The Red Tour: Not a Comment on Politics

At breakfast I met a group of three older Australian couples who had come back from a balloon flight that morning. We chatted for a bit and I found out that they had all really enjoyed going up in a balloon, even the person who was scared of heights. I was definitely leaning towards going once I heard this…

Soon after I was picked up from my hotel for the “Red Tour”. Interestingly, pretty much all the different tour agencies use the same overall itineraries (red and green). My fellows on the tour today were a group of Muslim South Africans who had a cute four year old, an Indian family with a three year old who all lived in Switzerland, a young Indian couple currently living in France, and a young Turkish woman.

Our first stop was a panoramic view – there were a lot of these over my two full days in Cappadocia!

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We then went to the Goreme Open Air Museum, full of cave churches. Some of the churches still had frescoes, though many had been defaced after the area became Muslim since they believe it to be sacrilege to depict humans in places of worship. A few churches still had the frescoes somewhat intact, however, and they range from more primitive looking red painted outlines (which I saw on the outside of some buildings as well) to much more sophisticated Byzantine paintings. The best example was in what is called the Dark Church, so called because, surprise surprise, there is very little natural light. The restored frescoes cover the walls and ceilings, and when you realize that the vaults are carved into the stone, it’s even more impressive.

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What created such a landscape? The area is flanked by two volcanoes (we could see their snow capped peaks as we drove around), and an ancient eruption of ash led to a lot of soft rock called tufa, streaked with basalt (I would guess from the actual eruption). Wind and rain have eroded the rock and the fact that there is so much tufa intermingled with a much harder rock did the rest.

After the museum, we checked out a mosque that was carved into the hillside, part of a dead little town. The stone houses are unstable so the governed forced people to move out of them in the sixties. I have to wonder whether part of it was also the government wanting to continue the westernization of Turkey – I’ve been reading the Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk’s memoirs and it seems like that period was definitely one of continuing westernization.

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We could also see pigeon houses – little cubbies carved into the rock, some as early as Roman times, meant to be a place for pigeons to nest.

We headed to Avanos to see a pottery demonstration (and the perennial sales room – I mean showroom). The Red River flows through the town and there is a tradition of pottery there that uses the red clay. The Hittites thousands of years ago used red clay in Anatolia for their pottery.

We had a buffet lunch at another place catering to tours – why in a country with such good, relatively simple food does the food on these tours have to be so bad? It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.

Time for more rock formations! We went to Pasabagi where a saint (St. Simon maybe) holed up in a fairy chimney cave as his hermitage. (OK, if you’re done snickering at that sentence we can continue). I hung out a bit with the Turkish woman despite the lack of a common language. She kindly bought me water. Again, I’ve had such lovely hospitality from most Turks I’ve met!

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Next came the obligatory carpet school/shop stop. Interestingly, the prices were a lot higher than at the one in Selcuk. Like in Selcuk, we got to see how they remove silk from the cocoons and how they hand knot a carpet.

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More rock formations! We went to Devrent Valley aka Imagination Valley where you can see shapes in the rocks. Can you spot the camel, the penguin, and the open hand?

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Finally near Urgup we came to a set of three tufa rocks capped in basalt, with a couple of boulders nearby. Legend had it that the three rocks are a man, his fairy princess wife, and their son, turned into stones by the angry fairy king. However the gods were so angry at the fairy king and his wife that they turned them into the big boulders. It’s a sad and vengeful story all around, but at least the hordes of tourists keep them all ample company.

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And when I headed home, I booked a hot air balloon ride! I was excited and nervous. Luckily for me, I got to chatting with another solo woman traveller staying at the hotel, a Brazilian freelance journalist. She booked a balloon ride with the same company so now I had someone to hold my hand if I got too scared!

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