Gary & Lorraine's Overland Journey from Devizes to Sydney travel blog

Pigeon Valley and its fairy chimneys

Intrepid explorer - surely not the first

An early start and crowding in close for warmth

The nearby town of Uchisar bathed in morning light

Balloons aloft

The Red Valley from the air

Fine food!

Steady tiger, they're 13th century BC you know!

One of the splendid mosaics on display

Roman hand cut tunnel

October 30th


Despite the some what inclement weather we walked part of the Ihlara valley famed for its rock hewn churches and dwellings from the 13th century. Although dog eared by time, the Christian churches are very impressive for their decoration and sheer determination to succeed despite the persecution of the faith by the advance of Islam. We then travelled via the eight story deep underground city of Derinkuyu to Goreme in the heart of the Cappadocia region, surreal would be the term for the part lunar part loony landscape, formed from volcanic ash into enormous phallic symbols strangely called fairy chimneys?


The reading of minus two on our thermometer this morning has given us cause to re-consider our accommodation for the next few nights whilst in Cappadocia. Although the van has a heater, I think we would be much more comfortable inside a centrally heated hotel room, complete with hot shower. Wimping out? You bet your life. This little antipodean just ain't cut out for minus two. And to think it was only a few days ago that we were swimming in the balmy waters of the Mediterranean.

We engaged the services of a guide whilst visiting the underground city of Derinkuyu and it was worthwhile to do so otherwise we would have just walked from room to room without knowing what anything meant or what it was for. Our guide brought to life the goings on in the city showing us where wine was made, where animals were kept, where people ate and slept, where community meetings were held and where school lessons took place. The cities were used whenever enemy armies came to invade and provided shelter and protection for the townsfolk of the area. They could live underground for up to 6 months and sit out the armies waiting above ground. The troglodytes living here very cleverly made use of water wells, ventilation shafts and horizontal chimneys so that they could carry on living a semi-normal life undetected and unharassed especially through the use of booby traps. We ended the day in the village of Goreme in the heart of Cappadocia. Our accommodation tonight is at the Peri Pansiyon in a room carved out from inside one of the stone fairy chimneys. It's like living in a cave but it's warm, large and luxury of luxuries - it has a Jacuzzi.

October 31st


It feels a bit strange walking around Goreme because we are two of only a handful of tourists here. It's the "off" season and I'm enjoying the solitude that travelling at this time of the year provides. We set off on a walk through one of the valleys that surround the village - Pigeon Valley so called because of the houses built into the rock which are reminiscent of pigeon coops. There are paths but not they're not signposted so it's easy to wander about and find yourself at a dead end, blocked by the tall rock formations. You can't really get lost because there is a main road at the top of the valley providing a reference point however we did have to do a bit of scrambling and rock climbing to get ourselves out of the valley. Seeing a snake cross the path just in front of us added to the excitement. We were intent on walking through another valley after lunch however the temperature plummeted and it started to rain which before long turned into a snow flurry. This put off our walk so instead I performed my annual Antipodean snow dance, familiar to my former colleagues at Guerba, where I joyfully jump about in the snow in a vain attempt to catch the falling flakes. We don't get much snow in Australia you know.


An easy day that saw us wander the surrounding area, sort out a few activities, arrange to meet an old friend and catch up with e-mails. But sadly no pumpkin carving for me this year.

November 1st


Can Turkey get any better in my books? Yes, yes and yes. Today saw the realisation of a long held ambition - a hot air balloon flight and to take my inaugural flight over Cappadocia - well, it was just magic. The day didn't start well however. We were told that we would be picked up outside our hotel at 5.05am, a bracingly early start in anyone's books made all the more difficult due to the minus zero temperature. So, there we were, outside the hotel at 5.05am wearing just about every item of clothing that we own, stamping our feet to keep warm but increasingly so to alleviate our impatience. 5.30am came and still no vehicle to collect us. The balloon company's office is only a 5 minute walk from the hotel so Gary set off to find out what the problem was whilst I waited behind at the hotel just in case the vehicle arrived. When Gary reached the office he found a hive of activity with staff scurrying around preparing for the morning's three balloon flights. Being a little testy at the tardiness of our transfer he enquired as to why no-one had come to pick us up. The answer was that it was only 4.30am and the driver was due to be dispatched at 5.00am. Gary remonstrated that it was now 5.30am and therefore they were 25 minutes late. Ahh no. Turns out the clocks changed on Saturday and were set back an hour so it was actually 4.30am not 5.30am and we had been up since 3.30am not 4.30am. The staff had a good chuckle at our mistake and we sheepishly marvelled at how we had spent the previous 48 hours an hour out of synch with the rest of the world and blissfully unaware of it. Anyway...we met up with our fellow balloon passengers, a mixture of Aussies, Americans, Germans and Japanese and set off for the takeoff site. We watched in awe as the three balloons were inflated and once completed we scrambled inside the basket, a total of 15 passengers in ours as well as Sehan our pilot. He explained that he can control our ascent and descent; he can also spin the basket around however he has no control over where we go as we are at the mercy of the wind. Safety briefing over we watched as the ground fell away from beneath us. The air was very still and we slowly soared high above the village of Goreme and its surrounding valleys with the sun rising over the horizon and bathing the ground in a luminous pink light. Yesterday's snow fall had frozen overnight which left the pink coloured rocks and ground dusted in white ice. The beauty of what we could see left everyone in the basket mute with amazement and the silence only added to the reverence of the occasion. We spent the next hour floating lazily over the valleys and our pilot skilfully lowered us into one of the valleys where the basket skimmed the tops of the trees. Sehan's expertise became even more apparent when he landed the balloon and all of us in it not onto the ground but onto a trailer hooked up to a 4x4 vehicle. Back on solid ground and fortified with hot cups of tea and coffee, we excitedly chattered away trying to work out what was the best part of the experience but it's impossible, the entire occasion was just awe inspiring and well worth the wait.


