When you look at a map of Turkey, you don’t see Cappadocia. That is because it is a region, not a city or town. There are many towns in the area but none are called Cappadocia. We didn’t know that before.
To start the day, we had a pickup time very early. We got up in the dark and were shuttled to an area not far from us and met others who would be sharing this ride. I was very concerned about being high up in the air but my trepidation wasn’t even warranted. Even in the darkness, we could see the crew blowing air into the balloon to get it started, followed by the hot flame powered by propane tanks to lighten the air inside and allow it to ascend.
The basket was on its side, awaiting the inflated balloon to right it, with a little help from the crew. This basket held 28 passengers, plus two crew. Each side of the basket had four compartments, holding either three or four passengers. The balloon was huge, certainly large enough to take us all up easily.
As we floated up, the sky was brightening, ready to witness a beautiful sunrise. What we then noticed was approximately 50 other balloons taking off at the same time from our location. The sight was magical. There were all sizes and designs of balloons. Some had advertising on them of their balloon company, some had quilt-like designs, and others had happy stripes or dots. The smaller balloons had baskets that held only 2-4 passengers, medium-sized balloons a bit more. Ours was the largest we saw. We were told that the small balloons and baskets were private groups. They didn’t go as high either.
We gently took off, barely feeling the movement, other than seeing rooftops passing below. There were times when we thought we would crash into them but the balloon lifted just in time. As the sun peaked over the mountain, you could feel the warmth on your face. It was definitely an experience you do not forget.
After an hour, we gently landed on the bed of the truck that held the basket initially. The precision it took to land it squarely on the truck was aided by the ground crew, kept in constant communication with the balloon pilot via walkie-talkie. Once on the ground, a small table was set up with champagne glasses and bottles of champagne. We were asked if we wanted a champagne spray and of course, we said yes. We got pelted with the champagne, then enjoyed a glass to celebrate that we all survived this adventure. We even received a certificate to indicate that we were no longer hot air balloon virgins.
We were taken back to our hotel for breakfast and then our pick-up at 9:30 AM for our first-day tour of the area.
Our guide was a very nice man who definitely enjoys his job as a guide. We were a group of seven, a newly married young couple from Pakistan, a woman from Tunisia, and two men from Mexico (Reynoso). Our first destination was the Red Rose Valley, known for the pink tint to the jagged sandstone peaks, especially at sunset.
We hiked up a hill to get a better view of the manmade openings in the sandstone to hide from predators and enemies. How they got into the “houses” must have been difficult but they stayed there for quite a long time until the threat has passed.
Our next stop was Pigeon Valley. There are countless manmade dovecotes where the pigeons live. The birds are used to communicate between the houses, provide excellent fertilizer, and as a source of food. The pigeons are still treated very well.
The underground cities, once a place of refuge for 15,000 Christians, were of enormous value to the development of Christianity. They provided shelter and worship and were in use until the end of the 7th century A.D. We had to bend low to enter, which was by design. Also, the passageways narrowed as they got closer to the living areas, to discourage armies from entering. Enemies had to enter one at a time making it easier for the residents to spear them one at a time.
The first room is a meeting room, then a kitchen (very rudimentary), using a hole in the floor as a tandoor oven for cooking. The next room was for food storage. Since the dwellings are underground, they maintain a constant temperature, which is cool all the time. They had wine cellars and a place to mash the grapes with their feet. Most of the grape mash, however, was used to make molasses, rather than wine. This eight-story city was connected by 30 km of passageways and corridors, all with very low ceilings. They opened into larger rooms with higher ceilings and even ventilation chimneys. It was ingenious.
Lastly, we went to Ortahisar, famous for its castle-like rock formation, after which the town is named. We sat at a panorama point to view the grandeur of this area.
Dinner that night was at a recommended restaurant in Urgud, the town where our hotel was located. Cappadocia is known for something special. They have crockpots shaped like flower vases, covered with aluminum foil. The inside is filled with meat and a sauce that is revealed when they use a heavy knife to chop off the top of the vessel and pour the hot stew into a bowl. You eat it with bulgar and salad and it is a huge meal. The show is when the crockpot is beheaded!
We were sadly disappointed when we tasted the meat. It was what I perceived as braised brisket, but into cubes in a tomato-based liquid. The sad part was that we found it virtually tasteless, chewy, and the sauce too thin to absorb the bulgar. Looks like we will be giving the majority of the meat to the night manager at the hotel. Moustafa will enjoy it, to be sure.
The local Cappadocia red wine, famous in this area, is delicious. We had several glasses at a previous restaurant and wanted to try it again. What we were served wasn’t nearly as good as we had before. Another disappointment. It looks like we will return to the restaurant we enjoyed yesterday, along with their excellent wine. This long day has come to a lovely end…