Riding in Cappadocia The Land of the Beautiful Horses
And the answer to that was, Oh, for so many reasons!
Turkey's unique location between Europe and the Middle East makes it unlike any other place on earth. One of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world, its history and geological formations render it a distinct destination.
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Taste buds that have been napping for a lifetime awaken in Turkey. Fresh, vital, vibrant foods and flavors await you. The Turkish people do not tolerate bad food. From Turkey's volcanic soil springs a bounty of melons, grapes (there are vineyards everywhere in Cappadocia, sprouting from impossible substrates that resemble coarse gravel), tomatoes, cucumbers (with flavor!), beans, figs, limes, eggplant, and orchards of peaches, pears, apples and plums.
Lamb is a staple here, and chicken is very popular. A favorite of all of us was boreg, a bit of cheese encrusted with phyllo dough and cooked to crispy perfection. It could be breakfast, it could show up as an appetizer at dinner, but it was always welcome!
Cappadocia -- Seen Best on HorsebackAnd the horses? Cappadocia means “land of the beautiful horses.” The region was at one time known for its Akhal-Tekes, a hot blooded breed native to Turkmenistan. Akhal-Tekes are reputed to be the oldest domesticated breed of horse. Although currently Akhal-Teke Horse Center primarily uses Arabian and Anatolian horses, plans are in the works to once again populate the barn with Akhal-Tekes.
The horses are incredibly fit, and reassuringly sure-footed. Much of the ground covered during the rides is either seemingly straight uphill, or sliding down treacherous slopes of loose sand and gravel. This is not a trip for the faint of heart. At one point our guide Ercihan pointed to the high top of a mesa girded with sizable rock outcroppings. “We're going up there?” I gulped. What a surprise to reach the top and find it perfectly flat, farmed with hayfields and vineyards.
Turkey is a fabulous place to ride because of the freedom granted those on horseback. It is wide open and horseback riders are allowed virtually anywhere, from open steppes and mesas to riverbanks and the cobblestone streets of villages. In the village of Mustafapasa we spotted an art museum as we were riding by. We all wanted to go in. No problem. Tying the horses in the street to whatever handy pole or post we could find, we trekked inside to view the exhibits.
Exploring Cappadocia TurkeyFive times a day, the call to prayer is heard in Turkey. It is a call that can be heard everywhere, no matter how remote the mesa or valley may be that you are in.
The Turkish people are incredibly friendly and generous. Everywhere we went, villagers came out to bring us bunches of grapes from their vineyards, or apples for our horses, or fat red tomatoes that created instant bliss when eaten.
Part of the route we took runs along the Kizilirmak River, the longest river in Turkey. Dramatic vistas and ancient dwellings confront us at every turn. We visit Sarihan, a 13th century caravanserai (where camel caravans rested) located along the Silk Road.
The famed fairy chimneys of Cappadocia are truly amazing, Lord of the Rings come to life. Part of our trip was spent camping, and one of our sites put our tents directly in the midst of a cluster of fairy chimneys. Cameras clicked all around, for who could imagine a more unique campsite anywhere!
Hot air balloons are tremendously popular in this area, and the sight of all the brilliantly colored balloons hovering over Cappadocia's unique topography is nothing short of spectacular.
Two of the specialties of Avonas, where we stayed, were pottery and Turkish rugs. We were treated not only to shopping expeditions for these area specialties, but a complete education as to how they are created at Bazzaar 54 rugs and Firca pottery. Ninety percent of Turkish rugs come from Cappadocia, where they are handmade locally, with colors and patterns varying according to the area. The rugs began as silk cocoons that were boiled to unravel a single filament, then the threads were dyed (with natural dyes from such items as walnut shells, mistletoe and saffron), and then woven, creating rugs in a huge array of colors and quality.
The pottery, too, varied in quality depending upon whether it was ceramic, or quartz. But the colors were all brilliant. Some patterns are typical Turkish ones, while others are one of a kind, with the artist allowed free rein to his or her imagination.
We visited the Greek Orthodox monastery of Keslik, dating from the 9th and 11th centuries. Ancient frescoes graced the ceilings, and yet more ancient—Greek grafitti.
On the final day we visited the open air museum of Goreme, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of a vast monastic complex of rock-cut churches. Stunning frescoes (some with the brilliant blue of lapis lazuli) graced the ceilings. These monasteries ranged from the 10-12th centuries (hence the term “New Church” used at one point interestingly meant one from the 12th century).
The only jarring note in a visit to Turkey was the litter. There appears to be no systematized approach to the pick up of garbage in the villages, and it is quite a distraction to see so much plastic packaging and other garbage marring the stunning landscape.
But don't let that stop you. Turkey is a land of spectacular vistas, amazing history, delicious food—and those beautiful horses. I'll be back.
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Ann Jamieson is addicted to travel. Among her favorite places are Turkey, Iceland, Alaska, New England and Tuscany. She has written numerous articles for magazines and newspapers including a column for the award winning regional paper The Litchfield County Times. Ann currently writes for Today's Equestrian magazine, a regional publication focused on the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, and authors a popular series of true horse stories titled For the Love of the Horse. Ann lives in Kent, Connecticut with two very entertaining Ocicats, Oliver and Chester. She counts her horse Fred Astaire as a member of her family.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author