Generally speaking, my trip to Turkey was full of surprises, like a non-stop long roller coaster ride for the whole week. I expected it would be the one of the most relaxing holiday moments to escape daily routines. But somehow, it happened otherwise. I still believe I could reduce or avoid the surprises, couldn’t I? Well, behind all the incidents or surprises during the trip: was I careless or clueless?
1. Almost locked up abroad for entering without visa: careless
Was I bullied at the immigration office in Alanya Airport regarding the visa? I checked the Turkish Embassy website and damn, they were right! The regulation has changed, so it’s true that Indonesian passport holders need a visa to visit the country. No matter if you just went there 1, 2 years or even 6 months ago, and which passport have, always verify bureaucracy regulations before visiting a place outside your own country. Everybody knows, but sometimes underestimates this issue.
2. Leaking shower hose in the hotel bathroom: clueless
Who knows whether you get a room with dirty bed sheets, broken remote control or leaking shower hose? Just be critical, report immediately to the hotel officials. If the complaint is too unbearable, get a replacement room when available if you want. It’s your right to get a decent and comfortable room – you paid for it, didn’t you? I visited the country 6 years ago, websites and online bookings were not as developed as today. Nowadays, it’s very easy (and advisable) to check testimonials from visitors who previously stayed in the place you’re going to stay before making a decision.
1. Local excursion didn’t fulfill some of their promises: clueless (with hints of careless)
“The tour includes the famous underground city and rock churches.” Yep, that’s what they said. They took us to the underground city, but not the most visited one. They took us to the famous area of rock churches in Göreme, but actually they only stopped right in front of the entrance gate and the entrance fee was not included in the package.
Having a preliminary research about your future destination will be helpful, either online (internet cafe, mobile internet – your choice) or go to Tourist Info if you prefer talking to the officials. Well, perhaps asking tourist info officials in Alanya about Cappadocia is not the best choice. But at least you know something and you can take the national tourism board brochures showing destinations in other regions when available.Therefore, you can take notes or keep in mind some names of the most visited places.
But in my case, it was completely a sudden decision! Yet I should have gone to Tourist Info or internet cafe first. I didn’t have to decide right away. Or just let the rest be adventure and suck it all!
Regardless, each city or country has its own way of doing things. Before taking an excursion from a local tour company in a city you’re not familiar with, make sure you ask more details about the tour packages they offer. Elaborate more questions such as, “Which underground city?”, “What’s the name of the castle?, “Is the entrance fee included?” and so on. It might sound you’re too critical or suspicious. However, some destinations could be once in a lifetime for you. Unless you have much time, choose only the most popular and recommended sites that suits you.
Too much information results in lack of adventure, but too little results in ineffective time management. Nonetheless, getting lost and meeting unpredictable things are part of the art of traveling. Otherwise, what’s the fun? Where’s the adventure? What will you tell your peers about your trip? “Nothing much and as planned”? Even sometimes you meet unexpected things from a 9 to 5 job, don’t you?
2. Leaving a luggage in the baggage after getting off the minibus: careless
Just check your things to ensure nothing left behind before leaving the minibus, as simple as that!
Well, probably some of you have had the same experience before and to be honest, I didn’t present any new traveling advice. I’m just learning from my mistakes -my introspection-, share them to you all, and hopefully they will be useful for everyone. Have a great trip!
Merely based on positive commentaries I’ve heard somewhere, I spontaneously decided to take a three-day-excursion to Cappadocia departing from Alanya. My traveling companion agreed. Finally, it was a deal: 40 euros, including return transportation from Alanya to Cappadocia, 2 nights in a 3 star hotel, English-speaking guide and entrances to the main tourist attractions. Before bargaining, the local tour was 50 euros. So we thought it was a good deal.
There were 14 people in the minibus, including the tour guide, that took us to Cappadocia, situated in central Anatolian region, about 7 to 8 hours from Alanya. We got 3 beds in the hotel room for the two of us and no leaking shower hose. Lovely! A good start for a great excursion?
LIKE NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH
The wonder of nature in Cappadocia commenced with frequent eruptions of major volcanoes that were active until 2 million years ago, including Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz to name a few. Volcano ash deposits, lava and basalt were the foundation of peculiar shape of rocks in the entire region. Subsequent weathering, climate change, rain, wind caused the erosion that formed the rocks into so-called “fairy chimneys”. Fairy chimneys are actually fine grained stratified ash that are relatively soft and easy to be carved.
