If someone would have told me a year ago that I would not only find myself living in Istanbul but hiking in the eastern region of Cappadocia surrounded by this…

 …well, I am not sure I would have trusted that such an amazing thing would happen.

You know when you need to pinch yourself to make sure you are awake? I felt that way about moving to Turkey and have felt that way about everything I have experienced since. Which does not take anything away from our Russian experience nor indicate that there have not been times of nostalgia about Russia and our friends there, the school, our house and neighborhood. For sure Russia and our life there is still clinging to us, squeezing our hearts often.

For me, though, the two places are just that: separate. What we had in one is to be forever treasured just as what we have now, in our new place, is to be experienced with an open mind and heart. Neither one taking away from the other.

So, my husband has a tradition with our two sons. Because he has such a full job, long days and a hectic travel schedule, he craves quality time with both boys. Therefore, he started taking each of them, in turns, to a destination of their choice (within reason). This week, spring break, was our oldest son’s turn. So off my husband and he went to my son’s chosen place where they will frolic in the almost-warm waters of Turkey’s western coast and engage in adrenalin-pumping activities that I would sooner not know about until after the fact.

Now, normally I would stay home with the other son and engage in major couch-potato activity-less-ness (also a favorite of the boys’ and something they look forward to doing – or, more accurately, not doing – with me). However, being new to Turkey and itching to see more of it, my youngest son and I, instead, decided to exert ourselves a bit, and off we went to Cappadocia for our own little adventure.

Cappadocia – meaning land of the wild horses – is a vast expanse of land that, among its table-top mountains and fields, are great valleys with amazing rock sculptures, carved by time and weather in such a beautifully mystical way that only nature can do.

In one word: fantastical.

Being with an almost-13-year-old, I knew that our sightseeing had to have some ‘cool’ activities otherwise he’d be completely bored. Luckily, there really is no un-cool activities in Cappadocia since most of what you see and do is outdoors.

In less than 3 full days, we:

–       Walked through Goreme’s open air museum, climbing up to view various cave dwellings and churches with exquisite frescoes and Byzantine art
–       Let our imagination run wild in Dervent valley, full of rock formations taking on many images (camel; Virgin Mary praying; triplets; a hand; and so on)
–       Went ATV riding in Goreme surrounded by the colorful white, yellow, red and green rock formations 
–       Ooh-ed and aah-ed over the “fairy” chimneys in Pasabag as we walked in that valley
–       Tried out pottery making at one of the local artisan’s shop
–       Climbed Uchisar rock castle which gave us vertigo-inducing panoramic views of the region’s valleys
–       Explored the underground city of Kaymakli, including a heart-palpitating (for me) exercise of finding our way through a tunnel in pitch black, using only the holes carved out on the sides of the rock to guide us, a little jaunt that ended up with us (me) holding tighty onto our guide’s hand as he told us a ghost story (this exercise was repeated twice, but, as I am really not that psyched about being tens of meters deep in the ground, especially in pitch black, I waited that one out in a well-lit corridor)
–       Went horseback riding in the valley under Ziyaret mountain (more amazing rock formations to see although, being no Horse Whisperer, I was more preoccupied with the antics of my white, frisky mount) 
–       Took a Hot Air Balloon ride 650 meters up in the sky over all the main sites of Cappadocia
–       Hiked Red Valley, another wondrous place with rock formations and a path just precarious enough to excite a pre-teen without totally putting off an overprotective mother.
–       Oh, and ate countless calories of delicious food including sweets made of apricot and figs, grown in this region (oh, and some calories via glasses of excellent Turkish wine were also imbibed)

I am sure our guide would cringe from all that I am leaving out, but suffice it to say, we had a full and fun experience, while also learning a bit of history and pertinent facts in the bargain.

For example, our foray into the underground city – where I also had to encounter my own demon, Claustrophobia – imprinted forever on our brains the history of the Hittites and how they hid from their Persian invaders up to 5 months at a time, allowing themselves only 6 hours of candlelight – by oil lamps – per day! I have such a respect for those people’s courage, to live in such depth and darkness for so long, no matter how ingenious their surroundings. I could barely stand one hour underground with light (minus our 10-minute exercise in darkness) and am pretty certain that I would have willingly sacrificed myself to the enemy or risked going stark raving mad.

Moral of the story: If you come to Turkey, don’t just stop at Istanbul. This country has much more to offer, much of which I hope to explore for whatever time we are lucky enough to stay here. So, stay tuned.

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