Merhaba – but, this time from Cappadocia.

And yes, for two nights, I slept in a cave that is over 2,000 years old.  Of course, mine comes with Frette sheets and room service!

I’ve done just about everything there is to do in Istanbul and started to look for small trips inside the country.  As I had already been to Antalya, Efes, Izmir and Kusadasi – it was decided amongst the W Hotel staff that I should go to Cappadocia.  It’s a one hour flight and the idea of sleeping in a cave was intriguing, so this past weekend, I took off.

My first impression of Cappadocia was not a good one.  It started at the Istanbul airport.  There was a pretty good sized plane at the gate and only 15 passengers in line.  Clearly, not a hot spot with the locals.  Too late to back out now so I ran up the stairs with everyone else.  Now, in the States, with so few people on the plane it would be natural to assume you would have your own row of seats.  The Turks like to sit together.  They all pretty much sat in the first 3 rows – and even took the middle seats.  Fascinating.  I had my own row in 5.

The drive to the hotel wasn’t making me feel much better about my weekend travel choice as the view from the back seat seemed to really bring home the Fodor’s description of “lunar landscape”.  I was told it was 50 kilometers to the hotel and I threw a few quick prayers that this driver knew where he was going.  The meter was ticking at an awfully fast rate.  I was told to expect 100 Turkish Lire – which is only about $30 USD thanks to the economy crashing here!  See, there is some good news on the economic front.

As we came over a hill my jaw dropped.  OK, now we’re talking.  It looked like we

The Cappdocia Valley

The Cappdocia Valley

had just arrived at The Grand Canyon but this one was all white.  The flowing river, the unusual rock formations and the sheer size.  I was beginning to get it.

A little background:

Cappadocia – Anatolia for historians – is in the center of Turkey, east of Istanbul.  The area was created by volcanoes and then over the years the volcanic ash was worn down from water, ice and wind to create canyons and massive rock formations.  The early inhabitants of this brutal climate dug into the soft volcanic rock creating caves in the cliffs where they lived and cities underground for storage and protection.  As we drove through the valley I could see the “neighborhoods” of condo high rises.  The lower floors were reached by rope ladders (that could be pulled up when the enemy arrived – or if you just didn’t want the nosy neighbor popping by) and once up in the cave, stairs connected the various floors. Ingenious – and quite cool.

We drove around another bend and I could see a village above us built into the cliff.  Getting up the steep roads was a slow process but I had come to the conclusion that my driver did seem to know where he was going and and as soon as we crested the hill the meter hit 100YTL and he stopped in front of a small gate.

I walked through the gate and down a small stone pathway that lead to large door and lots of smiling faces.

Entrance to The Museum Hotel

Entrance to The Museum Hotel

“Merhaba, I am Patricia LaVigne.  Do you speak English?”
“Yes, my name is Christine and I am from Minnesota.”

Seriously?  In Cappadocia?  I couldn’t contain myself.

“How the hell did you end up here?”
“Love”, said Christina.
“He must be one hot guy.” said, shallow me.
“No, I fell in in love with Cappadocia.”
“Huh.”

Alp and Çem – the concierge team at The W – had recommended The Museum Hotel. Both stayed here and knew the owner, Omer.  The hotel is the vision of this man who grew up in the area and knew the caves.  He bought a large section of a cliff and started to create a series of rooms connected by the tunnels.  A huge amount of excavation had to be done but Omer’s goal was to keep as much original cave as possible.  Omer is also a museum curator and a huge collector of ancient artifacts, nomadic carpets, and items from Turkey’s colorful past.  So, the hotel now has 30 rooms – each very different and beautifully decorated.  I am in what is called the

Lazy Hunters Suite

Lazy Hunters Suite

Lazy Hunter Suite.  A family used to live in the irregularly shaped 18’ x 16’ central room.  The main wall that faces the valley has small arrow holes for the archers who protected the clan.  Shooting from hundreds of feet up through a 4” hole insured a lot of protection.

