I’m going to start off with the fact that I now love Turkish Airlines. No matter how short the flight (about 1.5 hr from Istanbul to Kayseri to get to Cappadocia), they WILL give you a meal. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the carts were out and within minutes, I had a sandwich in my hand. And, as soon as that last bite entered my mouth, I was already handing over my boxed garbage and we were about to descend. It’s like visiting your parents and having your mom automatically having food ready and in the midst of shoving it down your throat no matter how much you insist that you’re not hungry.
I booked airport transportation from the airport to our lodging for 30 TL per person through our lodging and, though there may have been a cheaper option, it was so worth it. An air-conditioned van with direct drop off. I’ll take that.
Hayden came up with the idea of hiking up to a viewpoint in time for sunset. About a 15 minute walk later, this is what we saw. Apparently the view is filled with hot air balloons in the morning, a view we’d be a part of the next morning.
We booked with Butterly Balloons because it was marginally #1 on Tripadvisor. Pickup was at 5:10am which I thought was brutal until someone reminded me that I used to wake up around 3:30am to make it to my 6am spin class – 30 min wake up coffee, 10 min walk to the bus, 80 min bus ride from the suburbs to the city. I should win an award for my dedication. Yup, dedication to craziness and lack of sleep.
Anyway, the pickup was so early because they were picking up people from other hotels and dropping us off at their main office to check in and have time for breakfast. I’m still complaining about the 5am pickup. Ha, ha.
I’ve wanted to ride a hot air balloon for so long that it felt surreal being next to one, at first deflated then gradually filling up with fiery gas. I wandered off a bit to take photos of other hot air balloons only to have lost track of time and realize that everyone else was already inside the basket and about to take off sans me. I ran towards them with an apologetic look on my face.
As the pilot (Kaan) introduced himself, he lamely joked that this was his first time piloting. But, something about mid-aged European/Eastern European men, who look tough and scary, cracking jokes makes it funny. Maybe it just made me laugh nervously. Who knows. He briefed us on the landing position which involved squatting down to the bottom of the basket while holding onto the interior rope handles. Then, up, up, we were away!
We were slowly gaining altitude when we narrowly missed crashing into a tree and grazed its branches instead. Kaan apologized. I’m pretty sure it was done on purpose. At least I hoped so. Then, over the Rose Valley, other villages and ghost towns we floated.
Then, the sun rose. We went as high as 400m, some going to about 600m depending on wind conditions.
A photo with actual people (courtesy of Hayden & his GoPro)
Since it was a light day, Kaan landed the basket perfectly on the back of a pickup truck. But, as we were landing, he yelled out “LANDING TIME” which made all of us automatically go into landing position. From a spectator’s point of view from ground level, it would’ve looked like a hot air balloon with just Kaan in the basket.
Kaan: “I said ‘landing time,’ not landing position!”
It became quite clear that no landing position was necessary, especially on a day with fair winds. It also became clear from his laugh that he expected this to happen. Yea, funny.
Once landed, we all helped to deflate the balloon by walking on it and forcing the air out. In the midst of that excitement, a kid dropped his phone in the folds of the balloon. He didn’t realize until the balloon had been mostly packed away and he began to cry tears of utmost grief. All I could think was, “Kid! When I was your age, I had hand-me-down toys! You think my parents would’ve given me a smartphone?” The workers were kind enough to unfold the balloon, though, until the phone was found about 10 min later. Then, bottles of sparkling wine were popped and we had a tasty alcoholic breakfast with some cake. By 8am, we were dropped off back at our hotel and back to bed we went.
By noon, it was like we woke up to another brand new day. The Göreme Open-Air Museum and a Rose Valley hike was on our remaining agenda, the museum being about a 20-30 min walk from our lodging and the Rose Valley another few hours beyond that. It seemed longer in the “spring” heat, suggesting that the summer heat here is unsurprisingly unbearable. Shiny forehead and melting face. That was me.
“No materials? No problem. We build into rock.”
