Can’t believe I finally got to witness all the uniqueness and beauty that is Cappadocia! Visiting this part of the world has always been a dream — I never thought I would actually be able to one day ride a hot air balloon over the rocky plains; stay in an actual cave hotel; go on a jeep adventure across sand, rocks and stones; and witness such art from Mother Nature. But there in Cappadocia I was — and this was my experience.
Traversing Turkey with Parlo Tours (Pt.2 of 4)
I was traveling on a 9 days 7 nights group tour in Turkey with Parlo Tours (click here for the detailed itinerary). Cappadocia was the next stop on the tour after our visit to the capital city of Ankara (Pt.1); and the second part of this four-part series of articles on my journey around Turkey. The other places that we (my Mum and I) visited were the ruins of Hierapolis-Pamukkale, Ephesus and Troy; and Istanbul. As with all group tours, entrance tickets and fees are included; but my articles will include the prices to some of the local attractions. To find out more about Parlo Tours and the other different tours this Malaysian travel company offers, click here.
Cappadocia and Our Journey There
Our bus ride from Ankara to Cappadocia took about four hours; with a quick stop to see the Tuz Golu Salt Lake, and a few toilet breaks in between. I slowly watched the landscape change from green to brown (we even passed the inactive Hasan Volcano on the way) along our journey across the Central Anatolia Region towards Cappadocia (or Kapadokya). Our tour guide told us that from as early as the 6th century, the rocky plains was named Katpatuka, which means “The Land of Beautiful Horses” — but upon reading up about it, there really is no actual proof to that statement. He also said that its current name means “Carpet Land”, and that’s why the region is famous for their carpets. Whether true or not — I saw lots of horses and lots of carpets; and also lots of precious stones (like the Sultan and Turquartz stones) in Cappadocia. Cappadocia’s rock sites and the Göreme National Park in the area were added into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985.
My First View of Cappadocia
By lunch time, we arrived in the town of Avanos (just north of Goreme, our base in Cappadocia) for a Turkish-cuisine buffet spread at Han Restaurant. After that, we headed south-west of Goreme to our first stop in Cappadocia to get a bird’s eye view of the entire Goreme National Park. The Kapadokya Panorama is a cafe and a souvenir shop; and the sweeping views from its viewing spot is second to none. It was my very first look of Cappadocia and I was in complete awe. It’s just amazing how the entire town and area was made to blend into the landscape of caves, rocks and stones in a dusty beige color.
Pigeon Valley Uchisar
A little further down from Kapadokya Panorama, we stopped by to view the Pigeon Valley near Uchisar Castle. We were to have lunch here the next day, but our tour guided decided to come by in the evening first because it gives the best sunlight for pictures of the valley (bless him)! Also known as Guvercinlik Valley, it is one of the most popular hiking trails in Cappadocia — said to lead you pass cave houses, ancient paintings, evil eye trees, and well, pigeons (thus its name). The trail stretches 4km from Goreme all the way to Uchisar. Uchisar (also known as Uchisar Castle) is the highest point in Cappadocia and is filled with hallowed rooms, tunnels and passageways; some of which are unsafe due to erosion. I wish I had some extra time to explore Uchisar and hike the trail! But the viewing point was all we got, and I could only see all the little holes in these cave dwellings from afar.
The Evil Eye Tree
It is also at the Pigeon Valley viewing point that we found an Evil Eye Tree! You can find evil eyes trees throughout Cappadocia — they are trees that are decorated with cobalt blue glass amulets that look like eyes. These evil eyes have a cultural significance in Turkey. They are believed to be talismans or charms that are used to ward off evil intents of greed, jealousy and ill-will. It is also a protection against bad luck. All throughout Turkey, you can find evil eyes hanging from doorways, and displayed in houses and shops. They are sold everywhere too, and make good souvenirs to bring home.
Goreme Kaya Cave Hotel
It was evening by the time we finally arrived in Goreme, which was our base in the center of all the important and historical sites of Cappadocia. It also offers some of the best cave accommodations in the region, and we got to stay in one too — the Goreme Kaya Hotel. I was so excited to be able to stay in one of the fairy chimney caves that I’ve seen around Cappadocia; but of course it’s been renovated and refurbished and is a more fancy version of the actual cave dwellings centuries ago. Mum and I were placed in the Suite Room — our huge room had an open space, a living area and bathroom on the ground floor, with a staircase that led to our bedroom on the second floor. It felt so cave-like!
