After a rough few days in Istanbul we were more than ready for our next stop – the region of Cappadocia – located in central Turkey. Cappadocia is one of the most popular places in the world to hot air balloon and has been on my bucket list for some time. It seemed like anyone I came across who had done a lot of world travel had been there. All of the pictures looked incredible. I had to go!
After a quick flight we landed at the Kayseri airport and took a shuttle to the nearby town of Goremë. I remember reading somewhere that Cappadocia is like landing on another planet and we quickly realized that description is spot on (you can skip to pics to see what I mean!). The town of Goremë sits in a valley surrounded by towering boulders and rock formations with many homes and structures carved into the surrounding hillside. All around are remnants of cave living from centuries ago, some going down six stories below ground. We stayed at the Bedrock Cave Hotel, a small hotel with great views of Goremë from the rooftop terrace and incredible customer service (overall though the Turkish hospitality was pretty amazing). We stayed in the cutest little cave room – in the words of Trav “not just for bears!”
The morning after arriving we were picked up early (4:30am to be exact!) for our hot air balloon ride. There are a million different balloon operators but we went with Butterfly Balloons. Back in April we met a couple while traveling in Argentina who recommended them plus they were one of the best rated on TripAdvisor. Butterfly is also one of the more expensive operators but we figured going thousands of feet up in the air isn’t exactly the time to be budget conscious. We had a quick breakfast at Butterfly’s office then shuttled out to the balloon in the nearby valley. After I was graciously loaded into the basket (lies – I pretty much tumbled in) then received a quick briefing from the pilot and we were up, up, and away! Not only is the surrounding landscape breathtaking but the sky is filled with tons of other balloons, so it’s quite the view. That morning there were 55 other balloons but on a typical day in busy season there can be up to 150 (with everything going on in Turkey obviously tourism is down). We got to see the sun slowly rise over the hills and the entire hour and a half ride was magical. After a smooth landing we were treated to a champagne toast. Made it back to our hotel by 7am just in time to head back to bed for a bit. All in a days work!
Besides hot air ballooning, the other highlight of the area is hiking through all the connected valleys. Two of the days we went exploring on foot to check out Pigeon Valley, Love Valley, Rose Valley, and the trail from Uchisar Castle back to Goremë. And we proceeded to get lost both days! We’d think we were on the trail then all of a sudden it would dead end off of a steep ridge. For those who know us well, you won’t be surprised this caused me to totally stress wondering if we could find our way, did we have enough water, etc. while it just prompted Trav to get super excited to “figure it out.” The good news is we had my phone with Google Maps which showed our coordinates despite not having connectivity (not the first time the app has saved our butts). The first day when we realized we may be off the trail, we stumbled into a small orchard and met a friendly local who not only helped steer us in the right direction but was worried we might be hungry so he fed us fresh apricots he was picking. Then the second day just as I urged Trav to give up and turn around to retrace our steps, we turned a corner and like magic, there was a little cafe in the middle of nowhere! We stopped for a snack and chatted with the owner who reassured us we had made it back on the main trail and where to go from there. I later read in my Lonely Planet book that while the hiking is incredible, be aware the trails are poorly marked. Hmm…must have missed that line when reading the first time…
Trav and I were still on our “happy to eat anything other than South American food” high and loving Turkish cuisine. In many restaurants you dine sitting on pillows with tables low to the ground which added to the fun. Wanting to learn how to cook it ourselves, we signed up for a a cooking class put on by a woman and her daughter. We’ve done our fair share of cooking classes and while I enjoy them all, this one was so authentic as we cooked with her in her own home making the traditional dishes she does all the time. On the menu: lentil soup (mercimek çorbasi), stuffed eggplant with beef (karnıyarık), stuffed vine leaves (yaprak sarma), Turkish rice (şehriyeli pilav), and a dessert called aside. It was the last night of Ramadan in which everyone gathers with family to celebrate and feast after the month of fasting, so we helped make huge portions of every dish – for Trav and I to gorge on the fruits of our labor then the rest saved for their celebration that evening. We’re already plotting a Turkish dinner party for when we get back home!
The last highlight was a Turkish massage and bath experience since we didn’t get a chance to do so while in Istanbul. While the options in Cappadocia don’t include traditional hamams like in Istanbul (many of them in beautiful old mosques), a hotel spa recreating the experience would have to do. We checked in, changed into Turkish towels to wrap around us and first had a sit in the sauna. We were led to the main room and instructed to lay down on the big tiled slab in the middle of the room. Then for the next 30 minutes each attendant scrubbed our bodies from top to bottom with some sort of loofah and sudsy soap, every so often dumping cold and warm buckets of water over us. They scrub pretty tough so you know you’re getting great exfoliation. Once it’s over you’re led to a quiet “relaxation” room with beds to lay down and decompress aka where we wanted to nap forever. Trav kept sniffing himself and excitedly saying, “I seriously don’t think I’ve ever been this clean in my whole life!” So the real question is, how do we send him to a Turkish bath more often?!