After a Brief Stop in Ankara... to Eat of Course!
22.05.2012 - 27.05.2012 21 °C
Back from our Aegean Adventure, we had a small 3-day visit in Ankara, primarily a government city – modern and very cosmopolitan. It is also a very hilly city! We had picked up colds so didn’t overly-exert ourselves.
On our first day, we went in search of the Angora rabbit yarn, named for this city, only to find it no longer exists here. China and Britain seem to hold the current market so Christa and I were most sad, but we drowned our sorrows with lovely Efes beer and had an amazing dinner of İskender kebab at Uluda Kebapçisi. This dish, named after its creator İskender Efendi, originated in Bursa in the late 1800s and its official name "Kebapçı İskender" is trademarked by the original Bursa family. Made with slices of a sort of döner kebab, placed on cubed white bread or Turkish pita and topped with a spicy tomato sauce… yummy all on its own, but then taken over the top by pouring melted butter all over! Unbelievably good and served with rice and yogurt. We were so lucky to have wonderful friends living here to take advantage of all the local choice food spots.
On day two we experienced our first Hamam! At the Swissötel in Ankara, the Hamam is a series of sauna, steam rooms and a beautifully tiled circular bathing room. After arriving and changing into our robes (recommended wear is swimsuit bottoms or a spare pair of panties, though can wear a full swimsuit if you are more comfortable with the extra coverage), we were ushered in to the Sauna for some pre-softening, then the steam room for more thorough cooking. Deeming ourselves sufficiently well-done, we made our way to the main bath room. However, when we arrived our attendants seemed to think us to be on the rare side and we were sent back to the steam room for some extra wrinkling. Finally escaping from the steamy heat, we were led back to the octagonal marble bath room. There were individual hosing stations all around the perimeter where we were rinsed off before heading to the large central marble slab for a thorough scrubbing and manhandling (or rather more accurately womanhandling) – I don’t think my skin has been so clean and new since the day I was born! Was a bit horrified to see the growing pile of black, dead skin falling off my body! Though I am reassured by a Turkish friend that this is a normal result, even when you go for the monthly scrub – apparently it’s not recommended to do more frequent visits than that. Your skin needs time to recover!
Finally they were finished trying to remove any more layers and mercifully we were given another rinse off, before lying on the marble alter and having buckets of bubbles poured all over us. The feeling was actually really cool having large mounds of suds slip-sliding down over our newly revealed and overly sensitized skin. A final rinse and we were pronounced clean! Whew! We followed this up by an oil massage and left so silky smooth! Quite the experience! I think I liked it?
Leaving the hotel, we went for a visit to the Anit Kabir monument and tomb of Atatürk, whose name translates to Father of Turks. This monument was beautiful, simple and modern; set high on a hilltop in the centre of the city.
Atatürk is so revered here, even today, it is virtually a criminal offence to disagree with anything he did, or to say anything bad about him. The attached museum was very interesting, if appearing to be overly propagandized. Regardless of your personal opinions of the man, he made modern Turkey what it is today, moving it forward into the modern world at a seemingly impossible rate. During his leadership he created a system of ‘equal’ rights for women; established and created the current Turkish alphabet, replacing the Arabic one; created last names for the populace, of which his was determined by government members; and completely removed religion from government and all other areas of control. Although he operated more as a benevolent (to the Turks) dictator, he set up the democratic succession so successfully that Turkey has remained incredibly stable in an area of religious and political instability. Worryingly though, people are concerned as recent governments are moving away from this secular model.
Dinner was another foodie heaven – Kalbur Balik Restaurant, run by a gentleman affectionately referred to as the Fish Nazi. This small, hard-to-find restaurant apparently has amazing fish main courses, but I don’t think I’d ever know because the mezes are so good, I’d never get to it. We had so many varied and wonderful mezes for dinner that night I can’t remember them all, just know I need to return one day!
Thursday saw us head to the old winding streets of the Citadel (really the only part of Ankara that is older than the 1930s), as well as a quick stop at the mostly-under-construction, but good for what we saw of it, Anatolian Museum of Civilization. Also, you guessed it, another great meal. This time in the Citadel itself, in a beautiful and old house- Zenger Paşa Konaği.
Some shopping in the Citadel, coffee at Divan (Ankara’s oldest Turkish Delight maker), and then back home to pack for our trip the next morning to Cappadocia!
Cappadocia – Unlike Anywhere I've Been on this Planet
Cappadocia is a short and beautiful 3-hour drive from Ankara, which would mean for me, that like Michele, I’d be going there a lot if I lived in Ankara!
