sunday post: wonderful

Sunday, November 4:  There are so many places in this world that are simply WONDERFUL.  I’ve seen many of them in the past 6 years, but one that is closest to my heart is Cappadocia in Turkey.   Here are some photos of a place that is absolutely wonderful.

Click on any of the images below to get a full-sized slide show.

This post is in response to Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post Challenge: Wonderful. 

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cappadocia day 3 ~ ballooning over a moonscape, a tough hike, and another dreaded overnight bus

Wednesday, July 28: It’s 4:40 a.m. and someone is pounding on my door. Startled, I jump up, have the fleeting thought that it might be Hakan.  But it’s another guy at the hotel now wearing the bright green Brazil World Cup shirt that Cammilla gave to Selim. This shirt is making the rounds.  I have 20 minutes to get ready for my balloon ride; I am foggy from being out late the night before, but I’m excited about this.  I originally didn’t want to spend the 110 euros; it really isn’t in my budget… 😦  Yet.  Too many of my fellow travelers have highly recommended this experience and I cannot ignore the thrill in their eyes.  I have never flown in a hot air balloon, and if a person is ever to take one, this is the place to do it.  With the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, it will be like flying over the moon.

before the balloons are fired up... with my fellow balloon mates from brunei

before the balloons are fired up… with my fellow balloon mates from brunei

We arrive at the site and I meet Sylvia from yesterday’s tour and a family from Brunei.  These will be my fellow balloon compartment-mates.  Sylvia, me, the mother, father and two girls.  There are supposed to be 4 people in each of 4 compartments.  The middle compartment is for the balloon operator.  Because the girls are small, we will have 5.  Around 20 people altogether in this wicker basket.

the balloon is fired up

the balloon is fired up

When we arrive, the balloons are lying everywhere, like bloated beached whales that have been painted in rainbow colors.  They lie on their sides, bellies up.  Men are inside of the balloons, pushing them outwards from within.  The fires begin to roar.  Fires, blasting and flaming into these balloons, huffing & puffing like dragons.  It’s an amazing sight.  There are too many of them to count, but we’re told there are nearly 40 balloons altogether.

The balloons lie on the ground like colorful beached whales

The balloons lie on the ground like colorful beached whales

Finally, the balloons lift off.  The hot air is working its magic.  They rise slowly and the men turn the wicker baskets from their sides to upright positions.  They lift all of us into the baskets as there are no doors.  The fire roars over our heads.  I instinctively duck and cringe with the sound and heat of the flames.  We are airborne.  Right away, the operator demonstrates how we need to brace ourselves if we are in for a rough landing.  He will tell us if we need to do this when the time is right.

hakan's cousin the balloon operator

hakan’s cousin the balloon operator

Everyone is silent.  The experience of rising, feeling the land pull away, seeing the multitudes of other balloons in the sky, all at different heights, of different colors – it takes my breath away.  It takes everyone’s breath away.  We are awed into silence.  The only sound is the blast of the fire overhead, the rustle of people moving around in the basket to search out the best view.

our twin balloon on the right

our twin balloon on the right

As we relax into the ride, we make noises, exclamations of wonder.  We love the other balloons floating in the sky with us; they’re our companions.  Seeing them is the only way we can see ourselves.   Below are the white pinnacles of Cappadocia, the fairy chimneys, the pointed volcanic rocks, tufts of greenery.

up, up and away

up, up and away

Sylvia and I have a heart-to-heart as we float for the allotted one hour.  Her friend is in another compartment on the balloon.  They are keeping distance between them.  Sylvia says she can’t wait to return to Brazil just to get away from her friend.  Her friend is high maintenance, moody, irritable, difficult to be with.  Sylvia says there is always competition between them.  I know this from my own women friends of the past.  Not so much with my current friends, but with women who are now no longer my friends.  Women with whom there is always some kind of tension, some competition.  I cannot maintain friendships with these kinds of women, for whom everything is defined by who can one-up the other.   I like Sylvia very much and I have met her friend; I can see the difficulty.  Sylvia is fun and easy-going.  Her friend is uptight and insecure.  I can see this and I feel bad that Sylvia’s vacation has been ruined by this relationship.  I am relieved once again to be traveling alone.

Sylvia and me in our hot-air balloon

Sylvia and me in our hot-air balloon

astounding

astounding

The balloon operator, who I find out later is Hakan’s cousin, says that in 9 years of operating balloons, he has only landed in the same place 3 times.    We will go where the wind carries us and we will land when the air in the balloon is cooled purposefully by him.  We dip down into valleys and we rise up to 1000 meters.  I never feel afraid of the height, surprisingly, as I am always afraid of heights.  For some reason it doesn’t bother me.  The only fear I have is of the fire.  I keep thinking of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster.  I think of going up in flames.  It’s the fire that scares me.  I keep forcing the thought out of my mind, but when the fire roars each time, I cringe with the thought.

this balloon is stuck to the rock....

this balloon is stuck to the rock….

colorful balloons over a fantasy landscape

colorful balloons over a fantasy landscape

We float for a full hour and I take a million pictures, but none of them capture the experience.  They don’t even capture the actual view.  I wish I had a better camera, maybe with a wide-angle lens.  Maybe, I think, it is just impossible to capture these moments with a camera.  Any camera.  I finally give up and just enjoy.

looking down from above

looking down from above

view to the ground

view to the ground

shadows of our balloons

shadows of our balloons

We watch the sun rise.  We watch the other balloons rise and fall, like buoys bobbing in a transparent ocean.  One balloon seems to be pinned against one of the pinnacles.   Its operator is firing it up; it finally peels away from the rock.  In some moments, we feel we can reach down and touch the earth, other times earth is a distant planet.  After the full hour, we descend; the Ürgüp guys are below us with their flatbed trailer.  The operator tosses over ropes, we float right over a lamppost.  The ground crew pulls the ropes, guides the balloon directly onto the flatbed trailer.  We don’t even feel a bump as we land.  Smoothly done!

magical

magical

close to heaven

close to heaven

so gorgeous

so gorgeous

They have set up a table with glasses of champagne.  We toast each other and the  Ürgüp guys.  They award us balloon certificates.  As we leave, I say, “Thank you so much for giving us that amazing memory!”  The operator thanks me for that comment; he says it is really a nice thing to hear.

the family from Brunei

the family from Brunei

goodbye to hakan

Back at the hotel, Hakan pulls up in his car with an older woman wearing a headscarf.  I am surprised to see him here as I thought he was taking his brother to Istanbul today.  I realize then he must be taking him on the overnight bus.  I wonder if it will be awkward with him.  I become a little nervous wondering how it will be with him this morning.

pulling in the balloon

pulling in the balloon

Immediately, I go to my room and take a long hot bath.  After, I sit on the terrace alone;  Hakan serves me breakfast.  It’s quiet and peaceful and when he’s done, he sits down with me.  I show him my balloon pictures.  I’m sure he’s seen these same pictures countless times  before.  But I bore him with them nonetheless and he sweetly and patiently looks through them.  Another couple comes up to the terrace and he serves them breakfast.  Then he sits down with me again.  He tells me again that he hopes I won’t forget him.  He wants me to take him to America.  He asks when I will come back to Turkey.  I say, if I can get a teaching job, it won’t be until August, 2011.

me with my ballooning certificate

me with my ballooning certificate

Another couple comes up and I tell them about the balloon ride.  I subject them to my pictures.  Selim comes up and he and Hakan talk.  I realized I’ve exhausted my welcome with this new couple.  I can no longer think of a reason to linger on the terrace.

