Goreme to Ankara to Istanbul

Since we tried booking at the last minute,  we were unable to get a bus from Cappadocia direct to Istanbul when we needed one. We’d been given advice that wasn’t really great, he was right that there are a lot of buses, but there were apparently more people than seats. So, my advice is to book your direct overnight bus tickets in advance.

As it was, we took a bus to Ankara for 25 lira. I figured we had three options 1) stay the night in Anakara 2) catch a sleeper car on the train or 3) catch a different bus to Istanbul.

So, we woke up and lounged around our super high end cave for a while enjoying all the amenities before going to the bus station and catching our bus to Ankara. It was about 5 hours to Ankara and the bus stopped at one fairly expensive tourist shop/roadside restaurant along the way. At the stop, I started talking with a man near us named Ramazan. Ramazan is the comptroller for a Turkish Bank and is fortunate to be able to travel all over Turkey for business. He was a very friendly, good natured guy who was excited to get back home and see his pregnant wife in Ankara.

I asked him what he thought the best option was for us out of the three above. He said we should definitely get the train but if the train was full, he knew of a fairly cheap hotel near the train station. I asked him how to get to the train station and he said that since it was on his way home, we could share his cab and that he would help us to book our tickets. Another very nice man offering to help us on the bus in Turkey!

From the Otogar in Ankara which was truly massive with hundreds of buses going to all points in Turkey, we followed Ramazan and got into a cab which took us to the modern and architecturally interesting train station. It was situated near a giant amusement park that made me remember going to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm when I was a kid.
Ankara Dolmus, Ankara bus station, Ramazan
The sleeper cars were full on the train. So were the regular seats. So were the first class seats. Apparently since Ramadan was coming up, lots of people were on holiday and heading to Istanbul. Ramazan told us to follow him and he would lead us to the hotel. He was apologetic and told us that if his wife weren’t pregnant, he would let us stay with him. He couldn’t find the hotel he thought he remembered though and so he started to make calls as we took a long walk around the amusement park.

The truth is that every hotel in Ankara was beyond our budget. Since it’s not a tourist place, the hotels are priced around business and politics and thus are priced high since the people in both fields usually have someone else footing the bill.

Ramazan walked us back to the Dolmus station and showed us which Dolmus to take back to the Otogar. That was what we saw in Ankara.

The Otogar, the train station, an amusement park, and a Dolmus station. With only that to judge by, I have to say that I think Ankara must be a beautiful city and I look forward to seeing more of it. I also felt that in that time I made a good friend in Ramazan. I hope we get the chance to spend more time together in the future.

At the Otogar, we found that nearly every bus was full but finally we managed to catch a bus with Metro Bus Lines, the only catch was that we had to wait five hours during which we ate, drank tea and orange juice, and browsed the many book vendors in the Ankara Otogar.

When the time arrived, the Metro bus was very nice and got us all the way to the ferry on the Asian side of Istanbul by about 8 am. It was 35 lira each from Ankara to Istanbul.

Cappadocia – Goreme – Fairy Chimneys and Rock Cut Churches

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyIn Central Anatolia lies a land that looks like it comes from The Lord of the Rings- Cappadocia. Even the name has the ring of a fairy tale Kingdom.

“I, Sir Vago of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, do ride forth to seek out new lands and great fortunes.” – or something like that, though Cappadocia was never a kingdom of its own and in fact was a place of troglodyte refuge for Christian outcasts and societal misfits.

The landscape of massive stone chimneys (wistfully called fairy chimneys) and dream like rock formations are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. From the 4th to the 11th Century a community of Christian refugees carved an unbelievable number of churches from the stones. Houses were also carved and the traditional livelihood was agriculture until the 1980’s when a tourist boom started.

A new friend we met in Goreme, Cemil, has lived there since that time and he remembers when there were only three hotels in Goreme. Now there are hundreds and  when we arrived, they were almost all full. No need to tell you what the number one industry is now. Many people come to Goreme just so they can enjoy Cappadocia Balloon Tours. There is nothing quite like floating over the fairy chimneys as the sun comes up.

Goreme is a magical place and filled with charm. An interesting fact  is that in Goreme, it used to be that if a man didn’t own a pigeon house, he wouldn’t be able to get married. These days there must not be many marriages, though more likely is that that particular tradition was tossed aside with agriculture when tourism became so lucrative.

Virtually everything in Goreme is directed at tourists from the hot air balloons to the travel companies, tour companies, restaurants, and tourist shops. Unlike other tourism hot spots though, the prices seem reasonable and the people don’t seem so hungry for the hunt.
Goreme Cappadocia Turkey
It’s one of the things that really makes me sick about tourist places is that the people who work in tourism tend to forget that the clients or customers are real people, instead they become prey. It’s the same for criminals, people become prey and they are something to be hunted. I went through it myself as a tout and as a stock broker, if people simply become a means to an ends, life becomes much less magical and satisfying. While we did encounter quite a few people who were on the hunt in Goreme, it was less than r Fez and the hunt itself was less in your face than either place as well.

