Cappadocia’s Unworldy Landscapes

Cappadocia is a region in the central region of Turkey best known for cave cities, “chimney” cave dwellings, and of course, beautiful hot air balloon sunrises. I took my parents here as part of our Turkey grand tour and we were not disappointed. Sure, it helps when the parents are paying for a good chunk of the trip. But despite that fact, Cappadocia remains quite affordable and well worth a trip. Make sure to check out the Travel Tips at the end of the post for logistical pointers.

The “fairy chimneys” that are iconic for Cappadocia.
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A lone almond tree
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A cloudy sunset at the viewpoint

We have a very long transfer to Göreme, the main tourist town that services all the attractions of Cappadocia. We arrive late in the afternoon, exhausted, to Kelebek Hotel located on a hill a few minutes drive away from then main tourist area. It is surprising chilly here, and grey,which worries me about the prospect of our hot air balloon rides. Already on the drive in we begin to see many of the tall, skinny rock formations hollowed out to become goes for early settlers to this area. A hot air balloon ride is the quintessential experience here in Cappadocia, offering an out of this world view of the the unusual rock formations characteristic of this landscape. Hot air balloon rides are offered almost everyday due to generally good weather but by no means is it guaranteed. The forecast for the next 3 days looks somewhat promising so it put these worries aside.

One of the large cave church complexes
Early Christians set up shop here to live and pray

Day one’s forecast is supposed to be partly cloudy so we decide to push until a more certain sunny day. We decide to join one of the prefabricated tours that all the companies offer. Tours in Cappadocia are generally divides into Blue, Red, and Green, with each taking travelers to a specific route that maximizes attraction time and minimizes endless transits. Keep in mind that Constantinople (now Istanbul) was once the capital of Eastern Christianity, kind of like the head office of most Orthodox Christian sects. Early Christians settled into today’s Turkey shortly after Christ’s death. During these days, Christianity was an off shoot religion and still heavily persecuted. These early Christians built their homes, cities, and churches into the unusual chimney shaped structures of this area. This is a side of our faith that we wanted to explore.

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Passages in the underground city were so narrow at parts that you had to crouch while going down stairs!
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Pops at one of then old churches.

We signed up for a Red Tour that took us to a very large underground city that expanded seven levels below ground. Rooms ranged from open and roomy, to down right claustrophobic. A central air shaft penetrated from the ground floor down to the seventh floor, and narrow passages connected each level with the one above. It is very evident that this village was meant to withstand sieges. Plenty of food and water storage areas, and paths are often narrow with stone gates and defence points to funnel intruders into easy “kill zones”. The deepest floor houses a large, cross shaped place of worship. Mind you the early Christians didn’t live in these underground cities. They only moved down during times of danger for safety. Next we walk along the Ilhara Valley for a riverside lunch, and finish of at a nearby cave church complex.

Interestingly, we meet an American couple currently teaching in Saudi Arabia. They raise their kids in a western compound that allows alcohol and regular dress. They tell us about the bizarre customs and conservative nature of Saudi society. It sounds oppressing to be honest. I ask them why they keep doing it. They explain that the pay is very generous, and that there is a huge financial incentive at the end of a 10 year period. I later find out in Egypt from another teacher couple that the “incentive” they are referring to is a one million USD bonus for anyone willing to commit 10 years of their teaching career to Saudi Arabia. I don’t know if I would do it… But then again, 2 million dollars Usd will essentially provide for them and their children for a good long while.

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Time for takeoff
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Sunrise, perfect lighting 🙂

We’re up bright and early to to catch our balloon and we could not have asked for better weather. The tour operator drops us in a field where all the balloons from the other companies start to get filled with the buoyant, warm air, slowly giving shape to the colorful domes. We ascend with the other balloons right at sunrise and the sky looks like a Perrier commercial. Visibility is unlimited, and you get that quintessential view of the chimneys, caves, and red and white valleys. The basket is divided into quadrants and we are slotted in with a nice Indonesian couple that offer to switch spots with us to share the view. The whole experience is like a dream sequence, but at the same time I’m snapping away as much as I can while still trying to enjoy the whole thing!

The great things about these balloon rides is that they take up so little of your day. We made it back to Kelebek in time for be the first at the breakfast buffet. Now we’ve all had the sad hotel breakfast buffet that we only eat because it is included. The spread here is nothing like that. Kelebek owns their own farm down the hill where they grow their own supply of vegetables (some organic) and fruits. They even have honey straight from the comb! These delicious offerings, as well as a selection of bread, fried goods, nuts, olives, and cheese are offered. They even have the very delicious kaymak (to be eaten with honey comb and bread of course). This breakfast can hold its own again any fancy restaurants Turkish breakfast.

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Have you seen a honeycomb this big at a hotel breakfast? Just carve a piece out and watch your blood sugar skyrocket!
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The nice thing about Turkish food is that you can still eat relatively healthy. Insert French toast and honeycomb…

The morning we check out, we catch the last of the balloons floating past our cave hotels porch. Beautiful weather again. Cappadocia is magical, and despite it being most know for balloon rides, there is a significant amount of beauty and history here to be explored even if you aren’t able to go for the balloons. This went down as one of the main highlights for me and my parents’ time in the middle east.

Travel Tips

  • There are two airports that service Göreme: Nevşehir and Kayseri. If you are flying into Nevşehir (recommended) most hotels will pick you up no problem. Transport to Göreme can be easily arranged. If you are landing in Kayseri, make sure to book a transfer a day in advance through Helios Transfers. The alternative is a brutal 3 stop mess between public and private bus, then a taxi.
  • If you have the fine dining bug, Seten Restaurant beside Kelebek offers their take on traditional Anatolian cuisine served up in a beautifully fine, yet homey setting. A treat for the mouth as well as the eyes.
  • The open air museum is walkable on a nice day so if you aren’t interested in all the different caves in the tour just walk for 20 minutes to the museum.
  • A walk to the mountain viewpoint for sunset is highly recommended. Give yourself about 30 minutes and arrive about 45-60 minutes before sunset for the best lighting.
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The homey setting at Seten for dinner.

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