Category Archives: Uncategorized





There are several airlines that fly into the major international airport in the Central Asia region in the capital city, Tashkent, Uzbekistan; one that would appeal to me would be to connect with Turkish Airlines in Toronto to Istanbul, because who wouldn’t want a few days’ layover in Istanbul?





On arrival in Uzbekistan, our tour would leave Tashkent almost immediately and head for Tajikistan.  But since we’ re here in Tashkent, and we aren’t actually here but virtually here, why not stop for a day or two in what was once the fourth largest city in the USSR, just because we can?


The city’s TV tower [pictured above] can be climbed to the top, and it would be a lovely way to get an overview of the city as the sun goes down, but that would have to wait.


I will always grab the first tickets available to an opera in a beautiful opera house, so tonite we are going to Alisher Navol Opera and Ballet Theatre for a performance of Evgeny Onegin based on the poem-novel of Alexander Pushkin.   While the opera house hasn’t the history of its Russian counterparts, it been fully restored to its 1940’s-era original beauty.



To understand the architecture of the city, it is important to understand its history.  A site of frequent earthquakes, the worst on record came on April 26th, 1966.  Tashkent was at its epicentre and, at a magnitude of 5.1, it destroyed most of the city’s buildings, especially its historic centre, killed up to 200 people and left 300,000 homeless.  With Soviet resolution, the entire city has been rebuilt as a model Soviet city in the style typical of that era; only a few buildings were restored to their original splendour.  First, counterintuitively, we’re going to look down.

The astounding underground Metro stations, each with its own theme, were built for two purposes:  one, transportation and two, a nuclear bomb shelter.  It was for the latter reason that for 41 years, photography was banned in the underground.  It wasn’t until June, 2018 that these spectacular structures were revealed to the world.


Some mosques and madrasahs, so emblematic of the Silk Road, have been restored to their original beauty.  This beautiful Barak Khan Madrasah [Islamic school] is one of the finest examples in the centre of the clay-built Old City.  The Barak Khan Madrasah has been considered a center of scientists, philosophers and scholars of Islam for more than five centuries.  It once housed the 7th century Koran text considered the earliest version in existence, the Koran of Osman in its magnificent manuscripts library.   

Legend has it that Caliph Osman was killed when he was reading this book, and from that time its pages made of deerskin keep his blood stains, and has been considered a holy relic.  It has moved around a lot, but upon Uzbekistan independence, Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan handed the relic to the Mufti on Khast Imam Square.  The Koran of Osram can be visited in the Hast-Imam library next door to the madrasah.

On August 31, 1991, Uzbekistan declared independence.  For several years, though, official policy emphasized the renewal of ancient national traditions over the exploration of the recent past.  It wasn’t until 1999 that open dialogue began about Soviet repression on Uzbekistan people, and only recently a museum and memorial were raised in memory of those killed as political prisoners during the Soviet era.  I find visits to these memorials difficult, but so important to the understanding of a people.  The grounds surrounding the memorial are wonderful for quiet contemplation.



Given that so many of Uzbekistan’s cultural treasures are decorative, it is well worth starting your tour at the Museum of Applied Arts as it helps to put everything you see later into context.   The museum showcases the very finest arts and craftsmanship of Central Asia and each room is devoted to a different craft.  You’ll see how carpets, tiles, plasterwork, wood carvings and embroideries are made.  The building is an exquisitely decorated house dating from the early 1900s and built originally as the official residence of the Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev.


A visit to the splendid Corshu Bazaar is a must, to sample the foods, shop for crafts and for general people-watching.


You may want to sample Plov, the most famous Central Asian dish. This traditional Uzbek dish consists of rice fried with raisins, carrots, and spices with meat on top of it. It’s usually cooked in lamb fat and served with pieces of lamb meat.   Its all hands on deck when made in huge pans intended to serve hundreds.  Yum!

Its amazing how much you can see of a city in one day when in an armchair, but I might recommend a couple of days for even a quick overview in person.  And Tashkent is home to many more museums, fantastic restaurants and sprawling parks.  It would be a shame to treat it as a mere transportation hub and just pass through.  Note to self…






On assignment

Before travelling to a country with some security issues, like Egypt, Turkey, Russia,  I  obsessively check out before I go.  I never dreamed I would see this message:

A much anticipated trip to Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende and Oaxoca was cancelled, but not before I had researched and drafted the history and background for several blog posts.  The great big world I love to explore has shrunk down to the size of my living room.  So, in the interests of giving me a project and you a diversion, I stand at the ready for your research assignment.  We may not be able to physically travel, but we can open up the world again in virtual imaginings.


