Hotel Restorations … working on Turkish time

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Old fairy chimney cave houses in central Göreme

Today, you’re not getting yet another travel blog post highlighting the exciting places that I visit and the incredibly tasty food that I get to enjoy.   Instead, I am going to fill you in on the more mundane, yet hopefully interesting world of setting up a hotel in Cappadocia.  After all, this is my life now!   And as is usual when I haven’t written for a while, it’s a long one.  you better go grab that cuppa!

Cappadocia Hotel 101

So there are basically two types of hotels in Cappadocia:  cave and stone (or often, a combination of both).  Anything else just won’t cut it here (aesthetically, or based on what the tourists want).  Cappadocia stones and cave rooms are what it’s all about here.

Getting into the hotel business in Cappadocia is an interesting undertaking, quite possibly unlike anywhere else in the world.  I am by far from an expert, but I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last year getting at least some level of understanding.

For starters, you don’t just buy a block of land, construct a new building, furnish the rooms, and open the doors.  Oh no, no, no – that’s just now how it’s done here.  First you have to find derelict crumbling old caves, or at minimum, an old decrepit stone building that may or may not have four standing walls and with an earth floor, preferably with underground caves that are long ago abandoned by human inhabitants and is now used for storage or as a barn for animals.

Maybe something like this:

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Believe it or not, this place has the potential to be a hotel.  LOTS of potential.

If the land has a ‘fairy chimney on it, well then, that’s an added bonus.

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This place is even better as it has a fairy chimney in which you can build several rooms.

It’s hard to imagine turning either of those places above into anything that is inhabitable.  But it happens all the time here.  You take the pile of rocks and the stone building in the photo above, and turn it into a cave hotel that could look something like this:

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Shoestring Cave House, in Göreme

and with rooms like these:

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A deluxe cave room at Shoestring Cave House hotel

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Another deluxe cave room at Shoestring Cave House.

And this is just one of the middle-range hotels.  For people with lots of dosh, there are uber-luxurious cave suites like this one below, going for a mere 1100+ euros / night.

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Padisah Suite, a mix of stone and cave, at CCR Hotel in Üchisar

Who knew living in a cave could be so grand?!  Fred Flintstone was on to something….

However, before you get to build your hotel, you have to buy the land.  The purchase negotiation can be a drawn out process – just like anywhere I guess.  In many cases, land that comes up for sale is inherited family land that is owned by multiple members of an extended family as the older generation passes on.  In Turkey, when someone dies, the property is not just left to the surviving spouse but is split between the spouse and the children.    When one of the children dies, their share of the property is allocated in shares to their children, and so on.  So you end up with many people from multiple branches of a family owning a share of the property.  Trying to get agreement with all of them on whether or not to sell, and at what price, can be a nightmare, especially when they all have their own agendas, grand plans and need for money to address health issues.  Introduce a foreigner into the sell/purchase mix and its open slather when it comes to the asking price.  Forget local price, you are now dealing with a ‘yabanci’ (foreigner) price even if you have a Turkish business partner on your side.

There are also the normal town municipality approvals that you need to obtain, a process which mostly comes down to getting permission from the mayor.  And if you’re on first name terms with the mayor (as many people seem to be), you’re a step ahead.

Göreme (the main tourist town here in Cappadocia) is a UNESCO heritage site.  If the property has been earmarked as a site of historical significance, then additional approvals are required from the Department of Museums, etc.  However, additional funding may also be available to help with your restoration project in this case so this is often a good thing.  And it means that there is an effort to preserve the history and heritage here.

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Existing homes and hotels built into the rocks and fairy chimneys.  Town planning must be a nightmare here!

When construction starts, there may or may not be a building plan. I struggled to get my head around this – it made it difficult for me to visualise how a dilapidated pile of rocks and stone could be turned into something spectacular, much less be even remotely liveable.  Even trying to figure out how they would incorporate a bathroom into a cave room was a mystery, but over time, I have started to grasp their approach.  Basically if it’s a cave hotel, you just start digging out a room.  Sometimes there are surprises – what you thought was a solid wall turns out to be the backside of another cave on the other side.  If it’s an old stone house that you are buying, then you generally don’t want to knock down any of the external walls, to maximise the available footprint on the section. If you knock down the walls to build from scratch, new regulations come into play that dictate a larger verge around the property which will have a big impact on the potential size and number of rooms you can incorporate into your hotel.  So the trick is to figure out how you can incorporate the existing walls into your ‘vision’ and new plan.

