Cappadocia diary, 23-31 October 2004

As leader of a trip with 15 participants, and with only one eye on the geology, whilst the other is keeping check on the trip details, my geo-notes fall short of being able to describe in detail the various geological highlights, and my report is therefore a general overview of the trip on a day-by-day basis. Phill Marston and Ann Martis will be reporting on the scientific side.

Day 1: Istanbul

Meeting point for this trip was Istanbul airport, with participants arriving with various planes, from the UK, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland. A pick-up had been arranged for the whole group, as all flights were supposed to land within a reasonable timespan. However, with one plane delayed, and lengthy immigration formalities (visa queue, passport control queue), the UK group finally had a very long wait, something to be taken into consideration for future trips. But, dead on time, our guide arrived, and very soon we were all in the bus, driving along beside the Sea of Marmara towards our hotel for the night, very practically situated on the hill below the main tourist sites. After supper we decided on an evening stroll by pleasantly warm temperatures and headed towards the Blue Mosque. Being the first week of Ramadan, the locals very often meet after sundown, to eat together and celebrate and the park was teeming with people, all out for a good time and enjoying the entertainment. It was just like local events back home, with numerous stalls selling ice cream, toffee apples and candy floss, intermingled with less familiar goodies, like dried melon seeds, but with one exception — no alcohol — and it was noted that alcohol is not a necessity to social events. Young and old were having a great time together, the atmosphere was friendly and inviting, and we all felt very comfortable in these surroundings. After a few pleasant hours we returned to the hotel to try and get some sleep before the adventure began.

Day 2: Europe to Asia

Sunday was to be a tourist day, with visits to the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern and the Topkapi Museum. The Hagia Sophia proved to be the first geological highlight. This former Christian church, later mosque and now museum, was constructed using the finest marbles, basalts and limestones. This was the first time our guide realised that we were no ordinary tourist group, as hand lenses appeared and discussions started, whilst he was desperately trying to reel off his litany of historical facts. From our point of view, this visit could have lasted all day, but with a full programme we had to continue, vowing to come back at the end of the week, if time allowed. The Blue Mosque is a delight for anyone interested in ceramics, with its predominantly blue tiles. Since my last visit there have been changes for tourists. Then, an old man looked after the shoes for a few Turkish lire, and handed out shrouds for all those improperly dressed for a visit to the mosque. Now each visitor enters through one door, with shoes in the plastic bag provided, and leaves through another door, where the plastic bags are again collected (see photo below).

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

The Cistern, a deep underground cavern, was impressive, especially as the building has been enhanced by a work of art consisting of hundreds of white glass bubbles, which appear to float at various levels above the water. (see photo left). Before lunch we visited the Hippodrome, with its Serpent Column and Obelisk. The afternoon was reserved for the Topkapi Museum, but by now some of us were feeling very weary, and Gurcan, our guide, found his group dwindling, as one by one we opted out, preferring to sit under the trees in the nearby cafes, enjoying Turkish tea and letting the world slip by.

We had dinner in the hotel before the bus arrived to take us over to the station on the Asian side to catch the night train to Ankara. Crossing the Bosphorus over the suspension bridge, the lights of Istanbul twinkled around and far below us. Halfway across a sign appeared — 'Welcome to Asia'.

Despite its bad press, after several accidents with fatalities this year, the night train to Ankara turned out to be a very modern means of transport, and our sleeping compartments well-equipped and comfortable. Punctually at 10.30 pm our train drew out of the station, and strangely for us, along the Marmara coast, which appears on the map to be in the wrong direction, but due to a mountainous area around Istanbul, the train has to make a lengthy detour, before heading south and east to the capital. After a nightcap in the bar, we turned in, but sleep was sporadic.

