I have to admit that my first impressions of Cappadocia were not that positive. After an excellent hour-long flight from Istanbul which teased with sunny and clear skies, we landed at the Nevşehir Airport, which makes the airport in Helena seem both large and crowded. There was some snow on the ground, and a gray pall in the sky, neither of which lifted all day. I was led to a shuttle bus which rocketed around bumpy roads for an hour until it slowly began dropping off passengers at various hotels and tour groups, passing through what seemed like an endless parade of rundown settlements.
This part of Cappadocia, at least, is an interesting mixture of what appears to be heavy industry (with lots of trucks) and tourist outposts. We’re clearly in the offseason for the latter now, many of the small cafes and tourist shops appear shuttered. I’m told that tourists will start appearing in March, as this is the quietest and coldest season.
Having seen some photos of Cappadocia, I have to admit that I was initially pretty disappointed. Instead of the eerie rock formations and endless landscapes, what I mostly saw were fields that contained brush and abandoned houses and machinery. I was reminded a bit of the poorer side of some of our national parks where the big money never seemed to land. I wasn’t sure that I had made the right choice to spend time here rather than back in Istanbul, which I only saw through the windows of a shuttle bus to and from the airport, and which will have to wait for another day of exploration on another trip.
As we explored Cappadocia in our small group, though, those doubts faded as we explored some marvels, like an underground city called Kaymakli, which was constructed as a refuge for those fleeing persecution as early as the 7th century BCE and used extensively by Christians in the years between 700-1100 CE. We took a hiking tour through a valley filled with cave formations, ate local food that reminded me yogurt should be served with every meal, and eventually ended up at the Selime Monastery, an incredible set of caves carved as rooms for monks, a kitchen, chapel, cathedral and more.
From there, it was off to my hotel, whose rooms are literally carved from the same cave rock as many of the attractions of Cappadocia.
This certainly feels like an area best explored with a group, especially during this time of year and given the current state of unrest. The roads were quite icy and we passed a number of checkpoints with military-armed police. I’m not sure that I would have wanted to rely on my six words of Turkish if I had to stop at one of those spots. The downside of traveling with a tour group, even a small one, is that it often feels like a melancholy affair when you’re traveling alone. I certainly don’t mind traveling by myself, but there’s something quite isolating about being the one person in a group of six or seven people who doesn’t know anyone else.
All in all, an interesting, thoughtful day, capped by a night of insomnia to ponder and read. Off to more of Cappadocia today, then off to Athens tomorrow.