Cappadocia defies description really, and believe me, the photographs do not do it justice. An incredible landscape of Fairy Chimneys, rolling lava hills in in a surprising array of colour and massive boulders. All created by the nearby volcanos that erupted millennia ago. Over the years, the rock that flowed from the volcano and up through underground tunnels have slowly been revealed by erosion of the surrounding soil, creating an unworldly landscape.
The beauty is only made more enchanting by the incredible history of the place. From pre-history to the Hittites of 1800-1200 BCE; followed by the Persians, who gave the area its name – Cappadocia means land of the beautiful horses, a reference to the horse trade that once dominated here; to the Romans, Byzantines and early persecuted-Christians who took refuge in the caves of the area. The area’s unique soft porous rocks provided shelter, rock-cut monasteries and underground cities.
Our hotel was a cave hotel, as are many in the area, the Elkep Evi in the town of Ürgüp. It's a small hotel with fantastical rooms and ours was fabulous, sleeping three very comfortably and having a beautiful terrace overlooking the city from which we drank our wine in the evening, picked up from a nearby winery.
After checking in, and having lunch at the wonderful, but expensive Ziggy’s restaurant, we headed straight to the Open-air Museum in Göreme, dodging like we have through the entire trip, regular but short rain storms. The open-air museum is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the important Byzantine monastic settlements in the area. Wonderful fresco-decorated churches, begun in the 3rd century, but most from 9th to the 11th century, and carved into the rocks. There seemed to have a predominant preoccupation with St George and his dragon slaying adventures here as many of the chapels were named and decorated in his honour. It was a beautiful place to wander through, but unfortunately many areas were closed off for restoration. You can also see dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground cities in the area. What is a troglodyte anyway? Besides a really cool sounding name? Turns out it refers to cave dwellers in antiquity! Huh!!
Saturday morning and it was balloon ride time! Overly expensive, very packaged and touristy, it was still an amazing experience, quite simply for the scenery and ability to get a birds-eye view of the incredible landscape. We were up at 4am, to be picked up and ferried to a very bad buffet breakfast (opt to skip this if you go) and then to the balloon site. There are literally hundreds of balloons taking off in the morning, making an impressive sight all of their own. The balloon pilots expertly drifting down so close to the rocks they brush over bushes as they clear the valleys. Simply indescribable, especially as the rising sun painted the greens, reds and yellows of the landscape!
In our basket, there was Christa and myself, 2 Aussies and 12 Americans on a Christian Site pilgrimage. They were very nice, but one member, as we silently drifted over the landscape, the only sound being the whistling wind and the periodic balloon's flame-heater, started to exclaim… “Martha, have you ever been somewhere so quiet? I can’t quite believe I’ve ever been somewhere so quiet. It’s really amazing how quiet it is up here. John, have you been somewhere so quiet? Oh my stars, this is the quietest place I’ve ever been. How about you…..” Oh dear…
After drifting over a wide variety of landscapes we touched down on a plateau covered in fragrant wild sage, and actually landed precisely in the middle of the flatbed truck meant to carry off the balloon and basket. While they gathered up the silk of the deflated balloon we had what was advertised as ‘champagne’, but was in reality a glass of the ubiquitous, but very nice, sour cherry juice (vişne suyu), topped off with the tiniest of smidgeons of champagne and poured into glasses set up subtly around the very carefully lab led “Tip Box.” Still, nothing could take away from the high of this experience! And it is important to make sure you have a reputable company with well-trained balloon pilots, so don’t be tempted by the cheaper options.
The rest of the weekend was spent exploring some of the areas sites and more famous rock formations.
Popped into Avanos to check out some of the wonderful handmade pottery of the region, decorated in a rainbow of colours and patterns. We watched as one ceramic artist joyfully made a traditionally-styled wine jug for us, demonstrating the various techniques.
Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley), behind Göreme, is a long valley that doesn’t have any historical caves, churches or monasteries, but instead is a beautiful, fantastical golden red landscape of fairy chimneys and naturally shaped rocks in some very interesting forms. Some are nicely G rated, like the oft-photographed camel rock, while others provide a rather high realism ode to the Shiva Lingam!
Uçhisar Castle (Tiptop Castle) sits atop Uçhisar rock and is the highest point in Cappadocia. An elaborate Roman rock-cut castle, it provides a dramatic backdrop to many sites in the area. Formerly the outer castle defense for Cappadocia, in more peaceful times it functioned basically as an apartment building, till as recently as the 1950s. Running behind the city is a valley filled with chimneys and cave homes and loads of pigeons. Aptly named Pigeon Valley, for the important birds that lived there. Important as message carriers as well as using the shells for the plaster in the buildings.