We had a very nice breakfast with our friend Cemil at the Blue Moon Hotel before heading out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. this is an astounding place, though no more so than Goreme itself. The big draw at the Open Air Museum are the rock cut Byzantine churches and the painting and frescoes they contain. Admission was 15 lira each.

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyFlash photos weren’t allowed and several guides told us not to take photos at all which was a bit extreme(they say the flash destroys the color of the old paintings). And in fact, everyone was doing it.

The rock cut churches had interesting pews and tables carved in them, graves which had been robbed or excavated in the floors, and of course the paintings. This was a monastic community and then became a pilgrimage site for Christians in the 17th Century.

Hanane was not overly impressed with the paintings, in particular the Red Ochre made very little impression on her. “I could get up there and paint the same thing right now. They’re fake.” By this point, we were laughing each time she called something fake but I still think she was partly serious. Once again we opted to skip the extra fee, this time 8 lira each to see the frescoes in the Karanlik Kilise. I feel no regrets over that. I really hate to pay an entrance fee only to be faced with another entrance fee.

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyWe exited feeling that we had both seen enough churches. While we didn’t have the time this visit to go to the underground cities, it was a nice thing to whet our appetite with the rural charms and comedic tourist hunting that takes place there. As examples of how the hunt is conducted in Goreme you can look at the names of the Pensions. Flintstones Pension, Bedrock Cave Hostel, Ufuk Pension, Shoestring Cave Pension and more. We were recommended to try the Peri Cave Hotel, though as I wrote previously, we were very fortunate to be staying in the Moonlight Cave Suites.

We strolled through the Rose Valley and then went back to Goreme village where we had a bad dinner, at Cappadocia Pide Salonu. Not recommended. Awful.

From there we hiked up to the highest point in Goreme and watched the sun go down and the lights of the fairy chimneys flicker on in Goreme. A bottle of wine would have made it perfect.

From there it was back to our cave to enjoy the hot tub, king size bed, and overall luxury of the Moonlight Cave Suites. Warning – don’t scroll down or you will see more of me than you want to.

too much exposure

The Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia – Flashback Friday

In 2012, we took a trip back to Turkey from Morocco to see friends and visit places we hadn’t had the opportunity to visit when we worked there as teachers in 2010 and 2011. Cappadoccia was one of those places. While we were there we stayed in beautiful rock hewn palaces, took hot air balloons over the surreal landscape, explored the open air museums of Goreme and even explored an ancient underground city – yes, we climbed 85 meters down into a deep cave with our infant on our backs – my wife looks like a mommy version of Laura Croft (Tomb Raider) in some of these pics. As I look at this now, I’m awestruck with the memory and reality of that place and very underwhelmed by my old Pentax photos – it’s astounding how much better photos with an iphone are…below is the original post…..

Derikuyu City Underground CappadocciaYou might think that the world is all discovered, all explored, and all figured out. You might be right, but I doubt it – people have thought that for a long time, but as recently as 1963 one of the world’s most amazing discoveries came to light in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Was it found by a team of intrepid archeologists? Nope. Was it found by a group of explorers or spelunkers? Nope. It was found by a guy who wanted to knock down a wall of his house and build a better one. He knocked the wall down – and found a room behind it. And then another room, and another – in fact, he found one of the largest underground city complexes the world has ever known. He found the Derinkuyu Underground City.

Even today, the full extent of the underground city is unknown. Archaeologists have penetrated as far as 40 meters beneath the surface but they suspect that the city goes much further down – to a depth of 85 meters. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the height of the statue of liberty and the pedestal it stands on which is 91 meters combined. So far, there have been 20 levels discovered. Visitors, like us, are allowed into the first eight levels. Less than 10% of the total that has been explored is open to the public. I can tell you first hand – that 10% is vast.

At full capacity, the city, built by the Hittites sometime around 14 centuries before the common era (that’s before Christ without Christ or B.C.E) , could house between 3000 to 10,00 people, their livestock, and their possessions. As I said, the full extent of the city is still unknown and some scholars believe that it is actually connected to other underground cities in the region by tunnels that stretch for miles!

It’s not as outlandish as it may sound as there has already been one such tunnel discovered which stretches 8 km (about 4 miles) to another underground city, Kaymakli near Nevsehir. When you consider that there are at least 200 underground cities that have been discovered thus far in the region… the possibilities become incredibly fascinating.

 

Derikuyu City Underground CappadocciaWhile it’s fun to think of thousands of people living underground like ants, most historians suggest that the cities were built for defensive purposes and were never meant for long term inhabitation of a large population. For short periods, Derinkuyu is large enough for 10,000 people (though some say it is large enough for 50,000) . On the day we were there, it felt like it was pushing pretty close to that. Tour buses arrive constantly and since the entire city isn’t open to the public, they are all crammed into the same sections. Luckily the ventilation systems designed by the ancients are incredibly effective although there was actually a bit of panic when groups coming down to the 8th level wouldn’t make way for groups who wanted to get back up to the top. The galleries began filling with people and at one point a woman actually began to scream. Finally, the guides managed to make the way clear and there was an exodus for the exit eight levels above.

