Suitcase and World: Ilhara Valley.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ilhara Valley.

Today, we're following the Green Tour which covers the Ihlara Valley, also known as the "Valley of the Sky and at least one of the underground cities - either Kaymaklı ("kai-mahk-luh") or Derinkuyu. Since I've already been to Kaymaklı, we'll be heading to Derinkuyu. On Erdoğan's advice, we'll also be visiting the monastery at Selime.

It was a cloudy and chilly morning and I layered up on the clothing.  As we entered the communal room for breakfast, we were greeted by a warm fire blazing in the wood burning stove.  It was a quick breakfast over which we went over our game plan for the day.

I sensed that Bro was much more comfortable about driving ourselves about versus going on a conducted tour.  I think the fact that we didn't run into any issues yesterday helped boost his confidence. That and the fact that as I told him, there aren't all that many roads in the region  - you really can't get lost.  But today, we are going a bit further afield.  According to Erdoğan, it will take us about an hour's drive to get to the Ilhara Valley.  I know Bro will attempt to navigate using the maps we've been giving but I am suspecting that they are pretty crude so to be safe, I will be enlisting the services of Ms. Google.

Immediately after breakfast, we set out.  We didn't get all that far though.  We  had probably driven 30 seconds before we happened upon a small group of veggie and fruit vendors.  Bro was about to drive off when I convinced him to stop.  I know he wanted to.  So he parked the car and we checked out the *goods*.  The persimmons called out to him.  He bit.  A few lira later and we had our dessert for lunch :-)

From Göreme, we drove towards the town of Nevşehir and then we turned south towards Derinkuyu.

Along the way, we stopped to get some gas.  Bro was determined to leave the tank as close to empty as he could when he returned it so we only added a few more liras worth.  Our car has been very gas efficient so far.

It wasn't long before we had left the fairy chimneys behind and found ourselves driving through farmland. 

We saw sheep.

And oddly enough, lots of pumpkins that appeared to have been harvested and left to rot.  It was very strange.

Sacks and sacks.  Potatoes perhaps?

We played chicken with a lone donkey who obviously did not know that he had to *drive* on the right hand side of the road.  He won.

I was following our drive with Ms. Google at the helm.  With her help, I *expertly* navigated us through the streets of Derinkuyu and onwards to Ihlara Valley.  When we neared where she indicated the entrance of the valley to be, we passed a sizable group of parked cars and people who were appearing to be heading down a path leading to a wooded area.  For a moment, we wondered if that's where we were suppose to be.  We decided to continue on per Ms. Google's destination pointer - we could easily turnaround if we had to.

But, Ms. Google has not failed us yet and today was no different.  Indeed, she got us entrance to the park.  Ilhara Valley does require an entry fee but since it's included in our museum pass, we got in just by scanning our cards.

Of course, they don't offer a map of the area so again, we were very clueless about where to go and what to see.  There were large posted signs which were only partially helpful.  We decided to just explore the area around the entrance, to start with.

The park entrance is actually located on a plateau high above the path that runs alongside the river.   We needed to get down to the path.

View of the valley from the lookout point near the park entrance.

A very long and winding stairway of wooden steps connected the park entrance area to the path and river below.  I always groan when I see dozens of steep steps.  Not hard going down but I always dread the climb back up.  I did well with the steps in Santorini so I took my first step along with a prayer that the same would be true here.

As we descended down the steps, what caught my eye were the chartreuse colored leaves of the trees - another reminding that autumn is gracing the region.  The further down we went, the more closed it all started to feel as the steep hillsides took over our peripheral views.

I'll admit it, I didn't know a thing about the Ilhara Valley until I got here.  I was expecting to just do a bit of hiking but as it turns out, there are quite a few cave churches here.  The first one we came across was right at the bottom of the stairs - Agacalti Kilise (Church under the Tree).  The church is also known as the Church of Daniel Pantonassa.

This church is quite different from the other churches of the Byzantine world of the 10th and 11th century Cappadocia, with its use of red, green and yellow colors, the subjects of its paintings and its decoration of flowers, rosettes and checkerboard patterns.  Luckily, there was just enough light inside for me to take a few photos of the frescoes on one of the walls and on the dome.

The Melendiz River runs through the valley floor.  We're basically in a canyon.  It's pretty here.  I can see that this would be a popular place for locals to come and enjoy a bit of nature.  All along the path are benches for sitting and resting a bit or just taking in the view.

After visiting the church, we had to decide where to go next.  Luckily, there was a large posted board just near the bottom of the stairs.  Hmm....where to go.  Well, we settled on another church, this one located on the other side of the river.  Just as we were about to head off, we crossed paths with a European couple.  They looked like the hearty hiking sort.  We decided to engage them in a bit of conversation.  Turns out they had hiked their way in from where we had spotted the cars and people as we drove towards the entrance.  They not only offered us some useful suggestions for what to see but they also have a very useful map that apparently they got from their hotel where they're staying.  I quickly snapped a photo of the churches located near the stairs.  You can only see so many churches before they all start to blur and with cave churches, you'll probably even want to see fewer since there's not a whole lot to them but frescoes.  I figured two or three out of the entire lot would be enough for us.  We asked them which was the nicest one they encountered and sure enough, they had one in mind.  Hopefully, it is nice.

We didn't want to take up too much of their time so we soon bid them farewell.  We decided to continue with our original plan to see one of the churches on the other side of the river.

It gave us the excuse to cross over on the bridge.

According to the Europeans, the most beautiful of the churches is Yilanli Kilise (The Serpent Church) and so that's where we went.

We hiked up a small hillside to get to the entrance of the church.  Inside, the cave had been carved into a long room with a low ceiling.  Supposedly, the church is named for the the fresco of St. Theodore and St. George slaying a dragon or snake as depicted in the fresco.  Every inch of wall and ceiling space was painted but unfortunately, it was much too dark for me to take photos except for one spot near the entrance.  There were a few other tourists in the church as well so we all had to take turns to take photos.  Even with the light, the photos are a bit blurry.  Nonetheless, you can get a sense of the beautiful interior that the Europeans had been telling us about.

Bro tried to help by shining his flashlight which worked except it created a single, glaringly bright spot on the photo.

After we left the church, we continued to walk further following the direction of the river. It was an easy walk and I wished it had been a nicer day.  A bit warmer would have been good.

 Somewhere along the way, we lost the path.  Either that or Bro was taking one of his *difficult* but short, routes.  Arghh.....

The moment I felt that drop of rain hit my face, I started to get concerned that we would get caught in a downpour with no place to shelter least I couldn't spot any shelter.  When it looked like one drop would turn into many more, I started to urge Bro to turn around but he can be stubborn.  He wanted to continue on and so I let him....for a bit.  Eventually, I put my foot down and we turned back.

We crossed back over the bridge and continued our walk away from the entrance.  The drizzle of rain had long fizzled out.  For some reason, I really wasn't in the mood for a hike but I had no more excuses for Bro to call it quits. :-(

Our peace and tranquility was interrupted by the sounds of a large group of people chatting and laughing.  We had to stand aside to let them pass or else be run over.  Where were they headed?  My guess was that they were obviously a tour group and they were on their way to the teahouse for a break.  We had seen many a sign pointing a way to the teahouse.  For a moment, we decided whether or not to do the same but when we considered the size of the group, we opted out as it would be a crowded and noisy place for a break.  Instead, we chose a bench.

We were here for barely and hour and I don't know that we really got much out of our visit to Ihlara Valley though it was a nice walk in the woods.  Our next destination is Selime Monastary.  I've never heard of the place and I am definitely curious to find out what it's all about!