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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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The Underground City

Arriving in Cappadocia, Turkey is like stepping back in time.  The dry desert air, the strange rock formations that dominate the landscape, the goats and donkeys wandering the dirt roads, the muezzin’s call from the minaret echoing off the valley walls… it all combines to give a very 12th century feel to the place.  And oh ya, did I mention that they live in caves there?  You can’t help but feel like you are from a couple hundred years in the future when people are still living in caves.

Cappadocia is a land of amazing geological formations

Cappadocia is a land of amazing geological formations

If you can believe it, this is actually exactly why we came all the way to central Turkey, for the caves. It’s true, also for the history, and the culture, and the surreal character of the place… but mostly for the caves.  I have to admit, whereas the rest of my traveling companions would probably have been happier spending these couple days of their vacation somewhere with a little less ‘barren wasteland’, and a little more ‘sandy beach’, the inner troglodyte in me was absolutely ecstatic to be looking out over the untold wonders of Cappadocia just waiting to be explored.  If I haven’t said it before, I just want to say “thank you” right now to you three, for indulging me with this little adventure! But deep down though, I know you liked it too :)

In any case, here we were, in Cappadocia, with rooms at a cave hotel (that’s right- for the next two nights we would be living in caves too!), a rental car, and a very short amount of time to reconnoiter the area and find the best it had to offer.  I had done a little research before we got there, and had a crude map of the sights I thought we could reasonably see in one long, ok, very long day of sightseeing, but just to make sure, I verified the feasibility of my general plan with the proprietor of our hotel.  To my relief, and my companion’s dismay, he gave it a thumbs up.  And so, after a tasty, but light breakfast, we jumped into the car and drove off into the Turkish country side in search of some of the most remarkable attractions we’d ever see.

The underground city of Derinkuyu is over 8 stories deep

The underground city of Derinkuyu is over 8 stories deep

First stop, the underground city of Derinkuyu.  Now, this is a place, that if I didn’t have the photos to prove it exists, you would think I had dreamed up- it’s a cave city and fortress, built most likely by the Hittites in the 15th to 12th century BCE, for protection from marauding armies who occasionally came by to cause trouble- though it has been used ever since by an ever changing list of inhabitants. The dozens of miles of passageways descend over 280ft into the ground, with at least eight levels, and it was designed to be fully functioning: with stables for livestock, store rooms for food, wells, air vents, communal kitchens and refectories, churches, schools, wineries, even graveyards, and accommodations for 20 or 30 thousand people!  Incredible!

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Ferraris and Pizza

Our last day in Varenna started as many do in little Italian lake side villages… with an auto club rally of Ferrari owners taking over the main plaza!  Shiny red cars were crowded into every available space, while their pretentious owners, trying to look un-pretentious in their blue jeans and polo shirts, walked around admiring each other’s mechanical superbia.  I can’t talk though, because not only was I walking around admiring their superbia as well, but I was also snapping photos like some country bumkin from ‘Merica who had never seen a prancing horse on a yellow shield before.  Well, they must have realized the bumbling tourist was getting far too close to their polished paint jobs, because before I even had the chance to ask one of the drivers if I could get some shots of the inside, they had all jumped into their cars, revved their engines, and sped off down the road to their next rally point.

At one or two hundred thousand dollars a pop, that was a lot of spondulicks sitting in the plaza

At one or two hundred thousand dollars a pop, that was a lot of spondulicks sitting in the plaza

We decided to take it really easy that day, not that you could get much easier than our normal travel routine, and made our way down to the village lido, or swimming beach.  We had to pay to get in, and then pay some more to rent chairs and umbrellas, but for a long day of relaxing in the Italian sun on the shores of Lago di Como, it was well worth it.  That night, as a continuation of the festival, the town had set up a stage for some live music, though it was pretty awful, and a mobile pizza oven, which was the exact opposite of awful!  And to really cement it as our favorite pizza in all of Italy, the old guy behind the counter even gave Kacey a lesson on tossing the pies!

The next morning it was hard to get up and out the door to meet our train, possibly from all the pizza and cheap wine we had had the night before, but I think more probably because we all loved it their so much and had no desire to leave.  But, that is the blessing and the curse of being a traveler, you get to see and experience so many amazing places, but in the end, you always have to leave- else you wouldn’t be a traveler any longer.  Lucky for us, we were headed somewhere equally as awesome- perhaps not as picturesque, but way more exotic… we were on our way to Turkey!

One Comment

  1. Amy Anderson says:

    What adventures you have had!

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