Turkish delights

Zarifah Naqibah

It was love at first sight. First when I set my eyes on my then fiancé and now husband, and when we landed in Cappadocia, the land of beautiful horses in Turkey for our honeymoon.

Visiting Cappadocia had always been one of my dream destinations and visiting it with my husband by my side made it extra special.

As Brunei does not have a direct flight to Turkey, we had to transit through Singapore.

As we were checking in at Changi Airport’s ticketing counter, the staff said she was not able to find our tickets in their system. We were shocked and I began to wonder what caused this recklessness. We showed her all the documents, but to no avail.

On a positive note, the staff asked us to wait, as she tried to fix the problem.

We waited for hours and we almost gave up waiting. Glancing at my watch, I saw that it would be 10 minutes more to the gate closing time.

Finally, the airport staff called our names and we rushed to the counter. She managed to check us in, and we were good to go.

Boarding time was almost up, so we ran to the gate as if we were on a marathon.

ARRIVAL

The flight to Istanbul, the capital city of Turkey was long and exhausting, but the images of the mystic land kept my weary mind excited. After a nearly 12-hour flight from Brunei, we arrived at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Today, the airport no longer serves commercial flights, as it is now handled at the newly-built Istanbul Airport.

From here, we had a brief domestic flight to the city of Kayseri, where it is generally visited en route to the international tourist attractions of Cappadocia.

CAPPADOCIA, THE LAND OF BEAUTIFUL HORSES

Looking through the window as the airplane touched down, I could barely contain my excitement. It was a fairy-tale come true. Back in the day, I used to watch a Malaysian series – Manisnya Cinta di Cappadocia – and I was in a total awe with the filming locations.

Cappadocia is generally regarded as the plains and the mountainous region of eastern central Anatolia, the westernmost protrusion of Asia, which makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey, around the upper and middle reaches of the river Kizilirmak (Red River).

It was here that several ancient highways crossed and different cultures came into contact with each other. The history of this otherworldly place began in prehistoric times and can be traced back to some 50 million years ago where craters and chimneys dominated the place.

Cappadocia was also the land of the Hittites, ancient people of the Hatti civilisation, who ruled the place in 2000-2500 BC. The name ‘Cappadocia’ is derived from the word ‘Katpatuka’ in the ancient Hittite language, which meant ‘land of beautiful horses’.

The region is closely connected to the equine, with historic finds describing in imagery how its people tendered their horses and formed the bedrock of its international reputation.

Horse breeders were held in high regard and equally sought after by emperors and kings for their equine stock. As their cult following grew, the horses were used as gifts or ‘money’ to meet tax debts, such were their worth.

Horses have formed the backbone of the Cappadocian economy throughout its history and the ebb and flow of empires from the Persians who used them as currency to the Romans who exported them back for chariot racing.

Why they came to be a lasting image of Cappadocia has been lost, as time goes by.

GOREME

We settled in a town called Goreme, which has a population of only 2,000, lodging at the unique Goreme Inn Hotel, which is made of very old and historical stones. It also has a special place as one of my favourite hotels.

The hotel is in the centre of Goreme. Its interior is elegantly decorated. From its white stone walls, laid with wooden doors, to its beautiful Mediterranean spiral stairs leading us into a rooftop terrace, offering a magnificent view of Goreme town, the Goreme Inn Hotel left us with nothing but sweet memories.

GOREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM

In this magical place, we were captivated with the collections of gorges and valleys, rocks and hills surrounding it, and some of the rock chimneys even became part of the Goreme – which fits the tradition of making homes by carving them out of the tufa (limestone) rocks.

The town itself is an open-air museum, where its beauty is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With numerous churches carved into the hills and rocks, it makes for a fascinating exploration. Monks dwelt in these caves adapted to the monastery life.

We explored medieval cave churches and even chapels, where despite heavy erosion and destruction from earthquakes (and humans), some frescoes could be seen.

We also visited the Devrent (Imagination), Love, Pigeon valleys, and the rock chimneys of Zemi Valley as well as the Uchisar Castle – the highest point in Cappadocia.

Exploring the valleys, taking in the magnificent scenery and panoramic view, uniqueness and diversity of the landscape were what my husband and I loved most in Cappadocia. It was a fun adventure, and all the while, my husband who loves geography, kept on lecturing me about the unusual rock formations and so on. He, who was not so keen on going Cappadocia in the first place, was amazed at what he discovered, explored and experience in this dreamy land.

