Several weeks ago I found myself on a flight to Ankara, Turkey to see Evan Johnson and Elizabeth Leonardi. They moved there in the Fall for Elizabeth’s job for the US government, while Evan is getting his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Straddling the junction of two continents, Turkey has served as a land bridge, meeting point, and battleground for people moving between Europe and Asia since antiquity (kinda sounds like Israel). The Lonely Planet Guide sums it up well… “Cultures began arising in Anatolia (aka Turkey) over 11,000 years ago. The Hittites created the first Anatolian empire, then came the Greeks (including Homer, of Iliad fame), the Persians and Alexander the Great. Alexander’s empire didn’t last and then the canny Romans arrived. Christianity quietly spread until Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine control of Anatolia was challenged by the Seljuk Turks, who arrived in the 11th century. The Seljuks were succeeded by the Ottoman, who swallowed up Anatolia and southeastern Europe, reaching the walls of Vienna before being pushed back. In the struggle for independence, Atatürk and his armies ejected foreign interlopers, then established the Turkish Republic in 1923.”
So… similar to Israel, Turkey is a very dynamic place with a storied history and has recently been in the news for not so great reasons, perhaps most significantly there have been a number of terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Ankara (the capital). Similar to Israel, there is low statistical probability that you will be the victim of a terrorist attack but it definitely weighs heavily on your decision making but in general you are fine if you avoid crowded public spaces and major tourist centers. It is truly unfortunate because Turkey is an amazing travel destination!
The journey began when my coworkers taking me out to Gingi (because the owner is a ginger), a delicious humus place close to my work. My colleagues insisted on taking me out to eat some “real” food before my trip, as if I would be starving in Turkey. The humus comes with a sprinkling of chickpeas, olive oil, ful (an Egyptian fava bean concoction), tahini (ground sesame seeds), parsley, and a hard boiled egg… that combined with their luscious pita bread and their perfectly crunchy falafel is utterly amazing, not to mention their fresh squeezed lemonade – SO GOOD!
I think I am hungry! What were we talking about? Oh yes Turkey! My trip began with a flight on the budget carrier Pegasus Airlines. After the usual inquisition at Israeli airport security and taking literally everything out of my bag to be searched I made it to my seat on the plane… I now understand the meaning of personal space…
This is going to be a long flight! Luckily I had a good book and my journal, so I was sufficiently distracted from the numbness that soon enveloped my lower appendages… UNTIL… we hit a HUGE (Donald Trump voice) patch of turbulence! I am normally pretty good on planes but this really scared the $^&# out of me… we were rising… falling… hurled sideways (a odd sensation in a plane)… hundreds of feet in seconds. This lasted for about 15 minutes. It was not very pleasant and you can imagine how thankful I was to have my feet firmly planted on the ground once more.
I arrived and it was great to see a familiar face so far from home. There is nothing quite like seeing old friends! Evan and Elizabeth live in a fabulous 3 bedroom apartment with an excellent view of the city. Ankara is a sprawling metropolis with a population of nearly 5 million people – almost bigger than Israel! It does not have the same appeal as Istanbul but it is centrally located, within a 5-6 hour drive from Istanbul, the Black Sea, or the Anatalya on the Mediterranean.
Evan and I did not really do much trip planning (actually none) but we quickly decided that we would travel south to Cappadocia. Cappadocia you ask? Is that the name of a new latte at Starbucks? No silly! It is an otherworldly place with thousands of hand carved caves and underground cities where tens of thousands of people once lived… underground! It is kinda hard to describe, you just have to see it…
It is kind of a mixture of Bryce and Canyonlands with its sinuous canyons, sweeping vistas, and sculpted formations. Back in the day… about 65 to 2 million years ago… the area had a tremendous amount of volcanic activity causing the area to be covered in a thick blanket of volcanic ash. Over the passage of time… wind and rain have joined hands to sculpt this unique landscape.
The first day we went to the Love Valley. You might be picturing a romantic stroll through lush fields of wildflowers but a different type of object was blooming… lots of rocks shaped like penises! This is all natural folks!
After hiking for several hours through the Love Valley we headed into town (Goreme) to find a place to camp. We discussed the possibility of camping in one of the many caves in the area for the full Cappadocian experience but ended up finding Kaya Camping about 2 miles outside Goreme, which is elevated above the main town. We had the place to ourselves and for future Cappadocian travelers they have Wi-Fi, a kitchen, showers, nice bathrooms, and a chain smoking campground host! (Note: We did not use the showers nor the bathroom out of principle, we are camping after all; The Wi-Fi did come in handy for some work calls I had to make to the Sunnyvale office though – technology is amazing!) Evan brought his tent, which was comically small… so we had to sleep head to foot.
The next day we explored Rose and Red Valleys, which was just littered with caves of all shapes and sizes… since my better judgment was not with me (i.e. Kelley) Evan and I climbed into a few, which was quite fun (and not as scary as it looks but the rock is rather crumbly)! A lot of the caves were originally Christian churches with beautiful frescos… some were pigeon houses used to collect their fecal matter for agricultural purposes… some appear to be hobbit houses (I love hobbits!)… while others are randomly interconnected to form underground cities. Goreme caves are numerous but the large (i.e. 10,000 + people) underground cities are south in Kaymakli and they are still discovering new ones – incredible! Regardless, you have to admire the tenacity and vision of these early Christians to build such intricate structures.
The next day we headed northwest to Selime to explore the Selime Monastery and Ihlara Valley. The monastery is astonishing because it is huge (Donald Drumpf voice). It is difficult to tell in the pictures below but it stretched about halfway up a 1,000 foot rock face and according to our friends at Wikipedia it was able to house about 5,000 people at a time (probably a bit generous but not too far off).
From the monastery we hiked up the Ihlara Valley along the Melendiz River. The river snakes past cave churches and jagged cliffs as we strolled along its banks. In late March, the area is just starting to bloom and come alive as spring approaches.
After our lovely stroll we drove back to Ankara to spend some time in the BIG city before I left on Sunday evening to fly back to the Holy Land! We were pretty tired from our road trip, so we had a leisurely Turkish brunch and then drove to the Citadel, which dates from the 8th century AD. Being a citadel, it is elevated above the city and provides an excellent vantage point to see the city.
The incredible part about the Citadel is that there are no railings and it drops off a couple of hundred feet, not for the faint of heart or to a place to take a nemesis. After exploring the Citadel, we went shopping! A strength of Elizabeth’s! We went into the ubicudious Turkish rug shop, where Evan and Elizabeth educated me on the different types of rugs, fabrics, styles, where they are made, etc. I was tempted to purchase one but that is a big decision and I needed Kelley…
After the rug experience, we went into an adorable little shop selling ceramics, lights, and Turkish towels… Purchasing souvenirs is frowned upon in the Davis household but for the purposes of our time in Israel I have told here she can get one thing from each country we visit… only one!!! So what did I do??? I went and purchased two beautiful Turkish towels. In my defense though, we have built in a practicality clause… meaning if the item is practical the one item minimum can be waived.
Food!!! Turkey is cheap! So we ate well! Here are a few of my favorites!
Well that’s all she wrote! Thanks for the lovely time Evan and Elizabeth!