The changing reign of power from different civilizations from time to time has contributed rich culture and history of Cappadocia, starting from the Assyrian, Hittite, Persian, Alexander the Great, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk to Ottoman Empire. The most significant historical background attracting millions of visitors every year is when the early Christians built monasteries, churches, chapels inside the rocks or carved fairy chimneys, residential areas in caves so-called underground cities to protect themselves from the Romans until Emperor Constantine liberated Christians in 313 AD.
Towns and villages in Cappadocia were like nowhere else on earth. Being inside one of the village rock houses was a unique experience for anyone living in modern houses. Long chairs covered with traditional fabrics accommodating about 20 people in the living room and a small souvenir stall outside the owners’ door depicted the awareness of foreigners’ presence in their house. I believe they keep it tidy everyday to welcome tourists, thus it has commercial purpose behind it. And so what? It’s a win-win situation. Many visitors are curious to see local people’s traditional houses and the locals are willing to spend more time and energy to receive them. It’s a fair game, isn’t it? Still, it’s still more original than a cave hotel room interior.
Witnessing the fairy chimneys in different shapes, sizes, heights and climbing the stairs to enter ancient people’s residences inside the chimneys were unforgettable.
Paşa Bağlari, literally means Pasha’s vineyard, is one of the most visited small towns in Cappadocia. It is famous for its multi-headed chimneys that look like mushrooms. The small town got its name from someone named Pasha who owned a vineyard in the neighbourhood of the fairy chimneys. The vineyard still exists until today. I held the green ripe grapes hanging in one of the trees. I wish I could pick them, that reminds me of those at Alberth Heijn supermarket in Holland…slurp!!
Nobody knows the real name of the church above in Göreme town. Yusuf Koç is actually the name of the owner of a vineyard since it is situated at his place. Its architecture is dated from the 11th century.
I was so much less informed than I thought after checking my one and only souvenir from Cappadocia: a book about Cappadocia itself. Coming to Cappadocia was a spontaneous decision. We decided to go there only based on good commentaries I heard elsewhere without doing further research. I kept wondering why the underground city I saw was not as big as that in the book?
In fact, there are about 36 underground cities found in the region (I thought there’s only one!). This amount may increase if there are new discoveries in the future. The biggest one is Derinkuyu in Nevşehir province. Others are Mazi Köyü, Özkonak, and Kaymakli underground city. The local tour marketing department didn’t lie that they took us to the famous underground city, they just didn’t tell which one. After the trip, I realized that the excursion took us to Yeralti Sehri underground city instead of Derinkuyu. Regardless, visiting this place was an awakening experience for us in modern world. Subway station is not an advanced technology, after all!
In the beginning, underground cities were build to protect its inhabitants from wild animals and cold winter. Then, the Christians used them as hiding places from the Arab troops to spread their religion secretly. Considered as the ninth wonder of the world, underground cities were real cities. There were kitchens, bedrooms, storerooms, dining rooms, wine cellars, churches, missionary schools, conference rooms and graves. A big underground city has between 70 to 85 meters depth and 4 kilometers length. Yet, the one I visited wasn’t that big.
Just a lucky guess, I’m pretty sure there was some kind of fixed arrangement between the excursion company and the local people living around Yeralti Sehri. Moreover, I didn’t see any ticket booth at all. The entrance should be free of charge?
MAGNIFICENT CAVE CHURCHES
At first, the arrival to Göreme Open Air Museum was quite unpleasant. As soon as our minibus stopped in front of the magnificent World Heritage City since 1985, the tour guide mentioned that it was the last destination and the tour had actually finished without entering the site.
We were stunned by the announcement. The company promised to take us to the main tourist attractions and Göreme was a major site to visit. I felt the air of disappointment in each tour member. We felt cheated by the ad, but what’s the point of looking the huge complex from the outside? Finally, all of us decided to enter the open air museum on our own expenses. The tour guide didn’t join us, I believe the company wouldn’t reimburse the entrance fee to do so. He gave us allowance of 2 hours to visit the site. It wasn’t that long for a huge place, but better than no allowance at all.