 So let me know that city or region in the world you’ve always wanted to explore, or perhaps a trip you were planning that was cancelled in the current situation.  If I’ve been there, I’ll repost old posts, if not, I’ll give you all the special little snippets I can find, and all the background that I usually do on the arts, music, food and culture of the place, accompanied by interesting links and downloaded images.  Perhaps next year we’ll have learned enough to know exactly where we want to fly to next.  And that trip to Mexico?  It’s been postponed to 2021, so I will save those posts until then.


This site could also act as a link in these dark times.  If there is a need, post it here, maybe one of us can meet that need.  For example,

Rosie the Riveter?



Remember when women stepped up to the plate in Canada during the second world war?  There are opportunities for women (or anyone who sews) to step up to the plate for our front line workers during the pandemic.  Some U.S. hospitals have called for “anyone with a sewing machine at home” to make face masks.  You could help your local hospitals now, before the hospital situation becomes dire.  There are patterns and detailed instructions available online.


N95-style mask here:

and here:

Home-style face mask here:

Art & Inspiration

Or use this space for inspiration or suggestions.  For example, here’s Jane Goodall’s inspirational message:

Munro’s Books is offering a $5 flat-rate delivery fee across BC during COVID.

What very long or challenging books do you finally have time to pick up?  (Or let us know about any favourite.)

You can stream those wonderful Exhibition on Screen films you missed when they were in cinemas, for 1.99 pounds here:

Reminisce about your visits to Paris here:

Amsterdam museums bring their  stunning collections into your living room, van Gogh here:    

The Rijks here:

This courtesy of Margaret:


Let’s stay in touch!






More than just a long pretty neck

Status:  Not Threatened (in Namibia – population has doubled lately)



This orphaned giraffe is in northern Kenya nuzzling a caregiver at Sarara Camp, but doesn’t this image say it all about the giraffe?  What love!  Samburu cattle herders found the abandoned calf and alerted Sarara, known for raising orphaned animals and returning them to their habitat.  The young giraffe now lives with a wild herd.  (National Geographic)




Apologies for the poor quality of the image but it’s such a well-explained anatomical picture that I’m using it for illustration.




Even National Geographic and its scientists have not been able to definitively explain the giraffe’s long neck.  I generally find common sense and the obvious to the most accurate, so I am going with the food at the top of the trees.  Some scientists think it could be for watching for predators, for males to bash each other with the head for domination (which is surprisingly nasty, if you’ve ever seen it on tv), or for sexual selection.  All possible.


Its long neck is only the beginning of the giraffe’s incredible anatomy.  Its legs are the longest of any animal, its tongue can extend over a foot and half and can strip bare an acacia stem so thorny you wouldn’t want to grab it with your bare hand –



– and then there are its demure long eyelashes – even visible from behind – any woman would die for.  Its heart, pumps blood over a greater vertical span than any other land mammal and can be more than two feet long.




Undoubtedly linked to the giraffe’s long neck is its eerie silence. Giraffes are social and get together in groups and then dissolve, so it would seem they have to communicate somehow, yet they almost never make a sound and don’t communicate with each other using any kind of signaling audible to human ears.   Some researchers wonder if giraffes emit low-frequency infrasound to communicate with each other over long distances like elephants,  but the evidence is inconclusive.

I almost like it better that the giraffe questions remain unanswerable.   I cling to my childhood first impressions of them in nursery books, and find them to be one of the most lovable, sometimes comical, creatures on earth.




The Largest Bird on Earth

The ostrich has long been used as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of procrastination and the need to be proactive, to take the offence not the defence.  In reality, the ostrich does teach these messages, but by example of what to do rather than what not to do.

D488E936-BB1B-4D57-AAB0-88EC18611DECIn fact, the ostrich doesn’t bury his head in the sand at all.  He has the largest eye of any land animal, measuring almost 5 cm across, allowing predators such as lions to be seen at long distances.   His natural response is to watch for trouble, and take flight (metaphorically) at speeds of up to 70 kms per hour.  Alternatively, he will take on an attacker directly with a full frontal kick that can be lethal to human and lion alike.

