Cappadocia Day One – Underground Cities

We managed to save a few dollars on a cheap hotel last night, but that came at the price of a less than refreshing night sleep in a stuffy room that reeked of stale cigarette smoke.

Even leaving Mersin was an unpleasant experience, right from the start. Trying to get out of the hotel turned into a battle of wills down a narrow two-way street. Well, at least it seemed to be a two-way street last night. I wasn’t sure though, so I eventually caved and had to reverse back down the road until I could find somewhere out of the way to let the oncoming traffic pass. The traffic continued to be hectic, rude and horrible until we made it onto the expressway, which came as an incredible relief, much like lying on a soft bed after a hard day at work. Sadly we had very few fond memories of Mersin and were quite happy to see the last of it. I did enjoy my kebab last night though…

It was a surprisingly long drive, though I went too far and accidentally missed Eski Gümüsler Monastery, which was on the road to Cappadocia.

Long drive. Accidentally went too far and missed one attraction, so the first stop was at the underground city at Derinkuyu – which we accidentally drove past it earlier when we were looking for restaurants for lunch, so it shows that even now it’s quite well hidden.

20140621_RCH_3639The city went underground to hide from Arab raiders hundreds of years ago, and at the time an estimated 10,000 people lived here! We decided to buy a Cappadocia museum pass, which was 45TL ($23) for 72 hours entry to the attractions in the Cappadocia area. It paid for itself rather quickly as entry to this area was 20TL alone.

20140622_RCH_3680We unfortunately arrived the same time as several large tour groups, so it was crowded in the confined spaces, but on the positive we did manage to overhear some commentary about some of the finer details that we’d have missed just by looking at it. As with just about every other tourist location we have visited, there was next to no information. We had security guards offering to be our tour guides for 30TL ($15), and while it would be nice to know more and is only a small fraction of what this holiday is costing us, you get sick of being bled for money by everyone at every opportunity.

20140621_RCH_3674 20140622_RCH_3701 20140622_RCH_3705OK, enough with the negatives! The city was very, very deep, with as many as eight levels below ground. The ventilation shaft, which they cleverly disguised to meet up with chimneys of buildings above ground, were said to be 60m deep. The ventilation shafts must have been doing a fantastic job, as I didn’t notice the air to be too stuffy.

20140622_RCH_368420140621_RCH_3643 20140622_RCH_3682As you might expect, the whole area was quite organically created, resembling an ants nest far more than a regular building. There were narrow pathways that that linked much larger rooms, with smaller rooms branching off these. Some were genuinely tight, requiring me to walk downhill while trying to crouch. It was generally well lit, but we got bored with the main areas and enjoyed exploring down some of the darker and smaller tunnels to see where they went. It wasn’t quite as claustrophobic as being in a narrow cave and I don’t know why.

I had so many questions about how they lived, though I overheard guides trying to explain some of them, and they still didn’t have answers, only assumptions and hypotheses. Like, what did they do with all their human waste? How did they hide all the rubble from the digging to not make raiders suspicious? Where did they get food from?

20140622_RCH_3709Outside the underground city, there were the usual markets selling the usual things – scarfs, carpets, t-shirts. The area looked visibly poorer than anywhere we’d been prior. There were old ladies sitting on the pavement making small fabric dolls. It was hard to not buy some from them, but it wasn’t something we had space for, regardless of how cheap they were (and cheap they were, about $1 each). We just had to politely say no to each of the toothless women that would ask.

20140622_RCH_3710 20140622_RCH_3711 20140622_RCH_3714 20140622_RCH_3720There was also an amazing old church, however it was locked and you couldn’t go inside. A young boy followed us to the church, trying to sell some of the dolls for his mother. He was persistent, but not annoying. He showed us a few secrets with the church, such as being able to peep inside the key hole to get a glimpse of the interior. He also showed us some stone columns that could be turned much like a Buddhist prayer wheel could.

