travel turkey

travel thursdays: Turkey, part 2 – road tripping in Anatolia

Where I left off, we had just boarded a plane from Istanbul to Cappadocia.

To be honest, the main objective of this whole Turkey thing was to go for a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia.

I’ve been dying to go to Cappadocia for over a decade. Sometime, years ago, I read an article on the 10 cheapest places to visit in Europe. Not surprisingly, Turkey made the list. Cappadocia was highlighted as an adventure destination – and the featured photo of hot air balloons drifting over the surreal landscape became emblazoned in my memory. I mentioned that to D when we first started dating, and last January, when he discovered cheap airfare to Istanbul, we decided to make that dream happen.

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The first thing you need to know about Cappadocia is that you can stay in a cave. To me, if caves are an option, then obviously we’re going to stay in a cave.

Kelebek Cave Hotel in Goreme received practically perfect reviews on TripAdvisor and other travel websites, so I booked us a room for four nights. (I mean, seriously – at this moment, it has a 5-star TripAdvisor rating with 1,894 reviews. That’s enough to convince me.)

We flew into Kayseri, a small regional airport, and rented a car to drive to Goreme.¬†I secretly love renting cars in foreign countries (at least, outside of the major cities) – I’m always struck by this realization that I could go anywhere in the world. I love the freedom it allows, and the crazy adventures we experience when we drive off the beaten path.

Our cave hotel was a sight for sore eyes.

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I’m pretty sure that it’s the coolest place we’ve ever stayed, hands down. Here’s a shot inside our cave room:

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And here’s one of the several caves that were part of the hotel, in the pretty Turkish twilight:

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After a good night’s sleep and a hearty Turkish breakfast (compliments of Kelebek Hotel, and eaten on a rooftop terrace with incredible views of the town), we headed out to explore the area. We walked about a mile to the Goreme Open-Air Museum, and it was hard not to see caves along the way.

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As we approached the “museum,” I got tricked into climbing on a camel. It’s a long story and involved $50 USD, but the photos make me laugh out loud.

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The Goreme Open-Air Museum was not a museum at all – we paid admission, and there were certain roped-off areas, but it was really a large area with a dense concentration of ancient cave-churches. It was also a popular destination for tour groups, so we were hardly alone. Still, we were impressed by the history and age of these sights. These churches date back to the beginnings of Christianity!

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I was really impressed that the ancient frescoes have survived this long. It was amazing, too, how if you wanted to, you could walk right over and touch them – historical places in the U.S., which are a mere century or two old, are roped-off and under strict surveillance by security guards and museum docents.1383583_10103513633567068_3085393736744259097_nAfter an hour or two of navigating our way through the Open Air Museum and ducking around people taking photos, we were ready to set off on our own for some hiking.

Within walking distance of our town were a number of different valleys, named mostly for the colors or shapes of the rock formations. The funniest goes to Love Valley.

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But the best hiking to be found was in Red Valley and Rose Valley. And the best part: we were completely, blissfully alone. We could sing whatever song we felt like, yell as loud as we wanted to, be total fools, and no one would care. We relished the photo ops devoid of other tourists, and also kept an eye on the time every so often to make sure we weren’t stranded out alone after dark.

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10155829_10103513634714768_8206407497911906506_nWe did run into one other couple, some nice middle-aged Australians who took a photo of us together.

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For all the crowds back at the Open-Air Museum, I couldn’t believe the amazing churches inside these other valleys that were empty. One church, Hacli Eglise (“Church of the Cross”), dates back to the 6th or 7th century and had the coolest frescoes.

10423925_10103513635548098_7514608430447624356_nThe views from atop the cave didn’t hurt, either.

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My favorite part of Cappadocia was the sweeping views of these unbelievable valleys – they were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

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Our second day in Cappadocia, we explored the town of Uchisar (home of the great Uchisar Castle – worth a visit if you’re in the area!).

1013745_10103513637569048_2965459089073013000_nWe also drove down south to the Kaymakli Underground City. I thought my mind was blown the day before, on our epic hike – but this place didn’t fail to amaze us. Kaymakli was an ancient underground city, with nearly 100 tunnels that go 8 floors beneath ground level. There are endless rooms connected by tunnels, and at one point the rooms served as bedrooms, living rooms, wine and oil cellars, horse stables, churches, and anything else needed to sustain¬†thousands of people at a time. The underground city dates back to the Hittites, an Anatolian people who dated back to 1400 B.C. B.C., ya’ll. This place is really, really old!

We tall folk had to really crouch to explore Kaymakli, but it was 100% worth it.

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We made friends with a really sweet Italian-speaking Turkish pizza maker, and he gave us a tour of his house. Once again, we were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Turks. Here’s a quick photo I shot of Mr. Pizza Man’s house:

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Our last full day in Cappadocia, we put some miles on our little rental car, driving down to the Ilhara Valley. I loved how each Anatolian village began with a sign like this one:

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We stopped in one town for lunch, and were served up a plate of hot kabob. Yummmm.

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The Ilhara Valley was a nice contrast to Goreme – instead of above-ground caves and rock formations, we peered down into a vast canyon. We also walked down it and burned 3,456,892 calories along the way. We were exhausted by the time we made it back to our little cave hotel.

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The Ilhara had cool ancient churches of its own.

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Our only regret was not having the opportunity to go for a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. Of course I booked a tour months in advance – but while we were there, the fog in the mornings was so bad that it wasn’t safe to fly. Our very last day, when we had to leave for the airport bright and early, we caught a glimpse of the balloons taking off on their daily ascent.

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The ballooning was the inspiration behind the entire trip, and I’m still incredibly sad that we missed out on that opportunity. We’ve tried to take it in stride, though, and make it a justification to go back to our beloved Turkey. If we visit Dara’s family in Iran one day, Turkey will make a logical layover – so I’m hopeful we’ll make it back to Goreme to ride up in a hot air balloon at some point in our lives.

And that concludes our Turkish adventure! If you find yourself planning a trip to that great country, feel free to send me an email and I can share more details on our itinerary and our travel recommendations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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