My aim was to visit the Açik Saray Open Palace in Cappadocia. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I watched the young taxi driver speed down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic like a race car driver. Clutching my map in both hands, I feared that if we came up to a set of red lights, the puddles from the rainfall would send us skidding off the road.
The fear for my safety came shortly after I had mentally scolded myself for the same travel mistake that I do all the time. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going, who I was with or what I was doing. I had used up my mobile phone credit for Internet, calls and text messages. Should something happen to me, it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack but there is just something so carefree about making impromptu decisions while travelling.
I looked at the young driver and decided he wasn’t a mass murderer and that I was going to be safe. Well hoped I was going to be. At least, if he released some pressure off the pedals. We were headed to Açik Saray, a place I had never heard or read about. It just happened to be on my map and I had six hours to kill before my overnight bus departed, so in a rather dramatic fashion, after bargaining on a price with the taxi driver, I had proclaimed “let’s go.”
Arriving at Açik Saray
The Byzantine settlement called Açik Saray, translates into Open Palace and it is not within the boundaries of normal tourist attractions of Cappadocia, hence when we pulled up at the entrance, nobody was around. Devoid of the tour buses and groups, I walked straight in and started exploring like a kid in a sweetshop.
The whole city, carved out of the rocks is spread over a large distance but well posted signs direct visitors to important landmarks such as the mushroom shaped rock that is now the symbol of the nearby town of Gulsehir.
Dating back to the 10th or 11th century, I am not sure how it earned the nickname of a palace, because no literature ever suggests royal residents lived there. Other historians suspect that it could have been a Caravansary for travelling salesmen so they could eat, sleep and rest. It seems later on in history, it would also be used as an army barracks.
As I turned the corner, and looked at the entrance to the cave in front of me, I stared at the intricately carved facade. Whilst man-made caves are a common feature in Cappadocia, I’ve never seen any with a dramatic entrance as this. It was a church and the other buildings I explored turned out to be wineries, stables, kitchens or sleeping quarters.
The Stand Off in the Byzantine Chapel
I continued to the building that was the chapel and immediately upon entering, a shadow stepped out from behind one of the large supporting columns. It was a young boy but he just stood there and stared at me. The small amount of light coming from the entrance, allowed me to see his stone face that had no expression. It was a like a stand-off. I didn’t move and neither did he.
F*** F**** F**** I thought.
My DSLR camera was hanging around my neck and my bag was over my shoulder. Both were in full view. Berating myself for having got in this position, I remembered my worries from that morning that one day; my carefree attitude was going to land me in a heap of trouble.
Just as I was considering doing a run for it, a voice from the entrance bellowed at him to leave. It was the taxi driver. He suspected that the young boy was high on drugs and rather than wanting to mug me, I had simply disturbed his peaceful high in a place where nobody else was likely to interrupt him.
The taxi driver refused to leave my side after that but at this point my admiration for the Open Palace started to dwindle.
It is a marvellous ancient structure but if junkies are hiding in corners, it was not a place I want to be. As we were leaving, another couple entered and the taxi driver asked me to go over and tell them to be aware of the young boy. He also looked for the man on the gate but could not see him. Concern was written all over his face.
I don’t think about what would have happened if the taxi driver had not been there. I just try and weigh up the averages. Despite my haphazard and sometimes mad way of travelling solo, in 13 years I’ve only faced two potential safety problems with strangers. Both have left their mark in my memory banks but the number of strangers that have helped me far outweighs them.