Day 3: Ankara to Ihlara

Arriving at 8.00 am, we found our bus waiting for us, a new 30-seater, driven by its proud owner, Abdullah, who was to convey us safely from place to place over the next five days. Leaving the city behind, we headed southeast towards Cappadocia, stopping in a restaurant for breakfast on the way. Sleep came easier in the bus, but mid-morning we were aroused from our slumbers when Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake) appeared on the horizon, where a short stop was scheduled, a welcome opportunity to stretch our legs and wander around on the salt flats, where we collected salt and gypsum crystals. Around lunchtime we turned off the main road at Aksaray, our gateway to Cappadocia, finally arriving at the Ihlara Gorge visitors centre. No time for lunch, we were very soon climbing down hundreds of steps to reach the river, where our 8 km hike was to begin. This gorge, some 14 km long, and 150 m deep has been cut through tuff by the Melendiz River. Around 60 churches have been hollowed out of the rock faces, some of which we visited. After ca. 3 km of comfortable walking, with the odd boulder to be climbed or low tunnel to navigate, we arrived at the two restaurants below the village of Belisirma, which has a road connection to the rim of the gorge. Beers were soon ordered and fresh trout laid on the barbecue, and we enjoyed a hard-earned lunch break by the river in the shade of the trees. Whilst the main group continued the hike, two of us wandered up to the village and its ramshackle buildings, turkeys, chicken and ducks scurrying away as we approached, but children came out of the houses to try to converse, interested in the visiting strangers. Despite the dilapidated condition of the exterior of the ancient houses giving the impression that time had somehow passed the village by, most dwellings sported new satellite dishes, and a hotel at the top of the hill indicated that the tourist trade was a viable commercial endeavour. After a short chat with the kids, most of whom spoke reasonable English, we returned to our waiting bus and drove off to meet the rest of the group at the end of the gorge. Overnight stay in the Ihlara Pension, a local guest house with reasonable facilities, and an excellent meal provided by two young ladies with infectious smiles, dressed in the usual habit of baggy pants, blouses and headscarves.

Day 4: Ihlara — Derinkuyu — Uçhisar — Göreme — Ürgüp

We were up early for breakfast, and watched the local women driving their cows along the main road, whilst the children, in smart uniforms, appeared from everywhere, chatting and laughing, heading off in the direction of the school. The bus took us through a landscape dotted with parasitic cones along fissures that appear to originate at Hasan Dagi volcano. It was to be a long day of travelling and site visits, the first of which was the underground city of Derinkuyu, a huge complex reaching from the surface some 85 m deep, built in the 9th and 10th centuries as defence for the Christian population. Geologically, these buildings indicate how the welded ignimbrites, easy to hollow out, were nevertheless strong enough to support at least eight living levels. Travelling on in the direction of Uçhisar, we stopped at a cliff overlooking Pigeon Valley and our first view of the fairy chimneys, for which Cappadocia is famous. After a quick tea, our next visit was to an onyx factory, where the rock is formed into many useful and decorative objects. The tour included demonstrations of the various processes to work the onyx, information on where it can be found and the factors that influence quality, and a good-humoured quiz, with prizes, all of which resulted in most of the group switching to spending mode, with Euros being exchanged for jewellery or decorative objects, whilst enjoying a glass of local wine and discussion with the sales assistants. A worthwhile and interesting visit, although onyx can be purchased in village markets at lower prices.

Having spent most of our time in the bus or on site visits, it was now time for some strenuous exercise, with a hike through Pigeon Valley to Göreme on the agenda. Whilst the group headed off downhill to find the valley entrance, Abdullah and I took the bus down to Göreme to shop for our lunchtime picnic. Approaching this small town on modern roads, lined with signs for hotel accommodation, hot-air balloon trips and Turkish folklore evenings, it was clear that we were now in the centre for regional tourism. Parking the bus was easy, as the roads are wide enough to accommodate tourist transport stopping off en route to the many interesting venues, and Abdullah and I walked into the town centre to get our sandwich ingredients. I was soon pleasurably lost in a maze of small shops, from which all sorts of strange aromas emanated, tasting the local cheeses and garlic sausages to be able to make a choice before purchasing. Armed with fresh bread, sandwich fillings, tomatoes that actually smelled like tomatoes and two huge water melons, we drove to the entrance to Pigeon Valley to find a picnic spot under fig trees and wait for the hikers.

'Fairy chimeys' in the Deverent Valley
'Fairy chimeys' in the Deverent Valley

Our afternoon was spent in Göreme Open-Air Museum with its six rock-cut churches decorated with frescoes, a delightful setting, if somewhat too touristy (see photo right). Leaving Göreme behind, we drove through Devrent Valley (see photo below), stopping again for a short tea/beer break, before continuing on to Ürgüp and the hotel which was to be our base for the next three days. The town itself is not pretty and has few interesting sites, but is a good starting point for many of the excursions. Before supper some of us went to the carpet store for a demonstration of carpet-making, a lecture on the history and the source of designs, and naturally some good-natured sales pitches, which convinced a few to invest in a local carpet or kilim. That evening in the bar we discussed the plans for the next day, and waited for the arrival of Dr. Attila Ciner, who would be leading the group for the next two days. Although working in Ankara, his family has a cave hotel in Ürgüp, and he is well-acquainted with local geology, but more so with the Taurus mountains, and the geo-programme for the next two days promised to be fascinating.