The Turkish Bath
That night, after our Chinese dinner at Madam Qin; Mum and I decided to pamper ourselves at the hotel spa with a Turkish Bath (for and additional US$45~MYR190). I absolutely love baths, so I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a Turkish Bath in Turkey! After a 5-minute steam in the sauna, I was escorted to bath area. The next 30 minutes was a full body bubble-filled bath where I was scrubbed (and lightly massaged) from top to bottom while lying down on a marble top. It was so relaxing and I felt so squeaky clean; and after the session it was straight back to my room and off to dreamland.
The Hot Air Balloon Ride over Cappadocia
We were up super early the next morning. By 5.30am, we were ready and waiting for the bus to pick us up to the ultimate experience in Cappadocia — the Hot Air Balloon Ride. The opportunity to ride on a hot air balloon is entirely up to th weather and wind conditions that day; and even though we were all waiting in the open space, in the dark, in the cold, by the balloons — the flight was not confirmed until 8 pilots collectively agreed that the weather was safe to fly in. We were very lucky that day, because after 3 days of no-flying (prior to our arrival in Cappadocia), we got the green light.
It was so exciting watching the balloons being blown up. As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon, we could see more and more balloons starting to fly up in the air. Very soon, we joined the hundreds of balloons floating over the plains of Cappadocia. I am not one for heights, but being up there was so exhilarating that I just couldn’t stop staring, and taking pictures, and looking up, and looking down, and staring some more. We saw the sun rise, and the shadows moving across the brown rocky landscape. Our pilot flew close to the fairy chimneys, over the hills, and even went up to the maximum height of 800 meters. It was one hour of pure wonder.
After a lovely time admiring Cappadocia from above, our basket did a perfect landing on the back of the truck. All 18 of us (the basket we were on could fit 20, and some can go as many as 25) celebrated the experience with a glass of champagne and received a ‘Certificate of Participation’ from our pilot. I also went to personally congratulate the couple who got engaged mid-air (with us as witnesses to the proposal).
Some people watch the balloon spectacle from the ground, some from the balconies of their hotels (I heard that famous instagram shot is from the Sultan Cave Suites), and some even hire a jeep to drive them to the top of the hills for a better view. Whatever way you decide to see it — it is an unforgettable experience. The hot air balloon ride costs an additional US$230(~MYR960) per person; a little expensive but to me it was money well spent, and I am so glad we decided to do it.
Goreme Valley Open Air Museum
It was 8am by the time we got back to the hotel for breakfast (a pretty good buffet spread). Then it was time again to head out to explore more of Cappadocia. Our first stop for the day was at the Goreme Valley Open Air Museum. The museum is actually a huge complex that was once a monastic settlement from the 10th to the 12th centuries — and is filled with rock-cut churches and chapels with beautiful frescoes and unique architecture. It was amazing walking along the cobblestone pathways around the area that is made up of at least 11 rock chambers with their own very tiny churches.
We only had an hour to explore (together with the huge crowd), so we only made our way to three of the more known churches — St. Barbara Church with its red wall motifs, the Apple Church (Elmali) with colorful frescos that got its name from an Apple tree that used to grow outside, and the Snake Church (Yilanli) and its wall drawing of Christ. Most of the frescos on the walls have fallen off and faded — but it’s still beautiful and you can imagine how it would have looked like back then. No pictures are allowed inside. We didn’t enter the restored Dark Church (Karanlik) that requires a fee of T₺8 (~US$1.4), in addition to the entrance fee of T₺40 (~US$7).
Kaymakli Underground City
After the visit to the rock-cut churches, we made our way about 40-minutes south of Goreme to the site of the Kaymakli Underground City. It was time to explore the depths of Cappadocia! Kaymakli is said to be the widest underground city in the region; and goes down to 8 floors below ground, but only 4 floors are open to the public. It is believed to date back to 3000 B.C. and built by the ancient Enegup people; then in the 4th-century Byzantine era was used as a sanctuary for the Christians to avoid religious persecution; and later on as storage spaces and wineries. It’s amazing how tunnels and caverns were built into the soft volcanic rocks so many centuries ago. We spent about 45 minutes clambering through the narrow passageways, stopping at certain points for our tour guide to tell us stories about the people who once lived here. Entrance is T₺25 (~US$4).