A large divan sweeps one end of the cave with a small arched window above that has been roughly hewn out of the ash stone. It provides a spectacular view of the valley hundreds of feet below.  The modern bathroom (jacuzzi tub, et al) sits in what used to be a storage room for the family.  Odd doors and steps are negotiated at every step.

Terraces on every level provide stunning views of the sunrise and the sunset as it works it’s way across the valley floor and the cliff walls.  Louie Armstrong sings across the valley from loud speakers as guests cocktail by an open fire, under millions of stars, and next to a beautifully tiled pool.

My room was actually not ready to move in, so “Minnesota Christine” offered to show me around.  Jaw dropping.  What a vision.  Museum Hotel is like no other.  Someone’s home, meets 5 star hotel, meets archaeological wonder, meets the Smithsonian, meets trendy hot spot.  (As a side note:  this place is soooooo cool that a certain US Sports Mag selected it this year for it’s issue of scantily clad swimsuit models.  Can you guess?)

Christine introduced me to a guy who looked like a perfect cross between a wealthy Italian and Indiana Jones.  Light grey flannel slacks, a very light blue oxford shirt covered by a tan, grey and black tweed blazer, a fedora and the bushiest mustache this side of Einstein.

My Host - Omer

My Host - Omer

“I am Omar.”
“Hello.  I am Patricia.  The W…”
“Yes, Patricia, I know who you are.  Let’s get you settled and then we will talk.”

I settled into the Lazy Hunters Cave and quickly cleaned up as I had some Type A types of things planned for that very afternoon.  Wine tasting, a cooking lesson, maybe a sunset balloon ride, a quick jaunt into town, etc.  Instead, Omar was waiting for me with tea  on the terrace.  The terrace juts out over the edge of the cliff making you feel like you are in the canyon.   As I stared at the stark, white, stunning landscape, Omar and I chatted about the usual subjects – where I was from, what I was doing in Istanbul, etc.  Within minutes he invited me to join him and some friends for dinner that evening.  And then within minutes of that, I was asked to lunch.  He promised to have me back in time for wine tasting.  Why not?

Omer announced to the staff we would be leaving for lunch and he escorted me to a swanky Jaguar parked on the hill.  Off we went driving through the hills and canyons of caves.  We passed the famous town of Goreme past Fairy Castles and a few bars named “Flintstones Cave”.  We continued to wind down the hill and at a particular intersection Omer honked his horn and a van pulled out to follow us.  Within minutes we were in another small village with dogs sleeping in the streets, old men drinking Chai Tea and playing backgammon in the cafes.

I met Josie (Dutch), her husband Phillip (British) and Jeanne (from Buffalo).  They were far too polite to ask how I popped up on the scene between breakfast and lunch.  Josie and Phillip have lived in Ankara for 22 years (Phillip is in the oil/gas business) and they recently purchased some caves and were building a terraced house a few hundred yards from The Museum Hotel.  Jeanne’s husband flew F-16’s for an American contractor in Turkey and they all met years ago and had remained friends across the years and the miles.

We went to a local hole in the wall pita place.  It’s typical fare for Turkey – hot pita bread with a variety of toppings – pastrami and egg, chicken, minced lamb, cheese.  It was delicious.  Served in small slices we tried a variety of options with a light green salad.  No alcohol here.  Most of these small cafes are Muslim.  The meal went just fine with a Coca Cola.

After lunch, Josie and Phillip were off to pick up some antique doors and somehow it became an afternoon of all of us antiquing with no wine tasting in sight.  Being a museum curator, it was wonderful to have Omer look at the various pieces with me.  We all scoured through the store asking questions as we went along.

“No, that’s a fake.  And a bad one.”
“Yes, true Ottoman period.  Nice work on the filigree.”
“This one is rare.  Look at the markings.”

We all left the store with small treasures  – for me, a bracelet from the mid 1800’s, spoons from the late 1800’s and a coffee box with unique Palace markings.  All Ottoman era.

