Vail Daily travel: Otherworldly Turkish landscapes |

Vail Daily travel: Otherworldly Turkish landscapes

Dennis Jones
Travel correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Dennis Jones

Editor’s note: Dennis Jones and Yolanda Marshall are currently on a cultural exchange in Turkey. This is the fourth story in a series of articles that will be published in upcoming Sunday High Life sections. See more photos on Dennis’ blog at

It’s a lovely evening. The air is comfortably warm, the hospitality warmer still. We arrive in Konya from Antalya after dark to find two host families waiting at an outdoor restaurant flanked by two, brightly lit, 900-year-old tombs. Three teenage girls, one wearing a headscarf, all shyly giggling, practice their English with us.

Konya is the spiritual center of the Sufism. Here, the great poet and teacher, Rumi, lived 800 years ago. Sufism is the most peaceful and spiritual of Muslim sects. The roots of the Whirling Dervishes are here. The Mevlani Way is an ascetic, spiritual life. Apprenticeship entailed a final test; meditating in the communal kitchen for days without food as meals were prepared around you.

It is evident from the women’s dress that Konya is the most traditional of the places we’ve visited thus far. Many more women with headscarves are on the streets. Most wear the shapeless, full-length overcoat of the devout and there is a hint of ethnicity in their style of scarf and flowery skirts.

As we approach the Mevlana Museum, its green dome sets it off as different from other mosques. The colorful gardens surrounding the complex are immaculately maintained. Sculpted rose bushes and topiary set amidst lush green lawns give color and style to the sanctuary.

I would love to have photographed inside the tomb. The marble walls are covered with flowing Arabic script and, like most mosques, the ceiling is a delight of design. On display are many elaborately illuminated Korans. The beauty of the calligraphy and wealth and creativity of their gilt illustrations captivate me. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, something, as a professional, I always respect.

Lunch is at a primary school built by a local businessman and follower of Fetullah Gülen. This is the first day of school. Garlands of balloons welcome the students. Lunch is with one of the teachers. Peppered by questions from our inquisitive group, we learn that English is taught from the primary level and that the success rate in the Gülen schools is exceptionally high. The vast majority of students pass the national college entrance test and graduate from university.

Music sounds in the hallway. It’s the end of a period and the corridors fill with happy voices. Our group wades out amongst the excited throngs, cameras in hand. We are met with many “Hellos,” “What is your names?” and “Where are you froms?” For a quick five minutes the smiling faces of beautiful, happy children besiege us, making the most of this strange group of visitors who enhance their first-day-of-school enthusiasm.

Next on the agenda is the incredible, in the truest sense of the word, fairytale landscape of Cappodocia. First though, a tour of the subterranean world of Kamakli. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Christians, fearing the Persians and Arabs, carved large, underground cities from the soft, volcanic rock. There are more than 100 in the region. Only a few are excavated and open to tourists.

This city is a labyrinth of rooms, stables, passageways, and churches extending eight levels below the surface. It is cleverly excavated to allow airflow from the surface. Smoke from the cooking fires was absorbed by the soft rock, hindering detection. Up to 3,000 people took refuge for months at a time. It must have been a cramped, uncomfortable and desperate existence with little privacy.

A short drive takes us to Göreme where, even though prepared, I am astounded by the amazing honeycombed, rock pinnacles. Doors, windows and porches are carved into the volcanic tuft. I can only imagine the interiors of these “houses.” Many are hotels. Rooms can be had for a little as $50 with rooms in high-end hotels going for hundreds of dollars a night.

Imperative is the Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastic complex of Byzantine churches carved into the rock. Vivid, colorful frescoes, most in exceptional condition, adorn the walls and ceilings of these tiny, 12th century churches.

Sadly, our itinerary doesn’t include a night here. I have to be satisfied with a morsel of what Cappodocia offers. Truly, this region of Turkey is so phenomenally otherworldly that I must return and spend days wandering its valleys, exploring its ancient wonders and photographing its bizarre, fairytale formations.

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