Cappadocia and beyond
Göreme – Sivas
We walked around the valleys oohing and aahing at the fairy chimney and manmade rock caves, and rented a car for the day to visit the underground city at Kaymakli, which was used by Christians between the 4th and 9th century. It is one of 200 underground cities in the area and has 7 storeys with many rooms, kitchens and stables where families could hide for up to 3 months at a time to escape their invaders. ||
From our campsite, Kaya Camping, we had an awesome view of the valleys below, and every morning we watched 40-50 hot air balloons float above and next to the rock formations. In the end we succumbed and spent 120 Euros each on a hot air balloon flight. Together with Justin and Emma we were picked up at 5am and driven to the takeoff site, which changes daily depending on the wind. We watched our hot air balloon being slowly inflated, until it rose from the ground into an upright position. The basked held 16 people, with the pilot in the middle pulling on strings and firing up the propane gas burners. Suddenly we lifted up and floated above the valley, watching the sun rise over Mount Erciyes, a 3,916 metre high volcano and the highest mountain in central Anatolia.
It was amazing to see the landscape from above, and it felt really safe as we were going so slowly. Just as impressive was the view of all the other balloons around us, dipping deep into valleys and rising up high above us. The flight took one hour, and as we landed we were so close to the rock formations that we could almost touch them. The pilot managed to land directly on the trailer of the landrover, before serving us champagne to celebrate the flight.
It was difficult to move on from Cappadocia and to leave our new friends, who were all heading back to Istanbul. The first day’s cycling was tough as it was on busy roads and we were in the suburbs of Kayseri for about 50km, one of the biggest cities in Turkey. At one point, a traffic policeman firmly blocked our way, holding up his hands to stop us. He sternly directed us to the traffic control booth. Thinking we were in trouble, we made our way there, only to be served with tea and given a bag of bread rolls to take with us! It was getting late, and we were on a bypass route around Kayseri, without any facilities. We were low on water and needed to find a place to camp so when we eventually saw a fuel station we asked if we could camp there. This was actually a result of Roger and Catherine mentioning to us that they had camped at many fuel stations in Turkey which was sometimes a little loud but a pretty safe and free place to stay, usually with access to running water. The fuel station guys directed us to a small garden behind the building where we set up our tent.
It was a little difficult to communicate at first with our limited Turkish, but eventually the owner arrived and spoke perfect English. He invited us for tea and warned us to watch out for snakes and scorpions. He even offered for us to sleep inside, but by then we had set up the tent and were all set up to camp. We established that the fuel station business wasn’t going well (no wonder, as there is so much competition with fuel stations everywhere in Turkey), and he had converted the restaurant into a place for some road workers to sleep. They arrived later, and while some of them looked a little scary, we struck up a conversation with a friendly guy, Erol, who spoke French. Just as we were about to cook dinner, he came over with a tray of food – chicken, rice, salad and bread, as well as more tea. We did not sleep that well as it was very loud with the noise of the road and a nearby train track and the next morning we just sat down to have breakfast when Erol arrived with a basket of bread as well as tea, jam and olives.
Thankfully the road became a bit quieter and we spent a fairly uneventful day cycling and stopping at various fuel stations for free cups of tea and chats. In this part of Turkey, there are few towns and villages and they are often off the main road, so really the best options for getting shade, a bathroom and a drink are the many fuel stations. Someone donated some Turkish pizza to us for lunch and in the afternoon we pulled into yet another fuel station to fill up with water before finding a place to camp. By chance we noticed a small sign advertising a hotel as part of the fuel station, and we established that a nice double room with en suite bathroom and a balcony cost only 10 Euros! Of course we stayed and had a nice meal at the restaurant.
