I never imagined that my trip to Cappadocia, Turkey, would involve sitting in a sauna surrounded by eight, naked, sixty year old Danish women. Yet, somehow it did.
I was in Cappadocia for a week with a group of friends. That day, half of the group decided to rest at the cave hotel we were staying at, while the other half chose to go horse riding through Göreme National Park.
As our mini-van hurtled down the winding road, I watched, as the landscape slowly transformed outside, from a plateau resembling a moonscape, dotted by occasional shrubs, to a rocky wonderland of mountain ridges. Entering the park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it wasn’t hard to imagine that nothing had changed since Byzantine Christians started building caves and houses in the soft rock of the region, creating the famous honeycomb structures.
I was saddling my horse when I felt the first snowflake land on my cheek. I looked toward the horizon, the grey, snow-laden clouds pressed heavily down upon the region’s famed Fairy Chimneys. I pulled my gloves firmly on, but the frozen reigns still pierced my hands. As we started our ascent into the mountains, a strong wind picked up, hurling snowflakes into my eyes. I squinted back at the stables, which were by now only bright lights in the distance.
The man leading the group turned around and said, seeing my worried face, “No, no, don’t worry, March here is always like this, just wait ten minutes and the snow will stop.” And to my surprise, it did.
I could still see my breath and my horse’s puff out in front of me, but at least now patches of blue sky were visible. I relaxed back in the saddle, taking in the unusual and dramatic rock formations.
It wasn’t until I tried to dismount the horse that I realized how cold I was. My legs were numbed in place, and my thighs throbbed as I took my first steps. As we hobbled back to our hotel that afternoon, the glittering sign advertising a Hammam caught our attention. We didn’t hesitate a second longer, turning down the street indicated.
And this is how, 30 minutes later, I found myself sitting, wearing one of the optional swimsuits available, next to a group of large and cheerful Danes. We went through the whole Hammam process together: from sweating in the sauna, to getting lathered in tons of foamy soap and to plunging into a warm pool. They found each step uproariously funny, joking away in Danish as I tried not to make eye contact with any of them. The inviting warmth that had first seemed so appealing suddenly started to become uncomfortable. I began wishing to be back outside in the cold, where everyone had to be bundled up in many layers. I guess our sheer shock must have been evident, because in the locker room as we dove to grab our clothes, one of the women walked over- stark naked, of course- and asked, “First time at a Hammam?” Focusing on the wall behind her head, not sure where to direct my gaze, I quickly nodded my head.
That night, sitting in a tiny, bustling cafe, we recounted our story to the rest of the group. As the shock ebbed away, it was replaced by uncontrollable laughter at how overly body-conscious we had been, I started coming to the realization that the “true Cappadocia” was not just the Cappadocia found in the National Park. Cappadocia was much more than the touristy hot air balloons and volcanic rock structures. It was, here, eating pizza, elbow to elbow, our conversation drowned out by the sound of the deafening Turkish rap blasted from the TV. Cappadocia is not frozen in its Byzantine past, but, like the rest of the world, has been swept up by modernity. The Hammam comes to be a prime example, where you are more likely to befriend a retired, hippy Dane than a local. Sitting in a Hammam, taking in a rather distinct “landscape”, instead of saddling a horse, became for me the single most revealing (pun-intended) moment of my trip to Cappadocia.
For more photos: http://princetontraveler.com/article/~213
~Chiara Ficarelli '19
Freshly squeezed grapefruit and pomegranate juice is a common drink made by street vendors.
The famous rock structures found in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Horse-riding through Göreme National Park. After ten minutes of snowing, the sky suddenly cleared, lightening up the dramatic rock faces.
A stable-hand pats down my horse after we have returned from riding through the mountains.
© 2014 Princeton Traveler