20140622_RCH_3718The dolls were cute, and he was trying so hard so I wanted to buy a couple as souvenirs for my mum and a friend. But… I didn’t have any small change, so I had to go across the road to a small convenience store to buy a drink first. I still don’t really understand why, but the shopkeeper really wanted us to take some photographs of his wine (with him in the photo).

20140622_RCH_3722It still makes me smile every time I see a family driving through town on a tractor. I’d love to drive a tractor through town one day!

We also visited another underground city in Kaymakli, which was only a 10-minute drive away. It was suggested to us that this is the best of the underground cities, and to go here instead of wasting time and money on the others. Again, there was a 20TL ($10) entry, but it was included in our pass (as are most of the other attractions in Cappadocia). As with Derinkuyu, we had people offering to be our guide, however, this guy wanted 50TL ($25!). He was pretty surprised that I didn’t want to pay him, too.

20140622_RCH_3727 20140622_RCH_3732 20140622_RCH_3729I don’t know if it was due to us having just come from another underground city, but we weren’t that impressed this time. It seemed to be more maze like with way more rooms either side of the pathways, but it also seemed a lot cleaner and a whole lot less interesting. There were some exceptionally narrow sections, but it didn’t come close to how deep Derekinuyu went, though this is mostly due to them having not yet excavated any further down – we explored one dark and narrow tunnel that ended in a room half filled with dirt. It wasn’t scary, but I couldn’t help thinking about the movie The Descent…

20140622_RCH_3734This city had lots more signs of life in the rooms, with lots of alcoves, and areas where they made and prepared food, and more surprisingly, wine.

20140622_RCH_3738It was another short drive to Göreme the popular tourist town where we are staying. There was a lookout/market that gave us our first glimpse of the ‘fairy chimneys’ in the valley below. It was a beautiful view, and I was amazed at how far the landscape stretched. The area might have been larger than I expected, but there were less ‘fairy chimneys’ than I’d expected.

20140622_RCH_3742 20140622_RCH_3744 20140622_RCH_3815After generally choosing the cheapest option every night for accommodation, tonight I let Risa splash out on a deluxe king suite (165TL – $80) in a nice hotel – Hanzade Suites. After the initial disappointment at it not being in an actual cave, we were blown away with the beauty and luxury of the room. I wouldn’t be lying if said it was the nicest hotel that I’ve ever stayed in. The manager/owner, Mustafa, was really helpful, too, doing everything he could to make sure we enjoyed our time in Cappadocia.

20140622_RCH_3749 20140622_RCH_375520140622_RCH_3784After a little while of relaxing in the beautiful suite, we joined the other tourists and walked to the top of the hill to watch the sunset. To be honest, it wasn’t a great location for viewing I think, as the town is in the shadows. I think it would be nicer from the other side, so maybe we’ll do that tomorrow night. There were loads of other people up there, but big it’s a big viewing area with plenty of space for everyone to take #selfies.

20140622_RCH_3813We weren’t in the perfect location, but it was still quite a beautiful sunset, with nice pink skies. The valleys in the distance glowed with the setting sun. It would be amazing to view from a private balcony or terrace – hopefully tomorrow night!

20140622_RCH_3817 20140622_RCH_3820 20140622_RCH_3827Even though we were in a total tourist town, it still felt like being in a smaller more authentic village. We had a great dinner in one of the places recommended in Lonely Planet. Risa started with a mint and chickpea soup, while I made a mess of the giant (though hollow) bread. We also ordered two traditional casserole-like dishes, which are cooked in sealed terracotta containers that are cracked open to eat. We saw people eating these dishes in Istanbul. We were jealous, but put off by the price. Tonight we ordered a lamb (and Risa ordered prawn) and the grand total came to 58TL ($30) inc 500mL beer!

20140622_RCH_3823 20140622_RCH_3829I am still amazed that they destroy the pots after a single meal – I guess they must be quite cheap. Oh, and I forgot to mention. After being slow cooked for several hours, the casserole inside was delicious and perfectly tender.

I was really tempted to get more of that amazing künefe (baked cheese with sugar sauce), but called it a night.

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1 Comment

  1. Adorable photography!

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