BEAUTY AND THE BALLOONS: THE INSPIRING LANDS OF CAPPADOCIA

Cappadocia

No, it`s pronounced Kap-ah-dok-yah!

I`ll get it right eventually!

And by the end of it, I did. The famed Turkish region of Cappadocia is not one of those places where you would simply forget about or it gets lost when you look back on your travels. Oh no, Cappadocia stands out. It will forever be ingrained in the memory box as being one of my most favourite places that I have ever ventured to. Why? Because it is seriously out of this world. Literally.

Cappadocia is really one of a kind. It is often regarded as one of the most scenic places on earth due to its` unique and ironically futuristic landscapes that dates back over nine million years. Its` spectacular geography, akin to a set off a Stars Wars movie, was formed as a result of three volcanic explosions (Hasan, Erclyes and Melendiz) and with the remnants scattered across hundreds of kilometres. With the affects of erosion and extreme weather conditions overtime also thrown in the mix, Cappadocia’s odd yet inspiring scenery is littered with fairy-like chimneys, honeycomb looking rock formations and valleys that are reminiscent of a lunar landscape due to its orange and cream like appearance. It is also where the splendour of the landscape has formed a perfect marriage with the creative craftsmanship of humankind to sculpture a region like no other.

For my visit, I opted to stay in the central point of Cappadocia, the enchanting town of Göreme as it is the hub of all major tourist activity. Göreme isn’t a busy place rather life seems to be slow paced and easy going. Amongst its tanned brick thoroughfares and its’ uniquely hollowed boutique cave hotels, it remains one of the worlds’ biggest cave-dwelling complexes. I was more than happy to live life in cave for a few days, after all, where else in the world can you reside in a five star cave? You know when you are also in a completely different setting when you see the odd donkey just chilling along the narrow and winding streets as well as numerous cats out and about. Every street corner in this rugged town offers a stunning overview of the surrealistic landscapes and you just have to kick yourself, you are witnessing nature at its finest. I love it when a place really captivates you and you just have to shake your head like ‘Surely this isn’t real?’ I found myself doing it here constantly. Unlike other famed natural tourist hot spots around the world, Göreme isn’t subjected to mass commercialisation and still retains a local and authentic charm in which I hope it keeps as it is truly a magical place.

Upon descending onto this topographical wonderland, I was immediately hooked. There are so many varied historical, cultural and outdoor activities to do and see in this spectacular part of the world. Normally I would be opposed to doing most day tours that cram a lot in however the most smart and economical way of touring around the region is either partaking in a Red Tour or a Green Tour which you can book at most tourist offices or your hotel.  I opted to take the Green Tour as the attractions appealed to me moreso.

This tour included various pit stops including a visit to the mind blowing UNESCO heritage protected and historical eight storey underground city of Derinkuyu Yeraltı Şehri which is really one of a kind and a must see. Back on ground level, I felt like I was part of a Futurama episode exploring the Selime Monastery which had been carved out of the odd rock and chimney-like formations on a hill. An easy hike through the Ihlara Valley was a highlight for me also as it really made me grasp the magnitude of the beautiful surrounds of the region against a backdrop of a verdant river canyon. Don’t let the key word of that sentence ‘hike’ fool you either, it was pretty much a casual stroll through the Turkish outback. After a quick pit stop to take advantage of  free tasting samples of Turkish Delight at a local store, which was like the equivalent of a Baskin’s Robbins ice cream shop showcasing every flavour you can possibly think of, the tour ended with a brief stop at Pigeon Valley. From its’ natural platform, it provided you with the most alluring panoramic views of Cappadocia at sunset.

Yes I know – those places all sounded amazing but not as amazing as the main draw card to the region, the main ‘To Do’ or ‘When in Cappadocia’ and also featuring on the ‘Things to Do Before You Die’ list (or maybe that’s just me).  What is it? Being whisked away on a hot air balloon of course. I have to admit, going on a hot air balloon ride has been on my to do list for a very long time. I’m glad I waited it out because I cannot imagine anywhere in the world that would beat the views you witness from above. Cappadocia is one of the top places in the world to go hot air ballooning. With that said, there is mass competition from over 20 companies so much so that balloon flights are restricted to 150 balloons daily all varying in size from capsules holding 28 people or if you are Mr Money Bags,  two people.

