Friday, May 1, 2009

kapadokya, day three

As promised, I'll tell you the hamam story of Day Two. The five of us tourmates decided to visit the Turkish Bath in Ürgüp that evening— I have never been to a Turkish bath and was looking forward to being scrubbed and rubbed. The two guys were lead into a changing cabin and we three ladies were squeezed into one of our own. We wrapped a thin striped cotton cloth called a peştemal around ourselves and slipped on a pair of plastic sandals. It was a small hamam, but we still expected that there would be a separate area for women. When we were lead into the main steam room, we were surprised to see our two male friends sitting on the marble slab in their little peştemals— and they seemed just as surprised to see us. So eh, whatever, we thought. We hike-bonded. We ladies went into a side room to shower off the day's dirt with cool water from a pipe, and warm water from marble basins that we scooped up and poured over ourselves with a plastic bowl. The guys went into the sauna, which was a small glassed in cabin in the back of the marble room, and we three lied down on the heated marble slab.

When the men were called away for their massages, we took our turn in the sauna. There was an older Turkish gentleman that seemed a little put off by our presence, who left as soon as we opened the sauna door. It was fantastically steamy and hot; a really great feeling after a day of hiking. When we got out of the sauna to pour more cool water on ourselves, there was a young guy lying on the marble slab by himself, who watched us walk from the sauna into the water room. We naturally felt shy about it and rushed over the the room where we had more privacy, but there wasn't a door. My Australian friend suddenly gasped and we turned to discover that the guy was lying on his belly with his head turned to face us, and he was staring— not just looking in our direction, but wide-eyes-fixed STARING. So we edged further into the little room, hoping he woudn't see us. As soon as we moved out of sight, he slid on his belly like a seal, inching up the marble slab to spy on us. My friend shooed him away with a series of hand gestures and "Tssh!" sounds, and he walked off into the sauna room. Relieved, we laughed about it and relaxed, continuing our chatting. Suddenly, a larger gasp from my friend and we realised that he had wiped the fog off the glass sauna wall to stare at us! This really annoyed us, but luckily the hamam attendant (who was also male) came to take us away for our scrubs and massages. We told him about the guy and he was kicked out.

Apparently the little hamam in Ürgüp is only set up for women on Saturday. We were not told this, and only learned it from our male masseur. In any case, we had a fun time, and were more shocked by the amount of dead skin that was scrubbed off our arms and legs than the creepy guy. The massages were lovely, and we were also soaped up and shampooed with this warm foamy soap that felt amazing. We had our peştemals on the entire time of course, so we didn't feel very exposed. I'm going to have to try the Istanbul hamams to see what a segregated bath is like— a lot less creepy for sure!

After breakfast on Day Three, I checked out of my hotel and waited outside for the minibus to whisk me away for my third tour. I was surprised when Fatoş, the guide from Day One showed up in a car. I was the only one that signed up for that day's tour, she explained, so I threw my bag in the back seat and hopped in. A private tour for the price of a group tour!

Our first stop was the village of Mustafapaşa, known for its beautiful old Greek houses and the building known as Mehmet Şakir Pasha Madrasah, which was once a carpet shop but is now a vocational school. The doorway was especially beautiful and ornately carved, as you can see in the photo above.

This lady was chopping up wood to store for this year's winter.

We took a 30 minute drive to Soğanli Valley for a hike. It was another gorgeous day with just a few more clouds, lovely for a hike. There's a lot of farmland in this area, mostly used for growing grapes, potatoes, onions and lemons.

After the hike, we went to the town centre for the most delicious meal of the entire trip. Yes, there were bus loads of tourists, but this was natural, home-cooked and full of flavour. We were first presented with a fluffy village bread, olives, the creamiest most delicious butter I have ever had, fresh local cheese and honey with the most delicate flavour. I was in heaven. I could have been satisfied with just the starters, but then came the stew cooked in a clay pot— the region's traditional dish. I chose chicken as my meat, and it was the most moist and tender chicken I have ever eaten. The tomatoes and peppers were so full of flavour and not mushy, as one would expect they might be from simmering in juices in a sealed pot. I wish I had taken a picture of dessert, but I was too busy devouring it. The thickest, freshest tart yoghurt was served with pools of honey. This lunch made up for the other lunches, which were fine, but nothing I would spend time writing about.

During lunch it started to drizzle, then a massive rain storm rolled in. I was so lucky that the trip had been so sunny and warm so far, April is notorious for unpredictable weather. The temperature dropped, and fortunately since I had checked out of my hotel, I had my bag with me and could add a couple of layers to keep warm. We continued on to Keşlik, where an an ancient monastery carved into rocks stood.

On our way, Fatoş took me inside one of the many caves on the side of the road that are used today to store and bag potatoes for mass consumption. Some of these caves are so large that trucks can not only enter them, but turn around completely inside them. When you're driving along the road, you might notice chimneys popping up out of the ground on the hills. These are ventilation shafts for the underground storage caves. Lemons and onions are also stored in this fashion until they are ready to be sold around the country.

The monastery in Keşlik is one of the region's largest monasteries, with several churches carved into the rocks. You can only see the beautiful frescoes with the aid of a flashlight and the keen eye of the groundskeeper. It was too dark to take any pictures, but these two came out. The bottom picture is of graffiti from the late 1800s carved into the frescoes. At first I thought it was an offensive destructive sort of "I was here" type of thing, but Fatoş told me that they were in fact prayers carved by people into the frescoes. They believed that their wishes would be better listened to if written on the walls of churches.

The day ended with rain, and I was dropped off in the main square of Ürgüp, where I met up with my friends from the previous day for a few beers before getting on the bus home.

And yes— pinelopikappa, you are correct! Kapadokya comes from the old Persian name for the region, Katpatuka, which means "land of beautiful horses."

I had the most wonderful time, and there is so much more I need to see in Kapadokya, so I'll be returning sometime in the future. I highly recommend a trip to this beautiful place, I do feel that 'magical' is the best way to describe it.

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