An extra early start for a truly wonderful day, although I've been lucky enough to have enjoyed other balloon flights, this morning's flight was stunning, wonderful views as the strange landscape was bathed in the first rays of the morning light. Later we changed from the fairy chimney pension to a hotel owned by an old friend who operates tours within Turkey. The van was treated to a major 'spring' clean, clear out, wash and wax polish. With the change of season and wish to lighten the load we also gave away some of our warm weather equipment such as the barbecue, extra outside seating and bicycles. To be honest the bikes were more of a nice idea than a regularly used item and who knows the original tyres may one day show some sign of wear in Turkish ownership.

November 2nd


Our short term sedentary lifestyle continued another day in the good company of our hosts Ozcan and Ercan Ecemis, one of their tour leaders and later in the company of another tour leader Rami Hazou just arrived with a group from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. As you can imagine vast quantities of tea and the odd beer were consumed as old stories and future plans were discussed, all in all a very pleasant and informative day.


Today was a social day, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Have now drunk enough Turkish tea to sink a freighter carrying a full cargo of Turkish tea.

November 3rd


Today marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan and our drive from village of Goreme in the heart of Cappadocia to the city of Antakya in the far south east of Turkey, being a national holiday helped as the roads were relatively empty of traffic. The down side is that the post office and other handy building such as backs are closed for the next few days.


We left Cappadocia via a range of snow capped mountains which gave way to the coastal plain of the Mediterranean. Thankfully, we have left the minus zero temperatures behind which I'm sure we will visit again on our return journey to the UK through Northern Europe. We are now in the town of Antakya or as it was known in ancient times - Antioch. This is the closest town to the border with Syria and we have come here to collect a book that is hopefully waiting for us at the main post office. The book in question is the Lonely Planet guide to the Middle East. We decided when we were back in Istanbul that we would need this book because at that stage all the news we'd heard about taking our own vehicle into Syria without the precious carnet document that Gary mentioned last week was all bad. So we thought if worst came to worst and we weren't allowed into Syria with the van, then we would find a safe place to park it up and we would go in on foot as backpackers. If this is to be the case we need to be up to date with lists of hotels hence the need for the book. We had scoured all of Istanbul's bookshops and every other bookshop between there and here but to no avail - the Middle East book is a rare tome indeed. So, Gary's sister Wendy has kindly mailed the book to the post office in Antakya. Problem is that due to the 3 day public holiday to mark the end of Ramadan and the fact that those 3 days run into the weekend - well, we have a few days in which to kill time before the post office opens on Monday.

November 4th, 5th and 6th


Over these three days we had a little more than enough time to enjoy the city and the surrounding area, starting with the areas most famous sight we visited the city's museum, which houses a superb collection of mosaics and other artefacts. It's often hard to fully comprehend the sheer age and quality of some of the items as much of the pottery, coins and stone carvings date from 3rd to the 18th century BC. Next was the hillside cave church of St Peter, said to be used by the man himself and a couple other disciples. From there we travelled down to the coast to visit the impressive Roman Titus ve Vespasiyanus tunnel which was constructed to channel river water away from the town of Seleucia, the port town of Antakya or as it was called then Antioch. What makes it impressive is the size of the tunnel that measures about 2km long and 4m square cut by hand through hard stone; I would have thought it easier to move the town and port.


Antakya is a nice town but there's not enough here to keep one's interest for 3 days. We spent a good day exploring it's main claim to fame which is the Archaeological Museum that houses some of the best mosaics that you're likely to see anywhere in the world. A lot are in pieces but most have been lifted intact from the sites in which they were found. They date from around the 1st to the 5th centuries BC when the Romans and Byzantines were at their zenith in this part of the world. Some of the mosaics are astounding in their replication of shadow and light - it's like looking at a painting in some instances. The painstaking work involved to make one of these huge pieces of art is mind boggling. We finished the day by visiting the cave of St Peter. Both Saints Peter and Paul lived here when the town was called Antioch and it is here that according to the Bible, the followers of Christ were first called Christians. Peter and Paul and their followers had to be secretive about their meetings hence the use of a cave but you can still see mosaics on the floor on which these men once walked.

This extended period of waiting in Antakya brought us into contact with two Dutch couples who are trying to drive around the Mediterranean in two homemade van conversions. They too do not have the Carnet de passage en douanes document so we swapped mobile phone numbers and when they crossed into Syria without any problems they kindly texted us to let us know and to describe the procedure. How helpful is modern technology eh? Hopefully, when the post office opens tomorrow our book will be waiting for us and we'll then head off to the border. Fingers crossed!

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