After my ten hour bus ride from Ayvalik , returning from Lesvos to Istanbul, I decided it was time to switch to airplanes. When my friend arrived from Seattle with a two week time limit, we booked a flight from Istanbul to Nevsehir in Cappadocia. Arriving at the airport 11am, we went to check in but the flight had been canceled. They put us on a 4 pm flight to Kayseri near Cappadocia. As the hours crept along, the flight was delayed and delayed until finally we boarded at 6:30 pm. And then the captain announced that we would have to sit in the plane until 9 pm due to an accident on two runways. Eleven hour wait, one hour flying time. The price was right $60 but the wait wasn’t. The plane landed at 10:30 pm.
The last time I was in Cappadocia was the mid seventies, a few backpackers, no hotels and definitely no restaurants. Today Cappadocia, especially Goreme, resembles a movie set with elegant hotels , too many mediocre restaurants and tourist shops selling the same stuff. Each day hundreds of people empty out of huge white tour buses, taxis, or cars, and either wander around with their guide books or obediently follow their group leaders. The drivers, who know each other, sit around together, extremely bored, smoking, drinking cay and playing Tavli (backgammon), waiting for their passengers to return. .
First stop on the tourist trail is the Open Air museum outside of town. Here were some of the thousand year old churches with fading frescoes carved into the mountains. When we drove up, it looked like the parking lot at a football game. After being caught in a traffic jam exiting several churches, I left my friend to fend for himself. I called our hired driver who was suppose to be a guide but barely spoke English. By the second day I discovered he was the future father-in-law of one of the assistant managers at the hotel.
He left me at a small café where I had a very delicious cappuccino. An hour later we picked up my friend and drove to Rose valley to look at the unusual rock formations. But the tour buses had gotten there first and people were climbing up and down the mountain snapping selfies. Trying to escape the tourists so he could shot some landscapes, my friend slipped down a rocky hill and hurt his hip. This was he first of five falls that he would take.
Trusting our driver to take us to interesting places was one of our big mistakes. He just followed all the tour buses wherever they went. There was big talk of an amazing underground city reaching down eight levels. My friend had been told this was one of the highlights of the area and it seemed to be on all the bus lists. We arrived in a drab, barren looking town, and suddenly there were hoards of people lined up behind a gate. Everyone was more excited going in than coming out.
When Meltam, our driver’s daughter in law to be, asked how I liked the underground city, I said yeah it was underground. She immediately said I must be Turkish because the Turkish people hated it too.
Most people come to see the rock hewn churches and underground caves, I prefer the Hamam in town. For those of you unfamiliar with this word… it’s a Turkish bath; steam room, massage parlor and lots of soap with male and female in different areas. The soap massages are done in a steamy marble rotunda, the customers laying on a slab of stone as the local women give a fifteen minute soap scrub, working in black panties and bras. Many of the masseuses are overweight, exhausted and the skin on their hands has become shriveled from being in soap and water ten hours a day. I had a vision of Roman slave girls waiting on their masters. Curious, I chatted up one of the Turkish women who had taken a smoking break. How many hours a day and week do you work and what is the average shared tip at the end of the day. A good day she said was when they each earned 80 TK.($30) from pooled tips and a percentage(unknown to me ) of each massage.
As we were leaving Goreme by airport shuttle before dawn, hot air balloons were rising into the sky, carrying 15-20 people to watch the sunrise and float around for an hour. Cost $175 U.S..dollars per person.