Leave Zurich. Land in Istanbul early evening. Run from pillar to post to get an entry visa. (All of us had a valid US visa which entitles us to get an entry visa.) There was a separate counter miles away in a dark corner where visas are issued for Indian passport holders. So if you are going, don't stand in the regular line and the counter accepts only cash in US dollars or Euros. Then we walked to the domestic terminal and caught our flight to Keyseri. A shuttle bus from the hotel met us in the airport and it took an hours drive to reach the town of Goreme where our hotel was! And what a hotel it turned out to be. We knew it was a cave hotel when we booked but who knew it was an actual cave! Since it was close to midnight and it was raining cats & dogs, we just crashed.
The volcanoes which erupted some 10 million years ago have given a unique landscape to Cappadocia. (The land of wild horses.) The whole place looks like its made of sand dunes except that they are rocks. They are called Fairy Chimneys and in ancient days, they were converted into churches and monasteries and a place to store food. They are mostly hotels now! Our room(!) had four levels. Few steps down to a small room with twin beds. A dangerous wooden ladder up to a huge room with low seating around the three walls, musical instruments (drums and ouds) in one wall, loads of small windows and holes with a view to die for, another set of steps to a small sit out with a single bed, guns and swords in one corner and daggers on the wall, then a few steep steps(lined with pots) to the bedroom with a double bed, a corner desk and a bathroom. The sink and the WC was quite jarring in this set up, I must tell you. I was half expecting a hole in the floor!!! The entire decor was so rustic! Plain white curtains on the windows on a rope held up by pegs, a big, torn, metal sieve as lamp shade, rusty daggers and swords on the wall, round port hole like windows here and there on the wall, nooks and shelves carved out of the rock wall, old paintings, broken vases, visible electrical wires from here to there, hand made sheets,... Amazing place! There were no doors except for the main door. The kids were using the place like a jungle gym climbing here and there.
After a hearty breakfast of Turkish pancakes (it was like stuffed naan), we half-heartedly left our cave, rented a beaten down car from the hotel and explored the Goreme open air museum, rode a camel, ate lunch, shopped, drove around the colorful Devrent valley, passed Pasabagi and saw the mushroom shaped fairy chimneys and then came back to the hotel where the cook had prepared a wonderful vegetarian meal for us. The kids were ecstatic to be back in the hotel room and more exploring happened by banging the drums! "This place is better than Disneyland, Amma", exclaimed Ashu. "Much, much cheaper too", I added! :)
We joined a tour (Yama tours, FYI. And yet we lived to tell the tale! :) There were ten of us in total (three young girls from Singapore and three old Turkish ladies) with the driver and a guide. We did the south Cappadocia tour from 9.30 am to 6 pm. They took us to the Derinkuyu Underground City first. It was simply wow! Its the largest excavated underground city in Turkey. Almost 100 feet deep with 11 levels. We went down eight levels and it was like a maze. If the lights went out, that's it! That would be the end ofus! Even with the light, I would nt know how to find the exit without the guide! Most of the places, we had to bend and walk. The kids had no problem though! This was like another game for them! I got claustrophobic in exactly 10 mins and just wanted to get out. But had to bear it for an hour! And can you imagine more than 10,000 people living here between the 5th and 10th century for more than three months during war time? And we only got to see 10% of the city. The mind boggles!
From there, we drove to the Ihlara valley. This was a part I was unsure about since this involves climbing down 360 knee breaking steps, then a 3.5 km walk on a rough terrain alo
ng the river to a restaurant in Bellisirma where lunch has been arranged for us and that's where our bus will meet us. And it was past noon already and we had a little problem called Antu in our hands. But God bless her, she was a total sport and God bless Hd who walked with her the entire time leaving me and Ashu to enjoy the breathtaking views peacefully. Also to be blessed are gummy bears, caramelized almonds, chocolate chip cookies and the good weather! After a nice lunch and trying to understand the old ladies who spoke no English, (they either asked how old Antu was or wanted to buy her from us, I'm not sure! ) we got into the bus and drove to Selime to see a Monastery. Hd took one look at the dangerously, steep climb and wisely decided to sit near the entrance with Antu and the three old ladies. Ashu and I climbed up with the rest. It was like rock climbing! After seeing the narrow paths in the underground city and the steep rock climbing here, I'm thinking that there is no way there were any fat people in the 10th century here! The views were amazing from the top. Then we drove back to Goreme stopping briefly at the Pigeon Valley. Hd bought some pancakes to go and we checked out of the hotel and got a ride back to the airport from where we took a plane to Istanbul. As usual, we checked in our hotel close to midnight.
Back to civilization. This hotel was the opposite to the Goreme one. Spacious, classy, nicely done, a sofa bed for Ashu and a baby cot for Antu, room service, TV(!),... the works! And after the glorious weather in Cappadocia for the past 2 days, it was wet,wet,wet in Istanbul! It rained non stop the entire day. After a long and elaborate breakfast, we reluctantly stepped outside in the rain and were shocked at how cold it was! Even though four different people had asked us to take a taxi from the hotel to the Sultanahmet area, we tried to take the public transport, gave up after half an hour and took a taxi! Istanbul looked like any Indian city. Including the traffic! We walked around Sultanahmet, gasped at the long line in the pouring rain outside the Ayasofya museum and quickly ran inside the Blue Mosque instead. It was closed and entry was nt for another two hours! We walked around the shops and found an Indian restaurant for lunch. Antu went to sleep in a while so we took a taxi back to the hotel.(after bargaining with the driver!) Late evening, we walked around the Beyoglu area where there were shops, shops and more shops. Ate Turkish pizza and sandwiches in a small restaurant. I drank gallons of Ayran (buttermilk) everywhere! Just yum!
