After a wonderful trip in Istanbul we were off to Cappadocia via Turkish Airlines to the land of fairy chimneys, ancient underground cities, and cave homes. A whimsical city that became what it is today thousands of years ago from a volcanic eruption from Mt Erciyes that seeped deep into the landscape. After thousands upon thousands of years of river erosion, wind and rain the land around the eruption’s effects were washed away to expose the unworldly formations of Cappadocia.
From this mother nature created what is known as “fairy chimneys” which now sweeps the landscape of Cappadocia. The name will make more sense once you see the pictures. The geological effects from the eruption and subsequent erosion has made the earth very soft which allowed for civilizations to build underground worlds, caves and places of hidden worship. This rich history, unique landscape, and the fact that you can literally stay in a hotel room carved into a fairy chimney makes Cappadocia one of the most interesting places to visit.
Peter and I checked into the Kelebek Special Cave Hotel through the recommendation of one of his FlyerTalk pals, which is located in the city of Goreme. The history of the hotel alone is fascinating. Up until 1993 it served as a home to locals until a family turned it into a hotel for growing tourism. In prehistoric times this property, with its two fairy chimneys, were transformed into chapels where hermits use to live and worship. The people were forced to live like troglodytes to avoid Christian persecution and raids from Persians, Arabs, and Turks. The landscape proved to be an excellent place to build camouflaged homes.
And we got to stay in one of the prehistoric caves! Chimney and all.
Cappadocia offers many exploring activities. On our first full day we did a self guided tour and hiked our way through the unique landscape of Love Valley, named for obvious reasons.
Pretty spectacular landscape. By my hat you can see it was a bit cold. It was 28 degrees and I am officially wimpy. I was absolutely freezing. Peter, the Californian, complained less about the cold than me. My Alaskan people probably want to disown me now.
On this day we also visited the Goreme Open-Air Museum. The museum is a complex of churches full of preserved frescoes dating back to 1000 AD. The museum represents the best collection of painted cave churches. It is moving to be here and realize what people sacrificed in order to worship Jesus as well as the dedication by painting frescoes on the walls of the caves.
Ever been to Disneyland and rode Thunder Mountain? Peter thinks the above picture was the inspiration for the design.
That evening we sat outside at a restaurant called Fat Boy’s Bar and had dinner. Why outside? So we could smoke nargile and drink tea. When in Turkey. Also, even though the name of the place is a bit strange, there was a great atmosphere and food at the restaurant. Peter and I came back here most nights to eat, recap our days, and enjoy nargile.
The next morning we rose at 4 am for the main event, the most popular thing to do in a city with such an extraordinary landscape… a hot air balloon ride! This was going to be a first for both of us. Once again, through the help of FlyerTalk, Peter found the safest company for hot air balloon rides as a lot of the operators were completely clueless pilots and there had been some tragedies. The company is named Butterfly Balloons and although its significantly more expensive, they have a mix of European and Turkish certified pilots to fly the balloons and launch from a safe, remote distance away from the bad drivers. It was a no-brainer for us.
We were picked up at 5 am so we could catch the sunrise. We were lucky enough to get the head-pilot, Mike, who carries somewhat of a cult-following for his mastery of hot air balloon flying with 25 years of experience. He has flown all over the world, including over the North Pole. We felt like we were in good hands, literally. After a breakfast at their office we were off for a bit of a drive to where the balloons were located in a large open field.
After the balloon was sufficiently full we were off (this is not Mike in the picture, rather his assistant who fills the balloon with air).
Mike took us over fairy chimneys, descended into valleys, while making sure to turn the balloon so that we could all get get a 360 degree view of the fairy-tale like beauty of Cappadocia. It was a real treat for the eyes while also instilling some adrenaline. I was initially a bit nervous, but after being in the balloon for a couple minutes that feeling dissipated and I felt nothing but safe, and actually quite at peace due to the inspiring scenery. While a lot of the hot air-balloon rides went straight up and hovered high in the sky before landing, Mike would descend into tiny spaces and clear trees, chimneys and cliff-side edges by near inches then launch way into the sky. You could tell he was showing off and having fun. We had no idea the agility a skilled pilot can have with a hot-air balloon.
Quite a wondrous way to begin your day for sure.
Our trusted pilot Mike began his slow decent back towards the Mars like land below us. As a final piece of theatre, he showed off his skills by landing the hot-air balloon basket gently on a trailer connected to the truck that drives the balloons back to the office. A big round of applause commenced as we softly landed perfectly aligned on top of the trailer. He quipped, “I’ll make it easier on the staff today – this basket is kinda heavy.” It was impressive (Mike pictured below in the basket – that’s the trailer he landed on!)
We topped of the event with a champagne toast. From start to finish it was a perfect morning.
For the rest of the day we had a tour set up to catch some of the other sites Cappadocia has to offer. We booked through Cappadocia Daily Tours which proved to be another great and professional company.
We started off with an hour and a half hike though Rose Valley so called by the different shades of the landscape.
Followed by Pasabag (Monks Valley) where you can see a variety of different fairy chimneys. This is where monks sought refuge. There is a chapel dedicated to St Simeon who came here to escape and live as a hermit after people found out he could perform miracles.
We took a break for lunch where we had to take an open air jeep down a valley into a village where we ate at what else, a cave? The area we enjoyed our lunch is called Kings Valley.
Over lunch our guide talked to us about Syria, ISIS, Turkish involvement and the complexities of the villages in the region that make the political environment so dynamic. Cappadocia is in Eastern Turkey and a mere 6 hours from the border of Syria and the town of Kobane, a hot spot for ISIS. He preached non-violence and had to be one of the most intelligent tour guides we had ever hired. His political and historical acumen was unparalleled and he painted a future political landscape that had no positive outcome. He had traveled to Syria before and when asked if he would ever want to go back, he replied, “For what? There will be nothing to see expect for bones.”
After a lunch consisting of pretty heavy conversation, we thanked our chef and wait staff and headed to our final site-seeing spot for the day, Kaymakli Underground City.
It is believed that these ancient underground cities were built during the 8th century BC but where mostly inhabited during the Byzantine Era when people had to take refuge underground to avoid persecution of Christianity and other types of non-religious aggression. This is just one of 36 ancient cities which all are connected by tunnels. This cave city is 8 stories, but only 4 of those 8 are open to the public. Due to a bit of claustrophobia I don’t think I could have gone 8 floors deep anyway. Our guide told us that I would have been one of the tallest people living in these caves. Peter’s back hurt the rest of the day after walking like a caveman for an hour and a half. The Japanese tourists were appropriately sized.
On our way home our guide took us to one last look-out spot just as the moon came out.
What a day!
Cappadocia – rich in history, beauty, and adventure was a perfect place for us to visit and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
As Peter was checking us out of our cave the next morning, we were met with a perfect sendoff. I stepped out of the office and looked up to the sky and was treated to eye-candy. A shriek of happiness involuntarily came flying out of my mouth by the sheer beauty of the sky.
We headed back to the airport in Cappadocia where we had a short connection time to catch our Turkish Airlines flight back West to Hungary to meet-up with friends in the country’s capital of Budapest.
Lot’s of love and gratitude.