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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From East to West

June 26, 2011

This morning we were woken up at 4:45am to the sound of someone banging on the door yelling "Balloon! Balloon!" In a daze we realized that the hotel never had someone come to wake us up like we'd asked and this was the driver yelling that he was going to leave without us. We brushed our teeth and threw on the closest clothes and ran down to the van. We apologized to all the other people waiting. Another strike against this hotel.

The balloon company was called Atmosfer Balloons and the van took us to their main headquarters where we had about five minutes to gulp down some hot tea and cookies. Not their fault; we were just late getting there. We ended up in Cemal's group (pronounced like "Jamal") who was an animated young Turkish man with an endless supply of jokes. He told us he was really excited because we were the first group to go ballooning with him. We also had a lively group of passengers including two female teachers and a group of six college-age Columbians.

The balloon ascent was graceful and soft and so was the landscape as the rising sun poured into the basin of the town. Gerome was just waking up. All around us were other balloons drifting up into the air like Christmas ornaments, their different logos and colors crowding the sky. Below us stretched miles and miles of rugged desert broken by giant dusty karsts of earth. These karsts have holes and homes carved into them where the indigenous people, Romans and Ottomans lived until about 1950 when the government made them into "museums." The area was formed 60 million years ago when the three major volcanoes in the area erupted at the same time. Then over time water, wind and other elements smoothed the earth. We toured around for an hour and then landed for a celebration of cherry champagne and chocolate pound cake. Both were delicious. Then Cemal handed out diplomas for surviving the flight, but he wouldn't hand them to the girls without a kiss on the cheek. What a flirt!

We were dropped back at the hotel and decide to traipse into town to find out the best way to see the other things in the city. We ended up at Rose Tours which looked legitmate and in walks the six Columbians! There were three girls and three guys and two sets were coupled up. They were really nice. We decided to go on the Green Tour which takes you to the underground city, the Ilhara Valley for a hike, the Selime Monastery and the valley of the pigeons for 70 Lira per person.

Our guide for the trip was Mehmet, a young Turkish man who was a little quiet at first but he warmed up as we went along. It was a good thing we did a tour because each of the locations are 30-60 minutes apart. The first stop was Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri which is the biggest of the underground cities. It has seven real floors, the eighth being mostly just a hole as if they had meant to keep expanding. The city extends for 85 meters and is about 40 meters deep at its lowest floor. Three thousand people lived in these cities any time invaders entered the area. They would then live in the city until the threat subsided. You can see large boulders under the ground that they would use to seal off different levels in case invaders located the city. It got pretty claustrophic as we went farther down because the staircases become so extremely narrow that you have to wait at one end to get back out until people are done filing into your area. It was too much for one of the men in our tour who panicked and had to be taken back up top. Overall very cool.

The next stop on the trip was the Ilhara Valley where we hiked three kilometers through lush forest along a river. The sides of the gorge stretched up around us on either side holding us in. It was like a mini Grand Canyon.

At the start of the hike was a 4th century church that had been cut into the rock with reliefs painted on the walls and ceilings. Mehmet explained that they were mistakenly called "frescoes" when really they are "sekko." The difference is that with frescoes the paint is mixed with plaster. Sekko utilizes the whites of pigeon eggs as the "plaster" on which the paint is applied. And it has lasted for centuries. Definitely gives you a new perspective on why egging cars is such a bad idea. That shit lasts forever!

On the hike I spent a lot of time talking to Juan, one of the Columbians, who was going to med school. It's so funny to see that people from a completely different continent still watch the same television. He was partial to House over Grey's Anatomy in terms of medical realism. I also got to know Diana, who gave me some great advice on bargaining. At the end of the hike we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the gorge for chicken shish and meat pot. I think it tasted extra good because of the hiking.

