I’m having a hard time letting go. Just by looking at our photos brings back the feeling of awe; my heart thumping fast in my chest wanting to burst out. I still feel the same thrill and amazement when we were there walking in one of the most magnificent places in the world. Heralded as a World Heritage Site, Cappadocia with its fairy chimneys, soft rock formations, and underground settlements of long ago is easy to fall in love with. And imagine saying goodbye to something you’ve fallen in love with… I can only offer these writings, a homage to a place my friends and I will never forget. With this entry, I am wrapping up my Turkey series.
It’s our second day in Cappadocia and our fifth day in Turkey. Cappadocia is pronounced as Kapadokya and not Kapadowsha (like we kept on saying during out trip). Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Turkey consisting of Nevsehir, Kayseri, Aksaray, and Nigde provinces. Simply put, Cappadocia is not just a word to denote one small place in Turkey; it’s widely used as an international tourism concept to define a region of exceptional natural wonders. Cappadocia is our favorite part of our Turkey trip and we did not regret placing it at the last of our itinerary because it gave a dramatic conclusion to what is so far an amazing trip.
Cappadocia, especially the town of Goreme, is known for its fairy chimneys, extraordinary creations of nature improved by the extraordinary skills of humans. Ancient volcanic erosions shaped the landscape of the place’s breathtaking valleys and people carved chambers, houses, and tunnels into the soft rock. As cones, pillars, and mushroom chimneys shoot up as far as 130 feet into the sky, a fairy tale landscape began to take form and this opened up to the famous scene Cappadocia is known for.
We woke up on the morning of January 29 to a cold yet sunny day. Alleluia, there is no snow!!! However there was no word yet if the hot air balloon ride would push through. We prepared for a long day ahead and anxiously waited for word if representatives from Urgup Balloons, where Magnificent Travel booked our ride, would come for us. They did at around 5:30 in the morning and our hopes of riding the hot air balloon also ballooned! Haha! A tourist coach took us to the Urgup Balloon flight center where we joined many tourists waiting and eating a light breakfast of croissants and muffins. We were grouped by colors and for some reason, we couldn’t find a lot of people with yellow stickers like ours. Finally, they announced that we’re all flying today! Yeyyy! We went to another coach van that drove us to the launching site.
I’m not afraid of heights but this trip made me nervous because it will be the first time I’m flying on a hot air balloon. A basket will only be the thing separating me from my beautiful life (lol) to the after life. It’s not a very good thought. My friends were having the same apprehension but wth! We paid 120 EUR or approx. SR 550 each for this once in a lifetime experience so we definitely have to go. If I need to drag them to the balloon so be it! Haha! Turns out I didn’t have to drag them because it’s difficult to drag someone when I couldn’t even climb the basket myself. Haha! There are footholds carved into the basket but my boot was too large for it so I had to ask for help in hoisting myself up to land safely inside.
We were the first team to arrive at the launching area and the guys were firing up the balloon with such intensity we were asked to step back a few meters away. The balloon assigned to our team was a small one and good for 12 persons only. That’s why we didn’t see a lot of yellow stickers in the waiting area. The blues, reds, and oranges were in a balloon that can hold up to 30 people! Wow! The ride will take one hour and sunrise is the best time to fly! They also have an afternoon flight and we’re pretty sure that’s amazing as well.
Taking off was really very smooth. I didn’t even feel that were taking off! Haha! It’s not like the feeling you get when taking off in an airplane where your stomach somersaults and your heart beats faster. This one is more like what I imagined flying to be like. Slowly but surely! We began ascending and during the first few minutes, it was only our balloon flying in our piece of sky. But then, we flew higher than a rock hill and we saw all the other balloons launching at different places already high up! The scene took our breaths away!
I won’t describe anything and let you just see the photos. Apart from not wanting to distract you from the “view,” I already ran out of words to describe the experience. See the majestic rocky wonderland for yourself:
There is a new scene everywhere we turn and as the balloon slowly gets carried by the wind, we went nearer the spectacular valleys of Cappadocia.
We also came close to other balloons! We wave to the other tourists when we get really near, haha!
After an hour of floating majestically as the world below go by, we started descending…
The SR 550 is truly worth it. I can finally check one of the items in my bucket list! Woooot! Now this is not without saying that hot air ballooning doesn’t have its dangers. There are growing concerns about the safety standards implemented in ballooning over Cappadocia. So just like most activities in Turkey, you should only trust your life with a company that has the highest standards. After Nihat of Magnificent Travels said he booked us at Urgup Balloons, I researched the company immediately and found it to be trustworthy with their roster of qualified, skilled, and experienced instructor pilots and clean record.
