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Elective Torture

The sunrise in Cappadocia is never, ever something you want to miss.  Being in such a dry, arid climate, it is a given that it is always pretty, but more than that, and because of that, there is a thriving industry for early morning hot air balloon rides over this historied land, which happens to provide for an exponentially more picturesque view of the sunrise, being as it is mottled and highlighted by dozens of colorful aerostats.  Ideally, the best way to take advantage of this extraordinary circumstance is to actually book a ticket and go up in one of the balloons, but seeing as how the price is equally extraordinary, upwards of $300 USD per person, we opted for the much more economic option of waking up early and schlepping ourselves up to the rooftop patio of the hotel for a, let’s say satisfactory view.  I will take this opportunity to point out that for us, traveling is always a delicate dance between prudent thriftiness and unbridled expenditure- in this case we all agreed that our collective twelve hundred dollars could buy something far more memorable than an hour up in a wicker basket.  Personally, based on the photos, I am happy that we chose to view this spectacle from the ground.

After the slightly too early balloon viewing party, we… all went back to bed.  But then, a few hours later, we got up and were ready for our final day in Cappadocia: a day at the spa. Or hamam to be more precise.  This was the first time any of us had been to a Turkish bath, and actually the first time I had ever been to any sort of masseuse, Turkish or otherwise.  Boy was I in for a treat, a real treat. You start with a deceptively relaxing lay on a big stone pedestal in a hot steamy room, apparently so you can sweat it out a bit and dehydrate yourself before the actual message. Then, each person is called, one by one, through the door of the hamam to meet their fate, I mean masseuse.  Meanwhile, the remaining patrons in the sweat room are completely clueless to what is about to befall their unlucky friend, and them too in short order.  I like to think of it as the same scenario that is played out in hundreds of slaughter houses across the country each day- the doe eyed cows patiently waiting for their turn to walk through the gates, to their unwitting doom.

To say that the two unassuming gentleman working that day were merely doing their job would be the understatement of the year- no, they enjoyed it, they thrived on it, they took immense pleasure in knowing that they were causing you so  much pain.  They weren’t masseuses, they were sadists! I never knew so much pain could be inflicted by a pair of thumbs and a loofa sponge!  It was a miracle I was able to walk out of there I was so tender and bruised.  And to think, I had walked in to there voluntarily.  The rest of my crew didn’t have quite the same take from the experience as I did, some of them quite enjoyed it actually, but for me, and my delicate uninitiated muscles, it was nothing less than a torture chamber.  Travelers beware, the Hamam is nothing to joke about!

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Hoca Mesut

We had one final stop on the itinerary before we called our day of marathon sightseeing a wrap: the Caravanserai of Hoca Mesut.  Built along the Silk Road between Europe and the Orient in the 11th century as way-stations for traveling caravans, the system of caravanserais developed by the Seljuk Empire was way ahead of its time.  Each one was typically sponsored by a wealthy benefactor, usually a prince, or maybe a well-to-do merchant, who funded the construction of the compound and provided an endowment for its continued operation- for the caravanserais were completely free!  Free lodging, free storage, free protection, free food and fodder- all free!  I guess the benefit to the coffers of the empire from trade along the Silk Road outweighed the cost of maintaining all these road stops, but still, here it is 2014, and I still have to pay for my gas, and McMuffin, and Motel 6 whenever we drive across the country?!  I think we should take a lesson from the Turks.

The grand hall of Hoca Mesut

The grand hall of Hoca Mesut

 In any case, the caravanserai we stopped at was one of the better ones that still exist in Turkey today- it is mostly refurbished, with the exception of some rather narrow and dicey stairs leading up to the entrance of the center mescit, or mosque.  We had a nice self-tour around the complex- the columned stables, the grand hall, the view from on top of the mosque- and it was even better because we were the only ones there!  There was one old gentleman manning the gate, but once we paid him our one Lira entrance fee, he disappeared and we had the place to ourselves.  Come to think of it, he might have just been a random guy who tricked us into paying a fee…

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More caves

After the underground city you would think we had had our fill of caves for one day, but you’d be wrong.  The next stop on our tour of Anatolia was the incredible Ilhara Valley- a long canyon with vertical cliff walls into which over 60 churches had been patiently excavated by Byzantine monks, and the occasional hermit, in the 11th to the 13th century.  The best thing about it was that most of the churches still contained the original frescos which were painted there nearly a thousand years ago!  We spent an hour or two climbing up into the more impressive looking edifices, and then stopped for a refreshing cold Efes beer at the small restaurant at the end of the valley.  Beer in Turkey, by the way, is an exceedingly rare treat, at least outside of Istanbul- and as such it tasted even better than it would have otherwise.

Looking down on the small village of Selime, and its namesake monastery

Looking down on the small village of Selime, and its namesake monastery

The day was flying by though, so we didn’t stay long at the riverside restaurant- we retraced our path back up the valley and then jumped in the car to go find our next destination- the Selime Monastery.  This was one of my favorite sights because it felt a lot more, hmmm, maybe “complicated” is the word.  By that I mean it was big, and built into the side of a huge hill, but with tunnels and corridors leading every which way.  But because every so often you found yourself out on a ledge, or looking out a window, it was much easier to keep your bearings, and at the same time realize the scale of the complex, than down in the dark confines of the underground city.  Whoever built this place had it figured out- all the comforts of cave living, but with a view!

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