Kappadokya – Amazing people and underground cities

During our visit to Kappadokya one of the highlights was the other travelers we met. We were there in low season, so there weren’t many tourists. Of the few there were, not many of them stayed for more than a night or two.

We were staying at Yufuk Pension (yes, go ahead and chuckle at the name), one of the many cave hotels in the town of Goreme. Our room was carved out of the (kind of) solid rock of the hillside! The rock is actually a very porous, soft, kind of tuff it’s relatively easy to dig out. So easy, in fact, that they’re able to carve it. Our room had alcoves carved into the walls, and decorations in mid-relief.

For the first few nights, we were the only guests. One day we got out of bed, looked out the window and saw a parade of young Koreans streaming into the courtyard.

At breakfast we introduced ourselves to the leaders of the group. Here’s where the story gets interesting.

Travel School

Sunny Lee and her family traveled full time for three years. When they ran out of money they went back to Korea to figure out what to do. Other families they knew were amazed at their children; how self-assured they were, well-spoken, educated.

Advertisement

The kids were/are multi-lingual, musical, confident, they had seen some of the world. Other parents remarked on how “alive” the kids seemed compared to their own who had been following the traditional school progression.

It was then that Sunny and her husband decided to create their “Travel School”. For the last eight years they (with one other teacher) have taken 12 students travelling for 10 months of the year. Several of the students we met were doing their second year. I could see the difference between the first-years and the second-years.

They travel to some of the same places repeatedly, it was Sunny’s seventh time in Kappadokya. Sometimes they do an African/European route, sometimes an Australian/Asian one. I think they’ve been as far as South America!

While they travel they study, play traditional Korean drums, and cook most of their own meals. They also run every morning! When I heard that, I practically begged them to let me lead them on a trail run the next day. That’s a whole other blog post.

They were kind enough to put on a (reduced scale) drum, flute, and singing performance for us in the small common area of the hotel. Playing the Korean drum is such an athletic activity, I think all teenagers should have to do it for an hour a day. It’s probably good for their state of mind as well, banging out their frustrations!

It was amazing to see; twelve teenagers studying independently, getting together to practice the ocarina, heading into town and coming back with groceries and water for the whole group. I can understand why their families back home would see a big difference when they return.

The Underground City

Many of the stone outcroppings and hillsides in the Kappadokya area have some kind of dwelling or pigeon roost carved into them. The underground cities are on a whole other scale. What’s available to visit today is about 1/10 of the total. Many sections have been closed off as the tunnels fall into disrepair or just collapse. The small bit you can visit still took us about two and a half hours to monkey around all of it.

The city is built into a hillside and the entrance is at the top. The main route through the city is marked with arrows, but there are plenty of rooms, holes, and tunnels heading off every which way. I think we explored every single one of them.

Between each level is a locking door. By that I mean an enormous wheel of stone that could be rolled into the doorway. Basic, but very effective.

This allowed the people that lived there to retreat, level by level, from any attackers. Apparently there were tunnels that led down into the valley below for escape.

While we were exploring we kept seeing the same guide leading groups through, passing us as we monkeyed around. When we finally reached the exit, we had a little chat with him. He told us he grew up in the village nearby. He and his friends had grown up playing hide and seek in the underground tunnels and rooms. Without flashlights. No thanks.

 

Vegans in Izmir

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, so there are many different options for accommodation. They seem to be grouped in different districts of the city, all fairly distant from one another. How to chose?

Our method was to hop onto HappyCow and see where the vegan restaurants are. There are exactly 2, in the same neighborhood. Well, that certainly narrowed down our search. Often what we do at that point is to simply find a hotel in that area and book it.

In Izmir we tried a different approach, with great success! We traveled to the city, navigated the standard Turkish bus station (i.e. inconveniently located 7 km from the city) and just went to one of the vegan restaurants we had found.

Advertisement

Arriving in a new city at around dinner time with two kids, big backpacks, and no hotel may seem risky to some. We went to Yasam Kafe, ate some vegan toasted cheese sandwiches, some terrific iskender and asked some questions.