Landing was equally smooth. We had to duck and squat and hold on to the thick cords inside the balloon. We landed not on the ground but at the back of a truck. The guys helped us go out of the baskets (they had a hard time with our group, haha!). We took photos with our team and thanked them for a superb experience. They prepared glasses of champagne for us with a swirl of cherry juice (yummy!) and we all toasted for a successful flight. They gave us our certificates too and while it’s just a slight formality, we took them beaming with pride for our “accomplishment.”
And here’s another proof that we truly are the weather girls. We were informed that after this day when we had our hot air balloon flight, all ballooning activities were going to halt for three days because of the anticipated bad weather. January 29 was the only window that opened for a decent flight to the skies. Imagine how blessed we are with really favorable conditions! Thank you, God! 🙂
The van took us back to our hotel and we prepped for our “Red Tour”, the tour to North Cappadocia. TIP: Stay in Cappdocia for two days because one day wouldn’t fit all the sights of North and South Cappadocia. The North Cappadocia tour will take us around Goreme. The places are nearer each other and we didn’t have to travel far to see the sights. Our tour guide was Jana, the first and only woman guide we had in our entire Turkey trip. She’s very friendly and says things as it is. She didn’t paint a perfect Cappadocia in our minds but a Cappadocia that also suffers from damage and destruction, like most heritage sites and natural wonders, that’s why it needs to be protected and preserved. As tourists, we also have our responsibility to respect and keep clean the places we visit.
We had our first stop at Uchisar Castle. At first we didn’t know what we were supposed to look at. (I even made the mistake of blocking the “castle” in one of my photos haha!) It looked like the usual rock hill with carvings in it until our guide explained that being the highest point of the region, it serves as the main point of defence of Cappadocia. Still as a castle we expected something grand but this one was bare and spartan, almost boring. The path towards it was lined with vendors. Going up didn’t appeal to us but they said it provides a good view of Goreme and the surrounding fairy chimneys.
Up next in out itinerary for the day was the Goreme Open Air Museum, a mass collection of historical monasteries and cave churches. This is one of the most popular sights in Goreme. If Ephesus and Pamukkale had their ancient cities, Cappacodia had its open air museums where people can roam freely and enter the churches used by the early Christian communities of Cappadocia. Inside them are well-preserved frescoes that depict scenes from the bible. Photography is not allowed inside and there are security personnel manning each cavern that holds these important paintings. You’d think tourists will heed the warnings of their guides and signs outside the churches against taking photos with flash… na-ah. Some are still pasaway. Jana gave us 30 minutes to look around and take our photos. Because the area is elevated, some of my friends opted to sit this one out (our ageing bodies are getting more tired as our Turkey trip is coming to a conclusion. That, or we were just having parting syndrome, hehe!).
After roaming around, we ended up in the open air museum’s cafe/souvenir shop where Jana also took respite with my friends Jamila and Chynna. During our entire time in Turkey, I had this mutual attraction to everything orange juice. Whenever I see a stand, I can’t help but buy a glass because I got fascinated with how they get the juice with a very simple contraption (which is something everyone can use at home I guess haha) and how sweet their oranges are. Refreshing! The pomegranates are extremely popular too.
Our next stop is Pasabag where the Monk’s Valley or Mushroom Valley is. Curious at why it’s called the mushroom valley? We only had to look at it to see why. The pillars and chimneys in Pasabag look like mushrooms with the stalk being a different color as the head. Nature has something to do with this phenomenon and while Jana explained it really well on our way here, I got lost in thought somewhere and forgot how the lava did this a long, long time ago. So why call it Monk’s Valley too? The chimneys harbored a number of cave dwellings once used by Christian hermits as churches and houses. With its height and location, they were able to lead contemplative lives.
So have you looked at the mushroom chimneys carefully? Like CAREFULLY? Okay, okay… I’m sure that like us you’re seeing something naughty by the way these chimneys are standing proud. Haha! They’re shaped like a man’s private part don’t you think? HAHAHA! As a matter of fact, I was reading this article in Listverse a few days after we got back from Turkey and I just burst out laughing because in here, the Mushroom Valley is called the Erotic Valley, home to a forest of gigantic stone dildos. Hahah! It was tempting to take suggestive photos with the chimneys but we busied ourselves buying opal figurines instead. Come to think of it, we bought an opal egg. An egg. LOL. We also bought Turkish ice cream from one of the vendors in the area and experienced the famous way on how they serve it. Intrigued? We didn’t take a video of him but here’s a vid from Youtube that’s quite the same. Turkish ice cream vendors are known for their smooth tricks and smooth ice cream.
