Our unfortunate arthropod incident behind us, we boarded an afternoon bus for the town of Afyonkarahisar (which translates, rather dramatically, to Black Opium Castle) or, as its friends call it, Afyon.
It was a lengthy bus trip, which started rather unpleasantly: stuck in the back row of a full bus, bouncing up and down, sun beating on us through the windows and A/C non-functional. I only mention this because bus travel iun Turkey is generally so pleasant and comfortable that this portion of the trip seemed especially miserable by comparison. Normally the buses are beautiful new models, with drinks snacks and water served regularly, refreshing lemony-alcohol based stuff splashed on your hands a few times thorugh a trip, and movies shown (true, they are dubbed into Turkish, but at least the bus companies are considerate enough to pick titles that don’t require dialogue to be comprehensible [e.g. Pirates of the Carribean: The World's End.])
Anyhow, the unpleasantness of the bus trip behind us, we arrived in Afyon late in the evening and with the help of one of only two English speakers we met during our stay there, found a Dolmus (collective minibus) into town.
Things about Afyon:
The castle. There is, as the name would suggest, a castle in Afyon. And a spectacular one at that. Perched atop a 250m high outcrop of volcanic rock, it looms over the city, and is visible from just about everywhere. The climb up is long (over 700 steps) but the views from the top are worth it. There have been fortifications of one type or another in the location for over 1000 years, each re-using portions of prior structures. The most recent castle was constructed to help control the Ottoman opium trade originating in the poppy fields surrounding the town (they’re still there… over 25% of the world’s legal opium is produced in the region.)
Afyon Castle seen from the road that runs along the hillside above the old town (we met some Turkish pigeon keepers up here… We didn’t manage a lot of communication, but what we did manage was very friendly )
Solitude. Of a Sort. Afyon felt far, far different than the Turkish tourist centres of Sultanahmet and Gallipoli. Indeed, the only other tourists we saw were two in the bus station on our way into town. And aside from the guy who helped us find our Dolmus on arrival, we only met one English speaker during our stay (he was a delightful fellow who was escorting a group of nine and ten year old folk dancers from a nearby town. Apparently they’d finished last in their competiton, but their costumes were still beautiful, and the dancers themselves very inquisitive and anxious to try out their few English phrases on us.)
All this made our time in Afyon feel like a true Turkish experience, very reminiscent of my time in Ankara during my first trip to Turkey.
Afyon’s old town from the Castle
The old town. Afyon is very clearly divided into old and new areas. The new is not disimilar to an awful lot of Turkish cities (loads of 4-5 story concrete apartment blocks, often with businesses on the ground floor.) The old town is another matter entirely. It consists of lovely old Ottoman houses, painted in all sorts of bright colours, often with lovely woodcarving on their exterior. Unfortunately many are crumbling, likely to a point beyond repair, but they do so in a very pretty manner, maintaining a lot of their original character in the process.
One of the lovely, colourful houses in old Afyon
As we wandered through the old town we got a lot of surprised looks from the residents, most notably from an older lady who looked at us rather grumpily as we eyed up the chickens living next door to her home.
An Ottoman era residence in Afyon’s old town
Hammam. Last time I visited Turkey I didn’t consider a hammam (Turkish bath) until I was in Istanbul, where most of them are quite touristy and expensive. This time we got the real deal. The bath we chose (there were two in Afyon) was constructed in 1479 in conjunction with the mosque which is also still in use right next door. Unsurpsisingly given its connection to the mosque, Sarah and I each went in to separate halves of the complex. Once inside, we were guided through the process (me by use of hand signals, Sarah physically as she’d opted for the full “assisted bathing plus massage” option) by the attendants and other patrons. After being issued and changing into a checked hammam towel” we proceeded into the steamy, marble interior. I simply walked over to one of the marble basins, started running hot water and, using the bowl provided, dunked, splashed and slopped myself until I was squeaky clean and shrivelled like a prune. A few minutes in the powerfully cedar-scented sauna and a rinse, and I was all done. (My only mistake in the whole process was at the end where I was presented with a towel that was meant to be wrapped OVER my current one to prevent drips on the changing room floor. I didn’t really understand this, and wrapped it around me, letting the original one drop to the ground, which prompted smiles of exasperation from the men who had tried to help me.)