Today we decided to actually see something and walked out after breakfast to catch a taxi! And whaddayaknow? It was the Sunday of the Eurasia Marathon in Istanbul (the only marathon in the world which includes two continents!!) and the entire Sultanahmet area and the connecting bridge were out of bounds for cars and trams! So we walked and walked for an hour in the bitter rain there. We never could take the stroller for Antu because we forgot to take the rain cover for it! She walked mostly and Hd and I (OK, mostly HD. Fine, he did all the time!) carried her the rest of the time. We ran to straight to the Ayasofya (the Church turned Mosque turned Museum) and stood in the long line munching hot, steamed corn! The line moved quickly and we were inside in no time! The interior was breathtaking! I could nt get enough of the magnificent dome and the mosaics and went camera crazy! We spent close to 2 hours there and went out for lunch.
It was Destination: Blue Mosque after a full stomach! Long lines here too but it was nt a long wait. Ashu read the Dos and Donts listed there and wore her scarf over her head and kept it like that until we got back to Zurich! Talk about Rules Ramanujam! The interior was breathtaking here too and I sprained my neck soaking in the beauty of the domes! It was prayer time soon enough and we were asked to leave. It was still raining but the trams started running! So we took a tram and then a funicular back to the hotel. We had cracked the public transport system by now! After recharging in the hotel room, we stepped out for dinner. A nice dessert place beckoned and we decided to make a meal out of it! Amongst us, we devoured a crepe with sugar, a crepe with peanut butter(!), waffle pizza (waffle coated with chocolate sauce and topped with strawberries, kiwi, apples & bananas! Sinful!), strawberry frappe and a pancake with vanilla ice cream! I'm not telling who ate what, got it?
Thankfully, it did nt rain this day! For once, I could take photos of the kids in Istanbul without their jacket hoods! We went straight to the Topkapi Palace! This was the highlight of the Istanbul trip for me! The huge palace is mind blowing! In one of the rooms, the entire wall, window panels and the doors of the cupboards are completely inlayed with mother of pearl. In another room, there are floor to ceiling rare blue tiles with little fountains in each window and beautiful stained glass windows. (Its the circumcision room, if you want to know!) The courtyard and the terrace and the pool and the view of the Marmara sea from the top,... I could go on! And the Imperial Treasury! Oh. My. God. Where do I begin? The spoonmaker's Diamond? (86 carats. pearl shaped. surrounded by 49 smaller (yeah right!) diamonds. Fourth largest in the world.) The Topkapi Dagger? (The golden hilt has three large emeralds and a golden watch with an emerald lid!) The golden candleholders? (which were taller than me each weighing 48 kg in GOLD and decorated with 6000 diamonds!) Or the Privy chamber? (which houses the staff Moses used and a clay foot print of the Prophet Mohammed among many other things!!!!) One has to buy a separate ticket for entry to the *ahem* Harem and it was totally worth it! Don't tell my grandma I said this but if one had to be a concubine, one had to have lived in that era! That's all I'm saying! We had a ridiculously expensive lunch in the restaurant inside. But then we were surrounded by history so I'm not complaining!
From here, we walked to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest markets in the world! Think Ranganathan Street in Madras and multiply it by hundred! Both my camera battery and Hds phone battery died right about now so good that we were nt tempted to leave the kids hands and take photos instead! I'm sure the Turkey Paatis from Cappadocia would ve put a stall right there with "For Sale" signs on them!! We walked for an hour in circles, bargained for cheap handbags, fainted at the price of the original looking but fake brand items, wowed at the gold jewellery and bought the kids magnets and dolls and costumes. We had just enough money for a cheap dinner by the time we came out! The kids had pasta and we had falafel wrap. And Ayran, of course!
Our last day. We had to leave for the airport at 2.30 pm and the hotel agreed for a late check out. It was nt raining this day either and Hd suggested the Bosphorous cruise (it takes one to both the Asian side and the European side). But we did nt time it properly and decided to let go. I got a super haircut instead so I was a happy camper! (Are you thinking beauty parlor on a vacation? That's Turkey for you! And I went from super expensive Swiss!) We walked around the Eminonu area and had lunch at a place near the hotel and rushed back to pick our stuff and get a taxi to the airport. It was 9.15 pm when we came back home. Ashu immediately made a card which said "Welcome Back" and stuck it on her room door and kept marveling at it!
* Ashu counted 66 cats in the streets of Istanbul.
* The kids did nt fuss at all about food.
* Every day Ashu ate corn flakes with milk, a piece of toast with nutella, a hard boiled egg and a glass of warm milk for breakfast. I don't know this girl!
* Not that they ate everything in the restaurants but they surely did try everything.
* Cappadocia is not at all stroller friendly and I would nt advise parents to take kids below 3.
* The 2 days in Cappadocia, we saw only 2 other tourist kids! Both girls and around the same age as Ashu & Antu.
* Hot air ballooning is very popular in the Cappadocia region. But not suitable for kids under eight.
* Istanbul has lots to offer kids.
* Ashu: "Did you know the Sultan had 300 wives, Appa? But its not allowed now!"
* Things are cheaper outside Grand Bazaar.
* The Turks are the most helpful people.
* The hotel staff bent backwards to help us with anything.
* The sweets! The baklavas were to die for!
* The place you read about before a trip and the place you actually see and then reading about it after you come back! Im amazed how different they are!
* I am so going back!