There are things that you’re supposed to do in Cappadocia. Four wheel driving through the valleys, taking a tour of an underground city, and of course, the ubiquitous hot air balloon rides that set off in the first flush of dawn. Our well meaning Hotel manager Amir tried to encourage us to sign up to various tours every morning at breakfast. But what he didn’t realise that simply sitting there on the terrace eating breakfast and looking around was enough to fill me to the brim. We kept extending our stay because we were so enamoured with the place. Sometimes you travel to such a well documented location and feel completely underwhelmed and tourist trapped. And sometimes, like this time, you get under the skin of a place and feel like you are the first to discover it.
Breakfast every morning was a platter of seasonal fruit (cherries, oranges, melon) fresh bread, soft cheese wrapped in foil, olives, tomato, cucumber and fried eggs, finished off with strong black turkish coffee. Our Hotel was simply about six rooms carved into the rock on top of each other, Flintstones style. From the terrace I could view the modern interpretations of cave houses directly around me, just beyond the ancient dwellings like upside down ice-cream cones with softly shaped entrances to the crude rooms inside. Goreme is a small town punctuated by the minarets from the several mosques and a towering fairy chimney which held a burning light at it’s tip. Further on a wide open canyon valley of red and gold rock and the magnificent cave castle of Uchisar on top of a neighbouring hill.
I read a scientific pamphlet from the Hotel’s reception (I love that even official information refers to the magical rock shapes as Fairy Chimneys) and boiled it down for myself in layman’s terms: Long long ago volcanic eruptions followed by centuries of earthquakes and erosion has created this dripping Dali reverie. We hired bikes almost every day and rode them through Rose Valley, Love Valley, Monks Valley. It was thrilling, pedalling hard and then free wheeling through the undulating landscape. Coming across jagged mountains of rock riddled with openings to climb through, landing in smoothly carved rooms, down hallways, meeting with dead ends where the rocks had caved in. Light falling in from people sized holes in the ceilings teasing us with the knowledge of many more rooms above us that we couldn’t get into. Ancient cave churches, faded frescoes depicting Christ painted over 1000 years ago, a signifier of Turkey’s transitional history.
We met our own unofficial tour guides as we made our own paths through the elongated mushrooms, dazzling white boulders and grape vines in neat rows. There was Ahmet with his aviators and jet black mullet taking care of his beautiful horses. Telling me he would name the new born foal Sarah with a twinkle in his eye. Mahmut’s secret garden hidden from the path by two huge boulders. He proudly talked us through each plant and tree in the bountiful garden. Cherries, blackberries, tomatoes. We drank tea made from the apples in his orchard under a colourful sheet as he told us about his grand children.
One morning I woke up with the Ramadan revellers, before day break, and went outside to the first glimmer of the new sun. I could already see one or two balloons floating upwards and soon the whooshing sound of the gas became more frequent as the inverted tear drops gracefully rose in slow-motion to softly hang in the sky. I wandered around the fresh dawn streets, my only company was a curious brown dog following closely. All was peaceful and radiant. After the sun had fully risen, the pink and purple light replaced with vibrant gold, I returned to our room, snuggled back into bed next to Ryan and slept until 11am, waking to pounding rain outside the window. It seemed like an entirely new day.
Images and text by Sarah Burton