So why do I know all this?

As you are hopefully now aware, I will be managing a hotel here in Göreme.  What I haven’t shared too publicly is that fact that I was giving serious consideration to the idea of jointly buying a property here in Göreme with the view of restoring it and turning it into a hotel.  Actually, there have been multiple ideas and potential hotel management/ partnership opportunities that I’ve been offered, and considered.  Once people got wind that I *might* interested, everyone had a cousin/brother/friend/mother’s brother’s cousin that wanted to create a partnership with me.  The locals recognise that having a foreign partner (especially one that speaks English) is going to be a huge benefit to their business.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether you have hotel experience or not – as long as you can speak decent English,  you’re a potential partner.  (This is ignoring the serious issues and concerns of whether or not you can trust/believe/rely on anything that the Turks tell you which is a whole new blog post for another day.)

Anyhow, this was an exciting option for me.  Around October last year, I knew that I needed to think about heading back home to NZ to resume normal life – in other words, start earning an income again.  But the thought of a 9-5 job, and sitting in Auckland traffic was still too much for me to stomach.  Then these opportunities started popping up and I knew that I would forever regret not at least giving them some measured consideration.

The most exciting plan that I looked into involved jointly buying an old ‘house’ here and turning it into a luxury style small boutique hotel with a Turkish friend that I had met earlier in the year.

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Would you buy this?  It even comes with cow. 

Yes, I was considering buying THIS place.   It was my friend’s grandfather’s house – and what made it particularly appealing was that it had a church hidden in a cave in the bottom.  An old cave church, from centuries ago, complete with a small winery (as was common then) and painted frescoes on the ceiling.  This was gold in the hotel world here.

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Checking out the cave church at the bottom of the house with a master architect.  You can see some of the frescoes on the arched ceiling.

This would give the boutique hotel a huge point of difference once it was restored.  I had visions of turning it into a common space for the hotel, with ottoman style seating, Turkish lamps, soft lighting, peaceful music, etc – somewhere for hotel guests to relax and enjoy a cup of tea or glass of wine in the evenings.

Restoring this particular property would require special consents from the local Museum authorities, UNESCO, etc, – and we had meetings with a ‘master’ architect who specialises in restoring these kind of heritage places, the director of the Museums department, etc, etc.  These meetings were primarily in Turkish, but were rather interesting all the same if only to witness how business meetings are conducted in Turkey, which is rather different to what I am used to!

Anyhow – I spent several months investigating this idea (thank you Mum and Dad for NOT thinking that I had lost all my marbles and being supportive while I mulled this over!), along with several other 4-8 year hotel partnership options, but in the end I walked away from them.  I  am still very passionate about them as ideas and maybe future projects, but I had to acknowledge that it was a high risk undertaking for me, when dealing with an industry that I knew very little about, in a country that I still getting to grips with in terms of culture and just how they do things, and where I still don’t speak the language well.  And there are the issues of trust….  and that is a HUGE issue in this country.  I’ve heard many horror stories of foreigners getting involved in partnerships here that invariably turn belly up.  And the more I asked questions, the more frustrated people got with me.  My ideas of project management were not going down well here.  But if I didn’t get the answers I needed, I wasn’t about to put myself at a significant risk.

There was one offer, however, that I am going ahead with.  Harun (the owner of the hotel where I helped out last year) is building a new hotel, and offered me a partnership deal for one year (or up to 4 years, if I want).  After the year is up,  if it all goes well, I can extend, or maybe venture into my own business, or… just head home with incredible experiences under my belt – and hopefully with some cash in my pocket.  Essentially, I will be managing the customer side of the business:  bookings, emails, reception, and hopefully signing up the hotel guests to the various hot air balloon and other tours/activities on offer in the area.  The good thing about this, is that Harun and his family have a proven track record in the hotel industry (as opposed to the many ‘wannabees’ in town) which means that I will get plenty of support, and we have already worked together so there is mutual trust.