I walk down the stairs.  Hakan is suddenly behind me.  What will you do now? he asks.  I say, I don’t know, go to my room maybe.  He follows me inside.  Promptly, we immerse ourselves in rearranging everything that belongs to me, to him and to this hotel, and then he carries my belongings, by this time packed tightly into my suitcase, out into the courtyard.  I follow behind with my little heart inside of me.  He carries my belongings right out the gate and into the waiting shuttle bus, and I climb in and look at him out the window as we drive away.  He smiles, but it’s a sad smile, and my smile is sad as well, as we wave and watch and vanish from each other’s sight.

the third day tour ~ ihlara canyon

Today is my 3rd day tour in Cappadocia and since Turista Travel doesn’t really do a third day tour (even though I bought the 3-day tour through them!) I am added to a larger group that Turista contracts with.  Our guide for the day is named Sarcun.  There are 27 people on this tour and I’m not happy.  When I arranged this tour with Turista, I was told each group would be 12-15 people.  In addition, the entire morning of this 3rd day involves going back to the same underground city I went to on the first day.  We stop at the same Pigeon Valley overlook I went to yesterday.  I have no desire to go back to the underground city again, so I sit at a cafe table under an umbrella, where I write frenetically in my journal to capture all the stuff that happened in the last two days.  I sip tea and enjoy the time away from the group.

Ihlara Canyon

Ihlara Canyon

We then go on a 4 km trek through Ihlara Canyon.  The cliffs are sheer on either side of us.  It is hot, hot, hot, but a stream runs though and every once in a while we can cool our feet.  We climb partially up cliff sides to check out countless rock-cut churches, their inner walls covered in faded frescoes.   A couple of times, I sit out on a rock while the group explores the cave churches.  Sarcun asks if everything is ok, and I say I’m a little churched-out.  It is finally starting to wear me down, this tour packed with its many sights and hikes and climbs.

more frescoes in rock-cut churches

more frescoes in rock-cut churches

This is the longest and hottest of all the treks, but the scenery is breathtaking.  Through most of the day, I talk with a Chinese couple from Toronto, Canada and their college-age daughter.  In our group also is a bedraggled gray-haired father with his 12-year-old son.  The son keeps whining, Daddy this, Daddy that.

rock cut churches everywhere....

rock cut churches everywhere….

walking through Ilhara Valley

walking through Ilhara Canyon

more rock-cut churches with interior frescoes

more rock-cut churches with interior frescoes

following the trail

following the trail

Ilhara Canyon

Ilhara Canyon

At one point, we come to an area in the stream where there is a small waterfall and flat rocks.  People stop to wade in the stream and cool off.  The 12-year-old boy slips into the water and gets his shoes wet; immediately he throws a fit, wailing and screaming.  A young couple says, Someone is having a meltdown!  I reply, I think I’d kill myself if I had a kid like that…. I have three kids and they had meltdowns too, but when they were 2 years old!

a stream in the Ilhara Valley

a stream in the Ilhara Valley

cooling off in the stream

cooling off in the stream

a stream near our picnic lunch spot

a stream near our picnic lunch spot

almost lunchtime!

almost lunchtime!

We end up in Belisirma Village where we have lunch at an outdoor restaurant.  We are packed, those of us who didn’t get lost, around long tables; the air is steamy and close.  I order a vegetarian/mushroom casserole that is bubbling hot.  It is too hot to eat on a sweltering day such as this.  Bees and flies are swarming around and I’m so uncomfortable that I am having a slight panic attack.  I eat as quickly as I can and leave the table.  Across the stream from the outdoor restaurant is a little cave with some Adirondack chairs.  It’s refreshingly cool, so I sit there and look through the pictures on my camera.

lunch in belisirma village

lunch in belisirma village

selime cathedrale

After lunch we go to the Selime Cathedrale, the biggest rock-cut monastery of Cappadocia, carved in the 13th century.  It sits on an elevated site and is quite overwhelming.  After wandering around here for a while, poking into the caves and climbing up steep inclines, we leave and make another stop at a valley like Pigeon Valley (they are all starting to look alike by now!).  I am getting really worried as I’m supposed to take another overnight bus tonight to Pamukkale, and we are running late on the tour.  Sarcun knows I’m worried so he calls another van to pick me up and take me to the bus station in Goreme.  I don’t want to spend another day in Cappadocia because I think I would be bored with nothing to do.  Especially since I know Hakan is leaving tonight also on an overnight bus to Istanbul.

selime cathedrale

selime cathedrale

local kids at selime cathedrale

local kids at selime cathedrale

another dreaded overnight bus

I hope that maybe, if Hakan arrives early for his 8:00 overnight bus, I might see him at the bus station.  My bus leaves at 7:00, but at that time, Hakan is nowhere in sight.  I realize it would be difficult to run into anyone here, as it is not a centrally located terminal, but a sprawling array of different bus company offices outdoors.  I don’t even know which bus company he will use, and the chances are slim that I would see him anyway.  Oh well.  I realize I’m sad and disappointed to be leaving him behind.  I would have loved to get to know him better.

Selime Cathedrale

Selime Cathedrale

On the bus, my seatmate is Songul, a Turkish girl who lives and works in Stuttgart, Germany.  Songul, she tells me, means “last rose,” but she goes by “Gul.”  She’s the youngest in her family, thus the Songul.  She really wants to teach in a poor area where good teachers are desperately needed, possibly in eastern Turkey or in other villages throughout her home country.  She’s very passionate about her dream, that’s clear.

Her parents also live in Germany but have a home in Cappadocia where they live 4 months out of the year.  After we talk and I tell her how much I love Turkey and especially Cappadocia, she says I should come back and stay in her family’s home.  She gives me her email address.

The overnight buses are wearing me down, as is the constant touring.  I sleep on this bus, which is from 7 pm to 6 am.  But, religiously, at every rest area stop, I wake myself up, bleary eyed, and take myself to the bathroom.  I never have any idea when we will stop again, so I avail myself of every opportunity.  The rest areas are all wall-to-wall buses, people eating at shabby outdoor cafes under fluorescent lights, women in headscarves crowding the bathrooms and wash basins, burly dark Turkish men smoking.  Surreal, especially when you wake up, foggy and dim-witted in the dark of the night.

cappadocia day 2 ~ imagination valley, fairy chimneys (& hakan takes cathy to the local hamam)

Tuesday, July 27:  The morning is quiet, and I feel I am the only person alive in this strange rocky netherworld.  I linger in bed, taking pleasure in last evening’s memories.  Freya Stark’s quote echoes in my mind: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”  Yes, it’s quite pleasant.  Quite.

my cozy room at the Antik Cave Hotel

my cozy room at the Antik Cave Hotel

On the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel, I’m alone.  I wonder where Bob and Sezen are, but they’re obviously “honeymooning” this morning. Why not?  They should be doing such. The waiter brings me my breakfast and asks what I’d like to drink.  He is tall, very thin, but extraordinarily handsome.  His eyes are dark and a little sad.

a black cat on the steps to the terrace

a black cat on the steps to the terrace

I eat my breakfast alone, the effervescent bees hovering over and lighting on my orange juice, the apricot preserves on my bread, my sugared coffee.  I’m afraid I am going to bite into one that has landed on my food; I’ve done this before.  Once while hiking, I bit into a cracker and cheese with a bee on it; the bee stung the inside of my mouth when I chomped on it.  I spit it out immediately, the crushed thing, but it had inflicted its final sting inside of my cheek.  Ouch.   If you have done this even once in your life, you’re always leery of doing it again when bees are nearby.