Göreme means “you cannot see from here”, as the Christians used and built churches inside the carved rocks as shelters from the Arab troops. In 726 AD during Iconoclastic period (deliberate destruction of religious icons, monuments and other symbols), the Byzantine Emperor Leon III forbid religious drawings, closed churches, monasteries and destroyed numerous icons until Empress Theodora ended the period in 843 AD. The church in Göreme were created from 10th until 13th century. The frescoes inside were from post-iconoclastic period with typical Byzantine style.
The main churches in Göreme are St. Basil Church (Basil Kilise), Apple Church (Elmali Kilise), St. Barbara Chapel (Azize Barbara Kilisesi), Snake Church, Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise), St. Catherine Chapel, Sandal Church (Çarikli Kilise), and Buckle Church (Tokali Kilise).
I noticed something particular about churches in Cappadocia: their names are not always based on a saint’s name like any Catholic and Orthodox churches. For instance, Apple Church got its name from one of the frescoes depicting the round shape in Jesus’ hand that resembles an apple. Dark Church got its name simply because it literally has lack of light inside. As a result, the frescoes don’t fade out easily. Moreover, before it was opened to public, it took 14 years to clean the pigeon droppings on the wall. Underneath the droppings, the frescoes were in a very good condition. The droppings played an important roll as well: to preserve the beauty of the 13th century church.
St. Barbara Chapel reveals its own characteristic. Built in 11th century, the frescoes painted with red ochre depict mythological animals, geometrical patterns and various symbols besides the saints.
The journey might not always be perfect, but meeting nice companions during the trip could comfort us. The Parisian couple we met were very friendly, Nicolas, a palaeolithicum specialist, and his girlfriend, a high school history teacher. There was something in common that connected us: we love history! Their extensive knowledge could make them excellent tour guides. If they knew more about the rock churches, I bet they could alternate the existing local guide! They gave me their business card, but unfortunately my wallet (where I kept the card) was stolen in Amsterdam!!
The day after, the minibus took us back to our hotel in Alanya. About an hour later, I realized there was something left: the luggage in the baggage! I called the local excursion’s main office and finally they would return our luggage to our place. Thank God!!! There was an extra charge applied, but never mind. I guess we started getting used to with unexpected things in Turkey.
I started to realize what Turkey is all about, apart from the unexpected. Islamic atmosphere in Istanbul, coastal Greek atmosphere in Alanya, and the atmosphere in Cappadocia? Like nowhere else on earth. Perhaps I’ve jumped into the conclusion too soon. Nevertheless, I believe none of the places I’ve visited in Turkey is alike. In a nutshell, I never regret my sudden decision to visit Cappadocia. I’ve proved all the positive commentaries about the region!
What’s next? I’m thinking of visiting other unique cities and regions within Turkey. Any advice?
Time flies… it’s been over 6 years ago since the last time I went to Alanya and Cappadocia, Turkey. My seven day trip to Turkey was probably the most roller coaster journey ever – distinctively memorable for the unexpected experiences, sometimes unpleasant, that took me to the next level of learning by traveling. Regardless, combination of breathtaking nature and fascinating history has made them top destinations you should not miss before you die.
PAY THE FINE OR LOCKED UP ABROAD
Arriving at Antalya Airport in the morning from Amsterdam, an immigration officer suddenly lead us to a smaller room that no other passengers came except us. My schoolmate and I sat there and looked each other, not knowing what was going on. Shortly after that, a dark blue uniformed lady came to us.
“You have no visa.” said the lady, starting a conversation. We were genuinely shocked. Indonesian passport holders need a visa to Turkey?? It had been part of the regulations that Indonesia passport holders doesn’t need a visa to go to Turkey as the moslem country solidarity agreement.
I was scared, confused and angry at the same time. I insisted, “Two years ago, I came to Istanbul and visa was not required. You can check the stamp in my passport.” Coincidentally, I traveled to Istanbul using the same passport number. She checked and found the stamp in my passport marking my arrival in Istanbul.
She replied, “Yes, I see. But now you need a visa to Turkey.” I still believed that she bullied us with visa as a pretext to get some extra income, aka a tool to get some bribery from foreign visitors. I just couldn’t accept it, but didn’t know how to solve it.
