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I got up at 4:00am and in the cold darkness just before dawn, walked up the ridge behind the pension to watch the sunrise. It was an overcast morning and a few spots of misty rain were falling as I stood on the ridgetop with the sounds of awakening birds and animals echoing up from the valley. At 4:20 the mournful sound of the Muzzins1 began to ring out from the mosques of Göreme and in the clear, still air even the calls from the nearby town of Urgip, 9km away, were audible.

The sunrise never happened so I went back down to the pension and went back to bed for 2½ hours.We had breakfast on the terrace of the pension then headed off down the hill to the village and from there we walked 1km out of town past small fields of grain and vegetables in amongst clusters of strangely shaped pinnacles to the Göreme Open Air Museum. This small, abandoned village contains the greatest concentration of cave dwellings in Cappadocia. The churches, convents , houses and monasteries are all hewn out of the soft volcanic rock called tufa (or tuff) which was spewed from the huge volcanic peak of Erciyes Daği, which lies about 100 kilometres from Göreme, around 150 million years ago.

Frescoes and columns, Byzantine Monastery, Goreme.

The dwellings are the legacy of Cappadocian Christianity from the Byzantine Empire and were built by monks between the 4th and 10th centuries. The monks inhabited the village until the formation of modern Turkey in the 1920s. The churches are decorated with frescoes, many of them in remarkably good condition. 

Byzantine Refectory where the monks chowed down, Goreme.

We spent 2 hours exploring the area then clambered down into the valley below the museum and walked out to the road through a quiet and peaceful orchard. We crossed the road and walked up into the head of a tiny valley where many cave dwellings were visible in the surrounding pinnacles amongst neatly tilled fields. There were no tourists here and we sat at the top of a small hill watching a half a dozen men, women and children working at their farm plots. Mark and Kath joined us and a short while later another American, a girl called Kelly came and sat with us too.

The 5 of us walked down past the farmers and the children gave us some fruit to eat. It wasn’t ripe but we pretended to eat and enjoy it. We wandered down the valley towards a strangely-eroded cliff then tried to follow a gully leading up into a maze of gullies. Eventually, we were stopped by a sheer cliff so we turned back and returned to Göreme. 

Playing Turkish Music, Goreme. L-R: Kath, Mark, Ferg.

In the evening, we had a meal at the pension followed by some plinky-plink Turkish music. Kelly came up for a beer with us then Linda and I walked her back to her pension, stopping for a glass of çay on the way.  
 
1 Muzzins call the faithful to prayer five times per day in the Muslim world.

Your intrepid travellers in Cappadocia.

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It was nearly 10:00 before we woke up so we hurriedly showered then packed and checked out. The hotel bill came to 70,000TL (a mere £15) and we caught a dolmüs out to the bus station and bought tickets to Goremё for 8,000TL each: student price!

We bought a drink each and sat on the steps outside the terminal talking to other travellers while we filled in the 2½ hours until the bus left at 2:30. The 3 hour trip top Göreme was across wide rolling plains etched with the patterns and colours of intense agriculture. From rolling, fertile hill country we crested a ridge and before us was spread out the most amazing landscape we had ever seen. The valley was a maze of twisted rock formations, eroded gullies and towering pinnacles: hundreds of thousands of them stretching as far as we could see. On the opposite side of the valley the hillsides were a multitude of eroded cliffs and canyons coloured pink and red in the late afternoon sun.

The Goreme Valley, Cappadocia.

The bus dropped us off on the side of the road in Göreme and we walked up the hill to a pension called Kele’s Cave. On the way we met the 4 Aussies from Denizli and we had a bit of a chat with them then carried on up the hill and checked in to the pension. Both Linda and I, and Mark and Kath1, got rooms hollowed out of the rock and the view out over Göreme was spectacular. After we had settled in, we walked down to the centre of town and had a feast of exquisite Turkish food for less than £2-50 each, then went back to the pension and sat in the bar, also hollowed out of solid rock, talking, playing some Turkish musical instruments and listening to Chris de Burgh and Tracy Chapman on the stereo.

1Two Canadians we had met on the bus.