the courtyard of the hotel...another angle

the courtyard of the hotel…another angle

I enjoy my breakfast on the terrace.  How can everything be so lovely here?  Every moment is a treasure.  I finish, and Bob & Sezen have still not emerged, so I head down to the courtyard, collect my journal, and sit on a bench in a small alcove off the courtyard.  I write, absorbed in my own (mis)adventures.  I really want to capture last night, before it escapes me, but alas, the head waiter’s name still eludes me.  Memories can be so slippery.  Suddenly the handsome Antik Hotel waiter is there, asking me about myself.  Where am I from?  I say I’m from America, from Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

my 1st night's room is not in a cave but near the outer door

my 1st night’s room is not in a cave but near the outer door

He tells me his name is Hakan, and he sits in a chair beside my bench.  He asks if I am married and I say I’ve been separated for over 3 years.  We haven’t divorced yet, but we are separated.  He doesn’t understand and I explain it a couple of times, but he says, I’m sorry, my English is not good.  He says, so are you finished?  I say, yes, finished. He asks me if I have children.  I say yes, I have 3.  They are 17, 19 and 26.  He says, 26?  But I thought you are in your 30s.  I laugh.  Well, thank you, but I would have had to have my daughter when I was 10 years old!  I don’t think he understands.  Oh well, it’s like communicating in Korea.  I’m used to this.  He tells me that tomorrow he will accompany his brother on the bus to Istanbul.  His brother will fly out from Istanbul to Tokyo, where he promotes Turkish tourism to the Japanese.  He tells me he has two brothers, this one going to Japan is the middle one, and his older brother is Selim, our tour guide from yesterday (and today).  He tells me Selim is 36 years old; Hakan himself is 26, the baby of the family.

the courtyard at the antik cave hotel

the courtyard at the antik cave hotel

Hakan asks me if I’d like to go to a Turkish bath, a hamam, in the mountains, this evening after my tour.  It’s where the local people go.  He says for 60 lira (about $40), he can take me.  I say, what will I get for the 60 lira?  A Turkish bath, a massage?  He says yes.  He says about it’s 25 km away.  I haven’t yet done a Turkish bath, and I know that hiking today I’ll get dusty and hot and tired.  Maybe the Turkish bath will be a nice end to my day.  But, I hesitate.  I might want to go back to the Dimrit tonight, to relive last night’s experience.  Possibly I can go there after the hamam; it shouldn’t be too late.  This sounds perfect, so I say sure, I’ll go.  I also tell Hakan I would like to arrange to go on the balloon ride tomorrow morning at sunrise.  I say I am willing to pay 110 euros through Turista, so if he can arrange it, I’ll be happy.  He promises to take care of it.  I also tell him that my room last night never totally cooled off, despite the staff’s assurance yesterday that it would since it’s a cave room.  In reality, my room is near the outer door and not really in a cave.

I take off for today’s tour. Selim is again our guide.  But.  Sadly, the group has changed.  Except for Bob and Sezen, who finally surfaced from their honeymoon cocoon, none of yesterday’s group is here.  We have 4 new people.  There are two young ladies from Hong Kong and there are two women, possibly older than me (?), who are from Brazil.  Eight of us all together.  Where, oh where, are the Italians and Brazilians from yesterday??  The two ladies from Brazil just arrived this morning on the overnight bus, and they haven’t even changed out of their street clothes into something appropriate for hiking.  One of the women is Sylvia, the other’s name I can’t remember because I ended up not liking her.  (Haha, I’ll show you!  If I don’t like you, I’ll forget your name!) … Hmmm… but I LIKED last night’s head waiter, and I forgot his name….. a sad state of affairs.

our group today: 2 girls from Hong Kong, Bob & Sezen and 2 Brazilian ladies

our group today: 2 girls from Hong Kong, Bob & Sezen and 2 Brazilian ladies

Selim asks us today if we have ever tried rakı, the official Turkish drink.  I raise my hand since I just tried it last night at the Dimrit.   He says it’s a clear brandy made from grapes and raisins and flavored with anise.  When mixed with ice or water, it turns milky white.  Turks often call it Lion’s Milk because of its color and strong alcoholic punch.  It’s similar to Greek ouzo.  Selim says the belief is that if you have one rakı, it’s good for the stomach.  If you have two, you will do the samba in the street.  And if you have 3, you will fly home on a magic carpet.  I think about last night and know that, even with one rakı, I flew home on the magic carpet.

devrent imagination valley & fairy chimneys

We head off to the Devrent Imagination Valley, where the volcanic rock formations are of such unlikely and distinguished shapes, that you can imagine they are animals: a crocodile, a lizard, Snoopy the comic strip dog, a squirrel, a camel, a bulldog, a dolphin, and other reptiles.  It’s like lying in the grass as a child and looking for animal shapes in the clouds.  It is already hot, but the air is dry so it’s tolerable. Selim quizzes us.  What is that?  What do you see there?  I never know which rock he is pointing at so I can rarely guess.  I see the crocodile.  I never see Snoopy.

the resting camel rock formation

the resting camel rock formation

an alligator shape in the rock formations

an alligator shape in the rock formations

rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

Imagination Valley

Imagination Valley

more unusual rock formations :-)

more unusual rock formations 🙂

Devrent Imagination Valley

Devrent Imagination Valley

more rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

more rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

me at the devrent imagination valley ~ a lunar landscape

me at the devrent imagination valley ~ a lunar landscape

Some of the rosy cone-shaped rocks have flat mushroom tops on them.  Apparently the mushroom tops are a harder stone, the rock underneath is softer, so it erodes in the weather.  Differential erosion. Eventually the mushroom tops fall off, and then the real erosion to the cone-shaped stem begins.  Eventually, all the rocks will erode away to nothing.

I say goodbye to a resting camel rock, and we head off to see the Fairy Chimneys.  Apparently, there’s a myth that someone came across a fairy inside one of the rock caves, thus the name Fairy Chimneys.  Geologists call them mushroom rocks, or some such, and they were formed when erosion wiped out the lava that covered the compacted volcanic ash, leaving behind these stand-alone pinnacles. Some are as high as 40 meters, have conical shapes, and have caps of harder rock on their tips.  This park is one of the most beautiful places here in Cappadocia.  We hike through lazily, linger and lollygag.

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

land of the fairy chimneys

land of the fairy chimneys

more fairy chimneys

more fairy chimneys

what geologists call mushroom rocks

what geologists call mushroom rocks

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

hmmm....

hmmm….

on traveling alone…

Selim is not in a playful mood today.  I don’t know why.  Maybe he is thinking of his “imitation” fiancé in New York.  Maybe he’s really in love with her and misses her.  Anyway, the group dynamics are different today.  There is some kind of conflict going on between the two Brazilian ladies.  There also seems to be tension between the two Hong Kong girls.  Sezen and Bob are happy as larks, but sensing this tension between the two pairs of women, I am happy to be traveling alone.

the lone traveler

the lone traveler

I was so worried before I came on this trip about traveling solo.  In May, when I took a trip to Seoul, I had a miserable time alone, and it was only 3 days!  Part of the reason for my bad experience was that I was going through a hard time over a messed up “relationship” I had been involved in.  The weather was dreary and cold and, of course, I was in Korea, where no one EVER randomly strikes up a conversation with you.  I was also depressed over losing that person who I cared about.