At this point we were starting to get tired, but my exhaustion disappeared when we arrived at Selime Monastery. Built way up into the side of a massive hill, Selime never ends. We only saw one small part. At one point I looked up to see Diana and the other Columbians waving from way up the mountain. I had no idea how they got there but I was super jealous. Mehmet on the other hand was growing frustrated with our unruly group because we were always late back to the bus. Realistically they are lucky no one got hurt because there were definitely parts of this "tourist attraction" that were extremely unsafe. Regardless, the monastery definitely entered the top three for places I've seen so far on the trip along with the Topkapi Harem and the Dolmabache Ceremonial Hall. If only they had a toilet as I had to hold it all the way to the next gas station we could find.

The remainder of the tour was to Pigeon Valley and a demonstration of Onyx, because hey what's a tour without a stop at a local place to buy things? The only point of interest was learning that the pigeons were used to carry messages and their droppings were used to fertilize the area. Below is a picture of Uchisar Castle in the distance. We returned to the hotel exhausted.

After a nap, we headed out to dinner and ended up at Kale Terrasse. I was feeling awful thanks to my allergies (I'd spent all day blowing my poor red nose) so we sat inside. I had chicken shish again which was delicious (I love the seasoning they put on it) and my mom got meat and vegetables that came on a steaming plate with a fire underneath similar to fajitas. The waiter was super sweet and gave us a bunch of wine recommendations. He said we should visit Uchisar to try some Kochbag wines. So far Turasan has been the tastiest brand and Okuzgozu is the best grape.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at the Internet cafe to attempt to get more information about our bags. While there the Columbians appeared again! Diana invited me to come out for a beer with them. We told Diana and Juan about Creepy Guy on our walk to the hotel and how I had to lock her in our room so that he couldn't get her. Then literally as Juan, Diana and I are about to walk down the stairs to exit the hotel I see Creepy Guy run to the door of our hotel! Juan offered to go see what the deal was but instead we just watched to see what he would do. Turns out it wasn't that exciting - he just asked if she'd gotten our alarm clock I'd asked for. What's shady is that he clearly waited until the three of us were almost out of sight to inquire after the clock. This time we really did leave because he saw us watching and on our way out ran into Creepy Girl from their hotel! Apparently she is some weirdo that works at their hotel and here she is climbing the stairs to my hotel?! Maybe the two of them will have creepy babies.

We then wandered down to meet the rest of the Columbians at an outdoor bar where we sat around drinking Efes talking about the next places in Europe they were headed, Game of Thrones which is their new favorite television show, and how many celebrities I ran into while living in L.A. I also finally learned all their names. Juan and Diana were the two single people and Sylvia and Martin and Valerie and Mateo were the two couples. Sylvia was pretty sleepy so she and Martin left while the rest of us wandered over to Fat Boys for some shisha. The owner explained to me that he named the place, Fat Boys, because his last name, Shishman, means Fat in Turkish. He also gave us some "raki" which is the national drink of Turkey. Once you add the water, it looks like milk but tastes licorice. This is because they use anise to make it. It tasted awful but I braved a couple swallows before returning to my beer.

Hanging out having shisha, we were having tons of fun when a strange young Turkish man walks up and asks to join us. Well "asks" probably isn't the word; he sort of sat down without waiting for an answer. Diana whispered that it was too bad I didn't speak Spanish. The guy had the look of a drug addict and words spilled out of his mouth as if he hadn't spoken to anyone in days. We all only half listened while giving each other looks. At one point he seemed to get the picture and abruptly left only to come back 20 minutes later to resume his blabbing. Either way the shisha was delicious (strawberry mint) and I enjoyed the majority of the company! Before I left to head back to my hotel Diana gave me her email. Hopefully someday I will make it to Columbia to pay her a visit!

June 27, 2011

Finally my first day to sleep in! Unfortunately, my plans to hang out by the pool and tan were abandoned when I opened the window to low-hanging clouds and a frigid breeze. My mom and I spent most of the days puttering around town.

We returned to Cafeturca because I'd been thinking about their samosas since we'd tried them on our first day in Cappadocia. The owner remembered us, gave us a 10% discount, and a small gift. It was really sweet of him. The waiter was adorable, always checking on us to make sure we had bread and blankets. He even brought napkins and spoons to cover the top of the wine glasses to keep out the bugs. Too bad the service at our hotel isn't this good!

