The flight from Izmir to the large (1.2 million) city of Kayseri seemed to happen in a blink of an eye. The hour and a half ride from Kayseri to Goreme felt a lot longer, though the views were sometimes quite stunning. Goreme, a town of about 2,500 resides in Cappadocia an area renowned for "fairy chimneys, underground cities, and it's moon like terrain. The unique landscape was reason enough for us to include the area in our itinerary....who can resist the pull of fairy chimneys?
I chose the Arch Palace Hotel for our stay in the area.
No, it's not four star or even three star, nor located in a fairy chimney. The rooms were large and priced right at 50 Euros per night...no lift, but the best shower we encountered during our trip.
The main reason I booked our stay at the Arch Palace was the reputation of the owner, Mustafa Yelkalan. He is just about everything you'd ever want in an owner of this type of hotel. All the great reviews and recommendations you read online are correct, Mustafa makes wonderful recommendations and is a one man tour guide, concierge, you name it. More on that later......
When we arrived, Mustapaha met us on the terrace of the hotel, looking at the view of Goreme really gave you could not help but feel that you were in an exotic locale.
After getting squared away, Mustapha suggested that we head off to Goreme Open Air Museum, also known as Goreme National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Mustapha told us that we should do it this afternoon since there was some major rain headed our way.... it was already pretty darn cold, temps in the fourties, so we could imagine what freezing rain would be like.
We headed off in the direction of Goreme Open Air Museum oohing and aaahing at the sites along the way.....
It was already getting pretty windy and chilly..... but that really didn't deter us. We headed through the gauntlet of tourist shops and hawkers in the parking lot...... the one that really made us laugh were the folks selling Turkish Ice Cream, dondurma. They screamed out what they were hawking at the top of their lungs in English....... but instead of "Ice Cream", they all seemed to inject a pause after the "I", and it sounded like "I SCREeeemmmmm, Iiii SCREeeeeemmmmm", the ironic absurdity of it all still makes the Missus and I crack up.
Goreme National Park is a monastic settlement carved into the eroded rock formations. This large complex of churches, chapels, refectories, and a convent is dotted with frescoes, many quite well preserved.
Our favorite was the Elmali (Apple) Church..... photos aren't allowed in most indoor areas, so you'll have to take my word on how beautiful and for me, quite haunting the whole experience was.
There is some climbing to be done here......
Many of the areas are lit only by natural light.... like the eating area within the refectory.
So when groups of tourists enter the place becomes almost pitch dark.
The sky was quickly turning dark and it started to drizzle, so we decided to hike down and head back to the hotel.
Then in a moment of what can only be called temporary insanity, he Missus stopped on at the sign for Zemi Valley and said, "let's check this out"! The trail was a river of water, it was raining cats and dogs, heck, it was raining lions and pitbulls..... After a couple of minutes, I convinced the Missus that we still had a couple of days left, and perhaps we would enjoy it a bit more if we didn't have to worry about swimming for our lives!
Returning to Arch Palace, I was ever so thankful for the wonderful hot shower. We dried off, rested for a couple off hours....night falls quite suddenly in Cappadocia, and we headed off to dinner. Getting dinner was one of those situation where Mustafa proved his worth. I told Mustafa that I really wanted to try a "real" Testi Kebab. A Testi Kebab is a stew, not a kebab, that is sealed in a pottery jar and cooked over an open fire. According to Mustafa, there are only a couple of places that do justice to the testi kebab. Earlier in the day he wrote down a list of five places.... I recognized the name of one of them; Dibek Restaurant. Mustafa immediately got on the phone and ordered a testi kebab for us for dinner.......an advance reservation is needed to get one of these at Dibek.
Later that evening we headed down the hill, dodging raindrops to the location of Dibek. You get a feeling that the restaurant actually envelops you as you enter, and the mild mustiness belies the age of the building, which is 475 years old. This floor of the building used to be stables and a wine storage area.....
We walked down the passageway to the front desk and eventually someone took notice of us.
The serious looking gentleman walked over and asked, "did you call...did you make reservations?" I started by saying "no....." and never got to "but", before I was told, "sorry, we are full.....we are full every night this week, maybe you write your name down and we can call and let you know if we have space." At this point I mentioned, "Mustapaha (who happened to be his cousin), called and reserved a testi kebab for us." Ah, instantly the clouds parted and the sun began to shine through. "Ah, Mustapha, lamb test kebab, right? Follow me this way....." We were lead past all the crowds to an area in the rear of the restaurant and to a sunken dining area.
The food started arriving soon after....starting with the standards, Coban Salatsi (Shephard's Salad), et al.....
Holding the container firmly with one hand, he gave the pottery a good whack while turning around in a circle. Eventually, the top gave way.... we could literally smell the wonderful fragrances as he poured the stew onto a plate.
There was quite a large portion of the stew in that container, and it was very tasty.
A wonderful, almost smokey flavor had permeated everything in the piece of pottery. The lamb was still fairly chewy, but very tasty...you knew you were eating lamb. The vegetables literally melted in your mouth. This was one of the more memorable dishes we had during our trip.
I'm glad we took the time to make sure we ordered this; the rest of the dishes at Dibek were average at best....most of it sorely lacking in salt.
That testi kebab made up for any other shortcomings the meal may have had...... we could not stop dipping the bread (and since this was Turkey, there was a lot of it!) in that wonderful sauce! We left satisfied and ready to hit the sack.
Tomorrow was going to be a busy day!