Here, in Turkey, I love traveling alone.  I am on a quest for an adventure of any size, shape or color. Being alone invites adventure my way.  Many of the things I’ve experienced on this trip would have never happened if I had been with anyone else.  I love it!  It helps that I’m in a culture that is outgoing, energetic and a little on the edge.  I am planning a trip to China in September, and admittedly, since China is an East Asian culture, I’m worried about finding myself incredibly lonely.  Frankly, Asian cultures are simply not open to Westerners, in my experience.  I’ve been to three Asian cultures, Singapore, Thailand and now Korea, and I have found this reticence, this passivity, this near-deadness, this lack of openness, in each of them.  This is why I’m hesitant, and worried, about going to China alone.  As this trip will only be 6 days, I hope I can survive it.  I am going, despite this hesitation, because there are some things I want to see there, The Great Wall for one, and because it’s a shame NOT to go when it’s right next door and cheap.

I see the tensions between the two pairs of “friends” on this trip and I wonder how long after they return home they will remain friends.  It is difficult to travel with anyone.  You must be of like minds, or of like temperament, for it to be pleasurable to both parties.  I know I could never travel with someone really strong-willed or moody or too serious.  I couldn’t travel with someone who is uptight and headstrong.  I COULD travel with my friend Jayne, or Nani or Pat or Lisa, or with either of my sons or my daughter.  Mike and I used to travel together nicely as well, but being married you can NEVER have these kinds of adventures…  Simply put, there are many people with whom I would NEVER consider traveling.  Making this trip alone was the best decision I could have ever made!

the sales pitch & lunch in a cave

We head to a pottery factory in the town of Avanos to see the process of pottery-making. Crossing over the Red River, Selim tells us that this river is the source of the red clay used to make pottery.  Here, we get the sales pitch.  Every tour involves some kind of sales pitch.  In a country where 26% of GNP is derived from tourism, I can understand it.  But it does get annoying, nonetheless.  Avanos is now, and was historically, famous for the production of earthenware pottery.

the pottery factory

the pottery factory

I love the ceramics and am almost temped to buy 3 pieces for $190!  But the shipping back to the U.S. is $160!  I back out of the purchase.  It’s just too expensive.

a potter at the pottery factory

a potter at the pottery factory

We go to a cave restaurant, Uranos Sarikaya, for lunch.  I have a delicious lentil soup and eggplant kebab.  Today, the group is boring.  I feel boring.  I try to talk to Sylvia’s friend, who is a lawyer, but she’s not very friendly and I lose interest.  Sylvia herself is a teacher and lively and fun.  During the course of the morning, I have messed up several times with the Hong Kong girls by asking them about their lives in Japan (!!).  I think they ignore my blunder the first couple of times, but the third time, one of them says, WE’RE FROM HONG KONG!  I’m so embarrassed.  How could I forget?  It’s funny, right before I came to Turkey, I finished a great book called The Piano Teacher that took place in Hong Kong during WWII and 10 years after.  The book made me want to go to Hong Kong.  I told these girls about this when I first met them.  How could I have been asking them questions about their lives in Japan?  How???  What an utter idiot I can be sometimes!

lunch at the cave restaurant

lunch at the cave restaurant

a waiter at the cave restaurant

a waiter at the cave restaurant

göreme open air museum and pigeon valley

After lunch we go to the Göreme Open Air Museum, one of Turkey’s World Heritage sites, to see a nearly infinite number of churches, chapels and monasteries mainly from the 11th century, carved in rocks.  The Chapel of St. Basil, The Elmali (Apple) Church, The Chapel of St. Barbara, The Chapel of St. Catherine: cruciform shapes, frescoes in red of mythological figures, Christ, Mary, the saints.  We climb, we explore the cool or stifling interiors (each varies), we kick up dust.

A huge church carved into the rocks

A huge church carved into the rocks

more rock-cut churches

more rock-cut churches

Finally, we go to Pigeon Valley where we see boatloads of pigeon houses carved in the rocks.  Pigeons were important in Cappadocia, as they were in many places, because their dung made fertilizer.  By this time, we are all tired and sweltering.  We meander through the open air shops, sit on a couch overlooking the valley, sit at another table and drink cokes and Turkish tea, and then head back to our respective hotels for the evening.

Comfortable seats around the rim of Pigeon Valley

Comfortable seats around the rim of Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

at the top of pigeon valley

at the top of pigeon valley

sitting at the ridge of Pigeon Valley

sitting at the ridge of Pigeon Valley

relaxing in the shade at the top of pigeon valley

relaxing in the shade at the top of pigeon valley

Selim, who knows that his brother is taking me tonight to the local hamam, says the bath, where the locals go (!), is fed with hot springs right from the mountain. He thinks I will really enjoy it.

hakan takes cathy to the local turkish hamam

When I arrive back at the Antik Cave Hotel, Hakan is waiting.  He has arranged for me to move into a larger and cooler cave room for tonight; I’m happy since my old room was so hot. After moving my belongings, I throw some things in a bag, including my purple knit dress in case I go afterward back to the Dimrit.  Hakan carries a plastic bag filled with mystery items.  I tell him we must make a stop at an ATM so I can get the 60 lira to pay him.  He stops in Avanos, his hometown, where several guys are sitting alongside the street across from the bank.  He speaks to them as I get money.  I find out throughout the evening that he either knows or is related to nearly everyone in the area.

hakan driving to the hamam

hakan driving to the hamam

We begin our long drive in his old and iffy car, through the countryside and quaint villages of stone and terra-cotta houses; it seems longer than 25 km. At one point early on, Hakan mentions that his mother is ill; he can’t explain it in English but it’s something with her pancreas.  I remember the guidebook admonitions about men in Cappadocia who strike up romances with foreigners and then ask for money for sick family members.  I brace myself for a question about money, but it doesn’t come.

the view from the car on the way to the turkish bath

the view from the car on the way to the turkish bath

It’s a little awkward at first because I think this is just business for Hakan.  I have paid him 60 lira.  But he’s being a little flirtatious, as much as he can be in his limited English.  He keeps asking me if I am happy.  I say yes, I’m happy, are you happy?  He says yes, he is happy.  He is smiling a lot and looking at me.  At one point I pull out my camera and snap pictures of the scenery from the car.  He says, take a picture of me.

I snap him driving.  We come to a beautiful town on the hillside and I ask him to stop so I can take a picture.  He says, take one of me.  I do.  Then he wants to set the timer and take one of the two of us together.

hakan in front of the pretty little town

hakan in front of the pretty little town

I wonder, is it really possible to fall in love with someone in one night, when you know it will only be for one night?  When you know there is no future, when the age difference is too great, when you live in different countries, when you can’t even speak the same language?  I don’t know if it is really possible, but in this one night, I think I fall a little in love with this sweet man.

When we stop to take photos of the lovely hillside town, I think, Oh! This must be where the hamam is.  But no.  We drive right past the town; things start looking a little shabby.  There are shacks, dilapidated farms; there is trash here and there.  Hmmm.   We finally drive into a dirt parking lot; downhill sits a long, one story concrete rectangular building; its bright yellow paint is peeling off to reveal big hunks of gray concrete.  Perpendicular, to its left is another smaller concrete building painted, just as shabbily, in royal blue. Women in floral headscarves wander about, along with kids in bathing suits and bulky local men.  I am a little nervous about this place.  We walk through a passageway in the yellow building, where Hakan shows me the pool in the back.  It’s a long, narrow rectangular swimming pool, but it has seen better days.  There are two sections to the pool, and it is filled with men, about 50 altogether.  Not a woman in sight, except out in the parking lot, wearing headscarves!  I say, Hakan, I can’t go in that pool!  There are all men there!