Meanwhile, Sarah had a rather different visit (this is her first official guest entry… She’s been trying to avoid them, but obviously I can’t explain exactly what went on in the women’s half…) I was prety much grabbed by the attendant, laden with towels and deposited in a changing room. From there i was led into the main room and plonked at my own basin. I must have looked like a wuss because she then added cold water to my mix. After a fabulous dowsing and scrub i was led to the massage table. The masseuse was surprisingly strong for her size and i was treated to a thorough scraping with a camel hair mitt. Intense but resulting in a pleasantly exfoliated feeling.
In any case both of us left coloured bright pink and feeling delightfully refreshed and clean, especially after all of the grit, grime and sweat we’d accumulated during our trip up to the castle earlier in the day. The hammam, along with the huge (and incredibly cheap) meal of Turkish lentil soup and lahmacun (flatbread topped with spiced minced lamb) had us more than ready for our next bus trip
Which brings us to…
Cappadocia. Pretty much right in the geographical centre of Turkey, Cappadocia is a place of spectacular landscapes, ancient settlements and the earliest roots of Christianity. As with some other places I’ve been before, I’m going to skim over some portions of Cappadocia, letting those who are really keen to take a look at my previous entry.
Adventure. On our first afternoon in Cappadocia Sarah and I set out for Uçhisar, a beautiful town in about 5km from Göreme. After a wander around the base of the spectacular castle and the crumbling (though reviving) old town, we set out for a walk back to Göreme through the Pigeon Valley. Unfortunately I’d overestimated the amount of daylight left, my memory of the trail, and our walking pace. This meant that dusk arrived about halfway along the valley, just where the trail is at its trickiest to follow. I wandered around the valley floor trying to find the way down or around a sudden 30m drop in the canyon floor, while Sarah stood a bit higher up growing more and more worried. We searched high and low, to no avail. Finally, with virtually no light left in the sky (the stars were out, but the full moon was still hours from rising) and Sarah in a genuine panic, we gave up and climbed up a side canyon from where the lights of Uçhisar were visible a few hundred metres distant.
Uchisar by daylight (we saw only its lights as we wandered up from the Pigeon valley towards the end of our “adventure” there.)
Cappadocia’s valleys can be very tricky places to navigate, and it was only through a combination of good luck and Sarah’s great bravery (she’s not a rugged outdoorsy type at the best of times) that we managed to make it back to Uçhisar safely. Lesson learned: Always leave LOTS of extra time to get back from any trip out into the wilderness. Especially when you haven’t brought food or warm clothing.
The Rose Valley (this is one of the ones that we DIDN’T almost have to spend the night in.)
The pink and rose valleys. After what I’d put her through in the Pigeon Valley it’s surprising Sarah agreed to venture on other valley walks with me, but fortunately she did. The pink and rose valleys are two of the finest examples of how wind and water erosion plus volcanic tuff (the very soft rock that makes up a lot of the land around Cappadocia is named, ironically, tuff) can combine to create beautiful landscapes.
A Cappadocian Landscape with the town of Göreme in the foreground
Underground cities. I hadn’t made my way out to any of these on my previous trip to Cappadocia, though I’m not quite sure why, as there are several accessible by public transport from Göreme. The cities are very old (some date back over 2700 years.) They’re also astonishingly big, given that they were all carved out of the underlying rock by hand.
A ventilation shaft (55m deep!) in the underground city. Though it felt like an absolutely huge labyrinth of chambers and passageways, apparently only 10% of the city is open to the public.
We visited the largest, near the town of Derinkuyu, which had about 8 different levels, and extended nearly 60m below surface. It was very cool down there, so much so that my sandal clad feet were quite chilly by the time we emerged, squinting into the sunlight after our visit.
In the Derinkuyu underground city. The large disc of rock could be rolled across the doorway to block access in times of danger.
Turkish Hospitality. I didn’t really mean to have both words capitalized, but it’s appropriate, so I’ll leave it. A few examples:
1. In the market bakery we’d just bought a couple of loaves of bread to eat as picnic lunches when the head baker directed us towards their big communal lunch plate, practically insisting that we try some. The delicious mixture of tomatoes, peppers, beef and spices scooped up with Turkish flatbread was probably the yummiest food we ate during our whole stay.