This amusing video demonstrates the ostrich’s speed and endurance.

The Ostrich performs a complex mating ritual best displayed in this x-rated video:

The ostrich lives by that human maxim, it takes a village to raise a child.  A harem consists of a male and his queen along with a couple of subordinate females.  All females lay their eggs in the same nest, and the queen incubates all the eggs.  The male plays a large part in raising the young, from helping to construct the nest to guarding the eggs and chasing off predators.



We have seen ostriches wherever we went, but of course we would see many in Etosha.  While the males fanned their wings to cool themselves, the ladies took to their boudoir and had a beautifying dry mud bath.  First, this one performed the cleansing to rid itself of mites and parasites –

– and then performed an inspection –

– not satisfied, like shampoo, it was rinse and repeat –

– and she was ready for her BFFs’ inspection –

Success! Her beau was ready to impress her with a little en pointe –


“Next!” – 


There is something about this 8 ft tall, 300-lb, formidable creature that just brings a smile.





Status:  Least Concern

We’ve seen all the antelopes of Namibia, so it seems like a good time to focus on them (using photos downloaded from the net).   Each has its own unique characteristics.  While these animals are plentiful and their conservation status is “least concern,” the three-year drought has left a lot of antelopes hungry as the shrubbery they rely on dries up.


65CEE086-28ED-40E0-B510-7E47C59038AEGreater kudu with their magnificent curlicue horns are not territorial. Maternal herds, usually 6-10 females and their offspring but sometimes as many as 20, have home ranges of approximately 4 square kilometers.   The males are bachelors who only join groups during the mating season in April-May.

Before mating, there is a courtship ritual which consists of the male standing in front of the female and often engaging in a “neck wrestle.”  The male then trails the female while issuing a low pitched call until the female allows him to copulate with her.   Greater kudu bulls tend to be much larger than the cows, and vocalize much more, utilizing low grunts, clucks, humming, and gasping.

It is not always advantageous to have an attraction such as their beautiful horns.  The male kudus are not always physically aggressive with each other, but sparring can sometimes can result in both males being unable to free themselves from the other’s horns, which can then result in the death of both animals.  Also, the horns of greater kudus are commonly used to make Shofars, a Jewish ritual horn blown at Rosh Hashanah, making them a human target.


690E6427-F997-43C5-BAB1-2D213B6E866CTypically nocturnal, the klipspringer rests during the middle of the day and late at night. A gregarious animal, the klipspringer is monogamous to a much greater extent than other antelopes; individuals of opposite sexes exhibit long-term to lifelong pair bonding. The mates tend to stay as close as within 5 metres (16 ft) of each other at most times. Males form territories, 7.5–49 hectares (19–121 acres), in which they stay with their partners and offspring. Primarily a browser, the klipspringer prefers young plants, fruits and flowers. Gestation lasts around six months, following which a single calf is born; births peak from spring to early summer. The calf leaves its mother when it turns a year old.


BCDF8C35-1B07-45FA-8709-A8C5CA642570A feature unique to the springbok is “pronking, in which the springbok performs multiple leaps into the air, ” up to 2 metres above the ground, in a stiff-legged posture, with the back bowed and the white flap lifted.  It is generally thought that pronking raises alarm against a potential predator or confuses it, or to get a better view of a concealed predator; it may also be used for display.

Springbok are very fast antelopes, clocked at 88 km/h. They generally tend to be ignored by carnivores unless they are breeding.  Springbok are generally quiet animals, though they may make occasional low-pitched bellows as a greeting and high-pitched snorts when alarmed.

This video simply must be seen:


490758E0-87D8-49DC-B194-FCEE341614F2This large antelope with its striking appearance of long horns and distinct colouration is the national animal of Namibia numbering over 300,000.   The Oryx occurs in the more arid regions throughout the African continent where it feeds on course grasses and thorny shrubs.


Having successfully adapted to harsh conditions where scarce water and intense heat are the norm, it was chosen as Namibia’s national animal due to its courage, elegance and beauty – with the national coat of arms bearing this unmistakable dweller of the desert.  Striped like a race car and both males and females possessing two horns much like those of the mythical unicorn, it is the unique social structure of this species that sets it apart from others.

