Another dream fulfilled; we are just back from our hot air balloon flight over the surreal surroundings of Cappadocia in Turkey (Turkish: Kapadokya), which is dominated by caves and fairy chimneys that change colour depending on the sunlight.

We arrived 2 days ago after an 11 hour night bus journey from Istanbul. Buses are very modern in this country so it was not an uncomfortable experience for me, but Tony’s longer legs did not feel quite the same. I really wanted to stay in a cave hotel in Goreme, so we searched and searched until we found an adequate one. Of the two of us, Tony is the allergic one; but it was my turn this time. I never knew I had any allergy until now. The natural rock of the caves is damp and made me very sick. My right eye and right nostril did not stop watering the whole time, until we changed to a non-cave room the second night. I looked pathetic, to the point that a man asked me if I had been smoking hashish … I can barely smoke nargile water pipe!

We rented a 125cc scooter and did our own tour of the region, taking the roads less traveled. Obviously they don’t get too much tourists in the villages we passed through, as people would stop what they were doing to wave and shout “hello!” to us. The scenery with the different rock formations is something out of this world. The first Star Wars movie was filmed here, so yes it’s out of this world. Cappadocia is the result of volcanic eruptions 3,00,000 years ago which covered the land in a soft layer of “tuff” rock. The areas not covered by basalt rock on top gradually eroded over time, leaving mystical valleys in their wake. A major highlight was a visit to Derinkuyu, an underground city. Many centuries ago the locals built underground cities to escape from invaders. Derinkuyu is quite amazing as it goes 8 floors underground through low, narrow tunnels. They had churches underground in the city and even stables. It is well worth a visit. Get there early though to avoid the tour-buses.

Yesterday we were supposed to take a hot air balloon ride over the valleys at sunrise. We were up very early for our flight, but they never came to pick us up. Later, they told us that most flights had been canceled because it was too windy. It would have been good if they had let us know instead of waiting for hours. Anyway we decided to stay one more day and hope for better conditions. It paid off! We are just back from an amazing experience in the clouds watching the sunrise over Cappadocia. We were not alone in the sky, about 20 other balloons accompanied us in the sky. And this is still low season!

We also paid a visit to the Goreme Open Air Museum, which is a small monastic settlement of cave houses and built in fairy chimney between the 10th and 13th centuries in which you can see the way people lived. There are many churches inside the caves, most of which still have “seccoes” (similar to frescoes) on the walls depicting geometric figures, animals, and the most beautiful ones displaying well preserved and colorful Biblical images. Some of the paintings have the eyes destroyed due to superstitious locals fearing the evil eye. But Tony was quite annoyed to see some paintings defaced with people’s initials – a more recent and less appreciable form of art.

The food was delicious as well. In Cappadocia they have the “Testi Kebap”, which is made in a clay pot and broken in the table before serving. I still am not sure what the term kebap connotes, as they seem to call almost all their food kebaps. It is not only a wrap in bread, but many oven baked dishes and stews as well. The people have been very helpful and nice. A special mention goes to the owner of our second hotel (Dora) and travel agency Cem Tours, Mr. Arslan. Not only he gave us great deals on prices, but helped us with everything. We had not booked our balloon in advance, and they were all full, as this is Holy Week; but he did everything he could to get us onto a first flight.

Overall, we’re extremely satisfied with our visit to Turkey. Now Syria, via the ancient city of Antakya (Antioch) and then perhaps the oldest cities on Earth, Aleppo and Damascus. Happy Easter!

Originally written for A Year in Motion

posts by Tony and Ninfa