One thing we didn’t have explained to us was where all those people used the toilet – we had to go back up to ground level for that, which, when you think about it, was a relief. Pun fully intended.

To get to the Derinkuyu Underground City, you will need to go to the above ground city of Derinkuyu which is about 40 km from Goreme. While there are about 600 doors to get in the underground city, as a visitor you will need to wait in line and buy a ticket. Your best bet is to hire a tour from Goreme or Uchisar.

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From Fetiye to Goreme, Cappadocia – Moonlight Cave Suites

The bus ride from Fetiye to Goreme was 55 lira. I’d asked Omer if I should book our tickets from Goreme to Istanbul in advance and he’d told me that there was no need, later I found every bus we wanted was full.
Here is a full listing of hotels and cave hotels in Goreme, Turkey
If you want to go from Goreme to Istanbul on a specific day, book it in advance. At the Fetiye Otogar, I felt like some sort of shell game took place as we were led to a different bus company than I’d bought tickets for and our tickets were changed for new ones. We were then led to a big bus that wasn’t nearly as nice as I had thought it would be and then we set out. I looked for another bus heading out at the same time as us, but didn’t see one, maybe it was legit but something stunk of a swindle to me. Regardless, our bus left when it was supposed to and took us where it was supposed to so maybe being in a tourist trap had simply made me paranoid.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel
We slept on the bus and arrived in Goreme where Omer had said there was no need to make a reservation. I called our too top choices to see if they had cave rooms for us but they didn’t. In the small tourist information booth, I found another place which looked good and they did have a room so we went with them. They told us to sit and wait and the room would be ready in a few hours. I got on the net and realized they were trying to charge us 20 lira more than their published rate. When I asked why, the manager said it was because the room was bigger than the one’s on the web. He refused to budge and at 100 lira a night, I felt like we could find more than just a big room since this wasn’t even actually a cave.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel, Turkey, Cave city
Hanane wasn’t happy with me as we left with our bags but I wanted to walk and look and find the place that seemed best to me. I went into a few and asked the prices and if they had rooms. It seemed that 100-150 lira was the going rate for a double room. I started to walk into Moonlight Cave Suites and Hanane grabbed me and told me to stop because there was no way we could afford this one. It was beautiful. I almost listened to her, but to be honest, I was tired of not following my instincts and instead bowing to her Moroccan sense of ‘shame’ and ‘hshuma’ meaning that she didn’t want to ask because she didn’t think we could afford it. I went in and she decided to just wait in the street.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel, Turkey, Cave city, Moonlight Cave Suite
It was more beautiful inside. It was a new place and they’d spared no expense making it deluxe and beautiful. I’ve no doubt that it will become one of the top boutique hotels in Goreme. I say will become because in fact, it hadn’t really opened yet. They’d had a soft opening a few nights before and were offering rooms at incredible discounts just to get the word out.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel, Turkey, Cave city, Moonlight Cave Suite
Before he would tell me the price, the owner insisted on showing me the room. We walked in and I knew it was beyond our range. A beautiful cave room suite with a large flat screen TV, leather sofa, deluxe king size bed, full size jacuzzi bathtub, mini bar, jet shower, white robes, white slippers, and incredible inset lighting. It was gorgeous.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel, Turkey, Cave city, Moonlight Cave Suite
He laughed when I told him it was the nicest room I’d seen in Turkey. “It ought to be,” he said “We just spent 8 million Euros making this place.But wait until you see our deluxe suites…” The room I was drooling over was a ‘standard’ !!!
He suggested we go back to his office and talk about the price. I saw his rate sheet on the desk and knew it was going to be beyond us. Standard suite….180 Euro per night. We spent a few minutes talking about my travels in Turkey, travel writing, and the business of promotion. We settled on a price of 100 lira for the night! I was flabbergasted. I told him that I needed to let Hanane see the room before I said yes for certain. I was desperately afraid she would say no since I wanted to enjoy this room, but of course, she saw it and wanted it too.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel, Turkey, Cave city, Moonlight Cave Suite
Now, with a room like that, it’s hard to leave but I wanted to go get our bus tickets to Istanbul for the next night since we had the top suite at the Hotel Ayasofya reserved for our last night in Turkey.
Hanane laid down for a nap while I went to go get the tickets. Every bus company was sold out. I cursed Omar for his bad advice and tried to figure out what to do. The bus companies just told me I would need to wait another day. I couldn’t do that, we had another suite waiting and paid for!
I sat for a minute and figured it out. We’d take a bus to Ankara and from there we could take the train or a bus to Istanbul since the bus service is more frequent from Ankara than from Goreme. So, I bought tickets to Ankara and started to dream about catching a sleeper train to Istanbul. The only problem was that the bus to Ankara left at 2pm instead of 7 pm so we wouldn’t have time the next day to explore or take a tour.
cappadocia, Goreme, Cave hotel, Turkey, Cave city, Moonlight Cave Suite
Back in our deluxe cave suite, I forced Hanane to wake up since we only had half a day in Cappadocia and I thought it would be a shame not to see anything while we were here.

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