Captivating Cappadocia: Hot Air Ballooning and Hiking the Valleys of Goreme

Well, after resigning from my position in Istanbul and accepting an offer to teach in Bangkok, I decided to take advantage of the little time I had left in this country by exploring some of the natural beauties of central Turkey. 😀 Lucikly, this friendly Canadian I met in Bulgaria was traveling through town, so he ended up joining me on the trip. 🙂

He’s an engineer who quit his job to travel the globe, with future plans to live and work in France. I enjoy spending time with positive and inspirational people, and he surely fits the bill. 🙂

IMG_7932We traveled to the region of central Anatolia, which is considered Turkey’s heartland.800px-Turkey_Canatolia_regionMore specifically, we traveled to Cappadocia, which is full of volcanic rock formations that have been made into cave dwellings and churches, and whose striking canyons and valleys make for a wonderfully whimsical walkabout. 😀
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We took an overnight bus to get there, which took 11 hours and cost 25 USD. Flying is an option, but this was the most budget-friendly route, plus I have no problem sleeping on the bus. 😀
capmap
We had an epic three days in Cappadocia. Read along to check out our incredible itinerary, spending morning ’til night cherishing these unique natural surroundings. 🙂

Natural Mornings

Day 1:

  1. Goreme Open Air Museum
  2. Hiking Red/Rose Valley
  3. Çavusin Churches
  4. Pasabag
The creation of Cappadocia’s landscape began over 2 million years ago, when multiple volcanic eruptions caused a soft tuff layer to form over the valley. Over time, wind and water erosion slowly sculpted these volcanic ash formations into bizarre shapes, which are presently known as fairy chimneys.
dsc_9393_22094930512_oThis unusual topography was seen as a gift from God and cherished by the first settlers in Cappadocia, the Hittites.
For years, the Hitties inhabited these earth pyramids, using them as cave dwellings, churches and later used as hideouts for early Christians escaping religious persecution.

dsc_9454_22117670031_oAlong the outside of their cave homes, the Hitites created pigeon perches , as well as dovecotes, in which the people used pigeon poo to harvest their crops.

DSC_9861Living in a barren desert, this was the secret to their agricultural success, harvesting grapes, potatoes and squash.

Barren desert landscape.dsc_9383_21486291993_oVibrant greenery found in this grape vineyard.dsc_9465_22107629525_oIn the 1980’s, the tourist industry boomed in Cappadocia, and many locals converted their homes into hotels, giving foreigners the rare opporunity to spend their vacation sleeping in a cave. 😀

There were plenty of options for accomodation, but we chose Yasin’s Place Backpackers Cave Hotel in Goreme, for an affordable 15 dollars per night.

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Before taking in the sights, we fueled up at Goreme Restaurant, with an authentic Turkish breakfast.
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Goreme Open-Air Museum

This museum showcases a spectacular collection of rock-cut churches and religious frescoes, which has made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, one of the first sites in Turkey. 
Fairytale landscape of Goreme. 🙂dsc_9374_21486291903_odsc_9379_21486291923_o
Go Pack, Go! 😀dsc_9423_22095006672_o
dsc_9430_22095006802_odsc_9420_22107529955_o
dsc_9416_22107529855_odsc_9407_22094930712_o
dsc_9403_22094930622_odsc_9414_22107529785_oFun fact: Cappadocia is also known as “the land of beautiful horses.” 🙂
dsc_9381_21486291953_oHonesly, I haven’t found anything that wasn’t beautiful about this land. 😀dsc_9433_22095006882_o

Hiking Red Valley and Rose Valley

From the museum, we went off the beaten path, to spend around four hours hiking in the desert. dsc_9441_22117669861_o
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dsc_9478_21484853964_odsc_9479_21484853984_odsc_9471_22107629675_odsc_9449_22117669941_oDespite the desert surroundings, around random corners we’d find small natural juice bars. 🙂
Not a mirage, but a desert oasis. 😀 blogger-image--121766127Crawling into abandoned cave dwellings.IMG_7935Feeling like a big kid. 😛dsc_9463_22107629495_odsc_9409_22107529705_oAs you can see, each rock formation appears unique, and their shapes are definitely up for interpretation. 😀dsc_9486_21484854064_oI’ll admit my mind is in the gutter, and some structures seem strangely phallic. 😛