I am thinking: This is a Muslim country!  I am a westerner.  As a woman, wearing a bathing suit & no headscarf, I cannot go into a pool full of 50 men!

hakan and me

hakan and me

Hakan calms me down.  He has a calm & sweet voice.  He says, it’s ok.  No problem.  Soothing.  He says, you’re a westerner; westerners come here all the time, usually later in the evening.  It’s no problem.  He takes me to a small dirty and empty tiled room to change into my bathing suit.  Thank god I brought my tankini that covers my stomach, and not a bikini!  I would have never had the nerve to go in with a bikini.  I change in the small room and put all my clothes in my bag.  I brought a measly hand towel from the hotel; it’s grossly inadequate to use as a cover-up to walk out to that pool.  I come out of the room, holding the small hand towel over my front.   Hakan goes into the same room to change into his bathing suit.  I am left feeling over-exposed in the passageway.

Hakan up to this point has been wearing jeans and a long sleeve white shirt.  This must be his work uniform.  In his bathing suit, the sharp edges of his ribs are visible.  He is so thin he is almost not there.  The hair on his chest and legs is heavy and black. He seems shy.  I hold up my hand towel, say, this is all I brought.  I wish I had a bigger towel!  He pulls a large towel out of his plastic bag and chivalrously hands it to me.  He takes my hand towel in exchange.

Before going to the pool, I ask him what I should do with my bag.  I am worried about it.  He says, I’ll put it in the car.  I say, please lock your car.  This bag has everything in it, my passport, my money, my credit cards, everything. Most importantly, my camera.  He says, No problem.  He runs to the car and is back in a few moments.  I’m uneasy about my bag being in his car.  But he seems not the slightest bit worried.

We get into the pool.  The water’s warm and the night air is cooling, so it feels especially good.  We soak.  I’m still not sure if this is just a tourist service by Hakan.  I feel comfortable enough, now that I’m submerged in the water, that I could release him from his “duty.”  Maybe he has friends here he would like to talk to.  I say, Hakan, if you’d like to go talk to your friends or something, I’m okay now.  He says, No problem.  I stay here with you.  We float.  We are in the hotter pool and he asks if I’d like to go to the cooler pool.  We go and it is cooler but still warm and we float in that one.  We race across the pool.  I beat him and he says, you are younger than me… You won!  We go underwater and look at each other.  He says, let’s see who can hold breath longest.  We go underwater and I start to crack up, so I pop up for air.  We laugh.  I speak English to a Turkish boy in an orange inner tube, but clearly he can’t understand me, so I say nasılsın? (How are you?)  He says iyi (good).  I’m happy.  I’m learning a few Turkish words.

on the way to the hamam

on the way to the hamam

By this time I feel relaxed and happy and I truly enjoy Hakan’s company.  He can’t speak or understand much English, but he stays by my side the whole time; he is taking care of me in his way.  He has a gentle but persistent nature.

We go indoors to another pool, where I swim up and down the length several times; he chats with a solitary man.  I say, I may as well get my massage now.  Hakan changes back into his work clothes while I stand outside the door, and then he walks me over to the royal blue building.  The massage room is an old tiled room with a large tiled HOT bath and an enormous tiled ledge.  Hakan says, I’ll be in the car.  I sit in the hot bath, but no one shows up and I get out of the tub because it is so steamy; I’m boiling.  Finally, a hairy burly guy in an orange-flowered bathing suit comes in.  He motions for me to get back into the bath.  I protest: It’s too hot!  He waves me back to the pool and leaves the room.  I sit in the pool and sweat profusely.

When he returns, he motions for me to get out of the bath and then to remove my bathing suit.  I point to the bottom.  This too?  Yes, he emphatically nods.  I’ve never had a Turkish bath before and I figure, OK, I guess this is how they do it.  I take off my bathing suit and lie face-down on the big ledge.  He comes back into the room and proceeds to scrub me vigorously with a scouring mitten covered in soap.  He scrubs and rubs.  The whole thing is disconcerting.  I feel it isn’t supposed to be like this, me totally naked with this man scrubbing me down.  After he finishes with my back, he motions for me to roll over.  I feel really strange doing so, because here I am lying totally bare and open.  He scrubs me all over the front.  Then he says to me, You have sex with him (meaning Hakan)?  I say, NO!  He says, You have sex with me?  I say, With you? NO!  He smiles this weird smile:  You sure?  I say, Yes!  He keeps scrubbing and I can’t help but notice he is excited!  He keeps scrubbing, but he doesn’t touch me inappropriately.  I figure the minute he does I will scream and Hakan will come running. IF he can hear me from the car….

Rub-a-dub-dub.  Again, he says, You sure, no sex with me?  He winks.  I say, NO!  Thank you, but NO!  Immediately I wonder, why did I say thank you?  I am way too polite!!  I try to be calm and cool and collected.  And really, despite his totally inappropriate comments, he never touches me in even a remotely sexual way.  Other than of course scrubbing the entire front of my body. Finally, he says, Finished!  And he walks out the door.  I shower, wash my hair, and put on my purple knit dress.  When I open the door, Hakan is standing right there.  I motion with my hair dryer that I’d like to dry my hair.  He takes me to a ladies’ restroom where the only outlet is in the open doorway.  I dry my hair; it seems surreal, my white hair is flying all around my head and there is Hakan standing outside the doorway, mesmerized.  I say, Hakan!  You don’t need to watch me!  But he doesn’t understand and he continues to watch.

As we drive back, I tell Hakan what the massage guy said to me.  I explain it 3 times before he understands what I’m saying.  He says, Oh no. That is a problem.  He asks, Did he do anything to you?  I say, No, it was fine.  He asks me again to repeat what the guy said; he says again, That’s a problem.  Please don’t say anything to Ibrahim (who runs the Cave Hotel).  I say, Don’t worry.  I won’t say anything.   But I’m a very laid back westerner.  I think it would be scary to most other women.  I wouldn’t take other women there, Hakan.  He asks again if the guy did anything to me.

along the drive to the hamam

along the drive to the hamam

Hakan asks me what my shampoo is.  Is it Turkish?  I pull it out of my bag. I bought it in Istanbul: Clear.  He says it smells good.  Then we drive in silence. Hakan finally says, Are you happy?  I say, Yes, are you happy?  He says, Yes.  We drive through a dark and deserted area on the way to Avanos, and he says, Are you afraid?  I say no, I’m not.  Why would I be?  He says, because there are no lights and no people.  I say, If I was by myself, I might be afraid, but you’re here, so I’m not.  When he finally understands, I think he is pleased.