The way in which Oryx conserve water is fascinating. Having to consume up to 3 liters of water per 100kg of body weight per day, they are able to extract water from fruit and vegetables such as the Tsamma melon to maximize their water intake. These animals are perhaps also best known for their ability to wander far and wide when food and water is scarce, making them the quintessential nomadic Namibian animal.

The black and white markings on their bellies and legs is thought to reflect heat, thereby keeping their bodies as cool as possible. Their white and black faces though are more to show off their magnificent sword-like horns during competition for mates – size counts when it comes to female gemsbok, even though they have horns of their own, which are usually longer and thinner than those of the males. 



Steenbok live in a variety of habitats from semi-desert, such as the edge of the Kalahari Desert and Etosha National Park, to open woodland and thickets, including open plains, stony savannah, and Acacia–grassland mosaics. They are said to favour unstable or transitional habitats.

At the first sign of trouble, steenbok typically lie low in the vegetation. If a predator or perceived threat comes closer, a steenbok will leap away and follow a zigzag route to try to shake off the pursuer. Escaping steenbok frequently stop to look back, and flight is alternated with prostration during extended pursuit. They are known to take refuge in the burrows of Aardvarks.

Steenbok are typically solitary, except for when a pair come together to mate. However, it has been suggested that pairs occupy consistent territories while living independently, staying in contact through scent markings, so that they know where their mate is most of the time.



A fawn is kept hidden in vegetation for 2 weeks, but they suckle for 3 months.






District 6





During Apartheid, there was a separate category for “Coloureds.”  These were non-white people (and white people who married them) who were not African, not tribal, not black.  They could be anything but white, so brown, asian, indigenous, mixed race, etc.  The administration used a highly scientific test to determine the classification – the “pencil test.”  If there was any doubt, a pencil would be put into the hair – if it stayed, you were “Black” – if it did not – “Coloured.”


Coloured people had slightly better lives than blacks because they were not immediately banished into shantytowns, were permitted to own property in Cape Town (in District 6), build homes and, as can be seen above, were granted some quality of life.  All the photos depict people in their homes, celebrating weddings, birthdays, or big nights out or comforting the sick, caring for parents.

That was all to change, and we visited the District 6 Museum in the centre of District 6 in downtown Cape Town.



In February 1966, P. W. Botha, then Minister of Community of Development, proclaimed District 6 a White Area and under the Group Areas Act of 1950, over 60,000 people living in the District were banished to a “new” Township called Cape Flats.  In reality, white developers wanted this downtown piece of land to build on, and Cape Flats was nothing but vacant land out near the airport.

The people above were evicted from their own homes and moved to a piece of dry land with no services at all – no electricity, no water, no building materials, absolutely nothing.  People were allowed to take 1 suitcase of personal items with them and were given little or no notice.  People scrounged for scrap metal they could carry to build a shanty.  Some Capetonians sympathized and would occasionally drop off food, but one can imagine how crushing it would be to go from the lives they had depicted above, to a life with nothing.

The land in District 6 was never developed and sat empty ever since.

In the 1994 elections, the residents were promised District 6 housing would be rebuilt and the 1,000 or so people left who wished to could move back, but construction has yet to be started. 1,449 other former residents or their families have accepted some financial compensation instead.  Last year a court ruled that the government has to come up with “a reasonable plan and program” for restitution.  So far, no plan or program has been introduced.

Some houses have been built in the Canal Flats to replace shanties, but there is no public housing outside these areas, keeping the poor contained in the Townships in the city’s outskirts. Services are provided now, and satellite dish companies have capitalised on a group of residents eager for an escape from their lives.


The only mode of public transport for the working poor is “taxi buses” (minivans).  We saw throngs of people waiting in huge queues for the long ride home from domestic and labour jobs.  There is only one main highway feeding into Cape Town so the rush hour traffic barely moves.

– The unemployment rate in South Africa is 29% but the youth rate is 55.2%.

+ We were told there is a desperate lack of skilled tradespeople and engineers in South Africa.

= There is still a sense of optimism here, so hopefully someone is doing the math.






Lasting Impressions

I needn’t have worried, everything Murat and Norman had done in planning this trip should have led me to the fact that they planned our last day perfectly, and ensured we had enough time to fall in love with Istanbul.