Rise and shine in the early morning as the tour kicks off in the most magical way, witnessing the sunrise via balloon. It is a sunrise I will never forget, especially for the fact our pilot decided to belt out a bit of Celine with ‘My Heart Will Go On’. He got brownie points with me there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Jack by my side to feel like a King or Queen of the world (I had my sister instead) but I certainly felt like I was on top of the world. Just observing other 100 odd balloons from afar, high in the sky and also below us, floating in the air as if life were still. The change of colour of the landscapes once the sun had risen was also a magical sight to behold. I could go on forever to describe the feeling, the beauty and the memorization of it all but it still would not do it justice. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Back on the ground and in the heart of Göreme, I decided to partake in two Turkish favourite past times: cooking and family eating. Lets’ touch on the former. On my last day touring the region, my sister and I stumbled upon a cooking school advertisement whilst sitting in a cafe tucking into a meze platter with only a few hours to go before we were due to fly out. Yes! Finally we can learn how to make our favourite eggplant dish since practically every meal time we were ordering variations of eggplant dishes since, well, if you do ever visit Turkey, they know how to make good use of it. As soon as we inquired about the cooking school and about a possible quick private class, we found ourselves being quickly whisked away by a Turkish grandma driving us to her family home, which was a cave house, to teach us the beautiful ways of home cooking, Turkish style. It was her daughter that showed us how to prepare stuffed eggplant as well as a lentil soup popular to the region. Our teacher was the same age as I and it was interesting to learn about her life in Cappadocia. After our speed through cooking session which my sister and I felt like we were back at home learning from our own mother, we kicked back and enjoyed a tea with the our newly adopted Turkish family including granddaughter in tow who very touchingly, drew portraits of my sister and I. It was such a humbling experience to be invited to a home environment that possessed similar values to family and of course food like my Italian background. Also just to engage in a normal conversation with locals was refreshing yet it felt like familiar territory. It is moments like these which makes me embrace traveling ever so much because they are real and not contrived.

Heading out in Turkey for a feed is also an interesting experience especially when young Turkish men are your waiters for the evening. My sister often felt like she was the third wheel on an awkward first date. I told her I am just being nice since the Turkish are ever so friendly and in general, I love to converse with anyone who comes my way. But maybe I am naïve in this case or in general, maybe my niceness and openness towards people can be perceived as me constantly flirting for which by now if I was trying to, I probably would have four Turkish husbands and would be a quite the cougar. Not a bad idea actually. Between the accidental flirtations with Turkish men, there was much eating and drinking to be had. I hadn’t realised upon arriving in Turkey as a whole that Turkey produces some damn good fine wine so I took the liberties of trying various wines. Food wise, my sister and I always opted to share our meals as we are big foodies and wanted to basically try everything on the menu. This was especially the case when we feasted on a meze platter featuring 14 dishes and since we couldn’t get enough of a particular tomato eggplant dish, we opted to order it again even though by this stage, I had to undo the button of my skin tight jeans from the amount of food we demolished.

Despite my literal descriptions and all I have experienced including conversing with locals and being the ultimate tourist, I could not do justice to describe the region. I felt like was on a different planet. It left me on a high. More so than the balloons would ever take me but wow, how I enjoyed that ride ever so much, well and truly a highlight. Now what was the name of that place again?

Want to know more? Here is the nitty gritty!

Sleep: Artemis Cave Suites – Never have I been so impressed by a hotel and its staff. The hospitality received was second to none and the rooms, well who would’ve thought you could live in a luxurious cave? For more info – http://www.artemiscavesuites.com

Eat: This is the number one place to eat out in Göreme and for good reason. If you want to try Turkish food at its’ finest and made with love of course, then a visit to this place is a must! You must also book in advance as there are limited tables! For more info – https://www.facebook.com/TopdeckCave

Balloon: I did not realise that it is essential to book in advance as in summer, despite the number of balloons in the air, there is simply not enough basket space to cater to demand! My sister and I opted to pay a bit more than the cheapest for a 16 person basket balloon ride for approx. 150€ each. The cheapest is a 28 person basket balloon ride however I was more than happy to cough up a little bit more (around 20€ extra) to have a bit more of an authentic experience. There are over 20 balloon operators to choose from.

Cook: Arrange your tutorial 101 on Turkish cooking (made with love of course) through Safak Café Restaurant. For more info – http://cafesafak.weebly.com/index.html