Sites like Kapadokya force me to throw my worldly preconceptions in the trash. I squinted unwittingly at this landscape and many other popular Turkish sites over the past two weekends, and what I saw shifted my understanding of the structures that we and our planet can create.
On the first trip, we took an overnight bus to the previously mentioned region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with alienesque rock formations and cave dwellings. It was once completely submerged in an ocean, and a nearby volcano (also once underwater) created towers of igneous rock now referred to as "Fairy Chimneys". It's been a highly sought after area since it dried up, once home to Romans, Byzantines, Christians, and now Turks.
Walking around Göreme, a cave town hidden between impossibly smooth and shrub-free mountains, felt like walking on the surface of the moon.
After touring many of the sites, we were given the opportunity to take a ride on a hot air balloon and observe the region from above. Waking up at 5am, waiting in the cold, and worrying about the sketchy balloon rig was completely worth the silent, breathtaking view.
We toured Izmir and Ephesus the next weekend. The first stop after another overnight bus was Pammukkale, a Calcium formation on a mountain that created hot springs and provided natural infrastructure for an irrigation system. Near the formation was the ruins of a large town with an Amphitheater, churches, and many small houses. Gerard and I haggled for some touristy outfits and jumped on a forty-lira (~$13) motor scooter to tour the site like professionals.
We then visited the ruins of Laodikya Antic City, a once-flourishing river city that was mentioned in the Book of Revelation. It was strange listening to the rich history of the city as we, the only tourists on the silent hilltop, walked along the rubble of its main street. After, we made our way down the coast to our seaside hotel in Kuşadası (Koo-shuh-das-uh). We jumped in the water immediately upon arrival as we had been told that the beach was closing in the next hour. Luckily, this was just a rumor, and over forty of us were able to hang out on the beach and enjoy the change of scenery until the early morning.
Day two was reserved mostly for Ephesus, the ruins of a three-thousound-year-old city that is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Following a brief stop at the Virgin Mary House, we arrived at the northern entrance and began exploring the site. The highlight occurred near the end when all eighty-plus Boğaziçi students entered the large Amphitheater. One student began to clap loudly, which garnered a response from some tourists on the other side of the theater. Within thirty seconds, over one-hundred tourists were clapping, howling, shrieking, and listening to the choral sound that the amphitheater acoustics assisted with. That moment contained some of the most intense human connection I have ever been a part of.
We returned to the hotel, took another swim, then checked out the nightlife in a nearby city. The club employees, DJs and bartenders were extremely hospitable, though the late night didn't help prepare for the day of driving that awaited us in the early morning.
The breadth of experiences I have had in the last two weeks is overwhelming, and I'm still taking it all in. Flying silently above a geologist's dreamland, wading in naturally-terraced pools, and strolling through the fallen remains of a once-vibrant city has challenged my pre-conceptions of the planet that I've lived on for twenty-one years. No matter how strongly you believe that you've seen it all, there will always be something unthinkably beautiful waiting for you if you look for it.