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DENİZLİ TO KONYA We got up at 8:30 and sat out on the patio for an hour or so drinking tea and talking. Sulieman took Linda and I along with 2 Germans into town to look around and to change money.

At the bank we changed £50 for 282,000TL and sat and drank çay1 while we talked to an old man and woman from out in the country. Sulieman had to show the Germans some jewellery shops so Linda and I spent an hour or so looking at leather jackets then bought a kebab each and waited for them outside the Post Office.

Once we were back at the pension we collected our gear then sat on the floor of the office playing backgammon. Sulieman and his family invited us in for a meal, eaten on the floor from communal bowls of yoghurt, tomatoes, bread, fried potatoes, eggplant and peppers. After we had eaten we settled our account on my Visa and Sulieman asked us to come back and work for him for a month, if not this year then next! We said we might. He ran us down to the bus station and we fished him 3 Canadian tourists. In return, he got 5,000TL knocked off each of our fares to Konya and we said goodbye.

The bus was a large and comfortable Mercedes and once we left Denizli we headed out past Pamukkale and up a long, wide valley. The bus made its first meal stop after only 20 minutes at a roadhouse and as it was cold and beginning to rain I grabbed some warmer clothes and our shoes out of the packs.

As the bus travelled further inland we passed through areas of intense-farmed land, the crops healthy and well irrigated by networks of elevated concrete channels. The patterns and colours were of greens and browns, and the lush orderliness of the crops was a stark contrast with the brown rocks of the scrubby and rugged hills on the sides of the valleys. At one point we passed a salt lake called Acigöl Golu, then later on in the afternoon, after passing through a series of torrential downpours, we crossed over a pass and emerged above the beautiful Egidir Golu. The storm clouds were breaking up and letting patches of late afternoon light through to illuminate the pale blue waters of the lake while all around, the broken shapes of the mountains were cast into deep blue shadow with the black storm clouds obscuring their tops and in places rolling down to the lower slopes. 

On the right hand side of the road a huge and broken cliff face towered over a heavily-guarded army base and the small village of Egirdir which was built on a tiny peninsula jutting out at the base of the cliffs. As we drove up the eastern side of the lake, the lightshow playing on the water from the sun and clouds was both spectacular and beautiful and the mist-shrouded bulk of the mountain range beyond formed a gloomy and foreboding backdrop.

We left the lake after about ½ an hour and headed north-east up a long valley, gradually turning to the south-east as we crested a rise and began descending another valley through the village of Sakikaraazac and along the easter shore of Beysehir Golu. On the far side of the lake rose the snow-capped summit of the 3,000 metre Mt. Yeneser, just visible in the gathering dusk.

Soon after nightfall we stopped at a roadhouse for tea then Linda and I both slept for the last 1 ½ hours of the journey.

Konya is a large city, its origins rooted deep in the long history of Turkey and our first glimpse of it was as a sprawling mass of lights as we crested a pass above the city.

Once we had left the bus we were surprised not to be mobbed by touts with offers of rooms so we asked at a desk in the bus station where we could find hotels then caught a Dolmus into Mevlana: the city centre. We checked into a hotel called the Otel Mevlana along with an English couple who had been on the same dolmüs2 and shortly after that we crashed out exhausted. 

1The Turkish word for tea is written as çay but is pronounced “chai” just as in other languages. As well as the usual black tea, sweetened with sugar but not containing milk, Turkish çay is often made from apples. The taste of elma çayi (Apple Tea) is one of those redolent memory-generators that has stayed with me to this day, reminding me of sunny Turkish cafes, old men smoking hubbles, and busy streets where boys run to and fro with silver trays laden with small glasses of fragrant çay.

2A dolmüs is a shared taxi, usually a van of some kind. The name derives from “dolma” , the traditional Turkish stuffed vine leaves. A dolmüs is always stuffed with passengers! 

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PAMUKKALE We got up at 8:30 and sat around drinking tea until 9:30 when a Dolmus arrived to pick us up. The trip out to the village of Pamukkale only took 10 minutes and cost 1000TL. We were dropped off at the foot of the terraces and we walked up through the toll gates, bullshiting half price tickets with our YHA cards.

