On Monday, after a short and bumpy flight from Istanbul, we arrived at the tiny Nevşehir airport. A tall Mercedes shuttle bus brought us into Göreme.
This small town of 2,500 people is located among the “fairy chimney” rock formations of Cappadocia. It’s most famous for the interesting landscape, historical cave churches, cave hotels, and hot air ballooning. Most visitors only spend a few days here, but J and I decided on a week.
Rain was falling soon after we checked into Divan Cave Hotel. Excited to explore, we wandered down the cobbled streets to find dinner.
As our shoes soaked, we enjoyed the unique details of the town: the rock towers with homes and hotels built into them, crumbling buildings, mysterious caves, narrow streets, stuff stored in every nook and cranny, stone block walls, and pedestrian stairs. Water flowed down the roads like rivers.
The location of Göreme was first settled back in the Roman period, but it feels even more ancient. It’s like the real version of Bedrock, built in stone but with modern conveniences.
We ate dinner at Top Deck. The cozy dining space was carved into a cave and had both standard tables and floor tables with cushions. We ordered a tasty meze platter (a variety of cold starters) and lamb chops. Dinner was served with salad and homemade bread. We drank both apple and Turkish tea, wine, and sparkling water. Our waitress spoke perfect English enjoyed talking to us. On the way out, we made reservations for Wednesday.
That evening, I felt suffocated by the heat from the radiator. Our cave room was spacious, but had no window to open and no way to shut off the heat.
The power went out, and the generator kicked in.
J and the river on the steps.
Lamp chops and salad.
The mother of all meze.
Massey-Ferguson tractors are the only name in town.
Partial cave house.
J seen from inside a cave door.
Turkish-made Ford candy van.
Another Turkish car: the luxurious Tofaş Doğan.
On Tuesday morning, a friendly tabby cat greeted us outside. I enjoyed patting her until the little hotel dog scared it away. Stupid dog.
We walked up the road, past some sheep, to the hill behind the town. The view was spectacular.
My buddy and me. Photo by J.
Our neighborhood shepherd trying to get his flock down from the hillside.
The road up the hill.
Looking down into the farm valley.
Our first glimpse of the amazing view.
More farms and cave dwellings from our resting spot by the cell tower.
The neighboring hill town of Uçhisar.
Looking down into town.
Unintentional swimming pool.
The green door and branch roof.
We walked back into town and then a mile down the road to the Goreme Open-Air Museum. Along the way, I stopped to pat a horse that was grazing in a field of fairy chimneys.
The museum is the most popular attraction in town and is comprised of rock cut architecture. Most of the churches belong to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. While many of the faces have been defaced (probably long ago when Islam came to town), many of the frescos are in surprisingly good condition. No photos were allowed inside the fresco caves.
J and I paid our 25 TL admissions and explored the complex with the rest of the tourists.
We were most intrigued by the small cubbies we had seen cut into the rocks. I assumed they were of religious significance, but we later found out they were made as birdhouses.
Little dwelling on the way to the Open Air Museum.
Man in a cubby.
Part of an old cave church.
Karanlık Kilise (The Dark Church)*
St. Barbara Chapel*
Room with eating area to the right.
Miriam Bialik tree.
These cubbies are all over the region. Apparently, they were built for pigeons to live in so that their dung could be used as fertilizer. Originally, there was likely a wall with smaller openings in front of these cubbies.
You want that sandwich?
That evening, we raced to the top of the hill again to take sunset photos. I was able to share the view live over video call with my father thanks to a line of sight to the cell tower.
Sunset over Göreme.
Sunset over Uçhisar.
For dinner, we tried another highly-rated restaurant called Pumpkin. We didn’t have a reservation, so we waited outside for an hour and patted stray cats.
The fixed course meal was 120 TL total, delicious, and served by the zesty owner.
During the meal, a neighboring table of Americans had a long and inane conversation about marriage. One of the girls said “like” as filler more times than I lifted the fork to my mouth.
Luckily, the owner took a moment to demonstrate how he drills holes in the decorative dried gourd lamps he makes as a hobby. The sound of the power tool was tonic to my like-filled ears.
That evening, we slept in a smaller cave. It was the highest room in the hotel, built inside a fairy chimney. There was no radiator, and it had an openable window that overlooked the sheep’s grazing hill.
On Wednesday, we walked on the main road out of town to the dusty entrance to Rose Valley. The landscape was from another planet: vast and without people. After checking out some old man-made rock caves, we crossed the hill and entered the valley.
The main trail was also a road and riverbed, though only a small stream of water was present.
We passed a few other hikers, but the walk was mostly private. Wild flowers bloomed everywhere, much to the delight of the small butterflies and bees. Pigeons, grackles, and magpies were the only birds we spotted.
The hike was around five miles. It passed under natural bridges, though water and man cut tunnels, and around small plots of farmland growing grapes and fruit trees.
The valley narrowed and we emerged near the road above the Open Air Museum. We took a shortcut along a dirt road lined with fruit storage caves blocked by large metal doors. A nearby dump was full of lemons that must have been underground too long.
Approaching Rose Valley.
Old cave church, photos OK.
