Sunday, October 28, 2012

Your Sunday Squirrel

OK, I'm really, totally back - even though I still haven't gotten to the most dramatic part of my trip.  However, there are many squirrels in Denny Park and here is one of them.  It's not that he's so good at blending in with trees, it's just that digital cameras tend to merge colors.  This nice squirrel is actually much more gray than he appears, while the tree is predominantly brown.  Factor in the background sunlight and everything gets darker.  I really know my camera well.  And I kind of hate it, too, because it's way too slow to photograph squirrels.  Every shot I've gotten thus far has been pure luck.  And honestly, for each one good shot there have been 10-15 dogs - not actual woof-woof dogs, but bad shots.  Anyhow, this is a relatively good picture that I took recently nearby.  This fellow wasn't very friendly, but he was kind enough to stay relatively still while I took his picture.  Notice how his back foot is turned all the way around.  Freaky! 

The Road to Nemrut

This was all part of the plan.  I knew that even with all the troglodytic attractions that Cappadocia had to offer, I would still have a few days to spare.  That's when I decided to go to Nemrut.  There wasn't that much to it.  I just gave the guy at my hotel some money and waited for the van to pick me up.  The big circle around east-central Turkey would take three days.  The first day is just about getting to Adiyaman, base camp for Nemrut.  Because it's Turkey there are any number of historically significant places we could have stopped, but Emre, our guide, decided we should see a Caravansary - you know, a place where caravans stopped.  These things are all over the place in Turkey, but this one is really well preserved.  Here are some photos:
 The well-preserved entrance...
...well-preserved ornament...
...the other side of the well-preserved entrance...
...well-preserved ornament...
...well-preserved ornament...'s where they kept the camels, horses, mules and whatnot.  Dig the cool Stargate effect!
And here's the courtyard.  So how old do you think this place is?  I was thinking 200, maybe 300 years.  But no.  It's 800 years old.  How about that!

The rest of the ride to Adiyaman was photo-free.  But we did eat lunch in the mountains - I ate a whole fish! - and we stopped in Kahramanmaras for ice cream.  This is something that everyone must do if they're in the area.  Quite honestly, it's probably not only the best goat ice cream I've ever had, but probably the best ice cream, period.  One of our group members was a vegan, so she was SOL on the experience.  Well, too bad.  Still, she was very nice.  Just a word about the group: they all turned out to be great.  We were 15 in all, Americans, Dutch, Germans and Australians, plus the driver and guide were Turkish, of course.  

We made it to Adiyaman in the early evening and checked into the Hotel Antiochos, which seemed pretty appropriate, since the next day we were going to see the handiwork of the real Antiochos close up on Nemrut.  We all got to bed early.  Reveille was scheduled for 3:30am.   

Underground City!

Another thing that sucked about life in the olden days was invasion by foreign armies.  This happened a lot.  So much so that the good people of Derinkuyu took the time and made the effort to dig themselves an entire underground city.  The brochure says that it could house 10,000 people.  It apparently worked really well.  The dumb invading foreign armies just assumed that everyone had run away and moved on themselves.  Meanwhile, everybody in town was underground, maybe kind of crammed into the complex of tunnels, but quite safe and unslaughtered by the army above. 
How do you get there?  Well, you take a bus to Derinkuyu, buy a ticket and go down...  
...and down...
...and down some more.  I was following a tour group (I think they were from the Philippines) and their guide just decided to explain something mid-tunnel.  And there we stood for quite a while.  As you can see, the woman in front is quite small, but she pretty much fills the entire passageway.  I am quite a bit taller and I must have scraped my head about a dozen times.  So here I waited, bent over and feeling increasingly anxious.  That's right, folks, I'm acrophobic and claustrophobic, so I'm a real catch!  But seriously, people were freaking out in the confined spaces left and right.  I wasn't one of them.  I waited as patiently as I could for the guide down the tunnel to get his group moving.  Just to rattle you true claustrophobes a little more, after everybody started descending again, this tunnel continued on for another 100 yards - 100 more cramped, narrow yards!     
After that descent, you end up in some much larger spaces and it's nice.  The air is fresher (though still very clammy) and the sound of claustrophobes sobbing is barely audible.  Keep in mind that everything you see here was made by people.  These aren't geological formations.  This was once solid, yet pliable rock; now it's a cave system designed to dupe foreign marauders. 
When you're near the bottom - I believe this is six stories beneath the surface - there's an air shaft.  It was originally disguised as a well.  Although the light vs. dark doesn't give the photo much depth, let me tell you, this was a very long way to the top.   
The graves are the lowest point in the complex, some seven stories deep.  I gallantly let a group of nuns go down before deciding that I could live without seeing them.   
I wandered around for a bit.  Most of the groups didn't make it this low, as they all seemed to suffer multiple freakouts along the way.  So there were lots of big, empty rooms like this - a place where people sat down and looked at each other.   
Here's another large space, ideal for general cave activities. 
After a fashion, I felt a yearning for the surface world, so I found another stairway and went up, up, up...
...and up some more.  It's worth noting that these were the most cramped stairs.  They are only about two feet high.  Damn, people were really short back then!  Either that or soldiers were big and these stairs were built so that they'd be pretty much immobile wearing all that armor and such.  In any case, those days are over.  It's time for a bigger stairway.   
Once back on the surface, I had some time to kill before catching my bus back to Goreme.  Derinkuyu is a real throwback.  I say that because when I first visited Turkey in 1996, just about every Turkish town looked like this: the odd stately building looking out of place...
...the jumble of streets and the variety of architecture...
...and of course, places built completely out of cinderblocks.  You don't see lots of towns like this anymore.  As Turkey has gotten richer, this look has fallen by the wayside.  

