One thing I loved about living in Russia was how many public holidays there were. Around 10 days for New Year, 5-7 days for May holidays (Labor Day and Victory Day), and then a few one-day holidays sprinkled throughout the year (International Women’s Day, Defenders of the Fatherland Day etc). And they do this cool thing where if a holiday falls on a weekend, you get the following work day off! So I`m glad that here in Turkey there are also quite a few public holidays. This week we got 1.5 days off for Republic Day which commemorates the fact that Ottoman Empire was was proclaimed a republic and named the Republic of Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. To celebrate, many people and institutions display the Turkish flag, often accompanied by a flag depicting Ataturk. Unfortunately, beyond this I don’t know much more about how this holiday is celebrated because for the second year now we left the city but judging from the photos in a fellow blogger’s post, the celebration involves people carrying flags.
For us, it was a chance to get out of the city – much easier now that we have a car and have some fun with friends. Actually, we got inspired by another friend who was going on a day hike around Ihlara Valley and decided to join them, fully determined to hike all day, but as often happens with good intentions, they were not fully realized.
Our destination, for the 5th time since we came here, was Cappadocia! We were joined by our friends Nick and CeAnn (Jena dubbed us ‘Yulia’s crew), and 4 more friends drove in later. This time we decided to stay in a different hotel, Kelebek Special Cave Hotel, mostly because the rooms there had fireplaces. As many other hotels in Goreme, the rooms were built into a hillside, hence the word cave in the name of the hotel. The hotel is on top of a hill so the views from the terrace were quite spectacular.
Just look at this! No wonder Google maps don’t work in Goreme! From our hotel, we were able to see one of our favorite hotels – Traveller’s Cave Pension. Nick and CeAnn stayed there and we even waved to each other from our respective terraces the following morning!
With hindsight, it would have been better to book a cosy room with a fireplace in a fancy hotel if it was just the two of us going on a romantic getaway. As it is, we were having too much fun going out with our friends to stay in the room and enjoy its amenities. So the fireplace went unlit and we didn’t play Scrabble by the fire, sipping on delicious local wine as we had imagined when we were booking this room.
As wonderful as it looked, the hotel had one major drawback. It was a veritable maze. The following day, a student was telling me about the movie he saw, Maze Runner, in which some young boys were trapped in a maze and had to find a way out. I told him I knew exactly how they felt. I am not exaggerating. The hotel consists of several buildings, some interconnected, some free-standing, on several levels, and it has numerous stairs, alcoves, terraces and dead-ends. To make matters worse, it’s adjacent to several other hotels, all looking the same. When we got back from our night out, we spent about half an hour looking for our room. After 30 minutes of walking in circles we gave up and asked the receptionist to show us the way. Receptionist, narrating as he walked us to our room: I`m happy to show you the way to your room. But it’s very easy to find! Turn right here, walk down the stairs, turn left, walk up the stairs, then down the stairs again, turn left and you are there. WHAAAAAT????
I took this picture the following morning as I tried to find the breakfast terrace. Or the reception. Or, at the very least, the way back to our room. So as I wandered around, I took photos of the places I walked by, so that I I could find my way back. A trail of crumbs, so to speak. Not that it helped. I walked around for almost half an hour, and this time I couldn’t blame it on the wine. Eventually, I wondered into a neighboring hotel and a kind hotel maid walked me back towards reception, where once again I had to ask for help. Oh, and do you see the room number on our door? Nope, not there. We may well have walked past it the night before. As I went our to breakfast, my only landmarks for finding the room were the ancient-looking pot by our door and a twig broom. The funny thing is, the day before we held a speaking exam for our students and one of the questions included looking at a map and giving directions. The directions at the exam were always very straightforward, unlike the ones people kept giving us at the hotel. Anyway, now that I`m not wandering around, desperately hungry and very confused, it’s much easier to look at the whole thing as a little adventure and an amusing anecdote.
As I`ve written before, we enjoy living in Kayseri. We love the lovely local people, the abundant and cheap fruit and vegetables, the area where we live. However, from time to time we miss the nightlife and being able to stop by a pub/bar after work and have a glass of wine after a hard day’s work. So we were pumped at being able to go out, eat delicious food and have wine at the same time!
On the way to dinner, we stopped to take some pictures and also to say hello to the owner of the hotel we stayed at on our last trip and his dog, Panda. I think he remembered me because he jumped into my arms and tried to chew on my glasses (the dog, not the owner!)
We had dinner at Seten restaurant, almost next door to our hotel, and it is one of the best restaurants in Cappadocia. The food there is amazing: they serve things like stuffed zucchini blossoms and tender beef served on a bed of eggplant puree. And it’s just so beautiful inside! After dinner, we headed to another favorite place, Fat Boy’s Bar. A very cool thing about the bar is that they have a great selection of board games and we had spent several fun evening playing Scattegories (I took great pride in the fact that I beat 4 Americans last time we played – non-native speakers of English everywhere, rejoice!) and this time we decided to amuse ourselves with Cranium. The evening passed in a happy blur as we drew with our eyes closed, mimed, hummed songs and tried to spell things backwards.
Towards the end of the evening, we decided to live dangerously and switched to raki (anise-flavored drink, quite strong, transparent on its own but turns milky white when mixed with water). I don’t think it’s fair on anyone to post the pictures from that stage of the evening here so let’s just say everyone was grateful that I had the foresight to buy several big bottles of water and distribute them among our friends as we headed to our hotels after midnight.
Naturally, we did not get up early the following day to head to Ihlara Valley for an all-day hike. Once we were done with wandering around the hotel in search for breakfast and checked out, it was after 11.
We decided to drive to the valley anyway, if only for a few hours. Our destination was Selime Monastery, a magnificent rock-cut structure at the end of Ihlara Valley dating to the 8th century. We explored the monastery and the surrounding fairy chimney valleys for the whole of 1,5 hours. We spent the rest of the time driving, buying tickets, trying to find a place to eat and then giving up on the idea and trying to take a good group picture.
I also had a 1-minute ride on a donkey, which I don’t think the donkey enjoyed very much. The whole time I wobbled precariously and silently asked the donkey’s forgiveness as its owner reassured me that donkeys were strong and I was fine. I definitely didn’t start out the day intending to ride a donkey, but as I saw a cute boy on a cute donkey and asked his permission to take a photo, he hopped off and offered the donkey to me, and I couldn’t refuse.
Mike and I broke off from the group and went to explore a nearby valley with so-called fairy chimneys – natural rock formation made by a volcano eruption. Many of these resemble houses, mushrooms or towers and for centuries were used by local people as shelter, houses or even storage. The best part was when we were enjoying the view, a call to prayer from the mosque in the valley below us could be clearly heard and it intensified our enjoyment of the surrounding beauty.
We also explored the monastery and I made friends with the security guide, who marvelled at our foreign names and proclaimed that Michael will be called Mehmet from now on. He immediately started using the new name, calling, Be careful, Mehmet, as we made our way down the steep path.
All in all, it was a good trip and even though we didn’t explore the Ihlara Valley beyond a short excursion at the very end of the valley, we now have a full-on Ihlara Valley experience to look forward to!