We drove in from Ankara and before we even reached our hotel, we boarded a boat for a sail down the Bosphorus.   What a beautiful way to enter the city, the way it is meant to be seen.  We boarded under a bridge and passed by stately waterfront homes and the naval academy (where Gadaffi once attended) and the compounds of the oil rich.




There was a somber moment passing the Reina nightclub where, on New Year’s 2017 at 1:15 a.m. an Al Qaeda operative used an AK-47 to kill 39, including 1 Canadian, and injure 79.  It has been left untouched in memorium.


We went under the bridge and mosque which mark the passing from the Bosphorus into the Golden Horn, and from Asia into Europe.


We were getting into the downtown area of Istanbul, and passed by some of the most prestigious schools and hotels in Turkey, including the Canadian Four Seasons Hotel, where the fun thrum of Bollywood music floated across the water – we could hardly sit still – at what must have been an afternoon wedding for India’s (or Istanbul’s) rich and famous, judging by the luxe garb.  We also passed the stunning Dolmabahce Palace, which could be visited.




I knew we were reaching our destination when we saw the now familiar skyline – the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque.




We disembarked and meandered through the fish market on the way to the hotel.  It doesn’t come much fresher than this!



We still had 3 hours after checking in until dinner, plenty of time for the Grand Bazaar!  Murat took us on the tram, showed us where to go, and went off to help others buy a rug.  We wandered the shops and the streets of the bazaar, it was endless.  There are over 4,000 shops and it has been going for centuries – construction started in 1455 AD.   I had always had the impression that the vendors would drag you in and extract small fortunes from you in the bargaining process, but there was none of that.  It was pleasant to walk around, almost too pleasant, and when I was buying something, they could not have been nicer.  Apparently, after all those years, a stop has been put to the hassling.  A shame, really…..



We took the convenient tram back to our hotel with the help of strangers, and met the group for our farewell dinner.  We took a funicular to the top of a very San Francisco street and plunged into some narrow streets and alleyways that were full of buzzing bars, young folks, and a lot of backgammon playing.  After a dizzying number of twists and turns we arrived at a lovely restaurant and were met by Murat’s whole family, his lovely wife, a daughter at university, a teenaged daughter and younger son.  It was so sweet of them to come!  We had a lovely final dinner together.

This idea of Norman and Julie’s to have dinner up here allowed us to wander down the hill back to the hotel.  The streets were crowded with locals and tourists, the shops brightly lit and the atmosphere fantastic.  The cobblestone streets were mostly pedestrian until someone hollered, “Scooter” or “Taksi.”  We were in no hurry to get back to the hotel and get ready for the long travel hours ahead.



We passed by the Galata Tower, a romantic Romanesque tower built in 1348. From the top of the tower, the first French panorama painter, Pierre Prévost, drew his “Panorama de Constantinople” in 1818, which was composed of ten photos taken from the Galata Tower in the 1880s.  It’s now at the Louvre.




Someone among us said, “well, I don’t think we can go before we’ve had Raki on the Roof!”  Raki is an ouzo-like drink, licorice-based, clear but turns white when ice is added.  The Roof was the roof of our hotel, a lovely bar with open windows and a view to die for.  Oh, yes!  Some of our group were already there, and it was a warm, festive way to end the trip, sharing what we loved about the trip and where our paths might cross in future travels.

We were here during the month of Ramadan, a one-month festival where fasting for 12 hours each day is required, and it is usually fireworks which indicate the all-clear to eat, and great festive banquets are spread for breaking the fast each night.  As we gazed out at the stunning view, we saw the lights at the Blue Mosque spelling out the words “infak et mutlu ol”; our server explained the meaning, if you help others, you will be happy.  It seemed appropriate, the people here could not be kinder; I hope they are happy.




I don’t know what the future holds for Turkey, but I left a little piece of my heart in Istanbul – and the only way to get it back – will be to return.

Until next time,



The Nation’s Capital


We were up early for a fairly long drive to our penultimate destination, Ankara.

En route we stopped off to have a look at Turkey’s largest salt lake.


On the outskirts of Ankara, this government town of 5.5 million people, there were the modern sky scrapers and endless new-looking 8-storey apartment buildings you would expect in a thriving city.

We stopped off for a visit to the Ataturk Mausoleum which turned out to be a masterpiece in propaganda.  We first encountered an enormous square and hoards of children dressed in graduation caps and gowns.


