
Over Thanksgiving, I kept thinking about a place that is so nice, it caused me to cross the world twice: Turkey. Whether it is the dazzling mosques and palaces of Istanbul, the turquoise waters of the coast, or the towering Roman ruins, Turkey is a place that has it all, and is affordable, too. However, there is one place in Turkey that is unlike anywhere in the world, and that is the region of Cappadocia. Cappadocia looks like you are in the Flintstones’ town of Bedrock or maybe on a landscape of Star Wars (that is probably because much of Star Wars was actually filmed there). I have been to Cappadocia twice now, and though I often do not return to places as I want to always see new places, Cappadocia is one of the few places that I could visit over and over again and never lose my sense of wonder and awe. Cappadocia is located in the center of Turkey, and you can get there by a long bus from pretty much anywhere, or you can fly into Kayseri (an hour away) or nearby Neveshir airport, which have cheap domestic connections from all over the country before making your way to the town of Goreme.
Goreme is a happening town with bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops that are open until late at night. However, all you need to do to be amazed by Goreme is to look around you. Goreme is surrounded by what are called fairy chimneys, point stone columns that are volcanically formed and are hard on the outside but soft on the inside. As a result of the fairy chimneys’ soft interior, over thousands of years, people have carved cave homes into the rocks and have lived inside of them. Today, you can stay in one of Goreme’s many cave hotels built right into the fairy chimneys for as little as $20 per night, or splurge and have an in-suite jacuzzi for an additional $100. Sleeping in a cave is an unforgettable experience, but it is one of many that you will have in Cappadocia. On your first evening, make your way uphill to the Seten restaurant overlooking the entire Goreme town for an incredible view and the best traditional Turkish food that you will find anywhere in the country.
Fairy chimney with a house built into it
A must-do for every traveler in Cappadocia is an early morning hot-air balloon ride. You will have to wake up far before sunrise for your ride above the rock formations. As a result, you will be treated to the most spectacular sunrise of your life as you rise above the fairy chimneys alongside dozens of other colorful hot air balloons. After the morning of a lifetime, once you get back on solid ground, you will be treated by your pilot to a champagne toast. Following your balloon ride, head over to the largest fairy chimney in Cappadocia, Uchisar Castle, a 60 meter mountain that is full of dwellings that were lived in until a few decades ago when they were deemed unsafe to continue to inhabit. The climb is steep, but the views are spectacular. Following Uchisar Castle, hop in your car and continue your drive another half hour to a site that is not for those who are claustrophobic.
Perhaps the most iconic view of Cappadocia
There are two underground cities in Cappadocia, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. These cities go deep underground and were cities of refuge for early Christians twelve hundred years ago to protect against Arab Muslim invaders. These cities could hold up to twenty thousand inhabitants who would role giant stones over entryways to prevent intruders. Going several stories underground, these cities have cellars, churches, stables, oil and wine presses, as well as large eating halls. Central Turkey was a place where early Christianity thrived as the faith spread northward from the Holy Land, while also spreading south from Constantinople (Istanbul) once it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire that had adopted Christianity as the faith of the empire. Back in Goreme, there is an open-air museum that has spectacularly painted 9th century churches inside the fairy chimneys. These cave churches were a collection of chapels and monasteries where the faithful would pray and young priests and monks would study, painting spectacular religious depictions on the walls and roofs that would have no contact with light, making them perfectly preserved more than a millennium later. The open-air museum requires at least a couple of hours and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
An ancient church
Aside from the history and scenery of Cappadocia, the region holds many cultural activities and souvenir shopping attractions to make your trip unforgettable. The city of Avanos is known as the pottery and ceramics capital of Turkey and many expert potters will give you a demonstration of how they make their craft. For a particularly bizarre experience, go to the Chez Galip pottery store, which has a hair museum located inside of it, featuring millions of strands of hair they received from around the world. Throughout all of Turkey, you will be inundated by countless Turkish rug stores, but most of these rugs come from rural Turkey, with many coming specifically from Cappadocia, making this region the most special one to bring home a pricey, yet beautiful, keepsake, which likely took years to weave. Of all the stores, my favorite is Sultan Carpets in Goreme. I visited this store 16 years earlier on my first visit to Turkey and befriended the owner, Ali Sakarya. Unannounced, I walked into the store more than a decade later, Ali looked at me and immediately gave me a hug and said, “Sam, it is so great to see you!” Now that is what I call customer service. Like many shopkeepers, Ali will patiently unroll and flip carpets for you to see and tell you their stories and treat you to a cup of tea. Between the fairy chimneys and hot air balloons, Cappadocia has become one of the most world-renowned destinations for Instagram travel. Ali has capitalized on this craze by having a special Instagram studio inside his store with different traditional costumes, pillows, and many unrolled rugs. If you are into the social media photoshoots, make sure you swing by Sultan Carpets and bring home a rug!
Finally, there is one more must-do for your few days in Cappadocia, and that is attend a show of the whirling dervishes. These dancers perform a sacred meditative dance from the Sufi Muslim tradition dating back 700 years. The performance is done inside a caravanserai, an 800-year-old stable and fort located on the ancient Silk Road, connecting Europe to China. Following the show, there is often a lightshow on the walls of the caravanserai engagingly retelling the history of Cappadocia. The men who dance wear a white skirt and twirl in a trance while men chant traditional melodies. The dervishes close their eyes and spin in circles, never falling out formation and never colliding with each other; spectators are instructed to remain completely silent and refrain from taking pictures (they do a brief demonstration where pictures are allowed at the end) as any distraction can cause the dervishes to lose focus and fall. A visit to the dervishes is the perfect way to end your trip to Cappadocia; the experience is holy, beautiful and mesmerizing, just like everything else in Cappadocia.
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