2. One night while walking around Göreme doing some mapping we were stopped by an old Turkish man who invited us into his home. He explained that once there, we could drink some tea, and that it would be a good chance to see a typical Cappadocian home, a “cave home” as he (quite accurately) described it. We went through a front courtyard and then into the cave portion itself, carved out of the surrounding tuff. Though not flashy, the walls were hung with portraits of his family and beautiful modern prints. Also, surprisingly, given the rustic nature of the house itself, there were several modern appliances (a front loading washer and big flat screen TV among them.)
Once we were in and settled in the living room, he continued his hospitality by offering us dinner, more tea, and even a song (while Turkish vocals seem to have a different style to western ones, his song was still beautifuly haunting.) I even shared a song with him in return (my usual “Canadian song” for foreginers, the Log Driver’s Waltz by the McGarrigle Sisters from the CBC Heritage moment of the 1980′s.)
In addition to being incredibly hospitable, our host also had a fabulous memory for languages (he was self-taught in English) names, places and geography (he knew the capital and population of any country you could name.) All in all, it was a lovely visit with a fascinating guy.
The town of Cavusin. The mosque is in the new town, the area behind in the old, which was abandoned due to rockfalls.
3. On our walk out to the rose and red valleys, we stopped in the town of Cavusin and spent a very pleasant morning. The proprietor of a hotel undergoing renovations stopped us on the road, asked where we were from, and on hearing Canada, asked if we could speak French. Our reply of “un peu” was good enough to turn our brief meeting into a couple of hours touring the renovation work, chatting, drinking tea and having lunch with the construction crew (which included a vieweing of “une grande debate theologique” between several of the men present.) The whole thing was a lovely way to spend the morning, and all the better for being conducted entirely in French as, though we didn’t understand everything he said, the fact that we got most of it and held up our end of the conversation made me feel much less pitifully unilingual.
One of the small, rock cut churches we visited during our walk outside Mustafapasha
Mustafapasa. We spent the better part of a day visiting this lovely little town about an hour by Dolmus from Göreme. At one point most of the inhabitants were Greek, and this showed in the architecture, industries and even the complexion of some of the inhabitants. The “industry” mentioned in the last sentence was a winery, something of a rarity in Turkey. We went in for a taste and, while the grape wine was, I’m sad to say, dreadful, their cherry wine was very tasty.
Bottles for the Kappadokya winery in Mustafapasha. Their cherry wine was delicious, but so sweet and strongly flavoured there was no way we could buy and drink a whole bottle…
Staying in a fabulous hostel. The Rock Valley Pansion is one of my favourite places I’ve ever stayed. The staff were super friendly and helpful, offering ideas and information without pushing to get you to join tours or other organized activities. Each of the items we tried from the breakfast menu was delicious (and included in the price of the room!) The building itself was lovely, and the beds were very comfy as well. So Rock Valley gets top marks from me, and a big recommendation if you’re headed to Cappadocia.
The sandstorm from our hostel. During our first couple of days in Cappadocia it was incredibly windy (and this is coming from two people who have lived in Wellington!) It was so windy that we became coated with grit whenever we went outside, and that the sun was so obscured that you could stare straight at it at noon.
Frescoes in the Apple Church
The Open Air Museum. THE tourist highlight of Göreme, the cave churches and their beautiful frescoes were even lovelier than I remembered them being. For specific details, you can check out my previous Cappadocia entry, though I will note here that if you’re planning to visit, aim for between noon and 14:00. The guidebooks will tell you to arrive first thing, so as to beat the tour groups, but by doing so you really only beat them by about 15-20 minutes. If you go at lunchtime, you’ll have the place to yourself for almost two hours while all the busloads are off eating elsewhere.
The walls and ceiling of the Sandal Church (I should add that while they’re nice, not ALL of the churches in the Open Air museum are quite as spectacular as this)
Me at a 900 year old dining table in the Open Air Museum. I’m eating one of the many aci biber (hot peppers) that I consumed during our meals in Cappadocia. We bought about 200 grams of them during our big shopping day near the start, and I almost managed to finish the lot.
All this beings us pretty much to the conclusion of our Turkish adventures. A rushed (but yummy) dinner, a long (but comfortable) night bus ride, and we were in Antakya in Turkey’s far south. A dolmus took us to the very end of the country, the end of this entry, and to the Syrian border, which is where we’ll pick up next time.
Some of Cappadocia’s marvellous (as in, it’s a marvel) landscape
Tags: Afyon, Cappadocia, Kappadokya, Llew Bardecki, Travel, Turkey