Since Cappadocia some of our kit has started breaking. First Freddie lost one of the clips for a pannier which means the pannier is not as stable on the bike now. It only really matters on rough roads though so it’s fine for the moment. More serious is the issue with Guy’s sleeping mat, which has started to delaminate. It’s an inflatable mattress, and it has developed a large bubble where it’s delaminating. For the moment it is just a little uncomfortable, but we will probably need to sort out a replacement before it gets worse. Then, just as we pulled into a small town called Sarkisla, Guy’s right pedal broke. It suddenly became very wonky, and we limped into the nearest fuel station to try and fix it. Immediately people came over to help, and a guy who spoke excellent English offered to take us to a mechanic. While Freddie was waiting at the fuel station with the bikes, being supplied with several cups of tea, Guy and Ilhan drove to a bike shop. At the bike shop, the mechanic replaced the ball bearings in the pedal, but he did not have the tools to do an exact job, and so the fix did not really work. Guy decided to buy another pair of pedals as backup, but when it came to pay, Ilhan absolutely insisted on paying for the mechanic’s time AND the new pedals! Guy was not able to convince him otherwise, even though we had already taken up over an hour of his time. “You are a foreigner in our town, and this is the least I can do for you – sorry I could not help more”, he said when he dropped Guy off at the fuel station.
We replaced the broken pedal and left, intending to go to a supermarket before cycling on. However, we got a little lost on the way, and just as we pondered how to find the supermarket, a woman called us over in English. She explained the way to the supermarket and invited us to stop by for a tea on the way back. Kaya lived in Denmark but had come back home on holidays. We made it to the supermarket and got chatting to a group of teenagers who invited us for a cola. In Turkey, our dealings have mainly been with men, and we had not really interacted with a mixed gender group of young people, so we were curious and followed them into what seemed to be a sort of club house. They were all of different ages, some in school uniform, and some university students. We never worked out exactly what the place was, but one thing was for sure – they were all very passionate Atatürk fans. The rooms were lined with images and statues of Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey who had introduced many far-sighted reforms early in the 20th century. One of the students spoke a little bit of English and for the rest we tried to communicate with our language guide. We came away with presents of a picture of Atatürk and a little brooch of Atatürk’s head that was pinned onto Guy’s T-shirt.
On our way out of town we stopped by at Kaya’s house for tea. The house was beautiful – it was completely covered in tiny white and blue mosaic tiles. It had several balconies and a large garden. The whole family was there, as well as some neighbours so we were about 15 people in the living room. Kaya has lived in Denmark for a long time and has quite modern views, and she said that for the next year, her parents would still be telling everyone the story of how they had two cyclists over for tea. Weighed down with a bag full of apples from the garden, we finally pulled out of town 5 hours after we had arrived.
Kaya, as well as one of the students, had offered to put us up for the night, but we felt we should do a little more cycling, so we ended up free camping in a field some 20km down the road. It was a good spot, and even though it was in a wide open area, there was nobody around. After the flat plains of Central Anatolia, the landscape started becoming more mountainous and interesting again. At night, the moon was very bright and we were woken up by some rustling in the tent. Looking up, we saw a shadow crawling up on the tent and then sliding down again. We had no idea what it was, but finally turned on the torch and saw a mouse scurrying around our panniers. There was nothing we could do about it, and our food was safely tucked away, so we just went back to sleep. In the morning we saw the mouse (or one of its relatives) poking its head out of a hole next to where we were having breakfast. We tried to feed it some cheese, but being a field mouse it totally ignored it and munched on some wholesome grass instead.
Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Sivas, a town of 300,000 with a modern feel. It has a nice park, some interesting mosques, seminaries, and a modern high street. In our guide book the hotel prices had looked horrendously expensive so we were glad to find a little Pansyon that would give us a double room for 20 Euros. After we had moved in we realised that it is actually a student residence for young men. Sometimes we find ourselves in strange places, but it is often worthwhile just to get a glimpse of other people’s lives which we would not get if we travelled by bus and stayed in nice hotels all the time. We will have a rest day here before we cycle East towards Erzincan and Erzurum in the North East of Turkey.