I ask him if he could drop me somewhere in Ürgüp to eat.  He says, No problem.  Would you like to eat in a restaurant or take food out to a park?  I say, either one is fine with me.  So. I guess he is planning to have dinner with me.  We get to Avanos and he goes into a little take-out joint and orders some kind of meat in a pita.  While they’re making it, he takes me to the mosque next door to use the bathroom and to watch the Imam, who is his friend, conducting a prayer service.  We drive to the Red River in Avanos, walk through a field of grass and mud flats to a bench and eat alongside the river.  He tells me he thinks I’m a very sexy lady. He asks me numerous times, Are you happy?  I say, Yes, I am really happy.  Are you happy?  He says, Yes.

the red river separates Avanos from the rest of cappadocia

the red river separates Avanos from the rest of cappadocia

After dinner, we walk by the river and he asks if he can kiss me.  I say yes, of course.  I am happy he finally asks.  Lovely.  He wants to go for a drive and we do, to a secluded spot along the river.  After stopping, he decides he doesn’t like the spot after all, but his car won’t start!  He tries several times, and finally it goes, but he says, I should go home and get my father’s car.  So we drive down a dirt road to a 2-story terra-cotta house surrounded by billowy trees and he gets out, invites me to get out of the car.  A breeze stirs the poplars and the weeping willows.  His father walks out carrying a little boy.  He is genteel and kind and speaks good English, asks me where I am from, tells me I am welcome here anytime.

We drive in the father’s brand new Jeep-like vehicle and I say, I like your father very much.  I ask him, Who was that little boy?  He says, It’s Selim’s son.  I say, Selim is married?  Yes, Selim is married and has two kids.  They all live together in the father’s house: Hakan’s parents, Selim and his wife and kids, and Hakan.  I am shocked.  I don’t say anything, but I wonder what was that whole story about Selim’s “imitation” fiance??  Was it all made up?  Just a goofy joke? Or is he truly hoping to have this woman from New York visit him, despite the fact that he’s married?

the red river in Avanos

the red river in Avanos

We drive further and Hakan says, Will you take me to America with you?  I say, What would you do there, Hakan?  He says, any kind of work, driving, waiting tables, anything, it doesn’t matter.  He says he is studying to improve his English.  I can’t help but wonder if this is what he wants from me, just a ticket to America… Everyone here, it seems, wants something from me.

We drive back near the river and the river swirls by.  The Red River with its red clay, clay shaped for centuries into vessels and tiles and plates and bowls.  Hakan is a sweet and kind man.  His eyes are sad, but he seems happy and I’m happy and we don’t need to talk anymore to know that we both enjoy each other.  We sit, along this Red River in Avanos, the longest river in Turkey, that separates Avanos from the rest of Cappadocia.  We are in a world of our own; really I am in Hakan’s world, but I feel welcome here.  I feel like I belong.  Here.  In this moment.

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cappadocia day 1…cave churches, underground cities, & rakı under the stars

Monday, July 26:   I wake up on the rumbling bus at 6 a.m., roused by the bus attendant serving coffee from his cart. Out the window I get a sunrise view of central Turkey.  A large expanse of plains, no trees, soft dusty-green hills with gentle folds.  A huge body of shallow-looking water and mudflats stretch to the horizon on the right.  The road is fairly deserted and the ride is rough and bumpy.  I realize after drinking the coffee and jerking along the potholed road for a while that I suddenly need to pee.  The ride goes on and on.  I have no idea how far we are from our destination.  It’s bad.  I’m fretting, trying to get comfortable, trying not to think about having to go to the bathroom.  Why don’t these buses have bathrooms and why don’t they have a set schedule for stops?  What will I do?? What, what?

view from the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel in Ürgüp

view from the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel in Ürgüp

Suddenly the bus pulls up to a dilapidated gas station in the middle of nowhere.  I don’t see anyone making a move to get off.  I am in the front seat, so I jump up and say, “Toilet??” to the bus driver.  I jump off the bus, run in and use the filthy squat toilet.  I have never been so happy to see a squat toilet. 🙂  I run back to the huge coach, everyone looking at me as I get back on the bus.  What happened?  I never asked the driver to stop, but I certainly took advantage when he did!  Later I find it was another man who had asked for the stop; he must have relieved himself right outside the bus.  Anyway, I’m relieved, in more ways than one.   Now I can relax and enjoy the ride.

the terrace of the antik cave hotel

the terrace of the antik cave hotel

At 8:50 a.m., I arrive at the Antik Cave Hotel.  It’s too early to check in, but they let me shower and change in an empty room.  Breakfast on the terrace is Turkish style: feta and provolone cheese, a bologna-like meat, orange juice, coffee, fresh bread with butter, hard-boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Bees are swarming around us.  I meet a newlywed couple from Pennsylvania: Sezen and Bob.  Sezen is Turkish and Bob is an American tobacco-chewing nice guy.  They came to Turkey to get married with Sezen’s family in attendance.  They will have another wedding in the U.S. for Bob’s family.  They have been together for 7 years after having met working in a plastics factory.

sezen & bob, the newlyweds

sezen & bob, the newlyweds

greek villages, roman ruins & cave churches

At 9:30, we head out for our tour with Selim, our fun-loving Turkish guide, age unknown.  I think there are 14 of us, all told, plus Selim. As soon as he starts talking, I am putting in my two cents’ worth.  He’s talking about Turkey and how it changed with Atatürk; since I just read about Atatürk yesterday, I know what he’s talking about.

Salim, our Turkish tour guide in Cappadocia

Selim, our Turkish tour guide in Cappadocia

Another cool Italian girl named Lisa is also chiming in.  Soon we are all chatting amongst ourselves.  I tell Lisa that I’m from America and am teaching English in Korea.  She and her boyfriend are Italian.  Lisa is very exotic; I love her style.  She has  a striped scarf tied around her black curly hair and some cool copper earrings with a turquoise design that she got at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  There is another Italian couple on board, and 3 good friends traveling together from Brazil: Cammilla, Andre and Bruno.  I mistakenly think Bruno and Cammilla are boyfriend & girlfriend, but I find out later they are all three just friends from college.  We also have in our group an older French couple (I say older, but they’re probably my age!) with two teenage boys, who for most of the day appear to be bored out of their minds.  Of course, Sezen and Bob are also along.

an old greek house in mustafapaşa

an old greek house in mustafapaşa

Selim teases me, says, What, are you telling them your whole life story?  I say, they’re telling me theirs too!  That’s not fair!  Selim tells us he has an “imitation” fiance; she’s from New York and he met her two weeks ago on his tour.  I ask why she is an “imitation” fiance.  I never get a straight answer from him, but through the day, I get the definite impression he met this girl, fell in love with her, and she is planning to visit him in Turkey.  He wants to know how much a flight from New York to Turkey costs.  As the day goes on, he is flirting with me and with the other girls.  He’s charming and funny and full of good information.  At several points he introduces me to various people as his “imitation” fiance.  How many of these does he have?

Selim on the cushions in the old Greek house

Selim on the cushions in the old Greek house

We make our first stop at Mustafapaşa, an old village where Greeks and Turks used to live side by side until the population exchange of Greeks and Turks.  This 1923 population exchange was based on religious identity and involved the Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey and the Muslim citizens of Greece.  Nearly 2 million people were impacted, most of whom were forcibly made refugees and denaturalized from their homelands. The town is lovely, surrounded by apricot, apple and pear orchards, and vineyards.  The house where we stop is now a restaurant, but used to be a Greek house.  A popular Turkish movie, or TV series, called Asmali Konak (Grape Arbor House) was filmed here.

in the courtyard of the old Greek house

in the courtyard of the old Greek house

Next, we visit some sunflowers and an old potato farm; the potato farmer hit stone one day in 2008 and the state began excavation, revealing some Roman ruins, including baths, graveyards, and mosaics dating from 200 A.D., along with a Byzantine church which was built on top of the earlier church.

sunflowers beside the roman ruins

sunflowers beside the roman ruins

roman ruins ~ the hot bath

roman ruins ~ the hot bath

Selim then takes us to see the ornate door of an Ottoman-era medrese, but the school is no longer used since public medreses, or religious schools, were outlawed when Turkey became a republic.

