We drove 6 hours from Istanbul up to the Anatolian Plateau and the capital city of Ankara. Our main purpose here was to see the Ataturk Mausoleum. This museum was dedicated to presenting the founder of modern turkey in a most favourable light. He rose to prominence following the defeat of the Allies at Gallipoli in World War 1. The day we visited there was a state visit by the president of Kenya, as well as a few school groups. The changing of the guard was performed every hour, and offered a ceremonial pomp to the otherwise austere mausoleum.
We continued heading east toward Cappadoccia with a few stops along the way. The first stop was to a Salt Lake, which reminded us of Chile the previous year. There were lots of salt based souvenirs for sale. Peter got one of his best photos of the entire trip here, with a young girl frolicking in the shallow water of the salt lake.
The next stop was the Underground City of Denrinkuyu. This was one of many such complexes that were formed out of the natural cave formations that exist in this part of Turkey. This elaborate structure was thought to house up to 20,000 people.
Cappadoccia was a prime destination for our trip. A combination of unusual landscape formed by wind and water erosion, combined with the adaption of this landform to create secret churches resulted in an incredibly diverse cultural and natural experience.
We explored the area by hot air balloon at sunrise, hiking through the canyons during the day, and by van at other times. The layers of volcanic rock that had been carved offered a surreal backdrop, especially at sunrise and sunset. A large open air museum at Goreme has over 30 cave churches used by early Christians for worship. As these were made as inconspicuous as possible, they had very small windows, and were generally quite dark. This lack of light actually helped to preservce the frescoes that were painted on the sides of the cave walls. The dark Church, which had only one small port hole for a window, had the best preserved frescoes of any of the caves.
This area is also known for its crafts, particularly carpets and ceramics. We visited a factory/showroom for both where we were given an overview of how they are manufactured and what to look for when purchasing these products. We ended up buying a 5X7 ft carpet, and a small ceramic plate mounted in a frame for haning on a wall.
We had dinner one night with a local family, who prepared dinner for the group. We discovered that their son is a balloon pilot. We didn’t realize how important this industry is to the region until we took the balloon ride the next morning, and were greeted by almost 100 balloons ready for lift off. Each one holds about 18 guests, and appparantly are almost fully booked everyday. The ride was very smooth, and offered us a close up way of navigating through the canyons of the area while watching the sunrise. The rising and falling were almost unnoticeable, except for the change in the air temperature after a few hundred feet.
Our last night we attended a Whirling Dervishes performance of the sema, or whirling ceremony. This order, known as Mevlevi was founded by Rumi, the sufi mystic. The sema ceremony consists of music, dance, and whirling, which is seen as a way to perfect union with God. We had a chance to meet one of the participants, who stayed for a Q&A after the ceremony.
The tour continued towards the coast with a stop in the industrial city of Konya. This conservative town was also quite wealthy as a result of the industry – truck production in the area.
Rumi, who started the Whirling Dervishes order in the 13th century, is buried here at a museum/ mausoleum in Konya. This was a well visited complex with lots of tourists crowding the areas. It was also Friday, and we saw a large gathering of worshippers at a nearby mosque for the Friday afternoon prayers.
Later that afternoon, we went back in time to 7000 BC to one of the oldest settlements in the Middle East – Catalhoyuk. This large archeological dig once supported approximately 10,000 people. Today it is a large dig site, covered up to protect it against the elements. There is a recreation of a traditional house on the site, which gave a good isea of what life must have been like in those days.
One of the main advantages of G Adventure tours is the ability to meet local people. This tour had an overnight stay with a family. We all stayed in the main floor of the house, and had dinner and breakfast on the second floor. This was not a typical family given the wealth that they had. The town of Guneyseyir offered us an unfiltered look at a local village. The imam of the local mosque gave us a rendition of the call to prayer. The owner of the house was a local politician, and his nephew is an English teacher, and together with our guide did most of the translating. We went for a walk around the village in the evening, and the next morning, and took the opportunity to get a lot of photographs of locals in their natural habitat.
We continued south toward the coast, crossing a coastal mountain range before descending to Antalya – the playground of the rich on the Turkish Mediterranean.
This was the first beach tourist town we had seen, and had a large area of hotels, and stores/restaurants. There was a statue of Hadrian, and a mosque that was oriented at a 45 degree angle. The old city was almost swallowed up by new developments including restaurants and shopping malls. We had a group dinner to celebrate Margo’s birthday at one of the waterside restaurants.
The next morning we visited one of the best museums of the trip – the Antalya museum, which has the largest collection of sarcophaguses and Greek god statues of any place on the coast. These were taken from the ancient city of Pergamum located east of the present city. We would then spend the rest of the trip driving along the Mediterranean, with a slight diversion inland to Pamakkule.