HOT AIR BALLOON

It was a very early morning for us on the day we were scheduled for the one-of-its-kind hot air balloons in Cappadocia. We had to be ready by 3-4am, for pick-up. We were served a buffet breakfast and then attended a short briefing on safety, as ballooning can be a hazardous activity. Nevertheless, I was still eager to experience it.

We met people of different cultures during this activity while we were grouped in a maximum of 16 people. As we arrived at a departure point, hundreds of air balloons were already being pumped with hot air.

On that day, I happened to wear a white dress, which was not a wise decision as I had to climb over a huge wicker basket. Thankfully, the attendant brought me a short ladder so it was easy for me to climb into the basket. If there is a next time, I will make sure that I wear pants instead.

As the hot air balloon soared hundreds of metres high, skimming the top of mountain-high rocks, my husband and I were already geared up with our phone and GoPro cameras, making sure we recorded our most memorable and once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Experiencing the hot air balloon in Cappadocia was the main highlight of our honeymoon trip.

Its surreal landscape emerged in the amber glow of the first sun rays, with hundreds of hot air balloons crowding the skies. It was truly a worthwhile experience to be shared with the most important person in my life.

AVANOS

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when my husband and I made time for a high-tea at an outdoor cafe with a nice view of the longest river in Turkey – the Red River, where we occasionally spotted a raft of ducks swimming.

The cafe is located at the town of Avanos, about eight kilometres from Goreme.

Also known as Vennessa in ancient times, Avanos is set on the banks of the Red River, offering a lively centre with all the usual amenities from clothing to fruits and vegetables.

It was also where we bought our first Turkish sim-cards for our phones, so we could get hold of our families in Brunei in real

time, instead of waiting to get back to the hotel for Internet connectivity.

The small town is also famous with potteries and ceramics. We thought they made wonderful souvenirs so we came across the Kapadokya Seramik shop, where we met its friendly owner, Saban.

He explained to us the process of making ceramics and we also saw a delicate ceramic painting process by his staff. It was educational for both of us and my husband even took part in a pottery-making demonstration which he enjoyed very much.

UNDERGROUND CITY OF OZKONAK

About 14 metres from Avanos is the underground city of Ozkonak. There are many underground cities built by ancient inhabitants in Cappadocia to protect them from enemies.

These underground cities allowed thousands of people lived their lives in total secrecy.

We had to duck as the entrance to the underground city of Ozkonak is small. I felt quite fearful, yet fascinated by the fact that there was a city below the surface of the Earth, inhabited by thousands of people, with areas specifically for livestock.

It was much more fascinating when we neither felt hot nor warm, in these underground areas. The underground city of Ozkonak has many strata made up of volcanic granite, providing a naturally cool environment in summer and a cosy place in winter.

Its larger areas are connected to each other by tunnels, and it contains a pipe communication system reaching each of its levels. Each carved room had ventilation provided by further piping when the city was sealed during sieges.

The underground city was discovered in 1972 by a local farmer named Latif Acar, who was curious about where his excess crop water was disappearing to. Latif discovered an underground room which, when later excavated, revealed a whole city which could house up to 60,000 people. The complex contains 10 floors, to a depth of 40m.

As we walked through the tunnels, we saw stone-disc doors used to seal the inhabitants in and keep the outside world out. All they had to do during sieges was to roll it across the tunnel.

We managed to walk from first until third levels as the entrance to the next level was getting smaller. I am not claustrophobic, but knowing I was at three-storeys down underground was more than enough to make me bit uneasy. Nonetheless, it was an enlightening experience for us.

The pace of life in Cappadocia is quite slow and very relaxing. After four days in this ethereal world, we were ready for the next destination – Istanbul. This spectacular old city is worth another write-up.

In spite of a few obstacles during the departure, my husband and I couldn’t be more grateful to Allah the Almighty, as our journey went smoothly until we arrived back in Brunei.

It has been two years since our honeymoon, and today marks our second anniversary as husband and wife.

One fine day, I found my husband scrolling down his phone’s photo gallery, browsing our honeymoon photos in Cappadocia.

We found ourselves feeling rather nostalgic. I caught my husband looking at me with hopeful eyes. While giving him the sweetest smile, I finally said, “I told you so.”

The magical land of beautiful horses will keep beckoning tourists from all over the world. And I am sure we will be among them.