Ottoman-era medrese

Ottoman-era medrese

We then take a  3k hike in Soganli Valley, first used by the Romans as necropolises and later by the Byzantines for monastic purposes.

Sognali Valley

Soganli Valley

Soganli Valley

Soganli Valley

Here we see rock-cut churches galore.  In the Snake Church, we see frescoes of Jesus, the apostles, the Crusaders and the snakes, which represent Satan.  Interestingly, there is graffiti carved on top of all the frescoes, some dating from the 1800s!  Selim says people carved graffiti who wanted healing from God from ailments or illnesses.  Some of the frescoes were deliberately painted over with black paint, possibly to protect them.

the church with snakes

the church with snakes

fresco of Christ in Yilanli Kilise, the Snake Church

fresco of Christ in Yilanli Kilise, the Snake Church

more frescoes in the cave churches

more frescoes in the cave churches

Sakli Kilise (the Hidden Church), Kubbeli Kilisesi (the Domed Church), Yilanli Kilise (the Snake Church), too many churches and caves and frescos to count.  It is a lovely day, sunny, hot and dry, fun.  I love our group of vagabonds, love our trek, love the camaraderie and laughs.  We walk down a gravelly path and I slip and fall, my leg with the bad knee collapses and crashes beneath me.  I have barely thought of my knee until this happens; after I am a little more careful and guarded, a little more protective of myself.

the hidden church... Sakli Kilise

the hidden church… Sakli Kilise

me inside of Sakli Kilise, the Hidden Church

me inside of Sakli Kilise, the Hidden Church

cave churches abound

cave churches abound

Cave churches

Cave churches

We hike to a lovely spot with tables under shady trees, the Soganli Cappadocia Restaurant, and I order an omelet that arrives still bubbling in a small cast iron skillet.  It is too hot for such a dish, but I let it cool and then enjoy it immensely.  I talk with Andre the Brazilian who is currently living in Lebanon, working for the Brazilian Embassy as a secretary for political affairs.  We chat about our laziness in learning languages; he’s been in Lebanon as long as I’ve been in Korea and neither of us has learned the language.  He gets by with French and English, I get by with English and my tiny bit of Korean. All of us are happy in a lazy sort of way; the conversation is easy and the food is good.  This is one of my favorite afternoons in Turkey.

Cappadocia Restaurant

Cappadocia Restaurant

At the Soganli Cappadocia Restaurant with my favorite group

At the Soganli Cappadocia Restaurant with my favorite group

our group at a companionable lunch.  The stylish Italian Lisa is in the foreground.

our group at a companionable lunch. The stylish Italian Lisa is in the foreground.

underground cities

In the end, we go to the underground city of Derinkuyu, where up to 10,000 people lived at various times, sometimes spending months at a time inside the earth.  People hid here for various reasons, to escape the cold & the wild animals; later the early Christians hid to escape the Persian and Arabic armies who set out to destroy them.  The air shafts were disguised as wells.  We walk through narrow walkways, through stables with handles used to tether animals, through churches with altars and baptism fonts, through wineries and granaries, and through kitchens with blackened walls from the smoke. According to some archeologists, these cities date back 4,000 years to Hittite times, although they were used earlier to store wine and grain.  Selim tells us the cities date back to 8,000 B.C., thus making them 10,000 years old.  The cities are now 8 stories deep… there were fewer floors in the earliest years.  Additional floors were added during the Byzantine period.  Numerous huge stone doors were rolled into place for self-defense.

one of the tight stairwells in the underground city

one of the tight stairwells in the underground city

Some 37 cities have been unearthed in Cappadocia, and guidebooks say there are at least 100 more!

In the end, I realize I have been touched by the exotic on this day.  Everything, the cave formations, the frescoes, the people, Salim, the landscape, yes, everything delights me. This place is most congenial to my temperament.  It promises happiness, romance, it seduces.  I long for love here and I find it in this place, with these people, these fellow nomads.

I also feel a sense of the sublime here.  Nature is at its best, and people over thousands of years have inhabited this place, fueled with a sense of passion for their beliefs in Christ.  They dug holes in these rocks, made churches where they could worship, where they could survive the onslaught by people bent on destroying them.  I find awe and inspiration thinking of these early Christians and their determination and faith.

another subterranean passage in the underground city

another subterranean passage in the underground city

This is also a place where I want to possess beauty.  I want it to be all mine; I want to take it with me forever, to hold it deep inside of me.  I take too many pictures to count, hoping to capture some of what I feel.  But the camera only snatches a weakened version of the real thing.  It doesn’t capture the feeling, the experience, not really.  Sometimes I think the camera actually makes me lazy, makes me not bother to notice things closely enough.

The tour ends and people are dropped at their respective hotels. Before she goes, Cammilla gives Selim a bright green Brazil World Cup t-shirt.  He’s very excited about the shirt.  I am sad to see this group depart.  It turns out it is the best group of all of my tours, but of course I only find this in retrospect.  I especially love the Brazilians and the Italians.  I very much like Sezen & Bob as well, but they will be with me tomorrow as well.

rakı under the stars

I find my room at the Antik Cave Hotel sweltering when I return.  I try to lie down and nap, but it is too hot and stuffy.

my room at the Antik Cave Hotel

my room at the Antik Cave Hotel

I instead sit on the terrace for an hour writing in my journal and watching the sunset.  While I’m up there, one of the guys who works at the hotel is watering the lawn.   Funny thing.  He is wearing the green Brazil World Cup shirt that Cammilla gave to Selim!  Selim sure passed that off quickly!  After a while, I shower, put on a blue and cream Moroccan-tile-print dress that I love and walk down the deserted hill to the Dimrit Restaurant, which Selim has highly recommended.

the terrace at sunset

the terrace at sunset

Oh my god!  How can I describe the experience of this place?  Two terraces, one overlooking the other, and both overlooking the town of Ürgüp below.  Quiet and peaceful. Celtic  music by Canadian Loreena McKennitt playing in the background.  The head waiter, absolutely adorable, brings me a tray of starters in white moon-shaped bowls.  I choose the cold mushrooms with fresh dill.   Cool, refreshing, like the cool moon on this breezy night.  Why is it that certain things stand out like an oasis in a parched desert?  That dill!  Every taste is like an aphrodisiac, enticing and delectable.  Dill like cool mint in my mouth, so fresh!  How, I think, how can I be so excited about dill?  Is it just the setting, the music, the breeze, the stars?

on the terrace of the hotel

on the terrace of the hotel

The menu prices are quite high, so I initially pass up a glass of wine, which I want dearly. Yet. Once I sit in this romantic spot, soaking up the view, feeling the ambiance, listening to this music, and tasting this unbelievable dill, I cannot resist having a glass of red wine.  A thought comes to me: This is such a perfectly romantic spot.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I was on a date with someone amazing, someone who set my heart on fire?

But.  I ponder.  Too many times, I have been out to such perfectly romantic places, and they didn’t deliver.  During my long marriage, my husband may not have been romantic like I wished he would be; instead of him talking of his love for me, his passion, he would talk of the kids, or the house, or some other mundane thing.  Or, later, after Mike & I separated, I would wish my date to be more romantic, or more into me.  So often, the other person dashes your expectations of what a place like this should be, how you wish the evening to unfold.   Sometimes, you are with a person who you’re unsure about and so you feel anxious throughout.

