Updated: Mar 11, 2022
It turns out that the pen I so recently praised is simply a biro. They didn’t give me the same pen. I’m devastated.
So, yes, Istanbul. Very cool city, glad I visited it. All of you should as well, if you ever have the chance. Now to move on to Cappadocia, 5 days after the fact. Here’s hoping I can get back up to date. Our arrival in Cappadocia was met with that rarest of Turkish conditions: rain. I was excited for the first 15 seconds before remembering I had nothing prepared for a downpour and ran inside behind Rebecca. The airport at Kayseri was small but serviceable. Out the front was had a barrel of fun choosing which taxi to take, before taking the shuttle bus instead.
The brief tour through the Cappadocian countryside was filled with the most iconic of landmarks: sheds with rusting tractors; single room cement rooms with clothes drying on a washing line; mile after mile of recently ploughed fields. We passed the time by listening to eachother's music. Rebecca had a far more impressive playlist in all respects. All I could offer was the fantastic first minute of I Like it Like That by Pete Rodriguez, but then had to apologise for the other 3 minutes of I Like it Like That by Pete Rodriguez. I apologised similarly when we listened to Sinnerman. All of that passed quickly enough as we finally arrived in Göreme. The shuttle bus driver told us before we boarded that it would be ₺25 for the trip, but once we’d arrived at Göreme they told me it was 35! Sure, the difference between ₺25 and ₺35 is 54p, but that’s not the point! I had to go to an ATM and everything! It’s keeping me up at night.
My first impressions were characterised by the surprising image of a large Chinese restaurant along the main road. Immediately afterwards I spied a Korean restaurant. We would later discover why there was such a concentration of East Asian food in such a small tourist town. A few years ago, China decided that Turkey was to be the National Day holiday destination. There was a huge influx of Chinese tourists as a result, the long-term effect allegedly being permanent Chinese food establishments in tourism hotspots such as Göreme. It’s not impossible to believe. The restaurant did seem out of place when set against the dusty, rocky surroundings. Without the cave houses dotted throughout and encircling the town, it could be interchangeable with any other tourist strip: full of knickknacks and kitchens serving familiar food. I was enthralled by the cave houses though, which carried me through the rest of the day.
We dropped our bags off at a hostel with the ludicrous name of (sic): Ufuk Pension (Horizon) (Ufuk means Horizon). There wasn’t much time in the day left for anything other than catching the sunset, and it was spectacular. The rain clouds had broken up to create a colourful textured sky. The way the light shafts forked between the cliffs and crags made ever-expanding, ever-dulling spotlights. We tried unsuccessfully to find a supposed hidden church which I suppose was rather appropriate. We paused for a while on some rocks to listen to the night come alive around us. It was another instance of supreme serenity on this trip; a warm evening in dynamic surroundings accompanied by no other sounds than the native nightlife. So ended the first night.
11th August, we went to visit the Open-Air Museum UNESCO World Heritage Site, a particularly well-preserved example of the 3rd/ 4th century Christians’ endeavours to hide in the hills. It baffles me how they managed out carve out so many rooms and passages so far above the ground seemingly without any way of getting up there. It would have taken a lot of scaffolding for sure. The frescos, though repeated between chapels, were beautifully preserved on the cave walls where the 8th century Iconoclasts hadn’t tried to scrub them out. The eyes of saints were scratched out where they couldn’t be removed wholesale, and every wall was caked in ochre graffiti. Iconoclastic iconography, where it replaced the masterpieces of earlier centuries, had the same skill-level as my doodles of dogs (which is to say, not very good at all). Maybe it was out of spite rather than zealotry that caused the destructive acts.
There must hundreds of cave villages in this region, and thousands of frescos. There are tables, benches, stairs, and chairs in the buildings carved out of living stone. The rooms are surprisingly deep. The caves have corridors. I am in love with the idea that you can easily stumble across places like this throughout Cappadocia. You’d feel like an old-timey explorer discovering the ruins of a vanished civilisation.
In the evening, Rebecca and I decided to eat at this absolutely adorable eatery called “Nature’s Little Kitchen.” The interior would not be out of place in a Soho restaurant: pastel shades, an assortment of carefully selected vintage objects, and a cat that posed next to a portrait of itself. The steamed buns were good, the lemon chicken noodles stayed light, and the peach juice was amazing. The true star was the dessert, however. The “Dada” dessert was a bowl of figs and yoghurt, with a thick layer of Oreo crumbs on top. Despite the simplicity it was all I could think about the day afterwards. We both were in such a good mood afterwards that we wandered around town for a while, and when it began to rain, we ducked into a quiet coffee shop about halfway up the hill.
