Day 23: Istanbul to Goreme (Cappadocia)

Posted: August 10, 2014 in Cappadocia, Getting Around, Istanbul
Tags: , , , , ,

We rose bright and early at 5:30am to be down on the street to meet our driver at 6:15am… He was there right on time (a bit early even) and we piled our stuff into his van and headed for Sohiba airport (about 60km away). Because traffic can be a nightmare in Istanbul (one blogger reported taking 4 hrs to get from Sohiba to Taksim Square) we left ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport ahead of our 8:40 am departure.

Traffic was light so we got there around 7am. It’s a good thing we left early. When you get to the airport, you go through security right at the entrance (your luggage and everything goes through the scanner and you walk through the metal detector) so there’s a lineup (it moves pretty quickly). Then once you’re in, there’s a huge lineup for the Pegasus check-in. They have electronic check-in kiosks but once you’re checked in, if you have baggage you want to check you need to stand in the same lineup as everyone else. They have no Pegasus employees floating around or directing people to tell you this (I eventually found a supervisor and was able to ask him). At first the lineup was moving pretty quickly but then the chaos started. They kept pulling people out of the line (presumably for flights that were boarding) which moved the line forward but created huge backlogs at the actual check-in counters. And the people left in the line started yelling at the Pegasus staffers (one guy spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy explaining, we assume because it was all in Turkish, how to improve the system to a guy who was probably making minimum wage). The staffers yelled back. One poor woman who was hauling two large pieces of luggage and two young kids held it together admirably for about 40 minutes – until one of the Pegasus staffers chewed her out because her three year old tried to check himself in as baggage and was walking the conveyor belt… She lost it. He lost it. It wasn’t pretty. So a supervisor pulled her out of the queue to help… She was still standing in line at the supervisor’s wicket after we had checked-in. In all, it took us about an hour to drop off our three pieces of checked baggage (we’d already checked in electronically). The system would have worked a lot more smoothly if they’d had staffers floating to talk to people before they get in the lineup (ie. the people who checked in electronically but had no luggage to check who stood in line anyways) and if they had a baggage drop for those people who just need to drop luggage…

It was now just before 8am and our flight was scheduled to start boarding at 8:10am but we still needed to clear security. They had two sections – one for international flights and one for domestic and both had quite huge lineups. We entered the line for domestic security expecting to be there for a while but they opened up another security station and we made it through quite quickly – although the extensiveness of the security check was a bit questionable as Marie packed a full 500ml bottle of water through in her pack and I’m not sure the staff were even looking at the monitors… Although they did catch the guy whose belt set off the metal detector so that’s a good thing I guess. In any case, we made it through security and found our way to the boarding gate around 8:10 and waited for the buses to show up to take us to the plane. They started boarding quite late but this part of the process was pretty smooth… Being used to the more stringent security procedures in North American airports we were a little surprised that no one checked out passports (or any other ID) at any point during the entire process. Hopefully they’re more stringent with their international flights.

We took off a few minutes late (after the somewhat worrisome announcement from the cabin staff that the flight was bound for Kayseri and could people please check they were on the right plane…) and the flight was pretty routine. We’d paid in advance for a package that guaranteed seat selection and also provided a sandwich and drink on the flight (otherwise you get nothing… they must have studied the Air Canada domestic flight model). Our chicken sandwiches were “interesting” but appreciated given we had not had time to grab anything to eat at the airport as we’d planned due to the lengthy check-in process. Marie and I choked down a few bites of our sandwich (way too much mayonnaise for me and Marie just couldn’t stomach the chicken and peppers first thing in the morning… Caitlin managed to chow down on her whole sandwich by washing every bite down with a drink of cherry juice (we also got a full bottle of juice – a major bonus on domestic flights anywhere!) It was a pretty good value pack – for 8 lira you got a guaranteed seat, a sandwich and a drink… We felt bad though because we were those passengers (you know – the ones who get something to eat and drink before everyone else).

As we were part way through our sandwiches, the plane started its descent… I’m not an expert on air travel but this descent seemed awfully steep (as in about a 45° degree descent)… I sort of expected the oxygen masks to pop down. With a couple of little pockets of turbulence as we descended, we even got a couple of roller coaster style stomach lurches (Marie was not amused) but the cabin crew seemed unconcerned so it must have been normal for this flight. We landed without incident, picked up our luggage (eventually) and headed out to meet our shuttle bus (we’d booked on through our hotel) for the drive to Goreme (about an hour away). We loaded with about a dozen other passengers (including a young Asian couple who left their pack on the seat beside them despite the bus filling up pretty quickly… until another Asian traveller (not traveling with them) got on the bus and then they quickly moved their pack so she could sit… We were also joined by a young Turkish couple who quite literally talked non-stop for the entire hour… Leading me to this conclusion about people in general: in any public setting you will have people (like us) who talk in whispers and who essentially keep a private space within the public space and there’s another group of people who treat the public space as there own and carry on conversations at full volume, etc. as if there were no other people around… This couple were the latter type of people… They jabbered away and laughed and yelled as if they were the only two people on the bus. I slept on and off for a lot of the trip which is probably what saved their lives…

Eventually we arrived in Goreme and started the milk run of drop-offs at the various hotels (glad we didn’t try to find our place on our own – we’d have needed a GPS unit at least). We piled out of the van and headed into the reception area of our hotel. There was no one there so we headed up to the restaurant where Hassan – one of the young staffers at the hotel immediately greeted us, explained that our room wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of hours (it was only 11am after all so we weren’t expecting our room to be ready) and showed us some things to do and places to go while we waited.

So we changed into some lighter clothes and headed out to find something to eat. We stopped at one of the usual touristy restaurants offering a variety of Turkish and Turkish-style dishes and ate and drank our fill… Then headed for the Goreme Open Air Museum – a UNESCO World Heritage site… To say that it was hot would be an understatement of colossal proportions…. But that didn’t stop us from making the 1km or so trek to the museum (made longer by a couple of wrong turns)…. Once at the museum we joined the usual tour groups and started exploring the site. Basically it’s the remains of a small Christian community who made their homes and their churches and monasteries and nunneries in the fairy chimneys and rocks… It’s pretty cool. You have mini-cathedrals carved out of the rock and living spaces and kitchens, etc. all carved out of the rock with tunnels connecting the various spaces. There’s lots of places they won’t let you go and you can’t take pictures in any of the churches but overall it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours… At one point we stopped to play with an adorable 7 month old German Shepherd puppy (it was a good thing his owner was there or Marie and Caitlin would literally have stolen him and snuck him home in our luggage).

After exploring the “museum” we headed back to the hotel and checked-in to our room – which is really cool. We have one of the actual cave rooms so the whole space (even the bed platform) is carved from the rock. We all took advantage of the best shower we’ve ever had in a hotel (a true double rain shower) and cleaned off the grime of travelling and refresh ourselves a bit before heading out to get something to eat. We chowed down on some delicious pitas and played some cards before exploring some of the shops on the main tourist drag. Goreme is a small town entirely based on tourism so there are lots of shops and tour agencies booking balloon flights, ATV tours, horseback tours and bus tours of the various attractions in the area.

We’d been up early and were tired out from a week of exploring Istanbul so we headed back to the room around 10:30 and called it a night. Tomorrow we’ll make some plans for what to do with our two days in the area.

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