Anyhow, there was another, smaller underground city at Kaymakli, but one was enough for the day.  The verdict?  There's no way they could have fit 10,000 people down there, no matter how small everybody was back then, but it's still a real feat of engineering and a testament to how much people like surviving.   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Morning in Goreme

You get up and this is what you see:
All kinds of hot-air balloons!  The last time I was in Cappadocia, it was many years ago and there was no balloon industry.  These days, you can see 50+ of them in the sky each morning.  Me, I wasn't even tempted to take a ride, due to some pretty intense acrophobia, but it was fun to watch them float around.  Of course, the people who went on them said that it was a bucket-list-level experience.  Well, more power to them.  My bucket list exists much closer to the ground.  Anyhow, in conclusion, balloons are pretty.   


It's the other open-air museum!  This one is not quite as ornately outfitted as the one in Goreme, but it's quite a bit larger and there are more industrial aspects to it.  What do I mean by that?  I'll get to it in a minute.  

OK, so Uchisar was so very nice, but I had other places to go.  The only problem was that Zelve, while fairly close to everything, is rather remote.  After returning to Goreme, I waited around for a bus to take me up the road a bit.  At least that would get me closer.  When that didn't show, I decided to walk.  Thanks to a partial lift from some very nice Turks from Avanos (two towns over), it didn't take that long.  Along the way, there's this place called Pashabaglan. It's famous for its penis-shaped formations.  
From the only slightly suggestive... the completely blatant... the not-very.  There were a lot of other people here and this place seemed to really bring out the perv in most of them, young and old, women and men alike.  Of course, the British seemed to get the biggest kick out of the scenery, followed by the French.  And then everyone else in between with the Japanese being the most modest.  Yes, even the Turks were far more risque.  And good for them!  Me, I took pictures and left.
When I arrived at Zelve, it was wonderfully empty.  It isn't a regular tour group stop, though it probably should be.  Here we have not just churches but lots of other stuff, too.  Mills!  Wineries!  Chicken coops!  The complex is spread between three valleys.  Above, you see the view across just one of them.  Most of these are hermit studio apartments and storerooms, but I believe that larger area on the middle left is a helipad. 
Here's another group of caves in a different valley.  You get the idea of how large this place is, right?  And it's quite a hike to get around.  But because there aren't any tourists, you can just stop wherever the hell you feel like.  There are no pushy Spanish/Koreans/Poles/Latvians/Luxembourgers/Belgians/Danes/Finns/Russians/Bulgarians/Czechs/Brazilians to hustle you along.  
No visit to Zelve is complete without a stop at the winery.  Here it is.  They don't make wine anymore.  I'm just assuming that what they made was probably pretty terrible.  As much as I enjoy so many things about Turkey, its wine is not good.  The whites are supposed to be better than the reds, but the whites are kind of bad.  So if they're that awful in this day and age, what with the help of modern techniques and such, just think how bad they were a thousand years ago.  My cousin Ivan makes wine in Ukraine by putting grape juice in a five-gallon water jug, adding sugar and stowing it in his hall closet for many months.  The result is one of the worst things you'll ever taste.  But he's so very proud of it, I just don't have the heart to tell him just how bad it is and that he should probably stick to building houses exclusively.  I'm guessing that the wine produced here was probably worse.  Not only did it likely taste bad, but I'm pretty sure that it had lots of dirt and bugs in it.  Thankfully, Cousin Ivan's wine was free of those.  Anyhow, my point is that lots of stuff from the olden days sucked - including life in general.  
I mean, who wants to pray in a cave?  I know that it was before television and the Internet, but golly, what a bleak existence.  If you were alive and praying a thousand years ago, you were: short (these doorways are made for people who are about four-foot-something), malnourished (along with just about everyone else on the planet), very smelly (ditto), prone to dying young (ditto) and religious to the point of working yourself into a spiritual frenzy at any given moment.  Also, you lived, worked and worshiped in caves.  The one and only plus in your life is that you were probably not illiterate.  Instead, you would spend long hours reading Scripture in near darkness until the eye-strain and the lack of vitamin A in your diet would rob you of your sight.  And there you have it.     
Most of Zelve's churches look like this.  There's one called the Grape and Fish Church, but I couldn't find it, so this is what you get.  
Look at that view!  Wow!