We merged right into the evening cocktails and dinner.  It was lovely to meet fellow

Poolside for Cocktails

Poolside for Cocktails

world travelers and to hear recommendations for cities like Damascus, various places in Indonesia and even some small villages in Turkey.  Omer invited us back to his rooms in the hotel for a night cap.  He lives in The Sultan’s Room.  It lived up to its name.  Rich velvet drapes, a huge fireplace, a bathroom I would be happy to live in and a terrace with gorgeous hand painted tiles and a view of the valley.  A butler took care of all of us as we ordered after dinner drinks and settled into the pillows.  We had endless things to talk about but we finally bowed out around 2am.

The next morning we all met early for a 6 kilometer hike through White Valley.  Along the way we searched for mushrooms and amassed a rather large collection.  We ate grapes and quince growing wild along the path.  I had heard that Cappadocia was jokingly referred to as the land of the penises.  I was not quite sure where that came from until we reached the 5 kilometer mark and I had a huge laugh.  All the rock formations in a place called Love Valley are shaped like giant penises.  And

Love Valley

Love Valley

people made their homes in these tall cylindrical formations.  I could imagine conversations 2000 years ago:  “Stop by for coffee, I am in the penis on the left of the intersection.”  I did not have my camera that morning but I am awaiting the photos from Omer.  What a sight!

Late morning I met my guide Ali for a more detailed tour of the area and was amazed to hear that Cappadocia was primarily settled by Christians and were over 700 monasteries built in the caves.  The monasteries housed and fed those needing help.  In return, the needy worshipped and worked.  Beautiful frescoes, old altars, long serving tables remain in the cave churches.  Interesting stuff.

By the time I returned to the hotel I was wiped out.  Minnesota Christine is coincidentally the masseuse and she came over at the last minute to gave me a much needed massage.  After a hot bath and a little disco nap I was ready to start the evening.  Omer was waiting for me by the fire.  I was beginning to realize Omer was romancing me.   All the friends had departed for Ankara and it was just the two of us for dinner.  We dined on risotto made with the mushrooms we had picked that morning.

Omer is a fascinating man and easy to converse with on many subjects.  I assumed he was around 65 or 70 and his experiences seemed to confirm that assumption.  Omer was a generous host not allowing any of us to pay for food or wine and tonight’s dinner was no different.  Although there was a full staff at the restaurant his butler was at the ready to make sure he and I had anything we desired.  From our conversation, I understood that I was with a man of immense wealth who loves to travel, drink wine and enjoy friends.  He was a true old fashioned gentleman and I kept thinking “too bad he is so much older.”   When I learned he was 50, I almost choked.  50?  Could he be telling the truth?  Cappadocia must be a hard place to live.  Or maybe I was used to the Botoxed face of LA.

We were both quite tired and as Omer kissed my hand I thanked him for another lovely day and gratefully crawled into the sheets feeling a lovely breeze come up through the holes in the cave walls.

I woke at 6am the next day and caught the hot air balloons that take off every morning from the valley floor.  For an hour, dozens and dozens of colorful balloons

Hot Air Balloons Rising Over the Valley

Hot Air Balloons Rising Over the Valley

rise up and float just feet from the edge of the terrace.  You can say hello to the people in the baskets.

Omer joined me for breakfast and then gave me a room to room tour of the hotel.  One room has a gold fish pond in the living room, one has taps to the wine cellar and you can pour all you want (I plan to book that room next), another is decorated so lavishly I could not imagine anyone ever leaving the room.  It was called The Harem.  Of course.

At 11am, I went to check out and learned that I was considered Omer’s guest and there would be no charges.  Further, Omer had arranged a private driver to take me to the airport.  It was sweet that Omer had romance in his heart but alas, this was not a love connection for me but I hope a friendship will continue.  There are many of us who travel the world meeting people along the way – Omer is man who waits for the world to come to him and he takes great care of his guests and friends.

It was a wonderful weekend.  I am now back in Istanbul for my final week and find myself curiously at home.

Hope all of you are well…

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