That’s no touchdown celebration! 😉 Hah.dsc_9450_22117670001_o

Çavusin Churches

dsc_9491_21484854104_oThe Çavusin church of St John the Baptist was built in the 5th century, and is the largest church in Goreme.
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Pasabag

dsc_9508_21486562163_odsc_9520_21920833729_oPotential car advertisement? Hah. 😛

dsc_9523_21920833689_oAfter a long day of hiking, we went back to Goreme for dinner at Sedef Restaurant.dsc_9529_21920833739_oCuisine in Cappadocia has a distinct Asian influence. This clay pot of baked beans and beef was cooked tandori-style, and served with grilled naan-like bread. Yum!dsc_9535_21920833759_o

Day 2:

  1. Hot Air Ballooning
  2. Green Tour
    1. Goreme Panorama
    2. Derinkuyu Underground City
    3. Selime Monastery
    4. Ilhara Valley
    5. Pigeon Valley

Hot Air Balloon Ride

At 5:10a.m. we were picked up from our hotel and taken to Atmosfer Balloon’s headquarters.
Brekkie and balloon briefing. 🙂22095302902_b3d20ed37a_z
dsc_9539_22095302942_o6 AM: Drove out to Red Valley to inflate the balloons.dsc_9543_22095303022_oThe balloon baskets have a maximum capacity of 24 passengers. Nice and cozy. 😀dsc_9549_22095303122_odsc_9622_22107933755_oLift off! 😀dsc_9563_21921026139_o
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dsc_9608_22107933725_oUçhisar Castle in the distance.dsc_9662_22095668152_oAt times we’d be soaring high in the sky, and other times we’d be skating along the tree tops. 🙂dsc_9649_22118140141_oDSC_9649
DSC_9653dsc_9571_21919775480_oAt least we stayed away from the pointy phallic figures. Hah. 😛 dsc_9658_22095668232_oSome balloons were love birds too, as they hovered close together. ❤dsc_9644_22118139981_oPerfect time to watch the sunrise. 🙂dsc_9632_22118139951_oGorgeous red rock canyon.
dsc_9580_21919775600_oWe coasted over the red valley and rock valley, then landed safely on the ground. 🙂
dsc_9666_21921186159_oIt was a slightly anti-climactic landing, as our skilled pilot, carefully landed the balloon directly on the trailer. 😦dsc_9651_22095557672_o22082007246_f4005ab8b8_odsc_9673_22095667942_oThey deflated and packed up the balloon within 10 minutes, and then we were ready to celebrate. 🙂 dsc_9677_22082007136_odsc_9676_22082007196_oToasting with a little bubbly! 😀dsc_9681_22082007066_odsc_9690_22082007026_oOverall, a once in a lifetime experience. Absolutely priceless! 😀28042407011_70d7e74883_c

http://atmosferballoons.com/

Green Tour

Shortly after returning back to the hostel, we were picked up for the green tour. Taking a tour was definitely worth the 40 USD price tag, considering everything that was included. (i.e. transportation, lunch, entry fees)

Goreme Panorama 

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Derinkuyu Underground City

During the 6th and 7th centuries, early Christians used these underground cities, spending months at a time living there, in order to escape religious persecution and death.

