An afternoon in Ohrid

Friday, March 26, 2010

Magical Cappadocia

We left Istanbul early and arrived at the Neveshir airport, about an hour's drive from the area of Cappadocia, at just after 11. We left the next morning at 11:45, so we were in Cappadocia for less than 24 hours, but what a fabulous day it was. Cappadocia is in the center of Turkey and the two towns that tourists usually stay in are Goreme and the town we stayed in Urgup. Driving to Cappadocia reminded me of the drive in Central Washington from Ellensburg to Sun Lakes. The are is pretty much scrub desert, until you come to this amazing geological area. It is riddled with rock formations, caves and canyons. Many of the hostels and hotels are in caves and have a variety of cave rooms. When residents in previous times wanted a new room in their cave home, they just carved out another one! It was also considered a holy area by early Christians, but I get ahead of myself.

We had nothing planned for the first afternoon and night there, so first we climbed the hill in Urgup and looked around. I had seen an area when we were coming through on the van transport that I wanted to go back to, but didn't know the name. I looked at a map and saw something called the red canyon and decided that was it, so we asked how to get there. The lovely woman we asked said we could take a taxi, hike the 5 km down the canyon, and the taxi would meet us at the town at the end. Sounded great to me! Lillian had the foresight to circle the town we were supposed to meet the driver in and got his phone number. He took us up to the top of a hill - nothing was there and I had to ask where the trail started! It was definitely not the place I was thinking of but looked interesting, and an adventure was in order. So off we started. The picture of me above is at the start of the trail. I had thought to bring along some water but we had little else.

Lillian is a city girl but game. I didn't tell her that I had worries about finding the trail all the way down - what if it branched? - and then finding the driver in a town we didn't know or even really know where it was! But the trail was lovely and the day was perfect, so why not? And all my worries came true, but they were nothing in comparison to the wonders we saw. Religious hermits had made a mecca of the canyon centuries before, carving out churches and cells to retreat to and contemplate. Many of the cells were in caves high in the cliffs - how they got up and down and kept food and water I have no idea. The trail went down the middle of one canyon and then skirted others, each more beautiful than the last. We took a wrong fork in the trail but it just took us around a route overlooking the canyon that gave us a more beautiful, albeit longer, hike. I was in heaven. We saw only a few people, and that was towards the end. Mostly we were alone in a paradise of wonder! Amazingly, about 3/4 of the way down we met an enterprising Turkish man. He was standing by the side of the trail with a little stand filled with fresh pomegranates and oranges and a juice squeezer. I had a glass of fresh pomegranate juice - heavenly. A while further down we saw his home base - the Flintstone cafe set in a cave by the first church on the trail coming up - the way most people came.

I thought the taxi driver might be waiting for us at the bottom of the trail, but alas no. I looked at the map and at first didn't think to look at the city that was circled, so I asked a local, who of course didn't speak English (and I didn't speak Turkish), where the town was, unfortunately the wrong town. It never ceases to amaze me how you can communicate with others. He told us, and off we went. Then Lillian pointed out the town that was circled, and looking to my right, I saw a town that was closer that I was sure was the correct one. We walked there, and sure enough, it was the right town. Now, how to find the taxi driver, who by this time had been waiting for probably 2 hours. Lillian tried to call him, but we couldn't figure out how to work our cell phones in Turkey. I walked towards a place that looked like it might have tourists, found some nice men in an outdoor cafe who were going to call our driver for us, when magically he appeared and picked us up! There's nothing better than a wonderful adventure with a good outcome!

We figured we deserved some proper pampering after that, so we went to the Turkish bath pictured above. Everyone should get a real Turkish bath sometime in their lifetime. For about $14, we had warm water poured over us, sat in a sauna for 5 minutes, rested on a warm rock, then had two young Turkish men, dressed only in towels, come in and take us to a side room. There one scrubbed all the dead skin off my body, washed my hair, and gave me a minor massage, while the other gave Lillian a full body massage and a body shampoo. Then we switched. After rinsing us off, we went back out to the warm rock and laid around and talked before finally going in to the entry area, sitting around a warm stove, and getting served tea. It was, quite simply, wonderful. A delicious dinner in a little Turkish cafe, a walk around town, and off to bed - a perfect day.

The next morning we were up early - we'd reserved a hot air balloon ride. In the height of the season, there are over 50 balloons per day, and even in early March there were around 20 taking off from different sites. It was gorgeous - like a fairy tale being in one and watching the others rise to fill the sky with colors. We left at dawn. Sixteen tourists fit in each balloon, 4 to a compartment, with the balloon operators being in a center compartment. Climbing in was a treat - the sides are about 4 feet high with two little footholds. I was so graceful getting in that they lifted Lillian up and put her in! It was beautiful - we floated up to a 1000 meters and had a heart-soaring view of the valley and all the places we'd been the day before. I had forgotten my camera but got to take lots on Lillian's which I'll publish on facebook one I get them. I was snapping photos like a madwoman! Landing was tricky and interesting - the main pilot said that March was difficult because you could never tell what the winds were going to do, and the wind on the ground was often different than the wind in the air. Indeed, we attempted 2 landings before they found the best spot, surprisingly to me on the side of a hill. The slope of the hill helped stop the drag of the balloon. Afterward we had a champagne toast, drove through a drainage ditch to get back to the road (balloons don't always land close to roads), and returned to the hotel for a sumptuous breakfast - have I mentioned yet that the food in Turkey is fabulous? Then we quickly packed up, caught the van back to the airport, and were off to our next adventure in Kushadasi. But of course, you'll have to wait for that........


  1. What a wonderful adventure! Your two days sound so full of fun and magic. The perfect travel day, with a good measure of miscommunication and adventure thrown in!

    I went to Turkey when I was in my late teens. After reading your descriptions of Cappadocia and Istanbul, I am ready to go back in a second!

  2. Just read this posting to Joe. Sounds like great fun to me. b

  3. i had this vague notion that i wanted to go to turkey - now i am SURE i want to. your trip sounds amazing!

  4. What a wonderful description of your journey