4 am and 45 mins to pick up. I was extremely excited to go on a hot air balloon. Though I wouldn't call it a life long dream, I was hoping to go on one, at least once in my lifetime. Needless to say, I felt like a child at a carnival as I stepped out into the chilly streets of Goreme to board our bus to the balloon take-off point. Half-awake people shuffling out into the open fields of Goreme and tightening our shawls and jackets around ourselves as we all waited to see what the UNESCO ranked as the second-best view in the world. It had an eerie feeling to it. The dawn was yet to be broken and here we were in the middle of nowhere on an unusually cold morning surrounded by many massive balloons being filled up at different parts of the field. Since they use a bit of fire to help with this process, we could see short bursts of fire here and there and soon enough, one by one the balloons began to take off from the ground and soar high. We watched with wonder as the balloons started fading into the twilight sky. After a while, we realized that we were still on the ground instead of being up there in the sky. Turns out there was a tear in our balloon and we had to wait a while till we could get up into the sky. So again like a child at a carnival but this time a one that was denied the promised ice cream, I stood on that field watching the other balloons turning into dots and then fading away into nothingness.After an hour, our balloon managed to achieve lift-off and off we went, waving at the tiny humans whom we had left behind on the ground and soon we were high enough to see all of what Goreme could offer. First, we flew over the Love valley which is known for phallic-shaped structures of all sizes and shapes and then over the Rose valley, Red valley, Goreme open-air theatre and soon we were flying over nameless lands that were dotted with fairy chimneys. Feeling partially responsible for the delay, our pilot decided to keep us in the air longer and I must admit that after 20/25 mins in the air, I was getting tired of the scenery despite it being unlike anything I had seen before.On landing, we were treated to champagne which was apparently a tradition after a successful hot air balloon ride. Why champagne you may ask and so the story goes like this: In the 1780s, when the very first flyers of the hot air balloon landed in the outskirts of France, the farmers there looked at them like aliens and maybe even pointed their pitchforks at them since they were French aristocrats, who the farmers were probably not a fan off. So to break the ice and possibly save themselves from an attack, the aristocrats decided to share their champagne with the farmers. Honoring this tradition, at 8 am in the morning, with not a morsel of food in my stomach, I drank a glass of champagne and needlessly to say, soon enough I was giggling like a baby as we journeyed back to our hotel.For the rest of the day, we had signed up for the Green tour that would take us away from Goreme and it could not have been planned at a better time since I was ready for a change in scenery by then. Our first significant stop on the Green tour was the underground city of Derinkuyu. While there isn't much to see above the ground, it was only when we entered into the underground city we realized how massive it was down there. An 18- storied complex that was built 60 meters into the ground, it was said to house 8000 people when it was fully in use during the Byzantine era. People used to live here for up to 6 months straight to hide from the Muslim Arabs invaders who used to roam around in these territories. Each floor had a bunch of small rooms that looked extremely uncomfortable to live in and also had a few bigger rooms that were used by the whole community. These were mostly rooms like the kitchen, grain storage room, etc, but the most fascinating of them all was the winery. Our guide told us that winery was the only common room that existed on every floor since wine was considered medicinal back then. Mandatorily administered to everyone, it was hypothesized that it was to keep these folks at bay from the stress of living with 8000 people under the ground with no access to sunlight and in a complex with no sewage system. They did not have a place to relieve themselves but hey they had wineries instead.Our next stop was the Selime monastery which was again inside a large rock cave but this time it was well above the surface. While we could see what could have possibly been an altar and a church, the real rock cave churches can be seen inside the caves of the Ihlara valley. Cappadocia was known to have a significant Christian population and this was evident in these caves which had murals depicting episodes from the Bible. The invaders had blanked out the eyes of the people on these murals, which combined with the dinghy-ness of the caves, gave a sinister feel to the place. Other than the 50 odd churches that were housed inside the cliffs that overlooked the river, Ihlara also had a very pleasant riverside trail along the river that flows between the cliffs. There were also a few cafes that were set up on the river where people could sit in gazebos that were literally on the river and dip their feet into the cold waters while sipping their tea and smoking their cigarettes. After seeing quite an elaborate variety of sights around Cappadocia, we ended our day with the sun setting over the Pigeon Valley. Quick fact about the pigeons of Cappadocia: the rock caves in this region are no longer used as human dwellings and these have now been repurposed as pigeon dwellings. The owners of these dwellings are said to make quite a bit of money selling pigeon shit since it is considered to be a good fertilizer.10. The cooldown
