The "o" in Goreme is pronounced "(y)uh", and sounds like "GyUReme."

We departed from Konya in the morning of the 18th and headed east for Goreme, right in the center of Turkey. The bus ride was about four hours and very comfortable. I snapped several pictures of the landscape as we approached. The bus clerk, who handed out snacks and drinks, kindly let me take his seat in the front, from where I got the best pictures.

Goreme is a peculiar settlement based on tourism and peasant farming, and a large number of the population live in caves. During the summer, Cappadocia sees thousands of tourists every day. In March, it was practically abandoned, and we got a very good bargain at a 'cave hotel,' the "Shoestring Cave Pension." Our three bed room was a slightly modified cave (it had a bathroom and central heating!).

We wasted no time in moving out to see the unreal physical landscape, although our first priority was lunch: we stopped at a traditional restaurant and dined on local Goreme dishes and some Turkish red wine (below on the right). We then headed out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. It's about a mile away and we planned to walk, but our waiter from the restaurant said he was heading in the general direction and offered to drive us free of charge, which we gratefully accepted.

The thousands of caves in Goreme are fascinating. People have lived in these caves from thousands of years ago up until the 1950s (and in the city of Goreme, they still live there).

In the caves in the museum, we saw what troglodyte life is like. We saw family homes; communal dining rooms; kitchens, and the evidence of fires in black-stained ceiling; churches; walls adorned with murals; and pigeon houses (pigeon guano was used to fertilize the crops).

Above left, a communal dining room; above right, a church ceiling. Below, the interior of one of the cave churches.

The caves at the Open Air museum had been inhabited for centuries, and the interior has undergone two generations of design. First, in the 9th century, the church walls were crudely painted with red dye. Then in the 11th century, the inhabitants applied plaster and painted Greek icons and murals. In the above photos, the 11th century plaster murals are damaged, revealing both designs side by side.

Upon leaving the Open Air Museum, we walked onwards to the top of a hill from where we could see several valleys leading in different directions. We had a paper map from our hostel and decided to head northwest. For miles we walked through the valley without seeing another soul. In the right picture above, you can see a very good picture of the aforementioned pigeon nests.

As the sun fell behind the valley walls, we eventually found ourselves in the village of Avanos. On the left, a faint rainbow reflects off the clouds. On the right, a modern graveyard, where the typical life ended at around age 50.

Avanos is a small farming village of about 600 people. Most people lived in caves until the 1950s when a collapse killed several people, and the central government subsidized buildings to move the people out of the mountain caves. The caves are now abandoned.

We were about to catch a local bus back to Gorome when a young local in his teens approached us and asked us if we wanted to see the local church of St. John. We were suspicious, but cautiously decided to take him up on his offer.

It was well worth it. He guided us up the steep mountain over treacherous falls to the promised cave church of St. John.

On the above right, an inside view of the church. On the left, what used to be the receptacle for a natural spring, inside the church.

As we climbed higher and higher as the sun set, the view was beautiful, both over the nearby caves and the village.

From the top of the hill, we had a beautiful view of the sunset. From there, we climbed down the hill, through another valley, and then on to the bus stop where we caught the last bus into Goreme.

The next day, we took our only guided tour on our Turkey trip, joining 15 other tourists (from Argentina, Slovenia, Korea, Japan, and New Zealand) on a minibus around the Cappadocia region.

A view from the Ilhara valley, with intrepid sheep on the cliff above.

Unfortunately, pictures can't properly capture the mystery of the underground cities found in the region. We visited one in Derinkuyu, traveling from the surface, through the kitchens, stables, and wineries on the top levels. As we moved further underground, we saw trap doors, secret passages, sleeping rooms, defensive rock doors, trapsof the lower levels. The city we visited is 55 meters deep, and during times of war, thousands of people lived here for months at a time to hide from invading Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Ottomans, or even bandits.

Our last stop was an Ottoman caravan outpost. For hundreds of years, the Turks taxed the trade along the Silk Road along which goods were sent from Europe to the Far East. These caravans would stop and rest at such forts after journeying through Persia. The tax from this trade was the source of much of the Ottoman Empire's wealth, at least until the 16th century when Europe's Atlantic shipping grew in importance and the Ottoman's suffered a slow decline.

We arrived back in Goreme with just enough time to catch the last bus to Ankara, another four hours on the road.

c. 2005 Christopher Gunson