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. 🙂

12109847_10104690810095847_6833351218029377619_oWe traveled to the region of central Anatolia, which is considered Turkey’s heartland.More 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. 😀
12109739_10104690827815337_4993187829479206773_o12138324_10104690824906167_628904546926714573_o 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. 😀
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_9393This 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.
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Along 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_9383Vibrant greenery found in this grape vineyard.DSC_9465In 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_9374DSC_9379Go Pack, Go! 😀DSC_9423DSC_9420DSC_9430DSC_9416DSC_9407DSC_9403DSC_9414Fun fact: Cappadocia is also known as “the land of beautiful horses.” 🙂
DSC_9381Honesly, I haven’t found anything that wasn’t beautiful about this land. 😀DSC_9433

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_9441DSC_9466DSC_9478DSC_9471DSC_9479DSC_9449Despite the desert surroundings, around random corners we’d find small natural juice bars. 🙂
Not a mirage, but a desert oasis. 😀  Crawling into abandoned cave dwellings. IMG_7935Feeling like a big kid. 😛DSC_9463DSC_9458DSC_9409As you can see, each rock formation appears unique, and their shapes are definitely up for interpretation. 😀DSC_9465DSC_9486I’ll admit my mind is in the gutter, and some structures seem strangely phallic. 😛

That’s no touchdown celebration! 😉 Hah.DSC_9450

Çavusin Churches

DSC_9491The 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_9508DSC_9520Potential car advertisement? Hah. 😛 DSC_9523After a long day of hiking, we went back to Goreme for dinner at Sedef Restaurant.DSC_9529Cuisine 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

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. 🙂
DSC_9538DSC_95396 AM: Drove out to Red Valley to inflate the balloons.
DSC_9543DSC_9622The balloon baskets have a maximum capacity of 24 passengers. Nice and cozy. 😀
DSC_9549Lift off! 😀
DSC_9598DSC_9648
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Uçhisar Castle in the distance.DSC_9662
At times we’d be soaring high in the sky, and other times we’d be skating along the tree tops. 🙂DSC_9649
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At least we stayed away from the pointy phallic figures. Hah. 😛 DSC_9658Some balloons were love birds too, as they hovered close together. ❤
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Perfect time to watch the sunrise. 🙂DSC_9632
Gorgeous red rock canyon.
DSC_9580We coasted over the red valley and rock valley, then landed safely on the ground. 🙂
DSC_9666It was a slightly anti-climactic landing, as our skilled pilot, carefully landed the balloon directly on the trailer. 😦DSC_9651DSC_9675DSC_9673They deflated and packed up the balloon within 10 minutes, and then we were ready to celebrate. 🙂 DSC_9677DSC_9676Toasting with a little bubbly! 😀DSC_9681Cran-mosa. (Cranberry juice and Champagne) Cheers! 😀DSC_9690Overall, a once in a lifetime experience. Absolutely priceless! 😀12079087_10104692226377607_681092184052347807_n

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_9721There are over 30 underground cities in Cappadocia, but Derinkuyu is one of the largest and also the deepest, with eight maze-like floors.

DSC_9719The city is a labyrinth of winding narrow tunnels, with strategically placed booby trapsDSC_9726DSC_9737DSC_9736Grates now cover the traps.DSC_9729DSC_9743Our tour guide discussing the city’s winery.
DSC_9727Such good listeners! 😀DSC_9733Chillin’ 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_9769You 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_9788Chicken kebap and seasoned rice. Delish! 😀DSC_9790

Ilhara Valley

DSC_9804The Ilhara Valley visit consisted of a flat 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. Uçhisar Castle
  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_9843
While shopping for knick-knacks, I ran into a sweet Turkish family that invited me to a wine tasting. 😀 The Kocabağ winery in Uçhisar has a nice variety of white, blush and red wines to sample.
Day drinking and supporting a local business. Win-win! 😀
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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.

Now, 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. 🙂

12088224_10104701796693617_3469810908731681842_nFlying into Qatar. 🙂12091297_10104702600996787_8725644580053013711_oWith 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. 🙂

12118970_10104706872341977_5335493661805285112_nStay 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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