Urgh… It was a 4:20AM pickup this morning – there have been too many of these early starts on this holiday! As we stood around in the cold early morning air in a town that was fast asleep, I wondered if we had been forgotten about. It was a sill concern, yet I was still concerned. This was mostly because it was a last minute booking via a website and a few phone calls. The rates (€100 each) were considerably cheaper than anything we’d seen or heard of, which made me think that maybe it was too good to be true – the next cheapest was €130, with an average of €150 each!
But, right on time, a small Mercedes Sprinter van pulled in to the front of our accommodation. Interestingly, they didn’t have our names, only our room number to identify us. We were the second people in the van, and I thought that maybe there weren’t many tourists in town at the moment, but before long, the fourteen-seater van was full and on it’s way.
We were dropped at a small café for pre-dawn coffee/tea/juice and snacks while balloon was being prepared. We all eagerly watched the balloons being filled with hot air as they gradually took shape. It was all incredibly exciting. The bus driver split us into groups and gave us different number tags, representing the groups that we would be flying in. It was surprisingly cold this morning, which is to be expected being so far inland I guess. I’m just glad that we decided to wear our thin down jackets unlike others in the group who were shivering in t-shirts.
We ended up in a group that was shuttled to a take off point on the other side of the mountain range. It was silly, but I was feeling anxious that we were going to miss everything. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but there were already balloons up in the air.
We were given safety instructions, and further split into more groups for inside the sections of the basket. We were one of the later balloons to take flight, and the sun had already peeked above the horizon. At the time it felt like we were missing out, and this was possibly the reason that our flight was so cheap. But once we were up and lighter than air, all concern quickly disappeared.
It was the first time that either of us had been in a hot air balloon, and the experience is quite unlike anything else I have been in. Apart from the occasional roar of the burners sending more hot air to fill the enormous balloon, it was silent. Not only was it essentially silent, it was also eerily smooth and gentle.
There weren’t many balloons where we took off, so again, at first it was a little disappointing, as it would have been amazing to have been inside a swarm of the colourful balloons. But, thinking more about it later, I was glad that we were on the fringe, allowing us to also have unobstructed views of the amazing landscape below us. Seeing all the valleys from air made it all look quite small and compact, too.
The balloons didn’t just spend the time high above the ground, either. They would shoot up, and before we knew it we were eye-level with the fairy chimneys. Looking out on the landscape around us, with these giant colourful bulbous things moving around. It kind of reminded me of this scene from The Matrix Revolutions, but I’m probably alone on this one…
It was actually quite incredible how controlled they could descend. Our pilot, Fatih, brought the balloon down to within a meter of some of the rock spires, before gently drifting back up and into another small valley. I think we scared a few goats who didn’t expect our company, though to be honest, they were more interested in eating.
We booked on one of the regular length tours (60-minutes), and by the time came to finally descend and deflate, I was ready. At the time we booked, I thought we should cough up the extra money for a longer ride, but I think we made the right decision.
And speaking of time to descend, it was a pretty interesting exercise involving a careful co-ordination between our pilot, and a driver in a 4WD with a trailer. We were lucky enough to watch another balloon go through it before we attempted that dance with our partner. We had to assume the brace position, so it was hard to see much, but there were a few moments where it looked close to touching down, before gently lifting up a little and then back down. As with the rest of the flight, the smoothness was like no other form of transport – though I’m sure that’s not always the case…
The basket was strapped down to the trailer, and the balloon was rapidly collapsing as we were helped out of the rather large basket. Once we were all out safely, the ground support crew had a small table set up, champagne glasses were set out on that table, and the bubbly started flowing. Apparently it’s been tradition since the very first balloon flight that the end of each successful voyage is celebrated with a glass of champagne. That may be the case, but I’m not sure about the F1 style victory celebration spray (I’m glad my camera and I were safe from this guy).
We booked through an agent, who I’m assuming is able to offer discount by negotiating with companies that have last-minute vacancies. We actually ended up with one of the more expensive companies, Sky Way Balloons. It was a positive experience, but I’m sure it’s pretty rare for it not to be.
Lots of people say that this was their Turkey highlight, and while I think it’s an amazing place to experience a ride in a hot air balloon, and it was certainly an amazing way to see the Cappadocia area, it feels a little wrong to say that it was the best thing we did/see in Turkey – though I am struggling to think of a single activity we did that trumped this…
The ride back to the hotel was a blur. As was breakfast, which we enjoyed from our semi-private balcony next to our little cave suite.
We weren’t as tired as I thought we would have been, so we pushed on through for a while longer and went to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is an interesting name for another set of rock cut monasteries and churches. They were larger and much grander than the ones we visited yesterday at Soganli, but these were way more popular/crowded.
As with Soganli, there were some amazing frescos in some of the churches, and again like Soganli, they have been vandalised by both Arab raiders, and more recent tourists. Also, due to the crowds, they had security stopping people from taking photographs, which was a shame as The Dark Church (which was a separate entry fee) was especially impressive. I can only think the photo ban was to keep the crowds moving.