Day 5: Acigöl to Lake Nar

Although Cappadocia is covered with welded ignimbrites, various other exposures can be found, if you know where to go (which Attila did), and our first stop of the day was at what appeared to be an uninteresting pile of rocks by the roadside between Nevshehir and Aksaray. First impressions, however, can be wrong, and we were soon collecting samples of red obsidian, intrusions of which could be found everywhere in the rocks, part of the Acigöl-Nevshehir volcano, a vent situated towards the western rim of what is effectively the huge caldera in which Cappadocia lies. A short distance further and we stopped at a maar, dry, but the source of peat, which had formed very quickly due to the high ground temperatures. A quarry was our next port of call, ignimbrites again, with impressive layering, indicative of various volcanic events, and with inclusions of obsidian, radiolarite and serpentinite. The layers were displaced by extensive small faults. (see photo below)

Quarry face showing bedding and faulting. The face in the photo is about 10 metres high
Quarry face showing bedding and faulting. The face in the photo is about 10 metres high

After a longer drive uphill, we finally reached the crest, only to be surprised by the view into a large crater, and Lake Nar. We drove along the narrow road that descends into the crater, finally arriving at the crater floor. The smell was unmistakable, and gas bubbles could be seen bursting on the surface of the lake, the contents of which was probably dilute sulphuric acid. There are ideas to build a spa down here, and, judging by the cave houses, the crater has been home to several families over the centuries. Our picnic for the day was eaten under the sparse trees, before we set off to explore. We found a well covered by travertine deposits, although at that time we found no evidence for limestones. This came later, further up the crater walls. There were also small pools dotted about, with the water appearing to be boiling, as gas bubbles rose to the surface (see photo below).

Gas bubbling in a pool near Lake Nar. Imagine rotten eggs!
Gas bubbling in a pool near Lake Nar. Imagine rotten eggs!

On the road again, it was time to return towards Göreme, where we were met by Attila's wife, Stephanie, who wanted to show us how the fairy chimneys were formed. These bizarre rock forms can be found in their thousands in the many valleys, eroded out of the ignimbrite by water, and are not only chimney-shaped. One of the most photographed exhibits has the form of a camel. The chimneys start off as a vertical succession of ignimbrite, which becomes cracked by tectonic activity. Water entering the cracks erodes away the softer, lower layers, leaving large pyramidal forms capped by a harder ignimbrite layer. With time, the unprotected sides of the pyramid also erode, leaving stacks of ignimbrite, wearing 'hard hats' so to speak. Finally, the capping layer succumbs to gravitational forces, as the volume of rock it is perched on decreases, leaving the softer layers to disintegrate completely.

We made our way back to Ürgüp, where we were invited to Attila's hotel for tea and a tour of the premises. This must be the perfect home for a geologist, where you can lie in bed in your own little ignimbrite cave and inspect the various layers and inclusions without even getting up. All too soon we had to leave, with the sun going down and the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from dozens of mosques in the surrounding villages. It was time for supper and our evening of pure tourism at the Yemeni Café. After supper we again boarded the bus to a nearby village, where we were ushered into an underground nightclub, hollowed out of ignimbrite for a change, for a programme that included whirling derwishes, folk dancing, belly dancing and Turkish music. Of course, the visitors were dragged onto the dance floor to join in the fun, either as folk dancers or belly dancers, but all in good humour, probably influenced by the constant stream of red and white wine and raki (included in the price), which was necessary to wash down the unending servings of sausage, cheese, olives, pickles and fruit. The evening ended with a distinctly western-style disco.

Day 6: The Aladag mountains

This was to be our longest excursion, south to the Aladag Mountains of the Taurus range to see glacial deposits. We drove through regions devoid of tourism, decaying villages, flocks of sheep on the road, before arriving in an area with the road forming a border between the ophiolite and marine sediments, both quite distinct with their various flora. Several stops were made to climb terminal moraines. This area is interesting as Attila and his group have discovered glacial deposits that, considering the climatic conditions at the time of deposition, should not be where they are, as similar areas show no signs of glaciation. But the evidence is there and cosmogenic dating verifies the dates. Attila's research is on-going, but unfortunately 'his' moraines were too far away and inaccessible for the group, so we had to make do with moraines that can be explained.

