Playing tourists for the day

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- It would be nice to be able to report that the sun shone on us the day a friend and I decided to take time off from our usual daily routines to try out a new tour being operated from Göreme to GulIehir, HacIbektaI and Özkonak.
Not that it mattered much. Just the thought of a mini-aenture after the long months of winter was enough to make us giddy with an excitement that was only slightly marred when my friend belatedly remembered that she suffered from motion sickness.

“Don’t mind me if I pretend to be asleep,” she said before closing her eyes and placing a scarf carefully across her mouth.

But we were determined to have a good time regardless. First stop was the outdoor AçIk Saray (Open Palace) in GulIehir, where the group listened dutifully to the guide’s summary of Turkish history while I scrambled up behind a naturally mushroom-shaped rock to get a picture without people in it.

Then we dropped in on the Church of St. John to eyeball magnificent medieval frescoes carefully restored in 1995 and provided with a viewing platform that makes it possible to get up close and personal with the details.

On we whisked through the unlovely town of GulIehir and out along the banks of the KIzIlIrmak towards HacIbektaI. I had gone there in the past with a group of Göremeli women. We were going to visit the residents of the local old people’s home, bringing with us as gifts an unfeasibly large quantity of toilet rolls. Afterwards we took a stroll in Çilehane Park. It was winter and snow lay deep on the ground. Then to my astonishment some of the women bent down and started scooping snow into plastic bags. On the way home they tucked into this do-it-yourself take on ice cream with merry relish.

In HacIbektaI we stopped for lunch at a local pide joint, which gave the group a chance to get to know one another. One couple was from Brazil. Two women traveling together were from Scotland (“It looks as if the vote for independence may be moving towards ‘yes’”). A third couple was made up of a man from Scotland and his diminutive Peruvian wife. Turned out they had chosen to come to Turkey for their holidays because it was one of the few countries in the world for which she didn’t need a visa.

Lunch over, we took a turn round the shrine of HacI BektaI Veli, a mystic of particular importance to Turkey’s Alevi minority. In the grounds, lines of daffodils provided a rather unexpected splash of spring color. We listened while the guide explained the complex symbolism of the shrine, then strolled down the street to take tea in a café run by two men who, with their big bellies and dearth of teeth, appeared to have time-slipped from an older model of Turkey.

In Özkonak we descended into one of Cappadocia’s smaller underground cities, where on my last visit two out of the four of us had to make a dash for daylight before we finished exploring. The van stopped for the last time in PaIabaI, where the local gendarmes have set up home in one of the many crazily shaped fairy chimneys.

The other members of the group would have been out on the town in the evening, I suppose. Me? I was just happy to slink off to my bed.

PAT YALE (CihanToday’s Zaman) C