Viewing Spots around Cappadocia
We had a buffet lunch at Uchisar Kaya Hotel, overlooking the Pigeon Valley (that we visited the day before). The rest of the afternoon was spent stopping by various viewing spots around Cappadocia. We had a quick stop at a viewing point to see the Pasabag Monk’s Valley, also known as the Mushroom Valley for all its mushroom shaped fairy chimneys. We also dropped by a place that our tour guide called the ‘zoo’ because we were supposed to guess what animals the rock formations depict. The most prominent one was probably the Camel Rock (it really looks like a camel), but there also is a Crocodile Rock, and some Kissing Mushrooms. The area is called Devrent Valley, also fittingly named the Imagination Valley.
Cappadocia Jeep Safari
In the evening, the tour group members were given the option to go on a Jeep Safari around Goreme National Park (and visit a few more viewing spots and sights). I thought it would be a fun experience, so Mum and I decided to pay the extra US$80 (~MYR330) to join the tour. A group of us were dropped off at the tour company, and were whisked off in a couple of SUVs on a one-and-a-half-hour journey through rocks and sand. Later on, we noticed that some Jeep Safaris offer tours on Land Rover Defenders — and I think this would have been a more awesome experience!
The Love Valley
Our jeep driver was a fun guy, who loved singing along to the songs on the radio on our drive. He also did some stunts in the sand to liven up our jeep experience. Our first stop was at the Love Valley — named as such because of all the phallic looking rock formations sticking out from the valley floor. The lookout point above the valley had all sorts of gaudy looking ‘love’ structures for pictures; so Mum and I sat on a love swing for a shot. I heard that you can also hike around the valley — and I think it would have been something fun to do for a closer look at the cock rocks.
The Red Valley
And then it was another rough ride through the rocky terrain to the next stop, the Red Valley. The sun was beginning to set at that point, and I think the view at Red Valley is most beautiful at this time of the day. From the viewing point, you can actually see how the valley got its name — the setting sun gave the entire place a vibrant red glow. I would have loved to stay until the sun disappears behind the hills, but there were more places to go on the tour and we were only given 15 minutes to admire the view.
Hallac Hospital Monastery
The Hallac Hospital Monastery was an interesting stop. Built in the 11th century, the monastery is also called a hospital because it is believed that the place was used by the monks to produce medicine for the local people. All throughout our tour in Cappadocia, we did not manage to enter a proper cave compound (except for the ones at the Goreme Open Air Museum), so it was interesting to see the interior of this complex. Not much is left, just empty spaces and crumbling walls. Even the outer rock surface is eroding. One part of the monastery is now home to pigeons, so there were droppings everywhere!
Back on the road, we headed to our last stop on the tour, the small town of Ortahisar. We didn’t enter the town proper, and stopped at a viewing point to admire it from afar. Ortahisar is built around a 90m-high rock-cut castle that stands out in the centre of town. Around it are similarly colored and rugged-looking modern buildings that blend in with the landscape. It was at this point that we ‘ended’ the tour, with another glass of champagne for the day.
Belly Dancing at Evranos Restaurant
After a quick freshening up at the hotel, it was off to dinner. Our last and final experience in Cappadocia was a dance performance dinner. We headed back to the town of Avanos, where the Evranos Restaurant is located. The design of the restaurant was pretty unique — all the tables were arranged three in a row, each table slightly elevated from the one below it. The rows all surround a center stage, where the dance performance is held. While having dinner of Bluefish, or in Turkish, Lüfer (not a dish I enjoy — so I didn’t eat much and filled myself with the free-flow of alcohol); we were entertained with a few local folk dances. There was also a Wedding Ceremony enactment, a Whirling Dervish performance, and the night was capped off with a Belly Dance! There was only one dancer (and a whole group would have been more fun to watch), but this dancer’s belly did fascinating things and moved in extraordinary ways!
… And Up Next on the Tour!
The very next day, we checked-out and left Cappadocia early in the morning. I had an amazing time in this region — I just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful and unique landscape, and the amount of history hidden beneath the ground and in the caves and rocks. If I ever return to Cappadocia, I would love to hike the hills and valleys; and spend more days just looking at the hot air balloons flying in the sky. But till then, I leave with plenty of new experiences — and a special love for Cappadocia. It really is my favourite place in all of Turkey.
And next up is the third league of the tour that takes us into the Aegean Region — the land of ancient ruins and coastal cities. Read about my journey to the Hierapolis and Cotton Castle in Pamukkale, Ephesus in Selcuk, the Aegean Sea in Kusadasi, and the ancient Troy in Canakkale here!
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Turkey with Parlo Tours. Cappadocia was one out of the many city stops on the group tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.