I went inside for a look at the building housing Ataturk’s tomb, which was highly protected by the military.



There is a fabulous, unexpected museum encircling the square.  An art gallery had floor-to-ceiling sized murals depicting the many battles won under Ataturk in the 1920’s leading to the creation of the new nation.  There were many portraits of Ataturk.  In the museum, there were many life-sized photographs of the former leader.  To say Ataturk’s eyes were arresting is literally true, I stopped in my tracks.  No wonder he was such a charismatic figure.  No wonder his detractors referred to him as “that blue-eyed Greek.”


The current leader has tried to diminish the Ataturk effect by changing the names of government institutions in Ataturk’s name, but even he must know it would be folly to try to erase the man entirely from the national psyche.  It became clear that Ataturk is at the heart of this country’s strong Turkish identity.  It was his bravado and brilliance as a general that led to the establishment of the Turkish Republic.  Under Ataturk’s direction, the country started out as an intentionally secular institution, today’s leadership is trying to make the country more religiously conservative and blur the lines between church and state.  However, it doesn’t appear they have changed the hearts and minds of ordinary Turks.   The fact that there were lots of graduating students from very young to university age and their families visiting here on their special day speaks for itself.  Ataturk’s legacy isn’t going anywhere.

Our second stop in Ankara was at the Museum of Anatolian Civilization housed in the Grand Vizier’s Han built in about 1466.


The museum was awarded the European museum of the year in 1997.  We were transported back through the eons.  The museum houses an amazing collection of artifacts dating from the Early Paleolithic Period (the Stone Age).


We also saw, among other things, the advancement of the Hittite civilization, who developed principles of democracy and justice on which the Greek philosophers relied.  Some tablets, said to be from the 17th to 19th centuries BCE, include a marriage certificate, divorce certificate and a credit card statement (“certificate of debt”):


It’s miraculous that pottery from the same timeframe has survived:


This gorgeous bronze caldron is from 8,000 BCE:


These bronzes date from 3,000 to 2,500 BCE:


There were 3,000 year old stone carving friezes showing chariots – and the invention of the wheel was attributed to the Hittites:


This was a fascinating collection, beautifully displayed and well worth a visit.

As we headed downtown to our hotel, Marut commented that “Ankara is still a village.”  I saw what he meant. It was curious that what seemed so modern on the outskirts was a city centre that hasn’t caught up – it looked like a market..


It seemed that although the capital had moved to Ankara, Istanbul is still the real heart of this country.  But I had only spent a day in Istanbul.  The question that still remained for me nearing the end of our trip was, would I get to know the real Istanbul, beyond its monumental mosques and palaces?



Refuge in Rock

In the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s, European explorers first came to Cappadocia.    In 1744, Paul Lucas of France, declared that he had seen pyramid-formed strange houses that had charming doors, stairs and large windows to illuminate the rooms.  The fairy chimneys reminded him of hooded priests and the rocks over them resembled the Virgin Mary  holding the baby Christ.  Perhaps he had seen one of Raphael’s triangular paintings showing Mary with the babies Jesus and John the Baptist, such as Madonna of the Goldfinch painted in 1505.

C. Texier stated that “nature had never showed itself to a foreigner’s eyes so extraordinarily.”  Ainsworth said in 1837, “turning up a glen which led from the river inland, we found ourselves suddenly lost in a forest of cones of pillars and rock that rose around us in interminable confusion, like the ruins of some great and ancient city.”

The numerous attacks and changes in empire across the centuries would have made innocent victims of ordinary citizens, except that they were able to hide themselves:

12th – 6th C. BCE:  Hittites
6th – 4th C. BCE:  Persians
322 BCE:  Hellenistic (Alexander the Great)
1st to 12th C. AD:  Romans/Byzantines
13th C. AD:  Ottoman
1923:  Locals, mainly of Greek ancestry Greek dating back to the Hellenistic Period, were expelled to Greece in the Great Exchange instituted by Ataturk.

In the earliest times, several underground cities were created deep in the stone to hide and protect during attack.  We visited one of the underground cities today, Kaymakli.

During the Roman Empire, this region became a famous underground (literally and figuratively) refuge where early Christians hid from persecution by the Romans.  This continued through the Byzantine era when icons were banned, and later, Christians continued to practice their faith beyond the sight of the Ottoman Empire.  St. Basil also used the area to bring many people in the hermitical practice together in apparent opposition to the concept – encouraging them to live their solitary lives within a supportive community.