Well, I wandered around Zelve for a time and then headed out.  The sky was looking quite threatening.  As I stood at the crossroads, trying to figure out which way to go, two very cute and cheerful French girls appeared and offered assistance.  They thought I looked vexed.  They told me they were bound for Pashabaglan (where I'd already been) and I could walk with them.  Just then an Avanos-bound bus drove up as it began to rain.  We parted company.  Only after I was on the bus did I realize the depths of my retardedness.  Getting wet with two hot French chicks amid phallic rocks didn't seem appealing until it was much too late.  God, I'm dense.   

So the bus took me to Avanos, which isn't a bad place at all, and another bus took me back to Goreme.  
And when I arrived in Goreme, I saw this very small donkey.  That was way better than hanging out with French chicks.  Way, way better.   

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Just a few short miles from Goreme is Uchisar, this big ol' imposing formation that commands views of the surrounding countryside. 
Like everything in Cappadocia, it has all kinds of rooms and chambers dug into it by earlier inhabitants.  They used to let you explore, but too many people died, so they restricted access.  Not to worry though, folks are still falling off the top.  The climb is not a difficult one.  It was already pretty hot (low 80s), so I was rather sweaty when I arrived.  I was even more so when I made it to the top.  
Yes, the view is fantastic.  Goreme is off in the distance.
 Hello, surrounding countryside!
Here's even more!  I stayed up there for quite a while.  Nobody fell off during that time. 
Lest we forget where we are...

Uchisar was a very fun excursion, but even if you stare out at the land for a long time, it doesn't occupy an entire day.  I decided to head up the road to Zelve. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

And now...

...a Turkish band will play a tune for you.  Pretty catchy, huh?


OK, so the 13-hour bus ride was unpleasant, but I knew it would be.  I rolled into town with a very sore neck, found a room at the Flintstone's Motel (a real place) and set out for the sights. 
Goreme is all about weird rock formations.  They're everywhere in Cappadocia.  A long time ago, this big volcano erupted and dumped lots of ash all over the place.  That was eventually compacted into rock, but it was super-soft, as far as rock is concerned.  Not only was it susceptible to wind erosion, but people found it really easy to hollow out caves and such.  More on that in a second.  For the moment, enjoy some weird formations. 

The town's main attraction is the so-called Open Air Museum.  It's a collection of churches carved into the rock that date from the 10th century.  I arrived extra early, but it was a hopeless situation.  The place was already mobbed with tour groups from all over the globe.  There were Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Poles, Spanish, Italians, French, British, Americans and, of course, Turks.  It was quite a battle to get in some of the places and when you were in, they wouldn't let you take pictures.  There was always some Turkish guy standing nearby saying: "No photo." Gosh, that job would get old pretty fast.  
They'd let you take picture of the churches with the most rudimentary decoration, like this one.  But for the others, you had to buy the expensive souvenir album to show the folks back home what you'd seen.   
There were lots of places like this.  I think this was some kind of storeroom. 
There was the odd nice thing like this along the way.  Sure, these guys don't have faces, but you can still admire the work.  
Here's some more rudimentary work.  These guys weren't really about decoration; they were more concerned with shunning the outside world and praying a lot.  For the most part, the outside world left them alone for many centuries.
This is just a sampling of how many tourists were there.  Now take this amount of people and imagine that they're all over the place and you'll get an idea of what I had to contend with.  These guys are Americans.  I hadn't met one of those for more than three weeks and here they were.  I even spoke with some people from South Carolina.  For those of you who have never been, it's a very beautiful state.  But it looks nothing like Cappadocia.

Despite my restless night, I decided to hike around.  I hadn't been here in years, but I remembered that there were some cool things to behold in the valleys beyond the museum.  It turned out to be quite the ordeal.  Trails would end at cliffs.  I would think that the next valley would get me back to civilization, but I'd be wrong.  This happened again and again.  Of course, the scenery was spectacular.  It was also pretty frustrating.  After several hours, I was sweaty, dusty mess, but I managed to claw my way out of all these deceptive valleys and find the main road.  From there, it was just a matter of walking back the way I came.  I passed by the museum again and there were about twice as many people as when I left.

I made it back to the Flintstones and had a swim.  The water was very cold.