Turkey 8: Hot Air in Goreme

Best day of the vacation so far.

I’m writing this sunburnt, drained and with less than the regular amount of sleep.  Putting the words to keys is a bit hard, but I’ll do my best.

So today was the Cappadocia balloon flight.  For those who don’t know of it, or haven’t seen it, you hire a hot air balloon for an hour or more, take off at dawn and drift over the rock formations of Cappadocia. 

I’ve seen hot air balloon rides offered in other places and was always told they were rip-offs, that the experience wasn’t worth it.  I don’t think anybody could say that about hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.

The wake up time was brutal – we got picked up from our pension at 4:10 am – and our free breakfast came with a highlight reel ballooning video set to Owl City’s “To The Sky”, which stops being inspirational pretty much exactly when you decide you don’t like Owl City.  I still have the song stuck in my head and have been letting out random “da da, da da” bursts throughout the day.

We went with Kapadokya Balloons, known as one of the better fliers in Cappadocia, a group that changes its launch site depending on the weather conditions every morning.  We also went for the “Exclusive Deluxe” package, which bought us an extra thirty minutes of flight time.

Worth every penny.

Look, I could give an itinerary of what we flew over and when, but it would ultimately be meaningless.  No description of the route can capture how amazing the route was, how incredible the view was.  I couldn’t believe this when I said it out loud, but this was an experience that was better with MORE tourists.  Most of the time, you want tour groups out of your way while you’re taking photos.  Here, everybody is floating in colourful balloons, and it actually adds to the magic of the flight.

After an hour and a half airborne, we came down for a hard landing (wind picked up) and had cake and mimosas.  We also got a flight certificate, a T-shirt, a pin, and a “lifetime of memories.”  For real.

We were driven back to the pension and the original thought of “Hey, we’re awake, let’s go hike the Rose Valley” turned into “Let’s nap and do the Rose Valley when we get up.”  This was a good thing.

Lonely Planet says that the route markers for the various valleys around Cappadocia have gotten better.  They must have been REALLY bad before.  You get lots of official signs to other valleys, spray painted markings on rocks that say “Rose” and “Red” with arrows, and nicer signs when you get on the actual Rose trail that completely contradict themselves. 

Daina and I got on some part of the trail and couldn’t decide if we were further along or just starting.  Eventually, we figured we’d follow the spray painted arrows since, if we were closer to the end, we could always backtrack.

This led to some frustration from both of us.  The sights were amazing, no doubt, but we had no real idea where we were going.  In 30 degree plus weather with no shade, not having an idea of where you were going can get annoying.  We ended up coming down from a hill and were met by a deaf cafeteria keeper.

This is where it got awesome.

There were a few travellers around and, since most of us were lost, we asked which way it was to get back to Goreme.  A pair of Australian tourists asked just before us and went on their way, but I was thirsty and this guy was making some (possibly sketchy) freshly squeezed orange juice.  I needed a drink.

While he was squeezing the juice through an interesting looking juicer and mixing it with a big block of ice that may or may not have been purified, Daina started asking him if he knew some sign language.  Daina had picked some up while working in a deaf home years back and was able to get some basic communication down.  After the juice (spoiler alert, I’m fine) was drank, I pointed towards Goreme and asked “Goreme”, at which point the guy nodded yes but then went through a frantic series of points and gestures, imploring us to go up a different path, motioning hills and turns we’d have to make but ending with a look of complete wonder. 

So, we took him at his word and went on.

The first few moments weren’t that impressive, but we kept moving on as the path started to get a bit more twisty and shady.  Suddenly, we came across a small wooden bridge and, figuring it looked interesting, climbed up.

After making our way into a large chamber, Daina was suddenly greeted with a “hello” from another tourist, who came down from a stairway on the side.  All the other guy could say was “Amazing”, so we went upstairs, stumbling into a church known as the Columned Church, due to four amazingly well carved columns.  Beautiful, empty, hidden, totally worth the trek.

We made our way back down and happened to find two more amazing churches, the Church of the Cross and the Church of the Three Crosses.  The first one had phenomenal frescoes, while the second had three fantastically carved crosses on the ceiling.  Each time, we were about to give up, then we found a sign, the sign ended up sort of wrong, but then we found the church we were looking for. 

Such was the Rose Valley.  Lots of frustration, but so much beauty.  If you stick with it and make the attempt to follow the signs, you won’t be disappointed.

Tomorrow, we’re away from Goreme for three days, headed towards the east of Turkey to see Mount Nimrod and Sanliurfa.  We’ve been told by the operator not to expect the same level of service as we get in Western Turkey, and not to eat too much of the meat, but that we’ll have hot showers and clean hotel rooms.  So that’s something.

Didn’t ask about wifi, so we may be “going dark” for a few days, but pictures will be taken and shared at a later date!

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