The next morning we were off to see one of the 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu is the deepest at 11 floors. Only 20% is available to tourists but it gave us a glimpse at what it must have been like when used by the regions inhabitants. It was originally started during the Hittite period (8-7th centuries BCE) and expanded over the centuries to ultimately provide a safe hold for an estimated 20-50,000 people along with their livestock and food supplies. There are over 600 doorways to the city, specialized rooms for stables, churches, oil presses, wineries, all you’d need if you have to evacuate and hide from enemies, which was its primary use. With underground water supplies in addition to the surface supply, it was an effective place of safety for many over the centuries. Massive rolling stone-disc doorways, weighing 200-500 kg with a centre peephole were used to block passage ways.
Passageways can be very narrow, steep and low so not for those who are claustrophobic, but remarkably constructed and with over 15,000 ventilation systems that work quite well even today. The city was also connected to other underground cities in the area.
We spent our final Sunday morning with Ruth, a Kiwi ex-pat who has lived in Göreme for 22 years. She owns and runs a carpet shop called Tribal Connections, specializing in the regional Kilim carpets. She gave us a run-down on navigating carpet shopping in Turkey, which was really practical and interesting. She also turned us on to what would be my favourite site amongst so many amazing ones – the Selime Monastery in the Güzelyurt area. This part of Cappadocia was so dramatically off the mass-tour routes that it was almost tourist free! A wonderful peaceful way to end our trip here.
Our first stop was in the cute little town of Güzelyurt (means beautiful land or home), amidst atmospheric rain and no power, which made lunch an adventure! We strolled the picturesque and hilly streets leading to an old church – the Great Church Mosque (Büyük Kilise Camii). Built in 1896 as the church of St. Gregorius over an older original church site from385. It's thought to be the birthplace of the Gregorian chant! Now a mosque, the very nice (and cute!) Imam gave us a quick tour, including a visit to a well purported to contain holy water. And then gifted us with nice pamphlets on Islam. St. Gregory was from this area, hence the predominant churches and chapels named in his honor; however, he wasn’t the only family saint. Four of his brothers were also named as Saints – St. Macrina the Younger, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Basil of Caesarea. Wonder how fun Sunday dinners were at their house?
The town has been here for over 3000 years and little has changed, in fact now it is protected from modern development. New building must use local stone and be appropriate in style for the town. In 1924 one of the mass population exchanges occurred here with the Ottoman Greeks leaving and Muslims moving in.
Sitting high on the Analipsis Peak above Güzelyurt Lake is the Yüksek (High) Church, the highest church in Cappadocia. Not much seems to be known of the structure or when it was built. A part of the chapel is attributed to the Byzantines, while another area is thought to have housed a Christian monastery. The backdrop of Lake Güzelyurt, snow-capped volcano – Hasan Dağı, caves cut in the surrounding cliffs and picturesque fields of various greens made this spot yet another captivating moment.
Finally, it was off to the Selime Monastery! The Selime Monastery is the largest rock-cut monastery in Cappadocia, built in the 13th century and contains the usual stables, kitchens, monastic cells as well as a full size cathedral. Based on some inscriptions it is assumed that it was built by an aristocratic family and likely the seat of power in the area. Most of the frescos are faded into a faint outline, if evident at all, but this place was wondrous. As awe-inspiring as the Göreme Open Air museum, but with only a handful of people, and no areas roped off. Although by far my favourite Cappadocia site, it’s not for those with a fear of heights. It is a fairly difficult climb in some areas, eroded stairways and sloping rain run-off channels lead you from floor to floor, with no railings or handholds. Wear good shoes with a nice grip!
On a side note, though the movie scenes were shot in Tunisia, the scenery for the Sand People in Star Wars was shot here.
Like everywhere in Turkey, the stray dogs and cats were standing guard over the monuments. But unlike many other countries I’ve travelled in, these animals are relatively well-fed by the average Joe & Jill. In fact many city governments have standard poliiesy to catch, neuter and release stray animals in Turkey. Tags are placed in the animal's ear to show that they have been fixed. We saw dogs and cats peacefully living, being fed by restaurants and individual people, guards playing string games with resident stray cats and fat puppies freely frolicking among ruins, temples and rock caves. Says a lot for the Turkish Society. To quote Gandhi “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” As an animal lover, was a nice experience!
Leaving Cappadocia on the drive back to Ankara, a large thunderstorm was following on our heels, sometimes catching up. Luckily we arrived back before the main storm hit, and had a wonderful evening watching the lightening show over the city from Michelle's apartment. Next morning, we were off to Eastern Turkey!