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  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with more travels.

  • This time, we're venturing east of Europe

  • and, with the help of a lot of hot air,

  • we're experiencing the breathtaking best

  • of Central Turkey.

  • Thanks for joining us.

  • A great way to pump up your European vacation thrills

  • is to travel east to Turkey.

  • For 20 years, I've been taking tour groups here

  • because I think it's important for Americans to get to know

  • a moderate and secular Islamic society, and because it's fun.

  • In this episode, we'll marvel at the dramatic landscape

  • from high above...

  • and from deep below.

  • We'll drop in on a circumcision party

  • and explore troglodyte ghost towns.

  • Shop for sheep at the market

  • and chat with an imam.

  • We'll check in with today's urban scene in the capital city

  • and finish by paying our respects

  • to the father of modern Turkey,

  • Ataturk.

  • In the Eastern Mediterranean,

  • Turkey, the size of Texas,

  • links Europe with the Middle East and Asia.

  • We'll explore the region of Cappadocia

  • and side trip to Guzelyurt

  • before traveling to the capital,

  • Ankara.

  • Turkey has 75 million people.

  • While the vast majority are practicing Muslims,

  • its citizens have a constitution

  • that requires the separation of mosque and state.

  • In this episode, we'll experience both the modern

  • and the traditional here in Central Turkey.

  • We start in Cappadocia.

  • While a fascinating parade of cultures

  • has shaped the history of this ancient land,

  • it's the striking geology that first grabs your attention.

  • Cappadocia is famous for its exotic-looking terrain,

  • especially these rock formations

  • called fairy chimneys.

  • Centuries of volcanic eruptions left huge boulders

  • atop layers of hardened volcanic ash.

  • As the softer rock eroded,

  • the harder rocks were left precariously balanced

  • atop the pinnacles

  • that have become the icons of Cappadocia.

  • A wonderful way to appreciate this bizarre landscape

  • is from above.

  • That's why, for me,

  • the most exciting balloon ride anywhere in or near Europe

  • is here in Cappadocia.

  • You get up before sunrise

  • and gather on a desolate field

  • that's become a hive of activity.

  • Nearly every morning, the scene's the same,

  • as noisy burners are fired up

  • and balloons filled.

  • Climbing into the basket, you meet your captain.

  • - Good morning, everybody! - Morning.

  • - Hi, Mustafa. - My name is Mustafa.

  • Your pilot was sick, so I will fly you today.

  • This will be my first day in aviation.

  • - I'm really excited. - [Laughter]

  • With the sound of a fire-breathing dragon,

  • you skim the grass and slowly lift off.

  • While scary for some, the feeling I get

  • is one of graceful stability, with majestic views.

  • Soon, scores of tourist-filled balloons

  • share the sky in silent wonder.

  • The terrain below is a forest of pinnacles,

  • honeycombed with ancient dwellings,

  • which we'll visit later.

  • Pilots skillfully maximize

  • the drama of this unforgettable landscape.

  • Back on the ground, the terrain invites exploration.

  • People have carved communities

  • into these formations for thousands of years.

  • While many of these evocative caves are abandoned,

  • many cave settlements have grown into thriving towns,

  • whose main industry is clearly tourism.

  • For extra guidance, we're joined by my friend

  • and fellow tour guide, Lale Surmen Aran.

  • For years, Lale's led our bus tour groups around Turkey,

  • and for this itinerary, she's joining us.

  • ARAN: While mainly Muslim today, Anatolia was Christian

  • for five centuries before Islam even arrived.

  • Early Christians had to take shelter.

  • They had to had to hide from the ancient Roman persecutions.

  • They had to hide from the 7th century Arab invasions.

  • And the landscape around here provided the perfect hideout.

  • STEVES: It really does.

  • And to actually see what Lale's talking about,

  • we're descending into Kaymakli,

  • a completely underground city dug out of the rock.

  • Much of Kaymakli

  • was originally dug in Hittite times,

  • over 1,000 years before Christ.

  • Later, this underground world provided an almost

  • ready-made refuge.

  • Through the centuries,

  • when invading armies passed through the area,

  • entire communities lived down here for months at a stretch.

  • In ancient times, Christians were persecuted

  • and actually did go, literally, underground.

  • This is a remarkable example of their determination

  • to live free and true to their faith.

  • Imagine, 300 AD, hiding out down here with your family.

  • In fact, hiding out down here with your entire community.

  • And people up there hunting you down.

  • Tourists are free to explore

  • the networks of streets and plazas.

  • You'll find kitchens...

  • cramped living spaces...

  • massive, roll-away-the-stone doors...

  • and ingenious ventilation shafts

  • to bring fresh air to the many

  • underground levels.

  • They could have made these tunnels bigger,

  • but that was part of the plan.

  • It certainly made any invader vulnerable.

  • And to conserve oxygen,

  • candlelight was kept to a minimum.

  • It must have been a long, dark wait.

  • But for us, it's back to fresh air and sunshine.

  • We're on our way again.

  • As time went on, sprawling communities

  • still digging caves for homes

  • inhabited entire valleys like Zelve.

  • Around the 10th century,

  • Zelve was one of scores of similar cave communities

  • here in Cappadocia.

  • Cleverly, they wrung a livelihood

  • out of this parched land.

  • Caves served as ancient condominiums,

  • with holes dug out as cooking pits.

  • In addition to living spaces,

  • they were also equipped with natural pantries,

  • cubbyholes carved out for storage of food and wine.

  • Big, animal-powered stone wheels ground grain.

  • People ingeniously used whatever nature offered them.

  • Pigeon droppings were collected,

  • providing valuable fertilizer to assure a good harvest

  • in the valley below.

  • Imagine this place centuries ago.

  • It was a thriving community, thousands of people,

  • families everywhere, old people,

  • little kids running up and down these stairs,

  • borrowing salt from the neighbors.

  • And people lived here till the 1950s.

  • Nearby, in the town of Urgup,

  • it's market day, another chance to appreciate the culture.

  • [Speaking Turkish]

  • Wherever you travel, exploring a vibrant scene like this

  • gives a fine insight into how the people live,

  • what they grow...

  • ARAN: Take it, Rick. It's natural honey.

  • STEVES: And just eat this whole thing?

  • ...what they eat...

  • Who needs baklava, huh? This is nice.

  • It tastes like honey.

  • ...and how they interact.

  • STEVES: Nice, beautiful spices, huh?

  • ARAN: Yes, local spices.

  • They sell them both powdered and rough.

  • And you can grind it at home whenever you need it.

  • On the fringe of the marketplace,

  • you can even buy livestock.

  • -How old is this little goat? -One and a half months old.

  • [Bleats]

  • [Speaks Turkish]

  • ARAN: He can give you a good deal for the goat.

  • STEVES: Yeah, how much?

  • -The twin and the mother. -I just want the one baby.

  • I think this little guy likes me.

  • [Bleats]