Escape of the Week: Goreme, Turkey

The view of Goreme from Shoe String Cave Pension.

Welcome to the country where east meets west.

A land entrenched in history, Whirling Dervishes, bazaars, spice-filled foods and a wide-range of landscapes to choose from. If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, take note —¬†no trip here is complete unless Cappadocia travel is included.

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is in the middle of the country, but worth a stop. Here, visitors are greeted by sunrise of pinks and oranges casting their colors across white rocks, and fairy chimneys to spark the world of fantasy.

Some ancient and present day dwellings are the same in Goreme.

Formed from an eruption of Mt. Erciyes ages ago, the chimneys and valley are the permanent reminder of Mother Nature.

A fairy chimney in town.

While I was on my Fez Bus Tour, we stopped in Goreme, a little town in the region. For three days, I lived in the land of whimsical and ancient cave hotels (which used to be dwellings) and phallic rocks jutting out into the crisp blue horizon.

They are a bit phallic …

It’s an understatement to say the world of fairy chimneys and enormous rocks sprouting from the ground is cool. It’s mind-blowing.

While the town of Goreme itself isn’t huge, there is plenty to do since it caters largely to tourists.

Looking down from the pool at Shoe String to the cave rooms below.

One must? Sleep in a cave. There are plenty of options, from budget friendly hostels like Shoe String Cave Pension to more expensive lodging like the lush Sultan Cave Suites Hotel.

Shoe String’s pool includes lounge areas, grapes fresh for the picking, and stunning views of the town.

A luxe cave hotel in the distance.

By day, take time to explore the region. There are plenty of tours operating from here that whisk people away on treks, to explore the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, or local ATV rides through the rock formations.

Stop by the main street for fresh and inexpensive fruit to nibble.

For early birds, the sun rise hot-air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys is absolutely magical. For those who prefer to keep their feet planted on the ground, try visiting the Goreme Open-Air Musuem which takes people through tiny cave churches still in use.

Kebap slow-cooked in a sealed terracotta pot. It tastes much better than it looks.

Don’t forget about food.

During my visit, I stopped in at Dibek, a darling authentic restaurant where we sat on gorgeous colorful carpets and drank homemade wine and dined on flavorful testi kebap. This dish is kebap, sealed in a terracotta jar, and slow-cooked for three hours in a stone oven. Then, it is brought to the table and broken open and served.

Delicious.

Getting there:

If in Istanbul, take the night train. It’s between 11 – 12 hours, but the Turkish bus system is largely run very well.

From Anakara, the bus is 4 1/2 hours. From Antalya, the trip by bus is 9 hours.

 

 

Destinations

Fairytale land

Napping is a beautiful thing. When I wake-up from a nap I feel refreshed. Revived. Renewed.

I woke up mid-afternoon in Goreme and quickly emerged from the damp cave to take in my surroundings.

Scotty sat outside at picnic bench, working on paper work.

A few minutes later, Claire emerged from her bed, too.

Claire and I had been reunited in Olympos on our last night.

“I’m on your bus,” she said as we sat in the tree house bar.

I was thrilled.

She and I bonded over the gross stories of Murat and decided to hang out in Goreme for three days, along with Scotty.

We didn’t do much in those three days. We ate. We lounged at the pool. We walked around town.

But, mostly we marveled at the sheer beauty of the town.

Goreme isn’t big. In fact, it has a distinct small town feel. It has Old Man Alley, where old men (of course) sit at a cafe and stare at you as you walk by.

Like they’ve seen you naked.

Everyone at the shops knows everyone else at the shops. They tell you were to go (because they get a nice kickback), they give you “good deals.” Restaurants are abundant and delicious, specializing¬† in clay pot meals where they cook the food in terracotta pots all day and then bring it to your table and crack it open, displaying a mix of veggies and meat in a delicious sauce. They serve amazing homemade wine.

There are locals and then there are tourists of all kinds, all in town to see one thing — the cave homes and fairy chimneys of the land.

The homes and chimneys jut out of the ground, big hunks of light-colored rocks, some with windows, some with doors, some housing entire hotels.

They are freaks of nature in the coolest sense possible.

I loved it.

At sunset, the tall caves would echo the sky, turning pink and purple and orange as night grew closer.

I wanted to take tours, to go on the hot air balloon ride, but instead, I just relaxed. Money was a bit tight, so I was OK with hearing every one’s reviews of the tours and experiences they had at night as we sat around enjoying the delicious barbecue.

On my last night in Goreme, I went out with Scotty, Claire and another Fez tour guide. We went to a cave bar and sat around, listening to “We Don’t Speak No Americano” and “Waka Waka.”

After we were done, we ran into a local Scotty knew and hitched a ride in a pimped out van to the desert next to the city.

For about 20 minutes, I just looked up.

The stars were like Koygeicz, sparkling in the vast black sky.

It was a good way to end my time on the Fez tour.

I was ready to go back to Istanbul the next day and to have my reunion with one of my favorite mates from Down Under, Chris.

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The Fez night bus of discomfort

“All aboard,” Scotty said, standing outside the Fez bus as a group of 16 of us loaded ourselves in.

It was 8 p.m. and we were leaving Olympos, headed to Goreme in the Cappidocia region of Turkey. The ride was going to be a long one — 10 hours — and get us in to our next city at 7 a.m.

No one was looking forward to the ride.

About an hour in to the trip Scotty nudged me.

“Look,” he said, gesturing to the driver’s console. “We have no gas.”

“What?”

I looked. The needle clung to empty.

“Well, that’s no good,” I said. “Maybe we should tell the driver to stop at the next station.”

“Yeah,” Scotty said.

We drove for an hour before we passed civilization again. The air-con was off.

Not a good sign.

Then, a few kilometers up, I saw the twinkling lights of a gas station.

“Oh, good,” we both said, sighing with relief.

We drove past it.

“Seriously?” I said, looking from Scotty to the driver.

There is no way in hell I am pushing this bus up the mountain.

“Oh my god,” Scotty breathed. “We have to stop.”

“Say something,” I urged, every second was precious since we were likely running only on fumes.

“I don’t speak Turkish!”

Instead, Scotty gestured to the driver, telling him we needed a bathroom break.

Anything to get him to stop.

Twenty minutes later, we were at the gas station.

“If he doesn’t fill up now …” I began.

Luckily, he did.

Before we got back on the bus, I popped a Tylenol PM. I needed to get some sleep. I still ached from falling.

But, for some reason, Fez doesn’t use nice buses. They are the most uncomfortable buses I have ever been in. Barely any cushion. Barely any leg room. No bathroom. Clearly, the money spent on the tour doesn’t go to taking care of the customer’s comfort.

For the remainder of the night drive I teetered between awake and asleep, adjusting and re-adjusting.

A few hours later, when the sun was rising over the desert, I was awake for good.

The scenes before me were beautiful. Orange sky touching sand, giving way to early-morning blue.

As we drove into Goreme, Scotty woke up the bus.

“That is the hot-air balloon ride you can go on,” he said, pointing out the window.

It was magnificent.

Hundreds of balloons, all different colors, floating at different heights, lingered in the sunrise over a valley of cave homes and fair chimneys jutting up from the ground.

Stunning.

At 7 a.m., we pulled into Shoestring, a cave hostel with a pool on the highest terrace.

After a quick breakfast, I dropped my bags in my room and crawled into bed, thankful the cave I was staying in had no windows.

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