After lazing around and checking our email we headed out for dinner. The internet guy suggested Bidek down the street. At first we were going to bail because he probably recommended it because a family member owned it but I said we should at least check out the menu. It was by far the cutest restaurant we've eaten at the entire trip. It was a 475 year old cave house that clearly still houses the family on the upper floors. The bottom floor was converted into a restaurant where you eat sitting on cushions on the floor. You also have to remove your shoes before eating at the table.

The atmosphere made us adventurous so we both ordered local dishes. My mom ordered a white bean soup and I ordered Manti which is a ravioli dish with yogurt and tomato sauce. The raviolis looked more like gnocchi and neither dish was as warm as we would've liked but we both cleaned our plates. They also had three local desserts to choose from although I couldn't make a decision. The waiter came to my aid and made me a little tasting plate of all three! One was warmed baklava that tasted like honey and flaky crust, one was roasted apricots dipped in grape molasses and the last was a local Gerome dessert that had the consistency of a paste and tasted like flour mixed with grape molasses. We washed it down with a bottle of wine which made us sleepy so we headed back to the hotel, packed and passed out.

June 28, 2011

Today we slept in again and then finished packing our bags. We spent an hour out by the pool since the weather was nice and we had some time before we had to check out. The total for three nights was 150 Euro which meant I owed 75 Euro. I only have 70 which the guy accepted. He then proceeded to ask me to pay for the shuttle from the airport to the hotel. I kindly pointed out that that shuttle didn't make it to us because he'd forgotten us. That shut him up. I also kindly pointed out that we had already booked a shuttle to the airport seeing as how we wanted to make sure we made it. He was totally cowed which made me like him even less. It's a shame because the hotel itself is great quality for the price and had our room been a little bigger I would totally stay here again. Unfortunately, the staff ensured that I will never give this place my recommendation. Stay somewhere else should you visit Gerome.

The car picked us up on time and we made it from Kayseri to Istanbul to Denizli without mishap. Luckily for us there was a shuttle taking people from the airport to downtown Denizli for 11 Lira per person. It's nice to have things work out for once!

Unfortunately, I spoke too soon. Just as we pulled over to change to the van that takes you the rest of the way to Pamukkale, the airplane water I'd taken with me crunched in the seat soaking my entire bag! I had taken everything out of the bag just as we are being yelled at to get out. We got out of the bus and were met by an old man with a van. I confirmed that the 11 Lira we had already paid would take us to Pamukkale and he vehemently said, "No 11 Lira for the bus; 11 Lira for my van!" I kindly responded saying that wasn't what we had been told. He then narrowed his eyes, pointed a finger in my face and said, "YOU ARE A LIAR!" Uh, that caught me a little off guard. It also turned my mother into an angry lioness. She glared up at the man standing her full 5 foot 3 inches and said, "Don't you call my daughter a liar!" Yeah it wasn't going anywhere good. He then retorted saying we could get a taxi because he wasn't driving lying Americans anywhere. Too bad I'd already climbed into his van and told him the only place I was getting out was at my hotel. Yelling at the top of his lungs he drove us like a crazy person to our hotel roaring about how obnoxious English-speaking people were. What a psycho!

He drove like a crazy person, screeching to a halt in front of our hotel. I slammed the money we "owed" him into his hand and started to stalk away when he pulled a 180 and apologized for yelling. I think he has been cheated in the past and it somehow came out on me. Regardless I was definitely holding back a flood of tears mostly because I was totally in shock. The people at the hotel were so sweet. The guy at the front desk clearly felt awful for me and rushed to get me some water. From what I could tell the hotel was adorable as were the staff I'd met so far. He took us to our room and gently asked if there was anything else he could do. We thanked him and said we'd be down for dinner shortly.

We ate a small dinner at the hotel restaurant which is outside and looks over the bright blue pool. I really like this place; it's too bad we are only here for one full day...We had meatballs for dinner and chatted with the guy whose name is Selami. He teaches 9-10 year olds and was super nice. Mom also got suckered by another meowing kitty who played her for two of our meatballs. What a softie! We headed to bed so that we could take full advantage of our day in Pamukkale tomorrow.

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