Rose Valley seen from the ridge.
Paths, farms, and fairy chimneys.
Cone between cones.
J inside the high cave.
The valley path.
Old pigeon caves.
Minecraft in real life.
J enters the tunnel.
J enters another tunnel.
More pigeon coops with climbing holes and possible guano stains.
Lemon House’s series of unfortunate events.
Inside our little cave.
Thursday, we had a lazy morning at the hotel. For lunch, we tried two kinds of pide.
I patted numerous stray cats.
We skipped dinner and hiked up to the popular viewpoint hill to watch the sunset from another angle. The evening air was so cold I could barely manipulate my camera.
Dog eating bones.
Man vs. machine.
A man was hand carving decorative stone window moldings.
Can you guess where they store their chickens?
Painted tractor trailer.
Loading up another trailer.
My dream house.
The moody jalopy.
Freezing cold, but great views.
Looking across town to our rivals up the hill.
On Friday, we walked out of town on the main road again. I fed some bread crumbs to group of chickens and patted the least afraid one.
We passed our turnoff to Rose Valley and rounded the bend to the entrance of Love Valley. This valley is know for its phallic-shaped rock formations. And it’s true, they certainly look very much like rock formations!
Love Valley was wide and full of different intersecting paths. The main path, again, was the mostly dry riverbed, but other paths wove around the large rock formations and hills. We took the higher roads.
Signs told us not to pick the fruit, but there was no fruit to pick. Picnicking was also forbidden, but I don’t know how this rule is enforceable.
While eating snacks on a high hill, we heard a rustling noise. We looked down and saw a turtle that had walked all the way from the river to his hiding spot under some fallen logs. I guess you don’t need stealth if you’re armored.
We spotted three more turtles.
A fairy chimney shaped door.
Yes, I will pat you.
A taste of views to come.
Love Valley entrance marker.
J lost in the valley of dongs.
Our resting view across the valley.
A pigeon cave and farm terrace accessed from above.
Ancient booby trap.
Leaving the valley.
The trail ended on the road into Uçhisar. We walked up the hill and into town. It was mostly crumbling and lifeless except for the area around the castle. We decided to not pay the admission. Instead we circled back to find some cold drinks and valley views.
We took the Pigeon Valley trail back into town. True to its name, there were many pigeons. There was also a friendly stray dog that enjoyed some pats before finding shade to wait for the next sucker.
Yes, I will pat you too.
Capstone and contrail.
The riverbed road.
Pointless gate outside the last tunnel into town.
That evening, we ate dinner at Top Deck for the third time. The meal and hospitality was again perfect, and I had a floor seat in the most secluded area of the restaurant. Had the next reservation not arrived, I could have fallen asleep on the warm cave pillows.
On the way back from dinner, we saw a stray cat chasing a ferret (or mink) along the top of a stone wall.
Saturday, we rested again.
In the afternoon, we were working in the upstairs dining area when we heard whooshing sounds. It took a moment to realize what they were: hot air balloons!
We raced outside to see a balloon nearly scrape the top of the hotel and the nearby rock. It was so close, I could see the faces of the passengers. More balloons were drifting overhead.
J and I hustled across town to the viewpoint hill. We made it just in time to see ten balloons landing. The support trucks and vans kicked up dust as they raced to intercept their massive targets.
The Never Ending Horsey.
Pins on a hot stone roof.
The noise from these balloons drew us out of the hotel.
Balloons with a view.
A big gas budget.
Sunset over Rose Valley.
We had heard that even more balloons had flown that morning at sunrise. So we woke at 5:45 on Sunday and walked in the dark to the viewpoint hill. Tens of trucks were hauling balloons into view all over the valley. There must have at least thirty balloons in view, with even more in some location beyond the Open Air Museum.
After another thirty minutes, convoys of passenger vans started bringing people to the launch sites. J and I were starting to get excited.
But the sun rose without the teams even touching the balloons. And slowly, more and more of the trucks pulled away. Then the people vans pulled away. The weather must have scrubbed the plans.
Everyone that morning was disappointed: J and I, the other gawkers on the hill, and the hundreds of people that had mobilized before sunrise to actually fly in the balloons.
We went back to the hotel to eat breakfast and rest. Then we walked to explore the small valley on the other side of the viewpoint hill.
I was still in a resting mood, so we stopped to watch horses graze, stopped again to sit amongst the wild flowers, and for the last time to watch the swifts swooping around in search of bugs.
We switchbacked up to the same place we had watch the balloons the night before. It was sunset and there were no balloons.
Before sunrise, we are still hopeful of all of the activity in the valley.
The skeptical dog.
Tilled and ready.
Resting my weary and well-worn clogs.
A field of flowers and a rose-colored mesa.
Sun falls on another good day.
On Monday, we woke early to catch our shuttle van to the airport. From the deck, we spotted at least thirty balloons in the air. We caught additional glimpses of them as the van circled around the rocky town to pick up the rest of the passengers.
Göreme is a magical place without the balloons, but they ratchet up the beauty of the landscape to surreal levels.
I makes me want to crawl into a cave and live.
Distance walked for the week: 73km/45.5mi
*Photo via internet.