Fun fact: News of approaching Arab and Persian armies would be spread from Jerusalem to Cappadocia in only a few hours by lighting beacons, which stretched across the vast desert.dsc_9721_21921522639_oThere are over 30 underground cities in Cappadocia, but Derinkuyu is one of the largest and also the deepest, with eight maze-like floors.dsc_9719_21921522709_oThe city is a labyrinth of winding narrow tunnels, with strategically placed booby trapsdsc_9726_21921522859_o
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dsc_9729_21487334433_oDSC_9743Our tour guide discussing the city’s winery.
dsc_9727_21921522929_oSuch good listeners! 😀dsc_9733_21487334273_oChillin’ in this cozy alcove. 😀
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Selime Monastery

DSC_9747This 11th century monastery is most famous for it’s breathtaking frescoes and troglodyte architecture.

DSC_9752DSC_9755DSC_9757DSC_9764dsc_9765_22021592610_oYou may recognize this out-of-this-world landscape, as it was actually used as the backdrop for the cinematic hit, Star Wars. 🙂
DSC_9758As part of the tour, we ate lunch at Star Restaurant, where we could choose between a variety of entrees. All served with soup, salad and bread.

Lentil soup and my new Turkish scarf. 🙂

dsc_9788_22045610658_oChicken kebap and seasoned rice. Delish! 😀DSC_9790

Ilhara Valley

DSC_9804The Ilhara Valley visit consisted of aflat level walk along a tranquil river, with a stop at a quaint waterfront tea house. 🙂DSC_9810I really enjoyed getting to know other travellers on my tour, including a mother-daughter pair from Malaysia, friends from South Korea, a family from India, and a solo-traveler from Yemen. 🙂
Cute little dumpling, playing with gigantic ducks. 🙂DSC_9808Training to become our new driver. 😉DSC_9812

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley panorama, with the snow-capped Erciyes Volcano visible in the distance.

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Day 3:

  1. UçhisarCastle
  2. Kocabağ Winery

On our final day, we took a dolmuş or mini bus to Uçhisar to visit the Uçhisar Castle, which offers spectacular panoramic views.
DSC_9845We also invited an Australian traveller from our hostel with us on the journey, which worked out perfectly.DSC_9848The dudes could go hiking, while I could tackle some more important things like shopping! 😀DSC_9843While shopping for knick-knacks, I ran into a sweet Turkish family that invited me to a wine tasting. 😀 DSC_9879The Kocabağ winery in Uçhisarhas a nice variety of white, blush and red wines to sample.
Day drinking and supporting a local business. Win-win! 😀DSC_9878

http://www.kocabag.com/

While visiting the castle that day, we also noted that the Turkish flag was at half-mast, which was significant considering tragic recent events. 😦DSC_9853

National Mourning

Last Sunday, at a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara, two suicide bombers tragically took the lives of almost 100 people, making it the mostviolent act of terrorism in Turkey’ history.

Subsequently, the president issued 3 days of national mourning, in hopes of honoring those innocent victims and their families. Senseless killings and precious lives lost. Especially tragic considering this was a peace rally/job fair, attracting Turkish citizens looking to create harmony within the country, and strengthen the economy. Truly devastating.downloadNow, my original plan on Sunday was to head to Ankara for my Thai work visa; however, after the violent attack, concerned for my safety and well-being, I decided to leave Turkey early and apply for my visa from within Thailand. On Wednesday morning, I traveled from Istanbul to Bangkok, with a short layover in Qatar.

Simit bagel at Ataturk Airport. 🙂

24159527443_050ff5dabd_cFlying into Qatar. 🙂24159527463_44a29d38f4_cWith less than 48 hours in this hectic Asian hub, I’ve already fallen in love. ❤

Sightseeing at Wat Pho and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. 🙂24418722699_ddb87824ce_cStay tuned to hear more about my intro to Bangkok and the start of my ESL career in Thailand.

Until next time. Enjoy your weekend everyone! 😀
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5 thoughts on “Captivating Cappadocia: Hot Air Ballooning and Hiking the Valleys of Goreme

    1. Hey Sarah!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures. Thanks for checking out the blog! 😀
      Hope all is well out in Denver. I’ll have to make it out there sometime. 😉

      Take care,

      Megan

      Like

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