It was mostly empty save for a couple in the corner having a quiet discussion. To shake off the chill we were given blankets by the staff. We each ordered our drinks and a small bite to eat, and as we watched the raindrops slip down the window the topic of French and English food came up. It was challenging trying to convince Rebecca of the qualities of English food, with most of my examples having some variation of meat and pastry, but I thought I had her cornered when it came to desserts.
“At least you can agree that English desserts have French desserts beat?”
“Lemon Meringue Tart.”
“No way, I don’t believe you.”
“It is! It’s true!”
“OK, but we still have Sticky Toffee Pudding and custard, Roly Poly Pudding and custard, Bread and Butter Pudding and custard, Spotted Dick and custard... oh my god it's all just pudding and custard. Trifle maybe?”
“It’s a dessert that’s layers of whipped cream, jelly, custard, sponge fingers... fuck.”
I was shaken to the core by this revelation, and it stayed with me for the rest of the day.
It's 2 hours before my flight back to Istanbul, and I’d not even halfway through Cappadocia. I’m dangerously far behind now.
After it stopped raining, we left the coffee shop to carry on up the hill out of town. It was late in the afternoon by this point, but the days are long for the moment. We had plenty of time before it got dark, and anyway we were young and cool and full of energy. Göreme is flanked on two sides by a small hill, and it was one side of this that we proceeded upwards past increasingly expensive hotels, which all had variations of “__ cave hotel” as their name. Some were better managed than others. Some were neighbours, and the contrast between them was so severe that you’d wonder why the residents didn’t just hop over the small dividing fence to the next roof instead. Before long, we’d run out of town altogether and were wandering further and further away from anyone or anything. Suddenly, coming towards us down the lane were 2 puppies and their mum. I petted them and I loved them, as did Rebecca. It was probably the greatest experience of my life. Clearly, they were on a mission because they carried on towards town after a few minutes. I’ll never forget them.
We continued on. Rebecca swiped some under-ripe grapes from an ankle-level vine which we shared. I couldn’t do more than chew and cringe as the bitterness hit, but Rebecca seemed to do fine. She mentioned her English friend had never been exposed to grapes and watermelons with seeds in them before, and so was slightly worried about eating them. Outwardly I agreed that that’s crazy how someone could never have tried a seeded grape, whilst silently eating my first seeded grape.
After a near-miss with a farmer driving his car, we thought about turning back as the sun would set soon, but after a quick check of the map we saw the track looped back to the other side of town. We proceeded on foot, as we had been up until that point already.
Oh god, there’s only 20 minutes until my flight. Got to go!
3 hours before my flight to Skopje, let’s go!
As we progressed, we were once again treated to a fabulous sunset. This time it slipped behind the next town over; a larger, staggered settlement built around a standalone rock formation, which was flat at the top and broadly narrow. All the wildflowers and pumpkin patches were illuminated in that golden hour. A bat darted overhead, and a mouse peeped out of its hole, and we were nearly home. We experienced a brief accidental detour past a random toilet on a dirt mound, and around a tiny reservoir so stagnant that you could drop a stone into it and hear a clap instead of a plop. Finally, we reached the top of the ridge we’d watched the sun dip below the day before. It was already busy with people arriving to see the view, and the few food stalls that were set up at the summit were already beginning to start up their grills. 2 men had started a small fire to grill corn on, and the woodsmoke lent the ambience a primeval air. Of course, by this point we’d missed almost all of the sunset, and after the very last of the colour faded away, we headed back down the hill to bed. Apparently, it would have cost us ₺2 to walk up this side of the hill to the ridge – we'd saved 10p each by walking our walk. Not too bad a day at all. I’m enjoying how many of these days have been as enjoyable as they have. I love what I do, and I love doing it with new people.
It’s now 4:45am, and I think I’m overtired. I feel the same as when you’ve spent every ounce of energy during the day and are about to sleep fully clothed half-off the bed. I hope the bed in Skopje is nice. I’ll let you know in about 4 hours. Goodnight Alex, see you in Macedonia!