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All's Well that Ends Well

Written on: Thursday October 6th, 2011

A journal entry from: A Little Monkey in Turkey!

When we arrived in Goreme, our base for exploring the valleys of Cappadocia, we opted to stay in an authentic cave hotel. I should say that the area is famous for its fairy chimneys and cave dwellers. Villagers used to (and some still do) build their homes inside the rock of the canyons surrounding the valleys because it is very easy to manipulate the rock which is called tuff and is softer than sandstone. So people would basically carve their homes out of the rock and create these elaborate cave homes. So in the spirit of the place we stayed in a "cave hotel". We ended up with a huge "suite" cave which was really cool and very authentic (flies included) but after a couple nights we got to thinking the baby wasn't a big fan of cave living. He seemed a bit freaked out and wasn't sleeping well. So we decided to move house.

We all had high hopes for Cappadocia and the region definitely delivered. We explored the Goreme open air museum and one of the nearby valleys by foot to really get a feel for the magical looking fairy chimneys and cave dwellings. The fairy chimneys were carved out of the tuff by the elements to form Dr Seuss-ish looking spires that dotted the surrounding valleys and canyons. A lot of the fairy chimneys were quite phallic looking, particulary in the valley dubbed, ahem, "love" valley. The chimneys created an odd but fantastical landscape, like something out of a surrealist painting. Our best day in Goreme was definitely our walk through Red Valley. We got lost a few times and I totally bailed at one point but it was so cool to just wander at our own pace until dusk started to settle over the valley and cast its reddish gold hue over the bizarre rock formations.

After our walk through the valley we stopped at Red Red Wine Bar (if anyone knows Erin and I, they know we can't pass up anything even remotely related to Neil Diamond) and had a bottle of wine and a sheesha (a waterpipe for smoking flavoured tobacco). A perfect end to a lovely day.

David and I also visited the local Hamam, or Turkish Bathhouse.  The plan was to go for the traditional soak and scrub but it turns out there were no mixed areas so we opted for a Turkish massage instead because we could do that together.  The massage was pretty good, basically a swedish-style massage but very rubbing oriented.  Kinda like they were trying to start a fire on our backs using only their hands and some oil. Nice though and relaxing after our day of trekking.

After Goreme we started the long haul back to Istanbul. Our plan was to take a 4 hour bus to the capital city of Ankara and then try to arrange to take a night train to Istanbul. When we arrived in Ankara we went straight to the train station to try and sort through all the options. We knew we had to get a four person sleeper cabin to ourselves or we werent going to go for it because I didn't want to deal with having to keep the baby quiet while other people were trying to get some sleep. We had been told that the employees at the train station didn't speak a lick of english so we should go to the tourist information office and get them to help us book our tickets. Of course, when we arrived we saw that the office was closed. On to "Plan B" aka stand around, mouths agape looking dumbfounded. A man nearby saw our confused, helpless expressions, took pity on us and offered to help. He quickly became our super-best-friend and spent the next few hours chatting with us over beers and helping us book our tickets. He was such a nice guy and it was great to have a real conversation (his English was fantastic) with a Turkish person. After he left us to catch his own train we met another sweet guy who bought us tea and chatted with us in the train station while we waited for our night train. He then helped us carry our bags to the right platform and actually got on the train with us to help us find our cabin. Seriously. Are these people the nicest people on the planet or what?

The night train was great and delivered us to Istanbul early the next morning. We only had two days to see the Aya Sophia, the Cistern, Topkapi Palace, go to a whirling dervish ceremony and do some serious shopping at the Grand Bazaar. I am happy to say we accomplished most of these but the Aya Sophia continues to elude us. As you may recall from our first blog about Istanbul we missed the Aya Sophia because it was closed on Mondays so this time we were on top of it. We had two days in Istanbul, Sunday and Monday so on Sunday we were going straight to the Aya Sophia. When we got there the line was insane so we decided to do Tokapi Palace first. The palace was ginormous so we spent a few hours wandering the beautiful mosaic-lined halls of the palace harem (harem girls excluded) and checking out the palace collections of emerald and gold encrusted daggers and the lush wardrobe of the sultans that resided there. We also saw the world's fifth largest diamond, which to me looked like something you'd get with a Bejeweller it looked so fake. Afterwards we had a bite to eat and went back to the Aya Sophia only to discover that our guidebook had been WRONG about the visiting hours and it closed much earlier than we had thought. Of course the next day was Monday so it would be closed. No Aya Sophia for us. Of well, another reason to return to Turkey someday.

We moved on to the incredible underground cistern which funnelled water from the Belgrade Forest some 20 km outside of the city into the homes of the wealthy elite. For a time its existence was forgotten and people apparently had no idea why they had access to fresh water. The cistern was an impressive feat and quite something to see. When you go underground you can see to the domed top and columns of the cistern illuminated and it has an errie effect. There was carp swimming around in the water that remains on the floor of the cistern and there are two huge medusa heads at the base of two coloumns at one end of the cistern, one of which is inverted. All in all a pretty cool experience.

Next up, the Whirling Dervishes.  Sadly, I had to miss this essential Turkish experience because we didn't know that babies weren't allowed in so I opted to go back to the hostel with Sawyer and Erin and David got to see the Dervishes whirl.  It sounds like there wasn't much to it, just some bowing, and as the name implies, a lot of whirling in circles. Though the ceremony was very simple they both said they found it quite mesmerizing and almost medititaive, which I suppose is the point.

The next day was all about shopping! We threw ouseleves into the fray at the Grand Bazaar and tried to navigate our way through the labrinyth-like halls, our eyes peeled for treasures and our game faces on for bargaining with the vendors.  It was completely overwhelming in there and even seasoned shoppers like Erin and I were starting to feel dizzy from all the options, the hustle and bustle and the salesmen aggresively hawking their wares.  David and Sawyer abandoned ship pretty early (a good thing because frankly we couldn't get anywhere with the baby attracting attention every two feet).  After an exhausting day of shopping we had our last dinner in Turkey and got ready for our flight the next day.

The flight home was epic and exhausting, the baby has a cold and his sleep schedule is completely messed up and we are incredibly exhausted. Despite this, the feelings I am left with are...

1. Pride in the fact that we attempted to backpack with a baby and that Erin did some travelling on her own,

2. Affection for the incredibly hospitable and likable turkish people,

3. Amazement at the awe-inspiring historical sites we have seen and

4. A profound desire to return to Turkey some day and explore all the other wonders she holds  though perhaps without a baby that time ;-)

Thanks to you all for joining us on our travels through the blog and we finally have some pictures so please check those out! Lots of love to all and it's great to be back in Canada. As usual, there is no place like home!


From FIona on Oct 16th, 2011

Thanks for the great Journal Laura! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the photo with the flag -- classic! Can't wait to catch up in person and hear more! Love to all! Fi

From Susan on Sep 9th, 2012

We like your adventure, if interested check out our current contract. If may be of interest to you. http://www.WorkForBackpackers.com Apply if interested. Please include BLOGGER in the future travel area. Thanks, Susan HR