We now have a three-week hiatus from school, and many people have gone home for Christmas. Whilst I would like to be at home getting drunk at 11am with my parents as we all open our presents and cook Christmas dinner, I also have an innate desire to see more of the world. There will be plenty more Christmases that I will enjoy when I live closer to home. I have missed the day before, and part of the sacrifice we make by living so far from home is that we will miss some important events.
Besides, it’s very cold in Astana, so it’s about time we got some warmth, and Britain doesn’t provide that. You could argue that the places I’m heading to don’t really satisfy that need either, but they are places that I have wished to explore for a while, and I have decided to use this winter break to travel with my flatmate Justine to two countries a lot closer to my new home and my old home. We are going to Turkey and Georgia.
These two countries sit on the vague precipice of Europe, and are often counted as being both European and Asian. I have been to Turkey before – I visited Istanbul and Canakkale in 2008 on my Eurotrip – but it is a vast country that changes markedly as you move from west to east. I also missed out on many national experiences on my previous visit due to insufficient funds – living on less than $10 a day makes it difficult to enjoy everything a country has to offer – so this time, with a few more Turkish Lira in my pocket, I was determined to satisfy my thirst for Turkish culture. The first stop on the way to achieving this is a region called Cappadocia.
After a journey that probably totalled about 18 hours, we arrived at Kayseri airport, right in the middle of the country. We have a few hiccups on the way – from our taxi not turning up at our flat so hailing a cab in temperatures approaching -35’C, to finding my backpack that was supposedly in transit to Kayseri cruising along the baggage reclaim conveyor belt – but it was relatively stress-free. An hour or so later and the minibus we had managed to get onto pulled up at a hostel in Göreme, one of the main towns in Cappadocia. We looked out of the window to see these…
Part of the reason we came here was to see for ourselves the fairly unique rock formations dotted around. They have lots of holes in them because people actually used to live in these caves, and they were also used as secret churches during the more repressive times of Islamic rule. Many have now been converted into restaurants, bars or even homestays. Throughout history the fairy chimneys, as they are locally known, have been illuminated with lanterns at night, providing a surreal and beautiful aura throughout the town.
Soon after arriving we were whisked off to one of the other towns to experience a ‘Turkish night’. It wasn’t just the promise of unlimited alcohol that sold it to me, though naturally that helped. The copious amounts of food, ranging from borek (cheese pastry) to plov (meat with rice) to lokum (Turkish delight, but incomparable to the rubbish sold at home) at the end, was delicious. No kebabs, though I’m sure I’ll make up for lost time on that front.
I was intrigued to see some famed Turkish dancing. I’ve seen belly dancing before, but it is mesmeric to watch the speed of the hip movements of the performers. There were also group dances with sticks and swords, as well as some very talented musicians.
But the dancers that we had come for were the whirling dervishas. These are a collection of men who wear long, loose white skirts. When the beat starts to pick up, they start to spin. And spin. And spin some more, never losing their balance and causing their skirts to whirl around them in a rhythmic, almost hypnotic motion. Two of the three were very impressive, with one of them almost sending himself into a trance and having to be shouted at to stop. That’s supposed to happen, apparently. I would just fall over, as almost proved when one of the girls started spinning me around in the communal dance at the end of the show.
Turkish delight in a cave in the middle of nowhere. A wonderful start to my latest global adventure.
Love you all