Tuesday 3rd June
After a short bus ride to the town of Goreme, Cappadocia, we explore the caves at the Goreme Open-Air Museum which served as a convent and a monastery many prior to the 4th century when Christians were in hiding. At the end of the 4th century the western side of the Roman Empire collapsed and Constantine moved the roman capital from Rome to (now) Istanbul, changing the name from Eyzantium to Constantinople and declaring Christianity an official religion. Istanbul was not called as such until the 18th century.
For about an hour I wander the caves, marvelling at what was created during this time with the resources available, particularly in the four churches. I knew there was artwork but I was expecting caveman-like, stick figure drawings. What I see is very detailed red and blue paintings covering the entire ceiling and walls depicting biblical stories. The people of these times were not literate and stories were learned through art. Unfortunately, within many of these historical sites, such as these churches, taking photos is forbidden.
I also see cave graves carved out; many with the skeletons still intact. While the historical nature of the museum is fascinating, one of my highlights of today is meeting a gorgeous group of Turkish school children and their teacher. The teacher explained that they would like to use us (four girls) to practise their English. We have a few basic conversations and then communicate through the teacher. The kids, aged between eight and 13, go from very nervous to very excited in a matter of minutes, especially the girls who seem to adore us just as much as us them. Many of them have not had much contact with westerners and the young girls are very taken with my blonde hair and blue eyes. I am showered with compliments, one of them saying “you are… you are………. perfect”. Well! Talk about a confidence boost. Then I am the subject of about 10 consecutive selfies, each with a different child. At their request I even share my Instagram name so they can show me the photos later. I walk out of the museum with my head held a little higher than it should be.
We are left to our own devices to find lunch in Goreme. It is a beautiful little town, much supported by the millions of tourists it sees each year. I find some soup for five lira on a back street then head back to the main strip to look in the shops. I get chatting to a salesman whilst I admire his cushion covers. When I tell him I am from NZ he tells me that since 9/11 Cappadocia, and probably Turkey in general, has seen a significant drop in Kiwi visitors, in part due to the negative stereotype enshrouding Islamic culture since then and also that some NZ travel insurers will now not cover trips to Turkey, or at least have changed their policies unfavourably. He said Australian tourists have not been affected in the same way.
I end up buying a cushion cover from him for 20 lira, 10 lira less than what they were in Istanbul and 100 lira cheaper than the the ones I bought in Australia directly imported from Turkey. It’s no surprise that I then find myself in a jewellery shop. I purchase a (pretend) turquoise bracelet (38 lira) and a lapis ring set in silver (32 lira).
In the afternoon we go to two viewing points for photo opportunities – one to get good shots of the fairy chimneys and the second from a higher point with a view of nearly the whole valley.
On the way home we stop at a ceramic cave to hear all about a local pottery business, the owner of which is the seventh consecutive son to be running it. One of the the artists demonstrates how to mould a vase using ancient Hedi techniques and then one of the girls from our group gives it a crack, much to everyone’s entertainment.
Back at the hotel we have a few hours turn around before a group of us head out to local dance performance, also in a cave. Having suffered many quiet weekends in effort to save for this trip I embrace the chance to get out the lippy. We pay 140 lira (about AU $80) for two to three hours of dance performances and a three course meal, all alcohol included. And what a night! The setting is in a mini indoor amphitheatre with the seating partitioned into four sections, ours being the rowdiest by a long shot. When we arrive the cold dips and breads are there waiting for us. I am learning that budgeting tummy space is a real skill and one that I am not very good at. There is just so much yum stuff in front of me that I nearly fill up on the entree. Our table is also blessed with a bottle of red and white wine, and did I mention that there are only three people per table? Coupled with quite a few cherry vodkas, lemonade vodkas and orange vodkas my limbs are twitching in their angst to get on the dance floor. I have ordered roast lamb for the main course. It comes with no trimmings, just a big chunk of meat next to some rice. This is quite normal. It’s nice but due to the budgeting issues I am unable to finish it all. As we are eating, drinking and carrying on like typical young tourists, we are treated to a number of Turkish dance performances. There are four male and four female dancers. They perform about six different dances throughout the night, each one requiring a costume change. We are all amazed at what they can do, especially the men who seem to have endless energy supplies.
Early on in the piece, much to our delight, one of the girls in our group, Julie, is invited to the dance floor (Shaggy had warned us this might happen) by one of the male dancers. She takes it in her stride and sashays her long limbs and little black dress around the floor with under-stated confidence and style, making her one hell of a crowd pleaser.
After the group dances, and much to Shaggy’s delight, a belly dancer takes the floor. And wow. Just wow. She takes sexy to new levels, but even that seems like an understatement. We are all captivated with her performance. Near the end she takes eight people from the audience to dance with; male and female, young and old. A 70 year old Asian man delights the crowd with his efforts. Julie is selected among this group again and ends the performance with the belly dancer doing the splits in the middle of the floor. She absolutely nails it and the crowd, mostly us, goes crazy for both of them.
The belly dancer exits and after a collective “bottoms up!” our group is on the floor in the same breath. Although I would have been happy to dance to any kind of music, Shaggy takes control of the sound system and soon everyone is busting out their trademark moves to terrible top 40 dance floor anthems, that we all love to hate when we’re sober, but secretly love when we’re not.
The party continues on the bus. After a failed attempt at doing the worm down the aisle, I am content showing off my swimming strokes while I’m down there (because what other moves can you do on the floor of a bus?).
Going “quietly” back into the hotel we are already hating the 4:30am wake up call for hot air ballooning tomorrow.