Tuesday, December 26, 2006 Turkey Turkey

Christmas in Cappadocia

Flintstones Cafe, Cappadocia [Enlarge]

Loaded into two Yuki Tours minibuses, our group headed off into the heart of Cappadocia for the first of two one-day tours. It was cold but bright and despite the lack of sleep we were feeling surprisingly energetic. We stopped in a parking area, got out and clustered around Ahmet, our guide. He explained about how the geology of the area had created the right conditions for 'fairy chimneys' to form. Every time the ancient volcanoes in the area erupted, they left a layer of ash, which set like cement when it rained. Occasionally, lumps of hard basalt were thrown out of the volcanoes too, so they are spread through the ash layers like raisins in one of Glenn's gran's famous Scottish scones. Over millions of years the relatively soft ash eroded and blew away, but when the erosion uncovered a lump of basalt, it protected the ash beneath it, so a column formed, topped by the piece of basalt. Eventually, thousands of columns were formed over the whole region. Some are so big that they were hollowed out and made habitable.

Over the centuries Cappadocian cave dwellings have been home to many different peoples. They must have been very fit, judging by the amount of climbing up walls that they had to do, using precarious hand and foot holds. Some of the caves were used as churches, and we saw many with the original tenth century wall frescos in pretty good condition.

After lunch we made a stop in another pottery 'workshop' for what we had by now termed a shopportunity. The Lonely Planet guidebook had warned that organised tours included these un-advertised and unwanted stops and that the guide would be on serious commission, but we enjoyed watching the demonstration and looking round the showroom at the beautifully crafted pieces. This particular workshop, Chez Galip, specialises in replica Hittite wine jugs; though it's hard to say what was more amazing: the workmanship or the price tags! One had a starting price (negotiable, of course) of YTL 15000 (GBP 5374 / USD 10399).

After the final stop of the day, the five storey Moulin Rouge fairy chimney café, we headed back to the Cappadocia Palace Hotel. We were so tired that we went to bed immediately, at about 19:15. We fell asleep with the light on and woke up at 23:10. We set the alarm for seven the next morning, brushed our teeth and went straight back to sleep.

Christmas morning, and as we tucked in to the excellent breakfast in the hotel we pitied the latest crowd of overnight travellers who had arrived early in the morning expecting a shower and breakfast, just as we had the previous day. While friends and family back home would just have been waking up to find out what Santa had brought them, we were setting off on a hike through the Cappadocian hills led by our enthusiastic guide, Şükür, to see the red valley and the rose valley. Again it was very cold with patches of ice on the ground, but the sun was even stronger than the previous day and walking uphill we took off our hats and gloves and unzipped our coats.

The views were breathtaking. Spending Christmas day amongst the spectacular scenery of Cappadocia with cobalt skies and blinding sunshine certainly made missing the family gathering a little easier to bear. Also the fact that 25th December is in every way a completely normal day in Turkey.

Our next stop was a village where the houses had been built into the cliffs. Over many years the Turkish and Greek villagers had extended the naturally occurring caves both by digging further back into the rock and by extending them outwards using the excavated stone. In addition to houses there was a mosque and a church. Difficulties between Turkey and Greece eventually reached a stage where the governments agreed to conduct a 'population exchange'. Greeks living in Turkey were forced out, and vice versa. The Greek cave houses and their church were abandoned. Not long afterwards, in 1939, a rockfall prompted the Turkish government to declared the village unsafe. The villagers moved a few hundred metres down the valley and, using stone from their old homes, constructed new houses. The buildings that now remain intact are those of the Greek villagers. These were untouched by the Turkish who felt that it was disrespectful to demolish someone else's home.

After lunch we visited a fascinating underground city. The location of Cappadocia, between the various civilisations which have come and gone, means that it has been prone to hostile invasion for centuries. Exploiting the naturally occurring caves beneath them, local people built an underground city capable of supporting 4000 people, storing their food and housing their animals, for three months. Only ten percent of the city has been excavated so far, but that extended for hundreds of metres through twisting, narrow passages and up and down stairs.

On the way out of the underground city there was another shopportunity: a collection of touristy souvenir stalls. One sold every variety of blue glass evil eye charm and someone asked the origin of the eye. It appears that all Arabs are suspicious of blue eyes, believing that they have the power to put a curse on you. This may date back to crusader times, but in Şükür's version of the story it went back to pre-Christian times when Turks believed in sky-gods and earth-gods. The different shades of blue in the lucky charm signify the sky and earth in the day and night, and the amulet stops someone putting the evil eye on you. Isla's eyes are blue already so we figured she's got inbuilt protection, but Glenn haggled for a one Lira evil eye key fob, which he figured might help him out when we get to the Syrian border.

After a quick visit to Pigeon Valley for a picturesque view we had a final stop to make. Yes, another shopportunity, this time at a stoneware workshop where we had a demonstration of onyx turning and a look round the associated jewellery showroom.

Our final booked excursion in Turkey was scheduled for that evening and we were so tired that we nearly didn't bother going: a Turkish Night Show. The Dervishes whirled; the Raki flowed; it was cheesy but harmless until the audience participation part. We exercised our British reserve and left the folk dancing to our South Korean companions. After re-enacting a 'traditional courtship dance' the dancers, audience and band conga'd their way out of the hall and we sipped our Raki and enjoyed the peace, along with a few others (presumably also British) who had stayed behind. It couldn't last for ever, of course. Eventually the sound of the band grew louder and louder and they burst back in.

There was only one possible way to round off a Turkish Night Show. The lights dimmed and the audience grew quiet as the belly dancer descended from the ceiling in a neon-lit cage. Her performance included the ubiquitous booty-shaking and men from the audience were encouraged to tuck paper currency into her underwear. Not sure how belly dancing fits into modern Muslim society, but it was a memorable way to spend Christmas day night. Wonder what we'll do next year?

1 Comment:

Jimmy K. said...

I keep expecting the next stop to have someone come up to you and say "Bond, James Bond" at your service. :)