It was in the first millennium AD that an extraordinary number of churches, monasteries and chapels were carved into the caves and rock beyond the reach of persecutors, and we were heading to the Zelve and Goreme open air museums to explore this unique culture.


Up to 5,000 people at one time lived in these massive underground caves to avoid attack for months at a time.  The caves go down as far as 50 metres below the surface; we reached 30 metres below.  There was ventilation, food storage, a winery and wine storage, extensive kitchens.  Large stones were carved to cover openings to prevent detection and avoid arrows or spears.  I could imagine the fear, the hope, the silence, the sounds overhead and the praying.  There were humble sleeping rooms (once lined with straw) and more expansive homes for the well-to-do; we saw one with a living room, dining room, separate bedrooms for adults and children, and a place to hang a cradle.   The cities were interconnected by miles of tunnels.  There were still Cappadocian Christians using these hideouts in the early 1900’s, to evade the Ottoman.

Pigeon Valley

We stopped off here for a photo of this town built into a hillside.


At this open air museum, we were able to explore some of the churches and homes of Christians hidden in these mountains.  Some decorations survive.

Goreme – “Painted Churches”

This alien, bewildering landscape not only offered shelter but also mystified; it attracted those who were seeking a safe place in which they could express their faith and explore the nature of life.   The community grew – eventually, there were 16 churches, monasteries and chapels here.  I would see three of the most beautiful today, but there were more open to the public I didn’t get to.  No photography was allowed inside the churches, but I have downloaded images of some of the murals.

St. Barbara Chapel

Elmali Kilise/Apple Church

Tokali Kilise/Buckle Church

Thought to be the oldest rock-cut church in the region, this church contains the most beautiful frescoes, telling the story of Jesus’ life.

We had another lovely dinner back at the hotel, our pretty courtyard beckoned for a cool glass of white wine and we ate outside tonite, a traditional baked white bean dish served in its red clay baking dish.  We called it an early night because it had been a long day and we were hitting the road again in the morning.



Land of the Beautiful Horses

We rose in the dark and snuck out of the hotel into a waiting van.  It’s not often I willingly get up in the dark, but to see the sun rise over Cappadocia (“Land of the Beautiful Horses” in Turkish, referring to the wild horses here written about during the Persian Kingdom of Cappadocia in 332-322 BCE) from a hot air balloon seemed like a good enough reason.

We watched our balloon fill as other balloons already floated above us.  


We climbed into the basket and our pilot exercised us in the crouched landing position.  I was willing to give over my life to a youthful stranger to float away but I worried vaguely about the possibility of a bumpy landing.

We rose above the ground and as we climbed more and more of the incredible landscape unfolded beneath us. 


The sun rose just as we reached altitude. 


All was silent except for the periodic release of a hiss of fire to keep us floating.  If you sail, you’ll be familiar with the silence – like leaving a harbour with the motor running then turning off the engine, the flapping sails filling with wind and the wind taking over, gently, quietly, pushing the boat along.  Still, there was the constant click of our cameras because it was impossible to stop taking photos.  The scenery was amazing.  There was plenty of evidence of these seemingly impenetrable cones once inhabited, often in multiple-storey homes.  The pilot turned us so everyone got to appreciate and photograph every view.  It was magic.


We floated for 45 minutes to an hour and then the ground came up towards us.  I was following our path and kept choosing the soft spot where I thought the pilot was aiming, but he kept passing the spots.   He came in so low that we grazed the top of an olive tree, taking a couple of small branches with us.   He started hollering instructions to the crew who had followed us by truck on the ground and was coming to meet us.   A few of us got into the crouch position and the pilot said, no, no, not now.   The truck came into view in front of us, and the pilot landed us perfectly – on the trailer, which was only a foot or two bigger than the basket all round.  We all looked at him and one another in disbelief.   By all accounts, it was the most perfect landing ever seen.  The pilot chuckled and hopped out of the basket.  


The crew had laid out bubbly and picked wildflowers to decorate the table and add to our pose for a group photograph.  The pilot sprayed us lightly with the champagne, a rite of passage, apparently.


We returned to the hotel in time for breakfast and headed out for a day of on the ground exploring of this beautiful country.