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May 31, 2009

Enjoying great landscapes and old man-made caves in Cappadocia

Located in the middle of Turkey, Cappadocia is a great stop in any Turkey trip. The landscapes are fantastic, the underground cities are amazing and Goereme, the center of the region is a great place to stay.

The unique features from Cappadocia come from its caves, carved in the chimneys or cliffs that shape Cappadocia’s landscapes by populations throughout the last 30+ centuries. The sights are somewhat reminiscent of Utah or Arizona national parks (think Grand Canyon), but the countless homes or churches carved in the rock add a historical twist to the visit. We were very impressed by the frescoes that decorate some of the churches: very elaborate and well preserved.
Frescoes in the Black Church in Goereme
Cappadocia Black Church fresco

A great way to visit Cappadocia is to explore the various canyons on foot. There are several around Goereme, all between 4 and 10 km long. Some paths are a little bit challenging (long dark tunnels and wood ladders). But we managed well despite having a baby in a baby backpack with us. (no, Daniel didn’t hike the canyon himself, although a few tourists felt encouraged about starting the hike, from seeing him run around at the end of the path. They thought that even he was able to hike the whole thing!).
Guido and Daniel relieved, after barely making it through the narrow tunnel
tunnel is Rose Canyon
In any case, the paths lead to wonderful views of the region and interesting caves to visit. We can particularly recommend Rose Canyon, which starts at the top of a canyon above Goereme and goes down in the midst of yellow/pink cliffs. Fantastic!
View from Rose Canyon
views from Rose Canyon

We also visited the Selime Monastery, built half-way through a cliff, with 5 or 6 connected rooms, incl. a 2-story church and a chapel. The architecture of this complex is just amazing. If you stay in Goereme, you will have to take a car or bus to visit, but it will definitely be worth it.
Selime Monastery
churche of Selime Monastery
Cappadocia cave
Another great attraction of Cappadocia is the underground caves, built to protect as many as 10,000 people from invaders across the region, as early as 7th century BC. The size and sophistication of these caves (up to 8 stories, connection tunnels, large stones set to be rolled to close tunnels in front of enemies, large underground churches) are impressive. Hard to imagine how people could live there, but obviously this was a good option when faced with the risk of attack. We particularly liked Kaymakli and Derinkuyu caves, but we are not the only ones, judging from the number of groups visiting along with us…. A good way to get a sense of how crowded these cities would have been at the time!
Cappadocia cave tunnel
According to the manager at our hotel, most people stay in Cappadocia for about 3 days. We stayed for 4 days and could definitely have benefited from one or 2 more days given the number of places worth visiting. With more time and no baby, we could probably have tried a balloon tour above Cappadocia (which is supposed to be fantastic), or a horseback riding tour in one of the longer canyons…
Goereme is a great place to stay, central, and just pleasant. Most hotels are built on original caves, which makes it a unique experience and also prevents large tour groups from staying in Goereme (since most hotels have less than 20 rooms, all very different from each other). Add to this the many restaurants offering terraces outfitted with comfortable, red cushions, and the typical carpet stores and tour operators. In essence, Georeme still feels like a backpacker place. We can particularly recommend the Kelebek Hotel and AlaTurca restaurant.
Daniel on the hotel patio:
Hotel Kelebek

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May 28, 2009

Turkey travel with toddler - a good idea after all

After 10 days traveling in Turkey with our 16-month old son, we found that going to far-away countries with a toddler is not as difficult as many people believe. Yes, we also had our own concerns, and we had set our expectations that we might have a rough time. Yet, we had decided that it would be worth the effort since we were very eager to visit Turkey.
As it turns out, most of our concerns weren’t justified, and we found that Daniel had a great time in Turkey. Below are a few things we have learned in our trip.

