Besides the bustling city of Istanbul, many tourists often go to Cappadocia as part of their time spent in Turkey. This famous, historic region in central Turkey is home to fairy chimneys, underground caves and, of course, the hot-air balloon rides that happen every day for visitors. Cappadocia is that once-in-a-lifetime kind of place that you have to visit, especially when it’s one of the most-beautiful parts of the country.
Cappadocia was on our Tours 4 Turkey itinerary when my friend and I were visiting Turkey in June. We had a two-night stay in Istanbul before we caught our first overnight bus to the region in the late afternoon. Our tour had provided us the bus tickets in advance, so it was simply a matter of showing them to our bus driver before climbing aboard for the long ride over.
I’d had my fair share of taking overnight buses over the past few years of traveling Europe, but I’ll say that the overnight buses that I took in Turkey were pretty difficult. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t taken an overnight bus in a while, or maybe it was because the ones in Turkey operated differently, but I was utterly wrecked even by the end of the first one.
What made the overnight buses in Turkey different from the ones I’ve done in, say, France or Switzerland, was that there were no toilets on-board, nor Wifi. Now, I don’t mind if there isn’t the latter, but the former is rather important, considering we were on the bus for easily over 13 hours. That meant that the bus driver was required to pull into bus stops every couple of hours for us to get off and use the toilets. Not only that, but also the toilets weren’t free (1-2 lira) and often were squat toilets– while I’ve *sort of* got used to using squats while in Asia, it was still a bit awkward.
We also spent about 20-30 minutes at each stop, not just to relieve ourselves, but also for some passengers to get food, drink tea, or have a smoke. I wasn’t accustom to this type of overnight bus experience, which proved frustrating and exhausting in the end. I will say, though, it was quite the adventure to have, and even if I was done with it by our third and final overnight bus, I emerged stronger in my travel experience…more than ever!
Around 8:30, our overnight bus pulled into Göreme, one of the main towns in Cappadocia. This small, but lively town is touristy, as it’s often used as a base to venture into the heart of Cappadocia and to transfer to other cities in Turkey. Our guided tour wouldn’t start until 9:30, so my friend and I had some time to kill. We’d arrived on an early Sunday morning, so not many shops were open– luckily, there was one coffee shop that was open, so we ducked in there to get some coffee and cake as breakfast, as well as use its bathroom to freshen up after a long night in transit.
Our local guide picked us up around 9:30, and we spent the rest of the day exploring south Cappadocia (we would be spending two nights in the region, starting with exploring half of the area on the first day). It was perhaps about eight of us on the tour as we sped through the arid, rocky region on the tour mini-van, all the while getting a crash course in the history and geology of this strange-looking, yet fascinating part of Turkey.
We had our first stop at the Derinkuyu Underground City, one of the several underground cave dwellings in Cappadocia. This one dates back over 3000 years ago, and it’s the deepest at 60 meters (200 feet). It was historically used by Christians as hide outs, as means of escaping religious persecution. The underground dwelling is an absolute labyrinth of various rooms, with kitchens, living rooms, and even wine cellars for people to live in. Derinkuyu is one of the largest, as it has once sheltered nearly 20,000 inhabitants!
Our guide took us through the rooms, as we ducked under the low ceilings and at times had to crawl through narrow passageways between rooms. We also had to be careful to stick together, as there were also large groups of Chinese tourists likewise touring, and we didn’t want to get lost in the maze of rooms. I usually don’t get claustrophobic, but I’ll admit that being underground with crowds of people definitely activated that sensation in me. All the same, though, I found it fascinating that people could live underground for long periods of time, never to see sunlight and establish an entire civilization beneath the earth.
Next on our itinerary was the Ihlara Valley, a long, 16-kilometer (10 miles) gorge where we spent about an hour hiking part of it to St. George’s Church (Kırkdamaltı Kilisesi). The church is more of a shrine embedded into the rock along the cliff. It’s reputed to date back to the late 13th century, and one of the last examples of Christian influence in the region until the 19th century. Much of its paintings of St. George himself have faded substantially over the centuries (even with his face wiped out during Christian persecution), but we could still recognize the art painted along the jagged rocks. Not only that, but we also got sweeping views of the lush, verdant gorge of Ihlara Valley from its vantage point.
Lunch was at the charming Belisırma Village nearby. We ate some delicious stone-pot kofta inside one of the wooden huts along the river– the views were perfect, along with some bold (even spicy) dishes that I very-much enjoyed. Just before getting back on the tour mini-van, we were able to snap a few photos of the picturesque village and then continuing on to our next stop in the afternoon.
Selime Monastery was next on our stop– unfortunately, it started to rain rather heavily by the time we pulled into the site. Not to forget that the monastery is carved into a sandy, volcanic rock, it was a muddy trek up to its entrance sans umbrella, and we ducked inside its coverings to wait out the rainy weather.
Similar to the Derinkuyu underground caves, the Selime Monastery contains a few different rooms that’d functioned as kitchens, living rooms, and even a cathedral altar since the 8th and 9th centuries BC. The only difference, though, is that it’s located on elevated ground. Due to its unique, pointy exterior, it’s no wonder that this site had been the filming location of Star Wars (at least, its scenery)!
The rain subsided to a mere drizzle, and we left the Selime Monastery for a brief stop at a turquoise jewelry shop (where we were introduced to the blue stone itself– that’s where I learned that the word “turquoise” comes from the Turks themselves!). Our final stop was at a vantage point nearby, where we got sweeping views of the iconic fairy chimneys in the region. It was the perfect photo opportunity, as we clicked away before browsing the souvenirs at the few tents along the viewpoint, and I purchased some postcards and magnets for home. We concluded our first day in Cappadocia there, our tour shuttling us to our hotel to check in for the night.
More adventures in Cappadocia will be up, including the hot-air balloon ride! Check them out soon!