The wonderfully friendly and helpful staff suggested a couple of hostels in the neighborhood. The one they really recommended was Shantihome hostel. I went over while the family was finishing up dinner, and immediately grabbed their 4 bed family room on the top floor. The rooms are all named, and ours was called Freedom!

Shantihome Hostel

The best thing about Shantihome in Izmir is the people we met there. There were many travelers, some folks who had been there for months, and a constant stream of friendly Turks passing through. We met Russian street musicians who have been travelling for over a year. They are self-funded by busking and human generosity.

Music lessons
Yevgeny and the Fella playing the classic Uke and Digeridoo duet

They performed for us in the living room one evening. Yelena is also an amazing artist, with a collection of Vegan-themed pencil and charcoal drawings.

Street music in the house!
Eclectic mix of Russian folk songs and non-traditional instruments

We also got some free baby-sitting from the incredible Jo from Australia. She’s a digital nomad, doing consulting work while she travels the world. We hope to see her again in SE Asia, and not just for the babysitting!

Storytime.
Storytime.

Other Stuff

We also went to an art gallery in the former French embassy. There was a display of water-themed paintings and a room for the kids to colour.

Art
This one was my favorite… poor suckers are going down.

We also went on many ferry rides and saw beautiful sunsets. People were throwing bread to the seagulls so the birds were flying so close I almost grabbed one.

Izmir seagulls
But what would I have done with it had I caught one?

Pylos, Greece and Housesitting

After Athens, we took off by bus to Pylos (with a small detour to Tyros) to scout a potential house-sit.

We arrived in Kalamata (of the famed olives) in the late afternoon by bus. Our wonderful host Stéphane picked us up at the bus station. We loaded into his dusty Prius and drove to the beautiful rural olive groves of Gialova, Greece. (not far up the coast from Pylos).

Fairway Residence in Pylos

We arrived at the Fairway Residence villas after dark, and even at night the view is spectacular. The lower terrace looks out over Pylos and the Aegean Sea. At night the foreground is just a dark expanse of olive groves.

Pylos view
The same view in the daytime… not bad!

We moved into our temporary home, a deluxe two bedroom villa with full kitchen, big screen TV, and 6 person hot tub. Unbelievable! The pool is only a few steps away, and there is a large, open kitchen and dining table just above.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Stéphane explained to us that another family will be renting “our” villa for 3 months. We will be house- and cat-sitting at their home, a few kilometers away. There are two cute, nameless cats that need occasional feeding and hugs while Stéphane and his wife Laure-Anne are back in Belgium visiting family.

Our Contribution

We’ll be contributing to the running of the villas, just so you don’t think we’re a bunch of freeloaders. We’ll be managing check-ins and check-outs, maintaining the grounds a bit (there’s a gardener and a pool guy) and doing some painting. It’s not clear how busy we’ll be, since the owners have never kept the place open through the “winter” months so they don’t know how many bookings there’ll be.

Both the villas and the house are surrounded by olive groves. The olives are harvested in late November and early December to make olive oil. During the olive harvest they strip the olives from the branches with long rakes and then prune back the branches. Apparently, only a new branch will produce olives. We will certainly have some olive leaves to sweep as well when the harvest is finished.

The House

Sorry, no pictures of or from the house yet. We did go and have lunch at the house with our lovely hosts. We met the cats, we toured the property and house, and relaxed on the terrace.

The house itself is airy and comfortable. There are two bedrooms, vaulted ceilings, and a wood stove for heat. The terrace has an even better view than at the villas. The view is west-facing, so every night is a spectacular sunset. There is almost no light pollution, the closest village is quite small. I’m pretty excited to see the Milky Way, I haven’t seen it since I lived in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

We’ll be staying in Pylos from early December until mid February, but we won’t be entirely stationary. The house-sit comes with a rental car, and the cats are semi-autonomous. That means we’ll be road-tripping around the Peloponnese Peninsula on one or two day jaunts from time to time.

Good times, and a great place to spend the Christmas holidays!