The terraces, although a wonderful example of geology, were pretty disappointing. Dry weather had left nearly all of the pools empty or half full of muddy water and the hazy overcast day didn’t enhance the effect. The terraces have been formed over thousands by calcium-rich mineral water running over an escarpment to form hundreds of terraced pools called “travines” made of pure white calcium. In Turkish, the name Pamukkale translates as “the cotton castle.” At the top of the terrace lies an extensive set of Roman ruins called Hierapolis, built over and around the spring from which the water flows. Known for the healing properties of its waters from earliest times, it was a large Roman spa. Most of the ruins date from around 100BC.

 After an hour or so of wandering around the terraces Linda, me and two Aussies walked up for a quick look at the museum built into the ruins and ate an overpriced kebab each with the local dogs sitting beside us. One of the large hotels had an open swimming pool which cost 1,000TL  per hour so we went up there and sneaked in amongst a large party of Germans.  We spent about 2 1/2 hours swimming in the warm and fizzy pool the floor of which was strewn with pieces of marble columns and baths from the old Roman bath house. The edges of the pool were covered with beautiful pink hibiscus trees and the water was very relaxing, although was strangely non buoyant.

The front and rear of a postcard Linda sent home from Pamukkale showing the terraces as they appear when they are full of water.

When the time came to leave we just casually strolled out on another entrance and escaped paying for the whole thing! We mucked around waiting for a Dolmus to take us back to Denizli and when we got there we went with the other Aussies to a pizza house for something to eat.  While we were there, the inexperienced young travellers sat and hung off every word a dickhead Kwi and his silly wife told them. They have been travelling overseas for a whole 8 weeks and thought they knew everything. 

After a bite to eat Linda and I went in search of a bank to give us a cash advance on my Visa card. We went to 5 banks and none of them knew what to do but the last bank, Gurasi Bank, just went straight ahead and did it for us and 5 minutes!

Carpet shopping at the Denizli Pension.

Back back at the pension we sat around having a few beers then after tea, Suleiman’s mother showed us how she makes carpets on a loom set up in the office. When Suleiman came back from catching tourists he and I began negotiating for a carpet of which I had no intention of buying but after protracted talks I bought it for £190, including postage and insurance. The carpet has a fountain design on it and it is made entirely of wool dyed with natural dyes.

Once the deal had been made, we sat on the floor amongst the other carpets and talked with Suleiman’s wife, mother and two German tourists. The carpet took 8 months to make including spinning and dyeing the wool and the actual weaving took two ladies 4 months.

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DAY TRIP TO PARIKIA We walked up to Marpissa to catch the bus over to Parikia and, in true Greek fashion, we had to wait 1½ hours past its posted arrival time for it to come along. Once we had reached Parikia we set off up the street to the main area of shops to buy some jewellery. After a bit of browsing, we settled on a Sterling silver Russian wedding ring¹ which I paid for with my Visa card. A bit later on we bought a silver and turquoise bracelet, also on the plastic. The ring was 3,700DR (£14; $40NZ) and the bracelet was 4,800DR (£17; $50NZ) so it was quite a reasonable price.

After that shopping spree, the first jewellery buy-up we’ve done in 3 years, we went and sat for a couple of hours over a lunch of tzatziki, moussaka, burger patties and chips, served with cold beers, then found a cool and shady spot to sit and watch passing poseurs, semi-naked bimbos and white, blubbery Germans while we sipped iced coffees and cold Cokes.

Later on, we wandered out along the marina and looked at the sickening opulence of the fat German yacht owners as they swilled wine and videoed each other on the decks of their yachts.

We caught the 6:00pm bus back to Piso Livadi and after a shower, we walked down to the village for drinks and tea.

¹Linda still wears that ring to this day,

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We had planned to climb the hill behind the camp to have a look at the monastery on top but by the time we got up and got going it was 10:00 and after a fruitless search for the road leading up to the hill, we gave up and went in search of less strenuous activities.

We walked down to town and spent most of the day lying on the beach but in the shade of trees rather than in the sun. The beach was mostly deserted except for a fat lager lout and his bimbo girlfriend.