Interestingly, this hotel is being created from a relatively modern apartment building that Harun owns in Göreme (four apartments, one floor each).  The building is being  converted to a 15 room ‘stone house’ hotel meaning that all the internal walls will be lined with stone to give them an authentic ‘old stone house’ feel.  The top floor has  the kitchen and a small restaurant/dining terrace.

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The apartment building, about to become a hotel. 

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The stone cutter at work – the chunky stones at the front are being sliced into thinner ones to line the internal walls

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The stone workers are not only lining the walls with the stone, but they are also incorporating interesting designs and features into the stonework.  Each room has a different picture over the bed head, featuring various Turkish or Cappadocian symbols, icons or images.

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Double-headed eagle, from Hettite period – a work in progress

It’s an interesting process to see how they go about the work.  There was all sorts of gumpf left in the apartments by the previous tenants.  Rather than move it all out of the building, they just shifted and work around it.  There is no attempt to clean up their mess as they work – the rubbish just keeps building up.

And trying to get the guys to show up to work is a saga too.  Many of the stone workers also work for the hot air balloon companies, which means that they aren’t available to start work on the hotel until 10am.  That’s if the weather isn’t too cold for them to work.  Or too wet.  Or their mother/daughter/dog isn’t ill.  Or … (insert excuse).  Not long after they start, it’s time for a tea break.  Then lunch.  You get the idea.

20150318170158981Stuff everywhere!

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Decorative archway in the hallway

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View of Red and Rose Valleys from the upstairs terrace restaurant/dining area 

I admit that I was a bit dubious in the beginning about how the renovations would work out, but now, I think it’s going to look pretty good.  The only problem at this stage is that it’s a waiting game.  I was told initially that the hotel would be finished mid-April.  Then  end-April.  Now each time I ask, it’s “two more weeks”.  Now, I ask “Is that Turkish time, or NZ time?”  And then I double it.  And extra an extra month!

The stone work is progressing although everything still looks like a shambles! Harun went on a shopping trip to Istanbul and Denizli to buy the bed linen, light fixtures, etc.  My suggestions on at least finishing one or two floors,  complete with furnishings so that we can get photos taken and listings posted on the booking websites are going unheeded.  Oh well, as they say “This is Turkiye”.

My first visitors in Cappadocia

You may recall a post from over a year ago, when Alan and I were travelling through the Banda Islands in Indonesia – and we met and became friendly with a Hungarian couple, Peter and Andrea.  We spent a week with them as our travel plans aligned (partly planned, and partly due to unexpected difficulties in leaving the Banda islands).  Well, since that time, we have remained close friends, and they very kindly invited me to stay with them in Hungary last year.  I don’t think they intended for this, but I stayed in their apartment with them for a month!  I had an incredible time as they showed me around Hungary, Venice and Slovenia and taught me to cook some special Hungarian dishes.   It was always my intention to write a blog update about that time, but unfortunately, I was just so busy doing stuff that it never happened.

Now that I am based in Cappadocia, I had the opportunity to finally return the hospitality.  They came here in April for a week and I thoroughly enjoyed showing them around ‘my’ town.

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Watch out – don’t step backwards!

In spite of the ridiculous cold weather that came when they arrived, I think they had a good time – I certainly did!  And I was so happy and appreciative that a number of my Turkish friends also made a big effort to help me look after them.

20150415103452121To say that I was sad when they left is an understatement – I miss their company, the shared laughter and the joking around.  They are promising to come back later in the year – I  hope so.

Now that I am settled here, and once the hotel opens, the doors are always open for anyone that wants to come and visit!  It’s would be so much fun to show you around the region, and to have you see what why I have fallen for this crazy town.  Just sayin’.