At least that’s how I imagined their thought process to be when building this, first a Byzantine monastic site. And, also, if they thought or spoke in English back in the 10th or so century. Their precision in forming the archways and painting the murals with ink created from ochre is seriously so amazing. Many of the faces in the Christian murals, however, were scratched off during the Muslim influence of Turkey, not because of anything hateful but because faces are considered too sacred to be depicted. Since the churches were built into the rock, the interior was kept nice and cool even with the heat outside.
An old man was guarding the inside of the Karanlık Kilise, which requires an extra entrance fee and is also known as the Dark Church, so that outsiders wouldn’t cause harm to the extremely well-preserved murals.
Old man: “Do you speak Turkish?”
Me, apologetically: “No…”
Old man:”Why not?”
Me: “Because I’m stupid?”
He was very amused.
Old man: “Before other people come, take picture!”
I wanted to hug this man. When we exited the church, a mid-aged man asked if we thought it was worth the extra entrance fee. After we responded in the affirmative, the man turned to his wife and exclaimed, “See?? They said it was worth it!” The wife just huffed and reluctantly followed him to purchase tickets. I mean, it’s only about 10 TL more.
Note: Don’t forget to visit the Tokalı Kilise, which is outside the general area, a little down the hill towards Göreme and across the street. We saw it on our way up and were told to purchase tickets up the hill first. It’s covered in the main ticket price.
Afterwards, we further walked uphill towards Ortahisar then veered left towards and through the Rose Valley before circling back to Göreme. With some research (check out the walking maps that pop up in a Google image search for “Rose Valley hike Cappadocia”) and the use of Google Maps, Hayden eventually led us to a path with trail markers. The entire hike was about 3-4 hours.
The Rose Valley is labeled as such because of its rose/reddish hue at certain times of day, and it’s a hike I definitely recommend. We passed by “fairy chimneys” which looked quite phallic and I later found out that there was a valley with a higher concentration of these same rock formations, like a dildo shop for giants. (Just Google image it.) This area has been aptly named Love Valley. Take a girl (or guy) there on a first date. I’m sure you’ll leave her wondering about yours.
Next day, we booked the Green Tour with Gorgeous Tour. We were hesitant to book this at first just because the tour company’s name was pure cheese. But, ignore that adjective and book with them anyway, especially if you can get Azad as the tour guide. They also had amazing Tripadvisor reviews which is what ultimately sold us. It’s a great way to cover a great distance in a short amount of time, with the added bonus of having a local give you an abbreviated version of the country’s history.
Hotel pickup was at 9:30am (not bad!) and our first stop was the Derinkuyu Underground City. Since the surrounding areas were subject to frequent enemy attacks, these cities were built in the underlying rock for protection, some housing even up to 30,000 people. The upper floors were reserved for livestock, kitchens and, of course, wineries (priorities, people!), and the lower floors were where the inhabitants resided for months at a time. It is believed that some of these underground cities started out smaller, then expanded upon by other groups of people after the cities had been abandoned by the original inhabitants. Air shafts and water systems were also set up but, due to the nature of the rock and it being underground, it became seriously cold the lower you went. The guide warned us to stay behind if we were claustrophobic but, once inside, the rooms weren’t as tiny as I originally expected. I mean, it’s still not for the claustrophobic but, some of the upper floors had ceilings just high enough for you to stand upright. Shneaky shneaky.
Second stop – Selime Monastery. A lot of the surrounding rock formations not only looked somewhat phallic but, also like the costumes used in the Catholic processions in Spain during Semana Santa.
The churches/chapels built into the rock still housed its murals, albeit extremely faded and faint.
After an included lunch at a local restaurant, we headed for the Ihlara Valley for a short hike. Azad mentioned that there are many Turkish artifacts on display at the British Museum in London which was on his list of things to see for the city; however, he was denied a tourist visa for no logical reason and couldn’t even fly over to see them. It really puts into perspective how especially easy it is for U.S. and UK citizens to travel, given that many countries either grant them easily upon arrival or do not require tourist visas in the first place.
Last stop – Pigeon Valley, named for all the pigeons that poo here, or something like that. Hike here if you’re in need of good luck.
History tidbit: For a long time, Turkey was largely Christian. Then the country housed both Christians and Muslims in a mainly peaceful coexistence before the former was essentially pushed out to another country during the Ottoman Empire as a result of, I believe, an agreement of separation between the two groups.