There were interesting alluvial fan deposits along the road that were worth investigation. This day we had been promised fresh trout again, in a restaurant often visited by Attila and his students, but on arrival we were told 'closed for Ramadan'. However, a short discussion persuaded the owner to open up just for our group, and whilst trout were collected from the nearby trout farm, there was enough time to climb a small hill to get an overview of the moraines and the fault line dividing limestones and ophiolite. The late meal was excellent, but had dire consequences, which made planning for our last day in Cappadocia difficult.

Day 7: Ürgüp — Mustafapasa — Göreme — Avanos — Hacibektas — Ankara

The night train to Istanbul
The night train to Istanbul

With half the group incapacitated due to the violent onset of 'Turkish tummy' and practically no sleep, our final day was put together with a series of short hops with ample opportunity to stop in cases of digestive emergency. And so we started off our day's tour in the village of Mustafapasa to see some Greek houses and drink tea in a centuries-old Greek hotel. This was followed by a short walk to 'Love Valley', which gained its name from the specific forms of the fairy chimneys found here. I leave this to your imagination, but photos will be available on the website for those who find my explanation lacking in detail! Back in Göreme it was time for a light lunch for those who felt they could subject their internal plumbing to nourishment, the lentil soup being ideal for this purpose. After lunch we were again on the road, heading for Avanos. This small village lies on Turkey's longest river, the Kizilirmak, or Red River, source of the red clays which are used in the production of the pottery for which the village is famous. Once again, deep in a cave dwelling, a master potter demonstrated how to throw a pot on a foot-operated wheel, after which, one victim from the group was dressed in protective clothing, sat at the wheel and had to demonstrate just how much we had learned from the demonstration. Amidst much laughter, and after a few unsuccessful attempts to produce something that vaguely resembled a pot, Karin proudly presented her masterpiece, it looked good, had the right form, but then it was turned over to show a gaping hole in its base. No matter, it was a brave attempt, and the pottery offers courses for anyone interested in learning the craft! Money was again exchanged for beautiful hand-crafted souvenirs. A last visit in this fairytale land took us to Hacibektas to see a Shi'ite mausoleum and then it was time to hit the road for Ankara and the night train to Istanbul. By now, digestive systems were calling for input, and the station buffet, quieter that usual due to Ramadan and the Turkish National holiday, increased trade by providing sandwiches and crisps for the overnight journey. It was not only time to say goodbye to Abdullah, who had looked after us so well, but I considered the bacterial invasion reason enough to break out the emergency first aid kit, purchased in the duty free at Zurich. Some time around midnight one bottle of vodka had been emptied and the group was trying to break the record for the number of people who could be accommodated in a first class sleeping compartment, namely mine! At the last count we managed nine, but if the top bunk had been pulled down there would probably have been enough room for the remaining six.

Day 8: Istanbul

We woke to find ourselves already in the suburbs of Istanbul and before long we were traversing the Bosphorus bridge again — Welcome to Europe — on our way to the hotel and breakfast. Being our last full day and no specific plans, after a post-breakfast discussion, nine of us opted for a ferry trip up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, well, at least a short peek from the castle atop the last village on the Asian side. On the way, Turkish travellers told us of interesting geology along the Black Sea coast, which was noted for further trips, as one thing was certain, this would surely not be a one-off event, everyone had enjoyed it so much.

Day 9: Farewells

Last-minute shopping, sad farewells bit by bit, as people left for the airport. By mid-afternoon Phill and I were the only ones left, and feeling a bit deflated after so much excitement and fun with such a great group of people, we decided to blow our remaining Euros on a meal in the fishing district of Kumkapi. Great service. We were picked up by the restaurant shuttle bus. The driver from hell almost ruined our appetites, but we managed to overcome this and proceeded to eat our way through what can be considered a good variety of what the local waters have to offer. The shrimp fried with mushrooms and garlic was delicious, and after copious amounts of raki, no driver could have spoiled this last evening out.

My thanks to every one of the participants, a really homogenous group, full of fun, patient and willing to try everything thrown at them. We learnt a lot, not only about geology, but also about Turkey and the Turks, archaeology, history, traditions, culture and religion, but not enough to be satisfied. Now where is the address of the agency and my agenda?

Annette Kimmich

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