If I thought waking up in a new city was disorienting, waking up in the middle of pointy rock formations was something else. We had flown into Cappadocia the previous night into what had felt like a sleepy town. Little did we know that when we woke up we were in for a treat. Goreme was bang in the middle of what everyone imagines Cappadocia to be. But the lesser-known fact is that Cappadocia is a fairly large region in Central Anatolia which comprises of several provinces and various landscapes. Nevertheless, Goreme is definitely the place to be in Cappadocia with its fairy chimneys and hot air balloons, it was nothing like what I had ever seen before. Travel fatigue is something I got often, especially on longer holidays like this one and I define travel fatigue as not being able to feel surprised or excited about the new places that I visit because it all starts to look the same. But thanks to Goreme, I never got a chance to be fatigued during my stay in Turkey. As usual, breakfast was an elaborate rooftop affair with the view of the town and the fairy chimneys. Now and then a hot air balloon would leave a shadow on us as we chowed our way through the breakfast spread. By this point, I definitely had cheese fatigue and the chef who proclaimed to make the best omelet in Turkey came to my rescue.Planning what to do in Goreme was one of the easiest things I did in Turkey. With time and travel tested routes, it was easy to be just a follower. But after such a heavy breakfast, we felt it was time to work towards losing all that extra cheese weight we had gained so far and to help us with this, the host from our hotel armed us with a map and dropped us off at the Goreme open-air museum. After wandering around aimlessly around the museum for a while, we decided to do the Red and Rose valley trail which was conveniently placed one after the other. The trail started further uphill from the museum and we were treated to quite a fantastic landscape as we started scaling up to the start of the trail. The walk began with an easy downhill dirt path and soon took us through long rock tunnels, fruit orchards, vineyards, cave dwellings, and open pastures. While during the first bit of the trail we were baked under the Anatolian sun, for the most part of the trail, we were well shaded by fruit trees, sand-colored rocks, and an occasional cloud. The walk was easy and we may or may not have stolen grapes from the vineyards and plums from the orchards that we passed through. I would also like to clarify that I was most definitely not the Eve in the Eden in this case. I was willing to walk away from the tempting juicy and fat black and green grapes that we encountered over and over again, but the snake on my husband's shoulder ensured that he couldn't stop himself. So there we were, walking through someone else's garden, eating whatever we wanted, sitting wherever we wanted and climbing whichever rock we wanted. We were quite surprised at how the landscape had changed from a blinding rock desert to a fairly green and flourishing sort of landscape as we went through our walk. Though I must say that the trail markers were confusing and the map that the host had given us was even more confusing and only Google maps really helped us. We were targetting the sunset point of the Red valley much before the sunset and soon the climb began. All views generally involve hard work and so we rose above the vineyards to be treated to the stunning views of red rock formations. So then what really is the story of the phallic structures that made this landscape so surreal. Turns out that many many million years ago, Cappadocia used to house three major active volcanos which covered the whole area in thick ash. Over time some of it solidified while some of the softer particles got carried away by the elements of nature and left behind what is now seen in Cappadocia. Despite its unique structures, the name Cappadocia means something as random as "Land of Good Horses" which is hard to understand since there are very few of them remaining on this land anymore.After enjoying the views from the sunset point of the Red valley, we made our way to the Rose valley. The sun was showing signs of exhaustion and so were we and we quickly made our way to the nearby old greek village called Cavusin. While Goreme does have a flavor of cave dwellings, it is in Cavusin where we could really picture a whole city living in caves. They had churches and houses built in rock caves that looked like a multi-storied complex which could have very well been designed by Mr. Gaudi. Thankfully from here, our host picked us up for free and dropped us off in a restaurant in Goreme market. After having Testi Kebab at the restaurant, which was chicken cooked in a clay pot with a whole lot of tomatoes and spices, we made our way back to our hotel to call it a day since we had a very very early start the next day.9. Up in the air and down under the ground
Next morning, we took time to wake up, had lazy breakfast and then made use of the swimming pool and Sauna facilities of our hotel and then checked out around 12:30. We still had until late evening in Cappadocia.Our first destination on this day was the Uchisar castle. It is another impressive structure in the region and looked very good from up close. There is an entry ticket of 9TL and a parking fee of 3TL. We climbed the fort, its a uneventful climb and you can see most of the region from the top. There were lots of tourist on the top and IMHO, you can skip climbing up and just watch it for some time from the bottom. Next destination for this day was Love valley. We had to drive a bit offroad (3-4 kms) to get there. There are some installations for couples to get clicked.
Cappadocia: City of Fairy ChimneysAfter 2 days in Side, I headed to Cappadocia by flight from Antalya to Kayseri. It is an hour's bus ride from airport to this fairy chimney town and feels like landing on another planet itself! You have to stay in one of the cave hotels for a truly unique experience. Make an advance booking for the famous hot air balloon sun rise trip - it will set you back by 150 Euros but its worth the experience!
DAY 2-3: CappadociaThe beautiful sceneries of the hot air balloons popping up during the Sunrise was what made us go to Cappadocia and watch the magic ourselves. Cappadocia is located in central Anatolia what is now known as Turkey and the most popular part of this region is Goreme. The other parts where tourism is popular are Nevsehir, Urgup & Uchisar. Since we had limited time in Cappadocia, our first choice was Goreme & we must say that we loved every single bit of this region