Flying High in Cappadocia

Flying High in Cappadocia

We took a 6:20 AM flight to Istanbul from Tel Aviv. We arrived at 9:40 AM and then took a flight at 3:05 PM to Nevsehir, Cappadocia. Cappadocia is one of the places I hadn’t heard about before we planned our trip but I’m definitely glad I know it know. The Cappadocia region lies in central Turkey and includes 4 provinces: Nevsehir, Kayseri, Aksaray and Nigde. The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms commonly called “fairy chimneys.” The large, cone-like formations were created over time by erosion of the relatively soft volcanic ash around them. Past cultures have dug into them to create dwellings, castles (like Uchisar) and even entire underground cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, used as hiding places by early Christians. The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most visited site of the monastic communities in Cappadocia and is one of the most famous sites in central Turkey. The complex contains more than 30 carved-from-rock churches and chapels, some having superb frescoes inside, dating from the 9th century to the 11th century. However, the most famous images and adventures of Cappadocia are the hot air balloon rides around Göreme at sunrise over the beautiful fairy chimneys.

View from our hotel, did not expect the snow

When we got into Cappadocia and it was snowing pretty hard and our driver told us that it was the first snowfall of the season. We had an hour and a half airport transfer to Göreme and we just watched the snow come down. We thought Turkey was going to be warmer but I guess we should have assumed that it would be colder since Cappadocia is in the mountains. We don’t have that many long sleeve shirts or warmer clothes so we were a bit worried about the rest of our stay here. Many of the hotels in Cappadocia are cave hotels that have balconies or terraces with amazing views of the balloons at sunrise. Our hotel room was nice and big and warm and also had a terrace to see the balloons. We warmed up inside our room then went to dinner in town. The town of Göreme is really small so it was just a short walk to the restaurant. I had the Turkish pizza called pide which was delicious and Diem had a stew. Dinner was really good and really cheap (around $10 USD for the both of us) so I was excited to hopefully make up for our expensive Jordan trip.

Scoping out the view for the sunrise balloons

On our first full day, I was feeling pretty good because I finally got a full night of sleep and we had a nice free breakfast from the hotel. It was pretty delicious and extensive for such a small hotel. It was still pretty cold out and we still needed to rest so we stayed in and watched TV and worked on our blogs. We went out for lunch and got some Turkish pizza and kebab with a lentil soup. It was still pretty cloudy and cold out so we just decided to call it a rest day and watched The Girl on the Train. Later, we got dinner at a café nearby which turned out to be a small section of a hostel. The kitchen of the café was really small and just like a home kitchen connected to a living room where everyone was eating and talking. We had a nice conversation with a Turkish girl that was studying at Northwestern in International Relations but wanted to transfer to Harvard. She was with a bunch of teenagers who were working with a project aimed at teaching people in Turkey to use the internet. She also told us that she wanted to help teach Turkish people English and French. She was really nice but also made us feel a little bad that we weren’t doing enough charity or helping others. After dinner Diem and I talked about some charitable things we wanted to do when we get back.

Going up just before first light

Sunrise, can't beat that view

The next day we got up early and got picked up at 6:15 AM for our hot air balloon ride. It was really cold out but after we picked up some more people and got some coffee it wasn’t so bad. We did a hot air balloon ride in Temecula a couple of years ago which was great, but this one blew it away. We got up in the air just after 7 AM and there were at least 2 dozen other balloons going up at the same time. When we first took off the other balloons going up looked like fireflies glowing in the dim light. The sun rose around 7:30 AM and came up over Mt. Erciyes in the distance. The clear skies, lots of other hot air balloons, and the snow on some of the fairy chimneys made for a great view.

Down in Lover's Valley

After floating high in the air for the sunrise over the mountain, our captain took us down in to “Lover’s Valley” where there were lots of fairy chimneys. We got surprisingly close to them and the valley was really striking. We took tons of pictures and probably annoyed our other balloon-mates but they came out well. The ride was €110 each, which is a steal compared to the ~$300 per person balloon rides in Bagan, Myanmar that we were thinking of doing (we decided against it). Words don’t really do this ride justice so hopefully the pictures and videos we took give you a better idea. This experience should definitely be on your bucket list. If you’re scared of heights, you should bite the bullet because there’s nothing quite like it. We got back to the hotel around 9 AM, had our breakfast and then made our way back to our room. Since we are San Diegans and didn’t have warm clothes, we stayed in our heated room until lunch. When we left for lunch it was actually sunny and a lot warmer outside. After lunch we walked up to sunset point to scout the view for sunrise tomorrow. While you won’t see the hot air balloons at sunset, the view from Göreme sunset point was still pretty beautiful. We decided that it would be a great place to see the balloons in the morning.

More shots of Lover's Valley, pretty close for comfort

A nice little viewing spot along the cliff

The next day we got up early and hiked to sunset point at sunrise to see the balloons. We got there just before sunrise around 7:30 AM and the balloons were already up and surrounded the area. A number of other people had the same idea, but we found an open spot to take pictures and enjoy the view. It was nice to get the ground view of the balloons, the town, the valley, and the sunrise but the view from the balloon is better. However, we got some great panoramic photos and put some blankets down to watch the balloons go by. We walked back to the hotel for breakfast and another day of taking it easy. We went to lunch at Maccan Cafe and I eventually made it out for a run by the Goreme Open Air Museum. The museum area was pretty nice but not as good as the view from sunset point or the balloons. Later, we had dinner at Old Cappadocia Restaurant. The restaurant had a really nice interior with a number of fireplaces. The food was a little bit more expensive than other places we’ve been but not by much. After dinner we walked back to the hotel.

Sunset Point at Sunrise, not a bad runner up to the view from the balloons

Balloons everywhere! So sad to leave!

The next day we had an 8 AM van ride to airport but we got to see one more sunrise balloon launching with our breakfast. Our flight was at 10 AM to Istanbul and it was an easy trip to the capital. The sunrise balloon ride in Cappadocia has definitely been one of the highlights of our trip so far. While we weren’t prepared for the cold, we actually got lucky because the snow actually made for some really spectacular views. Even though the towns are small in Cappadocia, book at least three days because sometimes the balloon rides are cancelled due to weather. We heard some stories of travelers only booking one day in Cappadocia and not being able to do the balloon ride. If you plan on visiting Turkey, make sure you book a trip to Cappadocia and a sunrise balloon ride, you won’t regret it.

See the full gallery of our time in Cappadocia here: Cappadocia, Turkey.

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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

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