14/9/15 – 19/9/15
Warning: This post will contain lots of photos of balloons.
See, I told you.
I was so excited to go to Cappadocia and see its famous arid, martian landscape and also the balloons that fill its sky every morning, even the thought of a 10 hour bus ride couldn’t dampen the excitement. Ok, maybe it could a little bit. Although it got a little bit more exciting when we stopped for lunch around 4ish hours in, connected to WiFi and saw there was a leadership spill happening back home, where Malcolm Turnbull was soon expected to challenge for the Prime Ministership. Ooooooh. Of course, before anything started happening, we had to hop back on the bus and disconnect from the world for the next 6-7 hours. The rest of the time was spent basically listening to as many episodes of the Serial podcast as possible. When I out of new eps, I made Daniel listen to them so that I could discuss it with someone. I’m pretty addicted.
We finally arrive in Goreme, the most popular of the towns (for tourists) in the Cappadocia region. A map tells us that our hostel is only a short walk away -the map fails to tell us that we are walking uphill the whole way. So while we’re only 15 minutes or so away from the small bus station, by the time we arrive at the Garden Cave Hotel I am in such a sweaty, exhausted state that I want nothing more than to shower and sleep off the past 10 hours of bus. But Anna, the manager of the hostel, had other ideas. She’s a friendly Russian expat living in Turkey who speaks fluent English, and somehow manages to convince us to quickly get changed and cram eight people into a taxi to take us to a place called ‘Halay Han’ where they are putting on a ‘Turkish Night’. We were hesitant because it was a little pricey, but once we found it included all you can eat and more importantly, drink -we both quickly changed and sprayed ourselves head-to-toe in deodorant as the taxi waited for us.
We arrived just in time for the show to start, and had the best seats in the
house cave. The whirling dervishes were a highlight -how do they keep spinning?? – plus the array of stunning, exotic belly dancers. That being said, it was somewhat of a hilariously depressing lowlight when these goddesses called a few females up and they tried to ‘teach us some moves’. Of course, it’s an exotic Portuguese air hostess (also a guest at the hostel), plus a South American lady… and me. Great.
So look, this event was all you can drink. As expected, by the time the show had finished, our humble little hostel group of about eight people were pretty sloshed -but noting out of control. Anna took us onto another bar in town, and this is where the real show began. At one point, Daniel and I look outside and saw Anna and the hostel owner, man who we’ll call ‘John’ (for the sake of anonymity but mainly because I can’t remember it) seemingly having an argument. It definitely seems tense and as we awkwardly turn away, things intensify. Anna started to push some tables around towards John, and they John suddenly pushes Anna to the ground. Oooooh no. At this point Daniel rushes outside to separate the two of them and see if Anna is ok after being aggressively shoved to the ground. Then the bar manager comes and intervenes and tells Daniel that all is in hand, tells him to go back inside.
Daniel’s back inside, we’re bringing a couple of people up to speed of what the heck just happened. All of a sudden, John comes up to Daniel and starts acting aggressively towards him now! Saying things like ‘why the hell would you come up to me like that’ ‘why are you trying to fight me’. Mate. No one’s trying to fight you, you were the one who pushed a woman. “I’d never hurt a woman”. Maaaaaate. We saw you. Daniel being the rational human he is, saw sense to leave the situation and we left the bar and hopped in a cab and hightailed it back to the hostel. The hostel that John owns. This is going to be a fun week.
Waking up the next morning after the excitement of the show but then the drama of what happened afterwards was strange, but all of that was out of mind as soon as I stepped outside our dorm and took in the surroundings. Having arrived at night time meant I couldn’t have even begun to appreciate the unique landscape now spread in front of me in the morning light. Caves of different shapes and sizes form the town of Goreme, mainly housing hotels and lodgings.
We have of course booked in our hot air balloon, but for the following morning. So we spend the day walking down the centre of town, and then keep walking to reach the Open Air Museum, another popular tourist spot. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a sprawling area filled with so many monasteries carved into caves, some still with frescoes in tact. It also gives you great vistas across the whole region. There’s an entrance fee but only 25TL which isn’t a huge amount. In fairness, we probably should have spent more time there but it was a sweltering day (standard) so we took shade as soon as we could. Good thing there’s a few caves around the place.
An easy, free activity to make the most of your time in Cappadocia is to head to the ‘sunset point’, and as the title suggests, take in the sunset. It gets fairly busy, so best to go for a wander and find a more secluded spot to take it all in. This spot is also perfect for waking up before sunrise and heading down to watch the balloons set up and then take off. More on that later.
The next day was the one I’d been looking forward to for months and months. It felt like Christmas Eve, rushing through dinner so you can get to sleep as soon as possible, only to spend hours awake in anticipation. Yes, I’m 24 and still get that excited every Christmas Eve. So the alarm went off at 5am as we’d just gotten to sleep, and we were soon picked up by Atmosfer Balloons, one of the top rated companies in Cappadocia.
I’ve never been in a hot air balloon before and for some reason wasn’t even slightly nervous. Come 6.30am we were taking off, and I can’t believe what I am seeing. In eight months of travel I have some of the most vivid memories from that morning, but I’m still at a loss at how to best describe it. It was exciting yet tranquil, the setting beautiful yet arid. I’ll let the photos do most of the work though.
You can be in the air for up to an hour, slightly more or slightly less depending on the weather conditions. I think we were up for just over, but it went so fast that it felt like we were landing as soon as we took off. Even with paragliding in Fethiye, this is undoubtedly the most expensive activity of our entire trip, costing around €120/$AU175. So it’s not budget traveller friendly, but it is absolutely worth every euro/dollar. If you’ve spent all of your money in Turkey’s bazaars and truly can’t justify the cost, then head to the Sunset Point at 6am, find a good spot and watch the balloons preparing and then taking off. We did this the following morning and while it can’t compare to being in the air, it was amazing to see it unfold from another perspective.
Aside from the above, another highlight of our stay in Cappadocia was the whole day we spent out on the ‘Green Tour’. The Green Tour and also the Red Tour are two popular day trips organised by various companies, each with a different itinerary. We opted for the Green Tour as you seemed to see a lot more, and included one of the Underground cities (which are very difficult to get to on public transport).
Stops on the tour included the Selime Monastery (personal highlight of the day), Ilhara Valley hike (3km, barely a hike) and the Derinkuyu Underground City. We also had photo ops at Pigeon Valley and Goreme Panorama.
Goreme and the wider Cappadocia region was everything I had hoped it would be. There’s still so much I want to write in this blog post (like the amazing lentil soup from Cafe Safak), but for now I’ll leave it here. We had planned to spend time in one of the other towns of Cappadocia, but Goreme is so well placed that we stayed out of convenience and also enjoyment for the bustling but small town.
Until next time.