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Up Up & Away in Kapadokia

sunny 38 °C

Day 49 Wednesday July 12 2017 / Goreme

  • For once we need the Mullah to wake us up. He does so at around 3.45. Interestingly it is a while before actual sunrise. His call to prayer coincides with the very start of the new day.
  • We have booked a balloon ride. It's the thing to do when in Kapadokia. Our last balloon experience was over 25 years ago in Africa. Should you prefer to view the balloons from terra firma, another option would be to go to Sunset Lookout @ 5 a.m. The sight of at least 50 multicoloured balloons drifting across the enchanting Goreme landscape against the dawn sky, would also be a photogenic spectacle.
  • There are many balloon companies operating in the Goreme valley. Different sources imply that Butterfly & Royal Balloons are still regarded as the best two companies. But they are not necessarily the cheapest. There have been accidents in the past, so it is worth thinking about safety as well as price. Another factor is the number of passengers that different companies squeeze into the baskets. More is definitely not the merrier.
  • Pick up from the hotel is 4.15 a.m. - we are taken just down the road to Butterfly HQ where the usual signature removes our rights. In return we are served a light breakfast of fresh fruit & cake. Then into the designated minibus for a 10 minute ride to outside of Goreme to the take off area.
  • We are not alone. All around, the slumbering balloons are being brought to life - at first slowly. But then suddenly & magnificently they puff up their gorgeous canopies - born again another day and raring to go.
  • The balloon ride lasts about 1 hour. Our pilot Farid speaks good English, has a sense of humour and is happy to answer questions, when not otherwise distracted. We rehearse the landing position to be adopted at the end of the flight. He spends time moving passengers around the 4 basket sections to balance our weight.
  • And then silently, gracefully, we are up, up and away. It is a wonderful experience and if you have never done it, Kapadokia would be an ideal place for your inaugural flight.
  • A pilot's skill is tested on landing his balloon. Done badly, it can be a bumpy experience as the basket hits the ground. Farid takes great pride in the accuracy of his landing ( on top of the trailer which is parked waiting for us ) and the softness of contact. We do not even have to crouch in the landing position. There is no need.
  • Inevitably there's a bit of touristic theatre post landing. Whilst the balloon is put to sleep again, the basket is decorated, the champagne poured, certificates presented.
  • In case you wonder, as we did - there are no sunset flights. Something to do with the wind conditions. Shame. It would be so much easier.
  • By the time we arrive back at our hotel we have been up 3.5 hrs. Our next activity on this busy 'rest' day is an organic breakfast on the valley farm that belongs to the Kelebek owner. It is complimentary for hotel guests. He purchased the land 7 years ago and has restored an old cave farmhouse. He is now in the process of rendering its agricultural land once more productive.
  • We are picked up at 8.30, together with a Canadian family and two English girls. Then it's a 10 minute tractor ride to the upper access point of the valley.
  • We descend a sandy slope and intermittent steps to the valley floor, perhaps some 75 m below. There we discover a kind of rural paradise - groves of fruit trees, sweet smelling lavender bushes, chickens, a long table laid up with a splendid traditional farmhouse breakfast - Turkish style. Home made bread is being baked over the outdoor fire by two local ladies who also ensure that our tea cups are regularly filled.
  • By the way Turkey is the world's 5 th largest tea producer but they export very little of their Black Sea brew. The Turks are very keen tea drinkers - they just do it in a different way.
  • We take a look around the restored house. It has been tastefully done. ( See photos ) We are not sure of the owner's plans, but he could certainly offer it as an accommodation adventure to hotel guests.
  • Hassan our guide explains that Goreme's primary raison d'ĂȘtre was previously agriculture. Now it's tourism. Few people still have the necessary skills & equipment to work the land. In any case they can earn more money in the tourist sector.
  • After breakfast and wine tasting ( one small glass -it's too early and too hot ) we walk through the short valley, observing the pigeon holes carved out high up in the rock face. This is very typical of the Goreme cave houses - they used to collect pigeon droppings to use as fertiliser.
  • We've now been up 7 hours! And it's still not yet midday. Time to rest in the shade before our next bout of sightseeing.
  • Mid afternoon we get a taxi some 35 km to Kaymakli, one of several underground cities located in the area around Goreme. In Kapadokia there are 35 such excavated cities; there are thought to be maybe 100 more. First documentary mention of a network of underground cities was made in 4C B.C. But it is believed that they were constructed much earlier by the Hittites who were powerful in this region from around 1800B.C.
  • The facilities were used during dangerous times for the local people. When under attack ( for example from Persian or Arab armies ) they relocated underground until it was safe to resume normal life. They hid for months at a time. It is believed that Kaymakli may have housed up to 3000 people and nearby Derinkuyu, more than 10000.
  • Much later in 6 & 7C Byzantine Christians used the same cities to escape persecution.
  • You only need to go to one. Kaymakli is the nearest to Goreme and for that reason can get busy. But again we are practically alone. The crowds mentioned in LP are definitely staying away.
  • The subterranean network of tunnels and rooms was extended over the course of several hundreds of years. The upper layers being the earliest. At Kaymakli 8 levels have been excavated but only 4 are open for viewing. It is sufficient to give you an idea of what life underground would have been like.
  • Beware if you are claustrophobic. In parts the tunnels are narrow and low. And don't go alone - if you get lost it's nice to have a buddy.
  • Our final sightseeing of the day is the Goreme Open Air Museum, rated with 'must see' status in LP. It is essentially a park of monasteries & churches that have been carved into the rocky pinnacles and walls. There are several notable churches with extensive fresco art dating back to 10 - 13C It is interesting to see the difference in artistic styles & Christian imagery between Turkish frescoes and those in Georgia & Armenia. No photography is allowed. It is worth paying extra for an audio guide. But do not relinquish it until you have crossed the road and walked 50 m downhill to the Tokali Kilise. It is covered by the same entrance ticket and the audio information will help you understand the 10C frescoes that embellish the walls & ceilings.
  • It may be the heat or just an understandable over indulgence of churches, monasteries and caves In the last 6 weeks. AG declares he may not have 'caved in' but that he is now 'caved out'. So is SG.
  • So the end of a hot & very long day. Time for another gorgeous sunset experience and dinner at a restaurant called Topdeck, just a short walk from our hotel. The owner and chef Mustafa has converted the cave room of his house into a restaurant. He returned from South Africa 10 years ago with his wife & 2 daughters. The eldest is serving this evening. She explains that when she moved back from Cape Town at the age of 12, she spoke not a word of Turkish and had a hard time adapting to life in small town Goreme. She has plans to study abroad so maybe her days working in the family restaurant are numbered.
  • Mustafa and his family are lovely people and we eat an excellent local meal of slow cooked chicken & lamb. Reservation is recommended but once tourist numbers recover it will be essential.

