[I'm the first traveler-in-residence to participate in a new partnership between Matador
Back at the And we regroup and pile into taksis that shuttle us to the train station. With 40 minutes to kill before we leave on the night train to Ankara where we’ll catch a bus to Goreme, I take my camera out for a walk.
Contrary to popular belief, Turks drink more tea than coffee. The taster-sized cups of çay are available almost everywhere for about 1 Turkish lira. It’s customary to stir in one or two cubes of sugar and only visiting Brits ask for it with milk. At the station, my tea is served in a small paper cup rather than the usual tiny tulip-shaped glass. (“The tulip comes from Turkey, did you know that?” Iskender had asked us earlier, his expression suggesting that he suspected that we did not.) No matter, the steaming drink makes the perfect prop to obscure my finger on the shutter trigger as I line up this stealth shot from the chair outside the station barber shop:
With nothing more elegant than a black v-neck in my pack, I slide my feet into the slippers and ask South African Kate if she’d like to join me for a nightcap. “We must,” she replies.
A celebrated army general, writer, and the first president of Turkey, Mustafa Atatürk’s image hangs in restaurants, pharmacies, taxi cabs, tea houses, and government buildings across the country. Also, in the bar car. In this portrait he’s stately in his high collar and fur hat, a disapproving brow cocked.
“Water closet?! What does that even mean? I thought it stood for Waste Closet.” We’re on our second round (a cin ve tonik for Kate and giant Efes beers for the rest of us) and the unholy coupling of a squat toilet with the train’s less-than rhythmic juddering has sparked the pee conversation — a chat I’d expected to wait until at least day 3. ”More like Wasted Closet,” someone says, and we laugh into our rapidly emptying mugs.
The itinerary for this trip requires a lot of travel — in 15 days we’ll cover around 1,700 miles — but most of it will be by bus. As I effortlessly drift off to sleep in the bottom bunk (chosen for its easier bathroom access, not because I’m afraid of heights) I feel like I could ride the rails forever.
“Not a wink,” Kate states. She’s standing by the window, her train-mussed hair silhouetted in the morning’s weak light. Outside, the suburbs of Turkey’s capital city Ankara whiz by, looking for all the world like the suburbs of Toronto. There are two sharp raps on our door and Iskender’s voice: Good morning!
We disembark and meet up with a small private bus that will take us the remaining 200 miles to Goreme in the region known as Cappadocia. “It’s a hard sound like a ‘K’,” Iskender corrects us as we mispronounce the name, making it sound like an Italian sandwich meat. “Capahdoke-ee-ah,” he enunciates slowly.
Used for simplicity’s sake (and, according to Iskender, because the tourists like it), the word Cappadocia does not refer to a specific place. It’s an historical name for the area in central Anatolia, which is the western part of the Asian side of Turkey. Cappadocia — or Capadocia, Kapadokya, or Kappadokia depending on the signage — is famous for its exceptional landscapes, particularly the rock formations known as fairy chimneys.
“I think you will like it,” Iskender says. Outside the window a soft, dusty landscape whizzes by.
About one and half hours into our drive, we stop for breakfast at a roadside diner where we’re seated in the back garden and served a traditional Turkish breakfast:
Clockwise from the hard stinky cheese at 12 o’clock we have a mild string cheese and a soft salty cheese. The white square at 5 o’clock is a butter so fresh and pale that many of us mistook it for cream cheese. That’s honey in the comb at 7, followed by sliced cucumber, tomatoes, and an unreasonably fiery pepper that required that I wolf still-warm hunks of bread sopped in honey. The olives in the middle were grown locally. Just so you’re not too jealous of the best breakfast ever, I’ll tell you that the coffee was Nescafe.