A few more minutes and we were ready to have lunch. A selection of chicken, fish or beef was offered and I chose chicken. The sisters from Hong Kong whom we met the day before during the Green Tour was again part of our tour group and they were so delighted seeing how they served the viands in a clay pot. Waiters brought out the clay pots burning! Fire was all over it until they extinguished it in a swift move and opened the terra cotta jar. Our came the delicious smell of savory beef in tomato sauce. Too bad it was for the other table haha.
A pottery shop was our next destination. That terra cotta jar in the resto should have been a sign! We knew it! Haha! Pottery in Avanos was started by the Hittites 3,000 years ago and they maintained the craft until today. They had a demonstration and one of the Hong Kong sisters made the mistake of mentioning that she enrolled in a pottery class before that when the guys asked for a volunteer to try making it, we all looked and pointed at her! Haha! She was game to try it and we were kidding her and the master potter that the scene was reminiscent of the movie Ghost.
Molding the wet clay looked easy… when someone else is doing it. It takes months or years to master this and we really admired their skill and crafts. However, we did not buy anything from the ceramics and pottery store because we were afraid to break them in transit. Also, they were a bit expensive. I was drawn to a plate depicting the tree of life which is a popular design in Turkey but thought the better of it at the last minute.
Since we were making good time, Jana brought us to one of the parks we were passing by. She stopped the car and told us to check out the surroundings and cross the hanging bridge. We crossed it alright and caused traffic when we took photos in the middle of the swaying foot bridge! Nearing the other end, I was surprised when an old Turkish lady suddenly grabbed my hand and didn’t let go. She couldn’t speak English so I stood there bewildered while she stammered something in Turkish. It took me a moment to understand that she wants me to guide her to the other side. Haha! When we were taking photos in one of the park benches, one lady suddenly ran to our group and told us she wants to take a photo with us. We accepted and she posed with us gamely. We were very grateful for the Turkish hospitality!
As if our imagination didn’t run wild in the Mushroom Valley enough, we were taken to the Devrent Valley next where various chimneys and rocks are formed in what seems as a huge natural tableau. A camel seemed frozen to where it last stood, a couple kissing in the highest peak, a hand is openly catching air, and dolphins and shark’s fin seemed to come out of a sea of rocks… we are in the “Imagination Valley!” While some of the other formations show obvious animals or things, you can also pick your rocks and imagine it to be whatever you want them to be.
Because it was Friday, the wine factory was closed and we couldn’t see how they made the wines. However, the showroom was open and they let us taste their red and white wines. The girls and I had another toast to our lovely adventure and we went off on our own merry way (don’t worry, we didn’t get drunk over free wine! Although the urge was great, haha, kidding).
Our last stop is the symbol of Cappadocia. The Three Beauties, found outside Urgup, skyrocketed Cappadocia into the rockstar status it has today. The Three Beauties is a “family” of fairy chimneys. One chimney looked like the father, another one the mother and leaning to it is the baby. Farther at the back makes up the grandparents. These iconic rocks overlook the valley and very symbolic of what Cappadocia is known for. Legend has it that during the Kingdom period, a king loved her daughter so much when his wife died that he only wanted the best for her. The princess was very beautiful and charming and the king wanted a suitable husband for her. However, the princess fell in love with a shepherd. The king opposed to their relationship so the two married in secret and left the Kingdom. When the couple had a child, they thought the king would finally accept them but when they returned to the palace, the king ordered them to be killed. During their escape, the princess prayed and wished to become a rock or a bird. God heard their prayer and he turned the family all into stone. Thus the Three Beauties is also known as the Three Graces.
Jana dropped us off in the town center. In a hurry to get down, my friend left her phone and battery pack in the van. The driver thankfully made an effort to go back and return it to us. We parked ourselves in a small coffee shop and stuffed ourselves silly with gozleme.
We went around again and looked for another Korean restaurant to have our last dinner in Cappadocia. Over bulgogi and ramen, we laughed and reminisced our times in Turkey. It’s been a surreal trip so far and we were so grateful for the incredible experience. It was quarter to seven when we went back to the hotel to freshen up for a night flight back to Istanbul. It was around eleven when we boarded the Turkish Airlines aircraft and bid goodbye to Cappadocia.