She added, “The flight from Amsterdam to Antalya only comes once a week. You have 2 choices, either pay the fine or stay in jail until the plane comes.”
Arguing about the visa thing would be a never ending story. We finally agreed to pay 100 euro fine each to end the nightmare. After that, the immigration officer stamped our passport with the biggest purple stamp we’ve ever seen, of which the size was almost as big as a regular visa sticker. 100 euro fine was nothing compared to joining the fellow convicts in jail. Leaving the airport, I was still wondering whether the visa issue was part of bribery tricks or purely a regulation change. I would find out after returning to Amsterdam.
Before Gazipaşa Airport functioned as an international airport in 2011, all international flights to Alanya could only land in Antalya Airport. From Antalya Airport, it took 2 hours to Alanya by bus. Alanya is situated in the eastern part of Antalya Province, the Mediterranean region of Turkey, 115 km from Antalya city.
Being in Alanya felt like being in Greece, rather than Turkey. Alanya is not Istanbul where grand mosques are the main tourist attractions. Somehow I forgot I was in a moslem country since caves, beaches and a fortress are more popular sites than mosques. The city has been a popular destination and (second) home of many European people due to its mild climate and picturesque view of the beach. Real estate business flourishes in Alanya thanks to them (if economy crisis doesn’t count). Needless to say, real estate in Turkey costs much less than that in Europe, especially in western Europe. Villa and apartment agencies claim in their pamphlets that their marketing team speak other European languages besides English. “Wir sprechen deutch”, “We spreken nederlands”, “Nous parlons français” were written in front of their office.
The most dominating landmark of the beach city is Seljuk Fortress (also known as Alanya Castle), stretching 6.5 km including 140 towers, situated 250 metres above sea level. It was built in 13th century under the remains of Roman and Byzantine fortress after the conquest of Seljuk Sultan Alaaddin Keykubat in Alanya.
The fortress viewed from the Byzantine Church
BYZANTINE CHURCH INSIDE SELJUK FORTRESS
Remains of Byzantine Church signifies the Christian era before the conquest of Sultan Alaaddin Keykubat. The frescoes once covered the dome and the wall are damaged, you only can see a slight trace of them nowadays. The old church was renovated in 1873.
The Red Tower or Kizil Kule was named after the red bricks used to build the tower of which is 33 metres high. Sultan Alaaddin Keykubat completed the tower construction in 1226 to protect the Tersane or shipyard from the enemies. It is also one of the most important Sultan Alaaddin’s legacy depicting his power besides the fortress.
MARINE LANDSCAPE: SELJUK SHIPYARD AND THE BEACH
Damlataş Cave is famous for its capability to heal asthma because its high rate of carbon dioxide, which is 8-10 times higher than normal and high rate of humidity. The site was accidentally found during the harbour construction while opening a stone quarry by a dynamite explosion. The beauty inside the cave drove the people to shift the explosion to a different location.
A SHOESTRING BUDGET TRAVEL
The holiday offer we took to Alanya was a very good deal. It costed 250 euro all-inclusive: free breakfast, lunch and dinner in the hotel, 7 nights stay in a 3 stat hotel (for us, 3 star hotel was already good), a return flight ticket Amsterdam – Alanya, and a return shuttle bus from Antalya Airport to Alanya. The food was fair enough for saving our budget, especially after paying an unexpected 100 euro fine! But of course, eating the same kind of meal for 7 days in a row was killing us, too! We didn’t really do that, actually. The local food outside was much better, indeed, as long as they were hygienic. The hotel location was strategic since it was close to public transports and a local supermarket.
The only drawback we had – apart from forgetting the hotel name – the shower flexible hose leaked while we were out. When we returned to our room at 10 PM, our bathroom floor was full of water and the water almost reached the entrance door!!
IT’S JUST THE BEGINNING!
We accidentally found a row of local travel agents on street offering a package to other cities and regions outside Alanya. Seven nights in Alanya was enough to optimize our time in Turkey by exploring another city within the country. Nearly locked up abroad and flood in a hotel bathroom were just the beginning of the adventure. Regarding the visa issue, were we actually bullied or just careless? “Careless and Clueless Journey” will be continued – in Cappadocia!