Being Brought to Life

Being Brought to Life

Preparing for Take Off

Preparing for Take Off

Up Up & Away Over Goreme

Up Up & Away Over Goreme

Yes We Are in the Air!

Yes We Are in the Air!

More Up Up & Away

More Up Up & Away

Our Pilot Fahid

Our Pilot Fahid

Coming in for Landing - Hopefully a Soft One

Coming in for Landing - Hopefully a Soft One

Back on Terra Firma

Back on Terra Firma

AG Helps To Put the Balloon Away

AG Helps To Put the Balloon Away

Post Landing Theatrics - Champagne on Ice

Post Landing Theatrics - Champagne on Ice

Happy Landings

Happy Landings

Above Farm Valley

Above Farm Valley

Walking Through Farm Valley

Walking Through Farm Valley

Lavender Bushes are Flourishing in Farm Valley

Lavender Bushes are Flourishing in Farm Valley

Farm Valley

Farm Valley

Restored Cave Farmhouse

Restored Cave Farmhouse

Cave Bedroom

Cave Bedroom

Cave House Kitchen

Cave House Kitchen

Cave House Dining Room

Cave House Dining Room

Farm Valley

Farm Valley

Boiling Water for Cay, Chai, Cha, Tea ....

Boiling Water for Cay, Chai, Cha, Tea ....

Making Traditional Turkish Bread

Making Traditional Turkish Bread

Lovely Turkish Ladies Who Cook Breakfast

Lovely Turkish Ladies Who Cook Breakfast


A Rare Moment of Relaxation

A Rare Moment of Relaxation

Nooks & Crannies in Kaymakli Underground City

Nooks & Crannies in Kaymakli Underground City

Stone Door To Close Off Underground City to Enemies

Stone Door To Close Off Underground City to Enemies

The Tunnels  in Underground Cities Like Kaymakli Are a Tight Squeeze

The Tunnels in Underground Cities Like Kaymakli Are a Tight Squeeze


Old Church Carved Into Rock - Part of Open Air Museum

Old Church Carved Into Rock - Part of Open Air Museum

Illicit Photo of 12C Fresco in Goreme Cave Church

Illicit Photo of 12C Fresco in Goreme Cave Church

Posted by sagbucks 20:50 Archived in Turkey

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