Jetlag: Interestingly enough, it was easier for Daniel to adjust after this complex trip than after a “simple” journey to Germany. After a 26-hour journey (2 flights and one 2.5 hour car drive) and a jump of 10 time zones, internal rhythm is typically quite upset for everyone, big and small. We flew with the night flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt, so Daniel had a good night of sleep behind him when we landed in Germany. From then, we paced his naps until the following evening, alternating with games and new, exciting experiences around our hotel (see below). To our biggest surprise, he slept for 12 hours during that first night, waking up at 9am the next day! The adults had a much harder time! Since then, Daniel has pretty much followed his normal routine, although his wake-up time went back to the normal 6-7am time after a few days, to our big disappointment.
Health: I was personally most concerned about Daniel’s ability to adjust to new food. We only had a few crackers with us, and we were planning on giving Daniel local food for most of the trip. Would he like the new food? Could he get sick? As it turns out, Turkish food is perfect for babies: a lot of fresh fruit, very tasty bread, well-cooked meat and fish dishes. Daniel enjoyed the food (although I have to admit he ate only mostly bread) and didn’t seem to have any problem adjusting. On a related note, the weather in Turkey is great for babies too: warm and neither humid nor dry. It makes it easy to dress them… just don’t forget sunscreen.
Entertainment: To be honest, we hadn’t put much thought into entertainment options for Daniel during this trip. We had bought a few of his favorite books and toys, but were limited in our luggage allowance. Most of our sightseeing program was geared towards architecture and history, things our 16-month old doesn’t quite appreciate yet. However, I think that Daniel had a great time in Turkey. 2 words: animals and vehicles. We visited mostly rural parts of Turkey, which was a perfect fit for Daniel’s current interests. There were farm animals everywhere in the villages we visited, and the roads were a collection of tractors, trucks, and buses, things we hardly see in the Bay Area. It was really an endless adventure for him, and he couldn’t seem to get enough. His favorite past time at night is now to see pictures of the donkeys, buses, etc… we saw earlier in the day. The books we brought from home are not really asked any more.
Friends: One of the great things about Turkey is that people love kids. Everywhere we went, Daniel became a highlight. He made friends quickly, with people inviting him to visit their farms or sit on their motorcycles, playing ball with him or sharing food with him. He loved the attention and being able to discover new things through these new friends. We loved it too, as it allowed us to find spontaneous baby-sitters when having dinner for instance.

Daniel getting to know the animals in the Turkish village

Daniel enjoying a motorcycle ride

Daniel and his new friends

Overall, this was a great trip. We got to visit the Turkish places we wanted (South Aegean Coast and Cappadocia), got some rest, and we think Daniel enjoyed it a lot too. He definitely learned a lot, just judging from his new vocabulary and games. We will consider doing these types of trips with him again, and hopefully next time, we won’t have to worry as much about how he does.

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May 25, 2009

Kapikiri, Turkey.. An idyllic place for a relaxing vacation

My husband, son and I spent 10 days in Turkey at the end of May. Our first stop, for the first 5 days, was in a small village called Kapikiri by the Bafa Lake. The Bafa Lake is located about half way between Izmir and Bodrum on the Aegean coast. While the region is mostly known for beach resorts, Kapikiri has a very different charm: a 300-people village, sitting on the ruins of the old greek city of Herakleia by the quiet lake, living by the rhythm of cows, roosters and sheep. All houses are built using stones from the surrounding ruins. Now the entire village stands under protection as an historical monument. The road ends at Kapikiri, so things are really quiet there.... a whole different world.
At the same time, the location is perfect for day-excursions to nearby cultural sights (Ephesus, Miletus, Priene, Dydima - all so worthwhile) and to sea-side locations such as Bodrum and Dilek Peninsula.
For us, it was a perfect choice. We could take advantage of all the sightseeing of the region during the day and enjoy very relaxing evenings in the village. Our son loved that part of the program. Because the villagers are so friendly, they quickly understood his interest in farm animals and invited him to feed the sheep, run after the chicken, pet the dogs... He was so excited.

Ruins in the middle of the village

While the city is still small and quiet, I expect that tourists are soon going to catch on this hidden treasure. Already, pensions are opening left and right: there are about 10 right now.

We stayed in the pension "Agora", probably one of the oldest in the village. It's managed by a couple and their 2 sons. They are very friendly (they accommodated our travel and meal schedule, which was a little bit challenging) and knowledgeable about the area. The meals they offer are excellent: fresh ingredients from the village (cheese, fish, produce) mixed with a great ability to cook them to perfection. The local wine is also good, although it's from a town across the mountain (and therefore not "local" according to the owners!).

I would definitely recommend for anyone who is traveling in the area.

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