Posts tagged with 'Turkey'

Green Tour, Part 1

By Ross in Travel on Wed 11 June 2014. Tags: Turkey

Today I did something I don't usually do while traveling. I took a tour. 

I do not like being rushed from place to place with no extra time to take photos or explore something I find particularly interesting. I like wandering off the path and seeing what surprises I might find. A tour is the antithesis to both of these. 

In this case, the rationale was simple. There are many sites in Cappadocia that I wanted to see which are not within walking distance to Goreme. Since I did not want to rent a car, a tour seemed like the best option.

So I signed up for the "green tour". There are numerous tour companies in the region, and the tours all seem to be labeled by colors. Judging by the placards outside various tour company offices, the green and red tours appear to be fairly standardized. I decided to skip the red tour, as it visits sites which are all within walking distance of Goreme. The green tour involves over 100 km of driving and visits most of the distant sites I wanted to see, so I decided it was the tour for me. Muhammed at Coco Cave set it all up for me, which seemed reasonable given that the price was less than quoted in guidebooks. They were supposed to pick be up from the hostel, but the bus never showed up, so Muhammed drove me down to the tour office himself. 

I was the last on the bus. There were 13 other tourists on the tour with me (a full bus-load). I was the only American, and we had people from Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, and Costa Rica. Our tour guide, Kadil, was excellent, and had a firm grasp of the history and culture of the region as well as in-depth knowledge of the sites we were visiting. He also did a good job separating fact from speculation (which is abundant for many of the ancient sites we visited.)

Our first stop was a panoramic view of Goreme, which was very picturesque but unfortunately was backlit in the morning light. It is within easy walking distance of Goreme, so I plan to revisit in the late afternoon to take more photos. I did manage to get a nice photograph of some of the fairy chimneys near Goreme.

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The next stop was the Derinkuyu underground city. There are numerous underground cities in the Cappadocia region, which is one of the reasons I decided to visit the area to begin with. Derinkuyu is the largest, and contains eight levels which can be visited (several more levels may be restored and opened to the public in the future). According to our guide, the upper two levels were built by the Hittites, and the remaining ones were built by the Byzantine Christians. No one knows the exact purpose of these cities, since they were not continually inhabited, but perhaps they served as refuges from enemy attack or persecution.

These first photos give a general sense of Derinkuyu.

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There are lots of stairways (some with more than 100 stairs!) and twisty passages (not all alike). In several cases I had to crawl to squeeze through.

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Here you see large, round stones which can be rolled across a passageway to seal it off, perhaps in defense against enemy attack.

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Here is the meeting hall, the largest open space in the entire underground city.

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The church is recognizeable as such by its cruciform layout. Although the walls and ceilings are too humid to permit frescoes, the rough outline of a cross carved in the wall marks this as a church.

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This is view up one of the main ventilation shafts, approximately 50 meters to the surface.

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Finally this is the stables, where animals goat-size and smaller could be kept.

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Rock Churches

By Ross in Travel on Tue 10 June 2014. Tags: Turkey, churches

After settling in at the Coco Cave, I set out to walk around the vicinity of Goreme. My first stop was the Goreme Open Air Museum. About half way there, I heard a thunderclap, and hailstones (about the size of ball bearings) started falling from the sky, despite it being sunny where I was standing. Fortunately, I was able to wait out the storm in a nearby cave, which are abundant in the region.

The hail turned to rain, which eventually slackened enough that I left my (not so) comfortable cave and headed to the museum. The Open Air Museum is a walking tour of some of the best-preserved churches and other structures of the region, all built directly into the rock. The most remarkable example is the Dark Church, a rock church whose frescoes are incredibly well preseved on account of the small amount of light which actually reaches the church.

I was not permitted to take photos in the Dark Church (and there was a guard standing by to enforce this rule), but I did manage to snap a few illicit, flash-free photos in the Church of the Sandals.

Here we see the main apse, the central dome, and the two supporting pillars of the church.

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This is a closeup of the central dome.

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Finally, here is a fresco of the crucifixion on the wall of one of the secondary apses.

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The refectory is located underneath the church, and has a stone table with stone benches on either side, all rough-hewn from the rock.

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After leaving the Open Air Museum, I hiked up one of the nearby hills (there are paths, or approximations thereof, almost everywhere) and soon stumbled across the remains of another rock chrurch, one of many which dot the region.

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I got some spectacular views as the sun started to set...

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... and even made friends with a goat.

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I am in a Cave

By Ross in Travel on Tue 10 June 2014. Tags: Turkey

This morning I woke up just after dawn so I could take the Havatas bus from Taksim Square to Sabiha International Airport. Although I got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare, it is good that I arrived early, since there were hardly any seats left on the 6:00 bus. On the way to the airport, the bus crossed the Bosphorus Bridge from Europe into Asia. I then took a budget flight on Pegasus Airlines from Sabiha to Kayseri, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. From there, I was able to pay the drivers of one of the hotel shuttle buses a few TL to take me to Goreme, which I had chosen as my base to explore Cappadocia.

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Since the 1990s, tourism has been the number one industry of Cappadocia (number two is agriculture, including wine-making), and cities such as Goreme are littered with small hotels and hostels as well as shops catering to tourists.

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I had booked the cheapest room I could find online, a single room at the Coco Cave Pension, but since Goreme is relatively empty during the week, I was upgraded to a cave suite for "no extra charge":

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It even included an ensuite bathroom (or should I say "engrotte")...

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... And a convenient clothesline for drying my laundry.

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Breakfast was included, consisting of bread and cheese, olives, watermelon, orange slices, and assorted fresh vegetables. Also a hard-boiled egg, which I passed on.

Since Coco Cave is located a little ways above downtown Goreme, I was rewarded with lovely views of the surrounding area.

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Meow

By Ross in Travel on Tue 10 June 2014. Tags: Turkey, cats

Istanbul is full of cats. Here are some of the felines I passed in my journeys throughout the city.

You want to join us?

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Naptime.

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We live in the streets outside the Downtown Istanbul hostel, Beyoglu.

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Hanging out in a corner.

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Are we supposed to be guarding the store or napping?

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What's down there?

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We help out at the Kariye Museum ticket booth.

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Is that my BMW?

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We guard the Fortress of the Seven Towers.

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I'm the tough cat around Yedikule.

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Peek-a-boo.

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It's hard work, guarding the shop, but someone's gotta do it.

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Don't bother me, I'm on patrol.

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This is the life!

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Snack time. Kitties descend on a meal of leftovers set out by one of the locals. The cats in Istanbul are well taken care of.

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Finally, for you dog lovers, there are dogs as well.

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Yerebatan Sarnici

By Ross in Travel on Mon 09 June 2014. Tags: Turkey

My visit to the Yerebatan Sarnici (Basilica Cistern) was one of the coolest things (both figuratively and literally, as it was a great retreat from a hot summer day!) that I have done in Istanbul. The site -- located a mere hop, skip, and a jump from Hagia Sophia -- was originally a basilica built between the 3rd and 4th centuries and was later converted into a cistern. It has a capacity of 100,000 tons of water, although at present the water level is only a few feet high so that tourists do not have to use SCUBA gear. The water originally came from the nearby Belgrade Forest via the Valens Aqueduct, part of which is still standing today:

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The specifications are impressive: 138 x 64 meters in area, 80,000 cubic meters in volume, and containing 336 marble columns, each 9 meters tall:

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One unusual feature is the two blocks featuring carvings of Medusa which are used as bases for two of the columns. One Medusa is placed sideways, the other is upside down, perhaps to negate her petrifying gaze.

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The cistern was also used in the James Bond film From Russia with Love.