Another holiday in Greece – back to Tilos

After Peter and Andrea left, and while (still) waiting for the hotel construction work to be completed, I decided to have a small holiday back in Tilos (Greece).  Yes, this the same island that I wrote about previously here and here.  The English friends that I met there previously were returning so I took the opportunity to join them.  I won’t be writing another blog post about it as I know it’s just downright cruel to show off more photos of the lovely, lovely Greek waters, the fascinating scenery and the tasty food (whole squid – yum!) – especially as those of you in New Zealand are approaching winter.  I just won’t do that to you again.  Oh, OK, maybe just a couple of photos…..

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Whilst there are so many walks to do in Tilos, it is the coastal walks that I enjoy the most.  The colours of the wildflowers and sea are amazing, and I just can’t get enough of those ocean views (something sadly missing in my life in Cappadocia now).

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One of the inland walks that I did with Carol and Geoff was up to the Ayios Anna chapel (below.)  A bit of a hike up a stony path, but all quite manageable.

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From here, Geoff and I decided to carry on up to the castle at the top of the hill.  I have to say, if we had started out the walk with that as a plan, I would have said “Thanks but no thanks”, grabbed my book and headed to the beach.  From the bottom of the village, getting to the castle looked like a formidable climb.  But we took it slowly, and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought.  And the views made it all worthwhile.

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I’m not sure if you can really appreciate how high up the castle was from this photo, but it was high!  I was quite proud that I did it in the end – and without too much grumbling, I think!

Suffice to say that I had a lovely two weeks there catching up on the island gossip, enjoying the chilled Greek red wine, watching the local footie, and most of all, enjoying the company of my English friends.  A special shout out to ‘Bob’, ‘Maria’, ‘Carol’ and ‘Geoff’ who have now discovered my blog – once again, thank you so much for you kindness and company.   And for adding the new word “chunky-dunking’ to my vocabulary!  😉

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About BusyLizzy

Normally I live in NZ but having re-discovered the joys of independent travel over the last few years, I decided it was 'now or never' and am taking some time out to see what the world has to offer.
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7 Responses to Hotel Restorations … working on Turkish time

  1. Wow Lisa, that’s fantastic, you part owning/running a hotel. I loved reading all about it and would like to wish you all the best of luck with it all. Look forward to seeing photo’s of it when completed. Stay safe xo

    • BusyLizzy says:

      Thanks Charmaine. I should clarify that I will not be owning a part of the hotel (at least not THIS one!) What I am doing is renting part of the business from the owner. I pay an amount of money, then will be in partnership with Harun. We then split the profits from the hotel and all commissions. So the first few months will be difficult until I can earn back the money that I paid, but by my calculations, I should be looking good further down the track. If I had signed up for a 5 year partnership, I would have had to pay 5x the amount – and that was a risk I wasn’t prepared to take. So when are you booking your tickets to come and visit??

      • Charmaine says:

        Hi Lisa, I would love to come visit…..what an experience that would be as I have never visited a country like that. I’ve been to the States, Oz, Islands, Canada, but nowhere as different as Turkey. Gary and I are hoping to do our OE (hahahahaha I know, funny saying that being in our sixties) but I say you’re never too old eh? Who knows we might even venture your way if you’re still there. Or if we win LOTTO we could visit sooner than later 🙂 Stay Safe xo

  2. Trudy says:

    Thanks for the lunch time reading Lisa! Sounds so exciting, and different from our “everyday” back here 😉 Are there masonry classes at night school that you can attend??

    • BusyLizzy says:

      Thanks Trudy! Not sure about masonry classes- I suspect that it’s a case of learning on the job. It’s way to dusty and dirty for my liking! I hate to think what crap those guys are breathing in every day. If I do any classes here it will be limited to cooking or Turkish language – which actually would be a really good idea right about now…!.

  3. Kathy Rademacher says:

    Fascinating reading – prose & photos. By the way, I seem to remember you thinking we had lost our marbles when we bought the house in Albany. You are going way beyond that.

    • BusyLizzy says:

      I can’t come up with any argument on that. The Albany house had chickens running through it – and the one I considered had a cow. I guess you have a point!

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