After an hour flight, we reached Istanbul and our van was already waiting for us outside the domestic terminal to take us to And Hotel, another hotel near the famous and historical landmarks of Istanbul. (Yes, the name is AND!) After a confusion on the hotel’s definition of triple room, our group settled in for the night and slept tired but happy.
Breakfast the following morning was spent in the hotel’s restaurant. It has a good view of the Bosphorus River and the Hagia Sophia. Eating cereals and cheese, we were slowly getting back to our normal life. Ephesus, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia were like dreams and we didn’t want to wake up. But alas, reality is waiting for us. Haha! Reality being pasalubong (gift) shopping! Our friends would kill us if we don’t bring back anything for them (anything except Turkish Delight, we know!).
And where to go shopping but the grandest bazaar of them all? The Grand Bazaar is as huge as its description. Pressed for time (our flight is 4:00 in the afternoon), Alexa, Jamila and I found our way to what is known as the most visited tourist attraction in the world! This covered market spans over 60 streets and houses over 3,000 stores! It’s the ultimate shopaholic’s paradise and having an hour and a half to find what we were looking for seems like a daunting task.
The Grand Bazaar is just walking distance from our hotel and we found it after a series of turns. We entered through the Nuru Osmaniye Street and got lost in the first stall we saw haha! It was that fast to grab our attention! There were so many shops to choose from but we soon found the pattern of their groupings. One area has a lot of good leather clothing stores while another has leather bags and wallets. Stalls in the middle are for souvenirs and shawls. There are streets meant for jewelries, furniture, RTW and carpets. We got dizzy just by looking at them. With our remaining lira, we bought more keychains, jewelry sets, leather jackets, and leather bags.
We would have loved to stay longer but we needed to get back to the hotel by 11:00 and so we made our way back to the same gate. There was a small plaza just outside the Osmaniye entrance and we bought traditional Turkish pretzel with Nutella. The pretzel was really chewy but we started biting into it, I couldn’t stop! Haha! We also stopped by a Mc Donald’s to grab some early lunch. Needless to say, we were munching on McKofta (Kofta Burger), an item in their menu that is solely for Turkey (like our McArabia), while packing and getting ready for our ride to the airport. Our van arrived promptly at 1:00PM.
And here we were back to the airport we had landed on five days ago. The Ataturk International Airport is one lively airport. There was too much to see and their Duty Free was huge. We were tempted to buy cosmetics and perfume but our stomachs got the better of us. We spent our last lira on Japanese food and Turkish ice cream. We were all subdued while waiting for our boarding. I guess we were all in a state of disbelief that we’ve been through an amazing trip in five days, flew two domestic flights, had long bus trips, given favorable weather throughout, stayed in various kinds of accommodation, ate Turkish, Korean, Japanese food, filled our eyes with incredible sights, learned a lot of history, and spent our time together. Our happiness was overflowing and there was a part of us that couldn’t believe we’re going back to Saudi Arabia. Whyyy? Where’s justice? Hahaha! Kidding, we like Saudi Arabia and while we love Turkey, we know we have to go back to Riyadh where our loved ones are.
Our flight was not a direct flight to Riyadh. We had a stopover in Dammam for five hours and while we were tired and hungry when we arrived, we were happy! The red eye flight should have made us grumpy but we’re not having any of that. We were still high in spirits and still laughing over our memories of Turkey. The immigration officers over at the Dammam Airport might have been surprised by our noise hahaha. We arrived in Riyadh around three in the morning and we went on our separate ways. The following morning, we (the #orangeteam slash #weathergirls) were already exchanging messages and photos in our group chat. Ah Turkey, we miss you already!
So that ends my series on Turkey. I’m sorry that it took me so long to write and finish it. I spend half a day just sorting and choosing photos. Haha! But it’s all worth it. The magnificence of Istanbul, Ephesus, Pamukkale and Cappadocia should be shared. And I’m one willing sharer! If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to post your comments below or message me in our Facebook page. I hope you’re now compelled to make that journey to Istanbul and beyond. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to force you by now. Make Turkey your next destination and you won’t regret it one bit.
The Turkish Delight awaits! 🙂
For the complete Turkish Delight Series:
Planning for Turkey
Turkish Delight 1/5: Inspiring Istanbul
Turkish Delight 2/5: Epic Ephesus
Turkish Delight 3/5: Phenomenal Pamukkale
Turkish Delight 4/5: Charismatic (South) Cappadocia