Later in the day we went back up to the camp and sat on the balcony of the [closed] bar looking out across the low brown hills to the bleached white houses of Piso Livadi and the choppy blue sea beyond. After 5 we showered then drifted down to the Flotilla Club where great excitement was afoot amongst the locals as a ship appeared to be sinking out on the horizon. A few drinks in the warm late afternoon sun set the scene for a huge meal at one of the restaurants followed by a lazy walk back up to our camp.

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After a large dose of sun yesterday (Linda’s back was bright crimson!) we decided to give the beach a miss and go up to the hilltop village of Lefkos¹ for the day.

After an hour or so of waiting, during which time a mad old lady, talking to herself ten to the dozen, came past and gave us some stale bread which we pretended to eat then threw away, a bus came along and we made the 10-minute trip up to Lefkos. It is a true Greek village with a maze of narrow, white-washed streets, most of which led to the church standing on a point overlooking the valley. 

Most of the village is closed to traffic which lends it an even more quiet and peaceful air and the only sounds to be heard were those of the wind and hidden conversations in Greek echoing down from the open windows.

We sat on the steps of the church debating whether or not to go in but then a party of Germans stomped in so we decided that it must, indeed, be open to the public. I picked up the words “Renaissance” and “Napoleon” amongst the speil of their guide so they probably pertain to the history of the church, but how I don’t know.

Before we entered the church we walked around its outer walls. Beyond an iron gate, a graveyard ran steeply down into the valley behind the church. Many of the graves were ornamented with photographs of their occupants. The church is built from glittering white marble and the main door is set below the twin bell towers, each tower containing several bells. Above the door, the date 1845 was carved into the lintel, perhaps the date that the church was either built or rebuilt².

Inside, in the cool and quiet, an old man, barely able to see, gave us each a small candle to light and place in a small stand. I gave him 100DR for the upkeep of the church. The interior was exquisite. Although not very big, it was full of paintings, chandeliers, ornately carved wood and marble friezes. The ceiling was decorated with paintings of the life of Christ and on the wall near the door was a picture of the 12 Disciples beside the body of Jesus woven from threads of gold.

Leaving the church we wandered the streets, now quiet for the siesta, and ended up at a small square where we had drinks and watched a bunch of German tourists – some of them dressed in knickerbockers, knee socks and mountain boots – shoving cameras into the faces of passing locals.

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Lefkes, Paros, Greece. (photo supplied)

We bought some bread and chips in a couple of shops and set out to walk back to Marpissa (the town overlooking Piso Livadi) via the ancient Byzantine pathway running down the valley. The sun was blazing hot by now but there was a cool breeze blowing which made walking quite pleasant. 

The path was paved with cobblestones of hewn marble in places and led down the valley on the right-hand side then gradually climbed up over a shoulder running down from the hills behind Lefkos. The way led through olive groves and tiny fields marked out with stone walls. The opposite sunny side of the valley was entirely cultivated but on the shady side where we were walking the fields were scrubby and disused. None of the rocky creek beds we crossed had water in them.

We stopped for a snack in the shade of a gnarled olive tree then carried on up over a rounded ridge which led down to flat land and the sea. We had passed several stone huts on the way down from Lefkos and I had a look into one built right on the ridge. It was only a few feet square inside but would have offered shelter from wind and rain to a farmer or a shepherd when it was in use.

The path was almost entirely paved with cobblestones down to the plain which made walking easy and we arrived back down at the island’s main circular road after about an hour. That only left about a mile to walk to get back to camp.

In the evening we once again headed for the Flotilla Club and had a meal of fish for tea. We were the only guests there and the waiter shouted us a glass of Ouzo each. Linda couldn’t drink much of hers so in order to please the waiter I downed mine then finished hers. We paid the bill and began walking back up to the camp but after about 5 minutes the Ouzo took my legs from under me and Linda had to half carry, half drag me all the way back!

¹I misspelt the name of the town in my diary. It is actually called Lefkes.

²The church is actually called Agia Triada and was built between 1830 and 1845. The stone used to build the church is a semi-translucent marble known as lychnitis and is only found on Paros.