I think of R, and how everything with him was extraordinary, amazingly fun and romantic, how we connected on so many levels and how much chemistry we had.  We always laughed together, and got each other’s humor, and he was crazy for me and me for him.  To have him with me in this place during the time we were together would have been nothing short of astounding.  But.  We are no longer together and this is an impossible thing.

I think of Jacob on Valentine’s Day in 2009.  The night before he had gone to a meetup at a bar and he had an amazing time and I couldn’t understand why, when we had such a nice thing going, he felt the need to go to these kinds of meetups.  I figured he was always looking to meet someone younger.  We were driving to Jaleo in Bethesda, Maryland and we had a huge fight and our relationship almost ended.  But we didn’t end it then, we salvaged the night, and he was sweet and romantic and it finally felt like he was ready to fully let me into his life.  The night ended up being one of our best ever.  Yet.  The date ended, and we ended, three months later, in May.

I think of more awkward dates, where I wasn’t really attracted, or I was attracted but I couldn’t tell if he was, where I felt bored, anxious, unsure, awkward.  And it hit me that, so easily, a man can ruin a place like this.

I feel romance here, yet I am all alone, and it is still lovely beyond words.  Maybe, just maybe, I am beginning to love myself, beginning to love being in my own company; maybe I am learning to thoroughly enjoy myself even without having anyone else here.

me at the Dimrit Restaurant

me at the Dimrit Restaurant

Funny thing, this.  Because as I am sitting here in this place, all alone but incredibly happy, getting tipsy from the wine, the head waiter hovers around me.  He is asking me questions about myself, telling me he lives here in Cappadocia and he loves it with all his heart.  I finish my delectable dilled mushrooms, and when the sea bream arrives I am in full conversation with him and I am too distracted to bother pulling out the skeleton and its array of thread-thin bones.  I no longer care about the food, because a little romance has found its way to me.  He is interested, it is clear; he doesn’t leave my table-side except to bring me a CD of Loreena McKennitt.  We talk and talk, each equally fascinated by the other.  Soothing, delicious.  He asks me if I have tried rakı yet.  This is a non-sweet, anise-flavored spirit consumed in Turkey.  I say no.  He brings me some clear liquid in a small glass, and when he pours water in it, it turns cloudy.  It tastes like licorice. We reveal our secret lives to each other as I finish my rakı.  I am happy beyond what I have known in months.

We talk more, flirt.  He says he will drive me home; I protest that he has to work, I am fine, it’s only right up the hill, but, in the end, I don’t protest too much.  We get in his car and we drive up toward the Antik Cave Hotel and I see some lights up higher on the hill.  He tells me it’s a disco and we park and venture in; it’s deserted, but the lights and music are pulsing as if it’s full of dancers.  After, we take a drive.  I tell him that it has been so lovely to talk to him, that in Korea no one even looks twice at me; I tell him that in Istanbul, in two days, I surprisingly encountered three different guys who wanted to kiss me.  I told him they all wanted to meet me later but I never went back to meet them.  He looks at me intently: I want to kiss you.  You have beautiful eyes and I want to kiss your lips.  He pulls off the road.  We sit and look at the stars and he tells me he just came to this spot last week, all alone, and drank a beer.  We kiss.  We get out of the car and stand out under the stars and the stars are above and all around us in this place; they’re dancing.  Like the disco lights, like my heart.  The night is all around us, swirling around us on the breeze, there is a moon but I don’t know if it is full or not.  I just don’t know.  My heart feels as full as if there were a full moon.  We are here, in this land of cave dwellings and churches and rustling poplar trees and I am loving everything.  Everything.

Back in the car, his boss calls him and wants to know where he is.  He’s been gone from work a long time.  He has to get back.  I’m really fine with it. I go back to my now-cool room at the Cave Hotel and sleep, windows open to the world, to the elements, to the breeze.  I think of the romantic evening, the Dimrit, the dill, the head waiter and how sweet he was.  I realize I’ve forgotten his name. 😦

I sleep.  Bliss.

 

imaginings versus reality

When I travel, I conjure up a whole magical city in my mind.  Usually this city is very small and accessible, easy to navigate and not overwhelming.   Often this figment of my imagination is my undoing.  When I went to Bangkok, I imagined a place very exotic, based loosely on the movie Brokedown Palace, and on stories Mike told me about his lovely memories of growing up in Thailand.  I imagined bustling pedestrian-only streets filled with Thais and multitudes of foreigners in colorful and exotic clothing.  I imagined a place strikingly strange, colorful, and enticing.  Instead I found in Bangkok a mostly Western city with some elements of Thai-ness, but not to the degree I imagined.  I found traffic-clogged streets, pollution and nothing that really spoke to my heart.  Except the food.  Astounding food.  And lovely, relaxing & cheap massages.  

Now on my way to Turkey, here’s what I imagine: a much more colorful and exotic Cairo. I imagine blues and greens and mosaics and magnificent mosques and a dancing turquoise Bosphorus, with Hagia Sophia dominating the landscape in every direction.  I imagine the somehow comforting call to prayer 5 times a day.  I imagine a city glittering with a fresh breeze.  I imagine friendly and gregarious people.  I also imagine a bit of a dark underside, based on a movie I saw right before I came to Korea; though it takes place in Germany and Istanbul, the main characters are Turks: Head-on.  It was a dark and painful love story.  Another movie I want to watch that I’ve heard much about is Distant, another melancholy movie.  

The book I’m reading now, The Black Book, makes me imagine a place of heaviness and density, a place of shadows and mystery, but I don’t want to let that place take over my imagination; I’ll keep that place on the fringes of my mind.  

I am writing all this so that when I get to Turkey, I will see how it measures up to my dreams.  The reality in travel is many times absolutely antithetical to what you imagine it to be.  This was not the case in France; where everything was as I imagined, from years of reading Ernest Hemingway, or even better.  England was great, but in a way different from what I imagined.   

There is a Turkish guy I met here in Korea.  He is shockingly innocent for his age of 35.  He believes the Quran to be absolutely perfect.  He loves Turkey and loves his mother, who he says is an angel.  And he is very kind-hearted and shy.  I wonder if he is representative or an anomaly.   I guess I will begin to find out in two more days, when I arrive in Istanbul, suitcase in hand, ready to learn about this ancient world, new only to me.  

One of my stops will be in  Cappadocia, in eastern Anatolia, land of cave dwellings and fairy chimneys, where volcanic eruptions formed rocks which have eroded into spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved the soft rocks out to form houses, churches and monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center between 300—1200 AD.  This sounds like a romantic spot and guidebooks even give warnings that in this magical spot,  local men may flirt with women and try to form relationships with them, only to pull out sob stories later of how their sick mothers need money for operations, etc.  I probably won’t have to worry about this happening!  

Next stop, Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish. The city contains hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water. It is located in Turkey’s Inner Aegean region. The ancient city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “castle.”  People have bathed in Pamukkale’s pools for thousands of years.  

My next stop will be in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city, and later a Roman city.  In the Roman period, it was the 2nd largest city behind Rome.  Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia cited in the Book of Revelations.  It is also thought the Gospel of John may have been written here.  It also has a large gladiator’s graveyard.  The house of the Virgin Mary is supposed to be the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It is a place of pilgrimage that has been visited by 3 popes.  

Finally, I plan to return to Istanbul, where I will try to take a cruise down the Bosphorus and visit the Grand Bazaar.  Here I imagine gold, silver, beautiful painted tiles, Turkish carpets, mosaics, all allure.  The stuff of dreams….  

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