I have always seen those images online.
The hot air balloons filling the golden sky, overlooking a landscape of peculiar looking rock formations, shot from incredible lookout point/ drone. And that was what Cappadocia had always been to me -- a place I saw in the pictures.
However, it always felt so far away and surreal a destination to be visited and checked off my bucket list in the near future, given I have already been to Turkey before, so it seemed unlikely I would go back any time soon.
But dreams come true for those who fight for it. So this year May on my 30th year in existence, I was privileged to have my chance to visit Turkey and specifically Cappadocia location amongst the many stops of my Turkey Aegean Sea Region Tour with Tempel Travel & Turkish Airlines.
Cappadocia – The Land of Beautiful Horses
Fairy Chimney Tops and Ice-Cream Cones
It is the most bizarre and peculiar site one has ever seen. The sea of light brown rocks erected from the ground -- initially makes you blush as they do resemble the phallic shaped symbol very much, but after closer scrutiny and shyly interrogating our tour guide about it, we all come to know that these features and structures are purely caused by the natural weathering process, where over time, the upper layer of lava rock breaks down slower than the rocky surface beneath it, hence you will see these little dark brown triangular rocks balancing on top of the long light brown lava rock below.
We had plenty of time driving through this landscape areas and relishing the beauty of them. Goreme Open Air Museum can be found in the middle of a valley of rock cones and fairy chimneys tops.
Goreme ( Or Goreme National Park) is a must-visit destination as it has that surrealistic landscape I raved about – capped pinnacles and fretted ravines in a wide range of tones of red and brown. If you are also into biblical history, you will also find out that this place is also known as The Land of the Hittites in the bible the book of Genesis.
Planning to go Turkey in the coming months? Don’t forget your Turkey Visa! Unless you are a Singaporean, then lucky you, we are visa free!
Pigeon Holes and Love Mail at Pigeon Valley
Don’t we wish we can go back to the times where there is no WhatsApp and messenger, but your only delivery is through a pigeon sending your messages?
It probably takes a very long time to train up a pigeon to be able to fly long distances and to be so trained to deliver things, without going wayward and destroying the letter halfway through. We stopped by Pigeon Valley where we could see where the old ‘post office’ use to be, with hundreds of pigeon holes for the pigeons to arrive with their little messages. I would think the postman/ post woman must be so skilled to be able to tell apart which pigeon belongs to which owner/ comes from which area.
Nowadays, these pigeon mailing is no longer in practice, but the pigeon holes/ homes are still maintained and
Rock Cavesis also a picture point not to be missed -The Three Beauties, or Uc Guzeller, where if you have no time, this is the best spot they claim to see the best fairy chimneys.
36 Cappadocia Underground Cities
No, unfortunately, we did not have the time nor stamina to see all 36 underground cities in Cappadocia, but the one we visited is called – Underground City ( I presume it will be the best? to be able to call itself that)
This underground city is the widest amongst all 36 of them and comprises of 100 narrow, low and secret tunnels. It was so fascinating to see how all these intricate tunnel systems started, which use to be created in the past as safety passages for Christians against the Romans who are seeking them out. So people use to build these tunnels as hidden homes and passages to get to places without being arrested.
Rock Caves and Intricated Underground Passages
Cappadocia has probably one of the greatest amounts of cave hotels in 1 vicinity.
But before all these stunning hotels came about, these caves actually housed villages and towns, and we walked past quite a few that is still an operating tailor or blacksmith. Some of these houses are so fascinating and it is fun to imagine what it is like to live in one of them. In the past as far back at 4,000 NC, these use to be dwellings and churches hewn into the rock, which are actually perfect insulation against the heat as well as the cold in Winter.
Uplifting Hot Air Balloon Encounter
This is probably the one activity that I took a very long time to deliberate over whether to pay additional to do. I had the chance to try hot air balloon over in Bagan Myanmar in March this year, but given the exorbitant prices they charge there, I missed out the opportunity. However now that I am all the way here in Cappadocia and knowing that I will be missing out the opportunity of flying over this view that probably, being a crazy rock formations/ structure enthusiasts, will one day wake up and regret it.
The hot air balloon gathering starts at 4 am in the morning, with everyone huddled together and piled into a small van to get to the loading site.
The sky was slowly but surely lighting up as we neared our destination, and I was so eager to quickly get there in fear we will miss the golden sunrise moment.
We could eventually see some partially inflated hot air balloons getting prepared as we drove into the zone, and I eagerly pressed my face against the foggy glass trying to spot which balloon is ours. And then one by one, we see the flicker, one after the other, as the hot air balloons start getting flashes of hot flames blazed into its bottom to fill it up. It was such a surreal sight, to see these large canvas pieces glowing in colour and getting inflated as the time passed.
We eventually arrived at our prized balloon and everyone toppled out of the van wrapping ourselves warm to prepare for the cold ride. But far from it, it was a blazing ride and we saw before us the full fire glow and heat up our orange-red-yellow balloon, as well as our cold cheeks and bodies.
Time to Take Flight – Time Waits for no one
I was too busy taking photos but I had to quickly climb/ partially hoisted into the balloon basket, one of the last few that got in. You could already feel the balloon lifting up ever so slightly and shifting its weight around as the heat is rising.
After much manoeuvring around by the Turkish crew on the ground, and a quick introduction by our balloon pilot, we were lifted off the ground and up into the sky.
And that’s where the mild excitement and fear within kicks, a mix of sheer delight yet uncertainty of what to expect. At that moment I was just suddenly very much aware of the fact that, we are being lifted up purely by hot air, and very much in the mercy of the wind speed and force. Up up up into the air so very gently but gaining height very fast.
Our pilot was one fearless man.
We were initially maybe only between the 15th to 20th balloon to get off the ground, but in 15 minutes, we were the highest balloon out of a sea of 100-150 balloons. And when I say hi, I mean really really high. I was terrified at one point of time that my hand shook quite a bit when I was taking photos, that I had to keep my camera.
The surreal view of a hundred balloons
However, I kept looking around and marvel at the sight of these glowing flickering balloons moving through the sky, and the incredible Cappadocia rock formations just right below, in its jagged odd shapes catching the morning light.
Traverse through the Canyon
We had our highs and we had our lows. At one point in time, we were so low that we could actually jump off the basket onto the grassy patch without getting a scratch. But no, of coz that didn’t happen. Thankfully I didn’t jump off either, because the next segment of the trip was so incredible that I felt like I was in a national geographic shoot. We were floating low and carefully through pigeon valley, and not only a super photo-worthy moment, it was at that moment that the sunrays burst over the ridges and filled the whole canyon with golden rays. It was an incredible moment and just left me awestruck for a while.
A good 40 -- 50minutes of our fairy-tale like flight through the sky, it was sad to say we finally arrived back on the ground with our eyes wide open and big smiles on our faces.
Important Things to Note:
- Don’t forget to apply for your Turkish Visa if your country requires one! If you are Singaporean, goo.d news, our pretty awesome passport doesn’t require us to have one. You can apply from e-visums.co.uk
- A hot air balloon experience in Cappadocia can cost between US$200+ to US300+. Given its popular demand, it is highly recommended to book over the counter or with your tour agent you are with ( in my case -- Tempel Travel), who can guarantee you a spot. Booking online can sometimes run the risk of being cancelled and no show pick up, so do your proper research before you pay.
- Book your domestic flights in advance to get the best rates. In our case, we flew with Turkish Airlines and even though it was a full freight flight, it wasn’t too expensive.
- Nearest Airport to Cappadocia is Kayseri Erkilet Airport.