It was impressive, and certainly worth a visit if visiting Cappadocia, but maybe the novelty was dulled a little after yesterday.
Much to Risa’s sadness, rather than going back to the hotel to sleep and escape the heat, I wanted to do a quick bit of exploring in one of the valleys near the ‘museum’. It was more of the same, with oddly eroded rocks, and bird houses carved into them.
I saw that a door was open on one, so I decided to take the risk and climb up the stairs to have a peek inside. I say stairs, but in truth it was more like a series of holes that had been dug in the side of the rock. It was much more like rock climbing than a casual walk up some steps. I managed to persuade Risa that it wasn’t that difficult (nor dangerous), so she came up and joined me, too. Foolishly, I had thought that it was previously someone’s house (with a killer set of front steps), but peeking inside we could quite clearly see that it was a birdhouse. Inside there were dozens of small alcoves that had been dug out, as well as lots of perching branches that criss-crossed the rather open floor. There was even a second floor inside, though the windows had been blocked up, and it was quite dark and dirty inside, so a quick peep from the ladder was enough to satisfy our curiosity.
Squeezing through the tiny doorway proved to be quite a challenge, especially when we tried to leave and climb back down. Standing on the tiny section of flat area in front of that miniscule doorway, we had fantastic views out over the valley, which only made me want to explore more. Even though we’d just drifted over this area a few hours ago, it was lovely seeing it again now under the harsh overhead sunlight. People used to live in the area until recently, however the government forced them to leave due to the erosion and increasing structural weaknesses.
We stumbled upon many interesting rocks, riddled with holes. Some of them had decorations that made them quite easy to identify as being a church.
We eventually ended up on a walkway looking across at Rose Valley, named for the rose hued sandstone in this valley, especially prominent during sunset. Since we had no plans for this evening, we decided to return to see it in the golden horizontal light of the sun set.
As we drove back to Göreme, we saw this monster of all cave houses, something more similar to an apartment block. Again, the residents that used to live in the caves here in Çavusin were evicted due to safety concerns, and here it was pretty clear that it was justified. Unlike the laidback feel of Göreme, Çavusin had an air of desperation to it – it was clearly less popular of the two cities.
We had a teenage boy invite me in to look at his products that were for sale, but since there was nothing that we wanted to buy, I apologised and kept walking – his response still makes us laugh, “Sorry no good”! And then he huffed away in a foul mood. Maybe not all Turks are born salesmen after all!
We were tired, hot and hungry, so we returned to the luxurious cave suite we had rented for a second night, where we relaxed and waited for sunset to near and for the temperatures to drop.
Lots of people joke about how phallic some of the rocks are in Cappadocia, and while we would see the occasional, there wasn’t really anything that stood out. That was until we went to this little place on the side of the road. Lonely Planet calls them the Rude Boys.
As we were leaving Çavusin earlier, I spotted what I thought was a sign for a kebab shop up on a panoramic view point of Rose Valley, so we returned there for dinner. I was sadly mistaken, as it was only a (closed) souvenir stand. But, the sign was for an actual kebab shop, with the rather over ambitious name of Kebab World. The place looked closed, and if it wasn’t, it looked like it should be. A middle-aged man poked his head out and took our order – two chicken kebab wraps. There was none of the fancy meat on a rotisserie here, just some pan fried chicken, a few bits of salad, and wrapped up. But, it was cheap, quick and takeaway – so we could go watch the sun set from a better vantage point.
And that’s what we did, we climbed along a walking path to the top of a cliff that overlooked Rose Valley. Carved into the cliff were dozens of pigeon houses, which from a distance made the cliff look more like an enormous apartment complex littered with windows and balconies.
It didn’t take long for the light to fade and for the twilight to begin. Our vantage point was right by the large set of abandoned caves in Çavusin. It really hit home just how narrow the rooms there were when we could see the sun shining straight through them.
There were also more curiously shaped columns on the walk back to the car, so naturally we did some epic power poses beside them as the sky lit up behind us.
This was our third night in Göreme, and it felt like we hadn’t really explored the town much. It’s only a small town, and everything is easily within walking distance, but even so, we opted to park our car in the centre, rather than walking from the hotel. As it was our first time just wandering around aimlessly, we finally realised just how small this place was. And, it seemed friendly, too. Many different restaurants, all of which seemed quite affordable and tasty, as well as the obligatory markets and tourist counters selling tours. In the middle of town there was a most impressive fairy chimney with what looked like Roman columns carved into the side of it, as well as a mosque with a minaret illuminated an iridescent green. Oh, and with a bubble fountain outside the front doors…
We’d heard the hype about Göreme, and I think I would agree. It is down to earth (for Turkey), affordable and plain relaxing (if you want it to be). Certainly a highlight.
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