WILMA Flintstone never had it this good. A power shower, wi-fi, flat screen TV, richly colourful rugs, soft-as-cloud pillows – my cave boasted all the mod-cons of the 21st century. I discovered my inner troglodyte in Turkey.
'The setting was ideal for the dervish ritual, three spinning white skirted men wheeling in unison in separate caves across a gully under an indigo sky heavy with stars'
We were staying in the ancient village of Urgup in Cappadocia, where the lunar landscape of Anatolia is the stuff of dreams: a honeycomb of pale volcanic rocks seemingly fashioned by bees on acid.
You will never see a land quite like it – beguiling fairy chimneys, towering phallic boulders, surreal shapes piercing the skyline with rocks balanced higgledy-piggledy at impossible angles, vast underground cities and hidden cavernous churches decorated with vibrant frescos.
And a cave hotel, the Yanak Evieri, carved into a mountain cliff and with a few dozen cave rooms dating back to the 5th and 6th century, was to be our home. That afternoon we visited a real cave dweller, one of the last few remaining families who have eschewed brick-built houses in favour of more primitive abodes.
Bahar proudly showed us around the home she shares with her husband and two sons, proudly pointing out the 150-year-old loom. ‘‘Cave dwelling is fine as long as you like bridge, knitting, crochet. And I’m always dusting and vacuuming,’’ she said.
She runs a souvenir shop and my two daughters-in-law were intrigued to hear their presents of mittens and slippers had been knitted by a cave woman.
Although I’m not swapping my suburban semi for a cave I envied Bahar’s views of Cappadocia’s landscape where millennia of erosion by wind, rain and river have weaved magic on volcanic ash and provided ideal conditions for producing fine wine.
Every day in this Land of the Beautiful Horses a clutch of riders sets off to explore the ridged valleys and, at dawn and dusk when the thermals are ideal, a host of hot-air balloons billows into the sky, drifting majestically over rock faces that change from subtle creams and yellows to bright oranges and reds.
Night brings its own enchantment: whirling dervishes. This is no tourist show but a deeply spiritual and moving ceremony. The setting was ideal for the ritual, three spinning white skirted men wheeling in unison in separate caves across a gully under an indigo sky heavy with stars.
I was doing the Turkey Trot by coach with Trafalgar, the world’s largest guided tour company that’s keen to up-date the image of escorted holidays. Out with the idea of timid tourists cocooned in a rattling charabanc as the landscape whizzes by. In with the concept of meeting the locals, experiencing real life, getting the inside track on culture, cuisine and caves. And all in comfort.
There’s always a knowledgeable guide on hand to inform, explain and propel you to the front of queues for must-see sights of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, St Sophia Church and the magnificent Topkapi Palace, plus a patient butler aboard the coach to dispense water, Turkish delight and a hand with the luggage.
Instead of being dragooned into a strict schedule vacationers can enjoy flop time by the pool, the hamam and spa. Shopaholics can soak up the aromas, atmosphere and bargains of the spice market – avoid the Saturday shoulder-to-shoulder crush if you can – and busy-busy Grand Bazaar selling everything from glittery gold jewellery and dainty glass lampshades to embroidered leather boots and quality carpets from an array of 4,000 shops. Yes, 4,000. Don’t expect to escape without buying one of those blue glass roundels designed to ward off the evil eye.
Flagging shoppers refuel with a Turkish coffee – ask for medium to sweeten the bitter grounds before tipping out the dregs to read your fortune. A tiny cup packs all the caffeine punch of a double espresso. Or try a shot of raki with water, the alcoholic aniseed tipple known as lion’s milk, which turns men into pussy cats after one too many. And for a sugar shock there’s gooey, honeyed baklava with pistachio nuts.
For the Australasian on our trip their most poignant highlight was a pilgrimage to Gallipoli, the site of brutal First World War battles. Next year (2015) will mark the 100th anniversary of the campaign that saw the slaughter of thousands of British and Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces as the Ottomans held their lines along the bloody beaches. A million men from 35 ethnic groups did battle. Half a million became casualties of war. The youngest was James Martin, 14, from Melbourne.
On a tranquil sun-filled day the ghosts of those felled in hand-to-hand trench warfare, and the Allies who died of their wounds, hunger and disease during the eight-month stalemate still haunt the peninsula. Our mood was sombre and reflective as we read the heart-breaking inscriptions on the carefully tended gravestones in Lone Pine cemetery: ‘In loving memory of my darling son’; ‘To our dear brother, sadly missed.’
Our Turkish guide, whose village was 100km away, told me: ‘My grandmother would say: ‘My brother went to Gallipoli and never came back’.” After a month there was no news, no letter, nothing. That’s where Kadir died.’’
He was among thousands of Turks who perished defending their land of whispering pines and olive groves. The words of Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, are carved into an imposing memorial overlooking a shimmering turquoise sea and greet pilgrims of all nations: ‘To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets. You mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.’
In lighter mood we thrilled at the chance to explore the 2,000 year old marble streets of Ephesus, where sleek cats catch their breakfasts among the columns of a theatre, gymnasium, library and even a brothel. The excavations reveal the site of the Temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The eighth unofficial one for me was my cave accommodation, although there are pitfalls in cave living. My room, accessed from my terrace through a low front door of troglodyte dimensions, had only one tiny window and, when the thickly woven curtain was drawn, I was plunged into pitch darkness. So when the eerie call for prayer wailed into the pale sunrise I couldn’t find my way out of my large double bed in my quest for bathroom.
Head hit the brass bedstead. Foot found handbag. Where was the light switch, the matches for candles? Mobile phone illumination saved more bruises, while a friend in an adjoining cave cut her shin falling down three steps on the same mission. Another reported a light dusting of grit in his bed.
Wilma and Fred would have coped better.
Gill Martin travelled to Turkey with Trafalgar (www.trafalgar.com, 0800 533 5616) and Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com). Trafalgar offer an 8 day Highlights of Turkey trip from £1,185 per person that includes return flights, 7 nights B&B accommodation, a Farewell Dinner in Istanbul, and five other dinners, a Be My Guest Lunch with locals in the village of Demircidere, VIP door to door private airport transfers, sightseeing and the services of a professional Travel Director throughout. There is also the option to add a seven day Aegean Cruise to this itinerary and prices for this 16 day trip start from £2,269 per person. For more information visit this link.
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