1 Cappadocia gesiorum
It was time for me to go travelling again by horse. I knew the journey would be more fun in a wild part of the world, and what particularly attracted me were the remoter regions of Turkey and Iran.
It's odd how people try to put a woman off such ideas by saying it's too dangerous and she might be killed. My instinct told me that this was unlikely; in all the other journeys I've made the same warnings have been untrue. As for the threat of bandits or arrest by revolutionaries, I trusted in my common sense and doubted there would still be bandits nowadays.
Turkey's strategic position as a land-bridge spanning two continents has given it a colourful ten thousand years of surging and receding invasions. But it was surprisingly difficult to buy a good map. The Turkish ones had enlargements of western Turkey but the east was shown only in small scale and much of it looked empty. The lack of main roads would be no problem on horseback, however.
My departure, early in May, coincided with the Greek Orthodox Church's Easter celebrations in Athens which, being en route, I couldn't resist. And a short stop in Greece would give me the chance to look into my great-many-times-great-uncle Edward Dodwell's journey by mule across Greece in the early nineteenth century. He had been travelling to find and record ruins of historical and religious interest.
The festivities for Greek Easter culminated on the day I arrived and that night I followed a brass band, along streets lined with soldiers standing at attention, to Athens' main cathedral. Other regiments converged, marching with equal pomp; one group in white blousy tunics and tight leggings marched by sliding their feet along the ground in an unusual shuffle. Leaving the parades, I slipped up back alleys heading for the hilltop at Likavetos where a different sort of festival would take place.
The alleys were dimly lit and I had to dodge as someone threw a bucket of water from an upstairs balcony. Many people were heading for Likavetos, soon we were a throng. On top of the peak the terraces round the chapel of St George were so crowded that walking was impossible. I wriggled slowly through the mass. Inside the church a priest intoned litanies and a crown of thorns was prominently displayed. A man sold me a candle. Everyone was holding candles, some ornate with ribbons and lace. They would all light their candles from the sacred flame on the altar at midnight.
The packed church was hot and stuffy so I retreated outside and found a space to sit on the wall overlooking Athens, a denseness of city lights encircled by darkness, making it an island surrounded by the night. We were high above the Acropolis' illuminated shape. The city sky below us jumped with firecrackers and flashed with fireworks, the displays growing more spectacular each minute.
At midnight on the hill the priests brought out their finest jewelled crosses and announced, 'Christ has risen from the dead.' The church bells started pealing, rockets flooded the sky, the crowd began to sing. The sacred flame was passed from candle to candle, each person lighting from another, a small boy lit mine, and slowly everyone formed a procession leading down the winding hillside path. I watched from the summit as the procession grew. People walked carefully shielding their candles, trying to reach home with them still alight. Then they make the sign of the cross with the flame on the door and it's said to bring good luck all the year. My candle burned steadily and my fingers got glued together with hot wax. In some way my journey began with that procession down the hillside.
I spent nearly a week in Greece, crossing my old Uncle Edward's route on Peloponnese hillsides ablaze with scarlet poppies. It felt marvellous to be out under a warm sun after England's long cold winter. Edward Dodwell had felt a sense of liberation even greater than mine, for he was a prisoner on parole, having been captured in France in the Napoleonic Wars. As a parole prisoner, he was not allowed to return to Britain, so he went travelling instead. The temples and fortresses that he and I visited are now too well-known to need description here, though their columns and walls gave me a sense of infinity which I enjoyed. But, despite the temptation to continue through Greece, I decided not to be side-tracked from Turkey and Iran.
So I caught a ferry-yacht across the Aegean, pottering between islands along rugged coastlines, and disembarked at the small Turkish port of Kuşadasi. After immigration formalities, I bought a ticket for the next day's bus to Nevşehir which is about 700 kilometres east on the central Anatolian Plateau and halfway across Turkey. Then I found a campsite where I slung my hammock.
The bus was efficient, cheap and fast. We were offered sprinklings of cologne on our hands; the other passengers all rubbed their hands together, then over their faces, sniffing a whiff up their noses, before finally smoothing their hair with their hands. It seems that men are not allowed to sit next to an unrelated woman, so someone's mother sat by me, whether for my moral protection or the men's, I wondered. She was fat and homely, easy for me to relax with, though she was slightly shocked to discover I have no husband and children. She clicked with disapproval, and suggested I'd be wise to tell Turkish men that my husband and children were awaiting me at my destination. The bus stopped for a break while passengers had a meal, and several times for tea. During one stop my companion ordered coffee tor us. This was special treatment for, contrary to what you might expect, Turks drink more tea than coffee since nowadays coffee is expensive. Afterwards she told my fortune from the upturned coffee grains. Her rural accent was so strong I could only understand that both accidents and joys were in store.
By dawn we had climbed on to the Anatolian Plateau and it was cold. The bus terminated in Nevşehir and I caught a dolmuş, the useful Turkish cross between a taxi and a minibus, to Orgup, a village in the heart of Cappadocia's most exciting and beautiful region. Mount Erciyes loomed ahead, an extinct volcano 4,300 metres high and permanently covered in snow. Wonderful scenery opened up all around, I wished we were going more slowly and resolved to look for a horse in Ürgüp's local bazaar, so that I could see the region in my own way.
Ürgüp is a small town of cobbled streets and old stone houses nestling against a hill honeycombed with semi-troglodyte dwellings. Walking through the bazaar, I enjoyed the colours of the fruit and vegetables. The women selling them wore yashmaks and the men woolly hats; one man told me what the fruits on his stall are called in Turkish. He pointed at some unripe plums and said, 'My name is Eric.'