Imagine the Wild Wild West crossed with Star Wars, combined with the Turkish culture and you have the strangely wonderful Cappadocia. Famous for its space-like rock formations and hot-air ballooning, the region of Cappadocia draws in people from all around the world. It was my first week into my month long journey around Turkey. I was travelling with my friend B and after two days in Istanbul, we were headed inland to the centre of Turkey.
B and I reached Cappadocia via a short flight from Istanbul to Kayseri at around 8am. What should have been an easy transit to the popular town of Göreme, turned out to be a gigantic pain in the ass and we went back and forth around the city of Kayseri until finally someone who spoke enough English pointed us in the right direction of the bus terminal to catch the one-hour bus ride to Göreme. Note to self – organise a transfer with your hotel, it avoids a bucketload of stress and rude language 😛 We eventually arrived and all my frustration evaporated as we drove into town. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. A town built into these uniquely formed rock formations, Göreme was quite simply, the most extraordinary town I have ever visited.
We were staying at Emily’s Cave House, which was a short walk uphill from the main centre of town. Emily’s, like most other accommodation here, was built into rock cave. We were lucky with our room which had a large balcony overlooking the town. The room itself was constantly cool due to be dug out of rock, and the fact that we were staying in a cave room was a little too awesome to comprehend. We dropped our bags and rested for awhile before heading out again to explore.
Göreme is the centre for all things tourism in Cappadocia and is a great base for exploring the region. It is also where the ‘fairy chimneys’ are located, as well as the Göreme Open Air Museum and other surrounding valleys. As the area is so large and B and I only had two days to see the place, we hired a moped for a couple of hours for a tidy 25TL. It seems our bad luck wasn’t quite over yet and our little moped died halfway between Göreme and the next town of Uçhisar. We assumed it was something internal, however I had slight suspicion we were just too heavy for it. B is like an albino Hulk and I’m no Polly Pocket. Honestly, I don’t blame the bike for piking it! B rolled it down the hill to safer area and I flagged down a taxi to take us back to the hire shop. The owner fixed us up with a properly functioning bike and we took off again, hoping to make it a little bit further!
This bike was definitely more hardy and we zoomed through the town of Uçhisar and over to Pigeon Valley, which is named after the many pigeon houses built into the rocks and cliffs. Years ago, pigeons were used as messengers, however today they are mainly kept as pets. We stopped at a great little spot were they were feeding the pigeons next to the valley, it created excellent photo opportunities and the pigeons were excellent models!
We continued down to Uçhisar Castle, which was the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the region. We bought some peanuts from a market seller and scrambled up to a good spot where we took some dorky photos and watched the valley descent into darkness. It was so calming and quiet, all the drama from earlier in the day disappeared and I finally felt the feeling I’ve been dreaming about ever since I booked my flights to Turkey. Absolute elation.
As twilight took over the sky, we had just enough light to navigate back to Göreme to drop our bike back to the shop. Hunger was getting the best of us so we wandered through the centre of Göreme, admiring all the souvenirs and chowing down on a chicken kebap and saving some baklava for later. We headed up towards our hotel and enjoyed some Turkish tea and baklava on our rock balcony. As we had a super early start the following morning, we retired to bed reasonably early, falling asleep to the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque in the distant.
The following morning we woke slowly at 4am to get ready for the sunrise activity – hot air ballooning! I was super dooper excited for this, in fact its the number thing I’ve wanted to do since I’ve been in Europe. But after three very early mornings already, getting up and excited was a little difficult. We were picked up at 4:30am by our tour guides and taken down to their office for a light breakfast. There are around 24 balloon companies in Cappadocia and we had gone with Voyager Balloons after I read raving reviews for the company on the Turkey Travel Planner and Tripadvisor. And indeed, they were (in my very biased opinion) the best. We booked the Comfort flight which we got as a free upgrade from mentioning Turkey Travel Planner. I definitely recommend going for the Comfort flight over the Standard flight. We had just 12 people in our balloon, compared to the 20-30 people they squashed into the Standard flight balloon.
We were driven out of Göreme into a valley where the sparse ground was a hive of activity. Men were running around everywhere, pulling ropes, spreading out the balloons, starting up the hot air – while all the tourists watched on eagerly whilst rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. We were ushered into the balloon and soon after was floating above the ground. It was a slightly windy day and our balloon driver superbly navigated us through the sky and valleys. We covered about 15-20km in distance, floating in and above Rose Valley, Red Valley and the rocky terrain. I honestly don’t have enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe this experience. I don’t even have good enough photos that capture it, but I will just leave you with this little montage of pics to get the idea.
After we landed, quite smoothly might I add, we celebrated with champagne and cake before being taken back to our hotel. As it was only 7:30am now, we conked out for an hour or so before heading out again to explore more of the space like town. It was a hot day but there was a pleasant wind, making it a little more bearable to hike about. We walked up to the Open Air Museum and paid our 20TL for a squiz around. The Open Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has the finest rock cut churches and refectories. It was fascinating to see the amount of detail and work gone in to create these churches and how well they have been preserved over time.
We wandered around the area near the museum, climbing up the sandstone hills, enjoying the phenomenal view that laid down below us. Dark storm clouds had quickly covered the sky and the bus loads of tourists scattered quickly. We kept hiking, watching the darkness race quickly by. It was somewhat eery, like an apocalypse was about to happen, the only thing we could hear was the rumble of thunder and the occasional passing motorbike. Thinking we’d scored and missed the storm we hiked up to a high point near Rose Valley. The clouds were dashing across the sky and bolts of lightning were hitting the horizon. The rain started to come down so we high-tailed to the nearest cave to take refuge until it passed.
We watched the rain from the shelter of our cave for about half an hour, pretending we were explorers stuck in the wilderness. About twenty metres away, I saw movement in the prickly bushes and a dark brown turtle was slowly moving on the dirt track. Shocked to see a turtle in this harsh desert environment we went out in the rain to check out our little storm buddy. He was a shy fella and hid in his shell as we approached. Leaving him alone, we decided the rain wasn’t too heavy and continued walking into the town.
It was B’s birthday so we went out for dinner, knowing exactly what to order. A popular meal in Turkey is the testi kebab, or the pottery kebab. This is where the meat is cooked in a small clay pot and broken at the time of serving. The pot is only used once and is absolutely delicious. It was served still flaming and was definitely a unique way to eat a kebab. After dinner we walked up to Sunset Point and joined about a hundred other people watch the sun set of Göreme city.
We had a our latest start of the trip the following morning (8am) and caught a transfer back to Kayseri Airport to catch our plane to Istanbul. Though, being a sucker for punishment – I (and B reluctantly) still woke up at 6am to watch the balloons from the ground. It was just as beautiful as watching them from the air, and from our viewing spot we nearly got run over by two balloons!
As we drove out of Göreme I was sad to leave. The town had a community, country feel to it which was similar to home in Australia. Cappadocia was truly one of the most unique places I’ve ever been too. Its as strange as it is wonderful and I recommend wholly for everybody to visit!!
From the girl who is now in the market for a hot air balloon (and driver preferably)