Our trip to Turkey happened to fall on Mitch’s Birthday, which meant he lost a couple hours in flight and time zones. Without too much fanfare we made a quick exit.
On arrival into Ataturk Airport Mitch switched on his phone to data roaming to check in for our next flight. That quickly stopped when we found it cost £8/MB and he hit his cap in a few seconds! We did however, manage to get a message from our friend Sara that there was a massive queue to get in due to the visa process, busy Easter Holidays and security. When, we say long, we mean really long – estimated at about four hours to get out of the airport and with a connecting flight departing in two hours! In typical fashion we tried everything we could to sneak ahead, receiving a lot of heckling from the Brits who were more accustomed to the rules of queuing. We eventually settled on the business class line, where we were asked for our passes. Luckily the Turkish man we were sitting next to on the flight (he was a frequent flyer, we can’t afford business class) spoke a few words and we got through! What was supposed to be our longest check in ever, quickly became our shortest! Cheers buddy!
After meeting up with Shaun and Catherine in the domestic terminal, we boarded our connecting flight to Kayseri. On arrival we met up with Sara who was a bit distressed thinking we had missed our flight. Packing 5 large bags and 5 people into a Honda Accord got a few raised eyebrows from the rental car agents, but in quick time we managed to get out and lost in the road networks of Kayseri, eventually making it to our hotel in Goreme, Cappadocia. Here, we met our host Kadir, who stayed up late waiting patiently. We must have been quite demanding guests, as over the next hour he had booked us a balloon, given us recommendations for our entire stay and drawn out a map. For our late dinner we got to try some local Turkish food, quite different to the kebabs we get back home – Mitch got a clay pot, which when hit with a hammer, smashed open in the wrong place and into quite a few fragments. He had to pick bits of clay out of his meal.
Our first day in Cappadocia allowed a sleep in luckily as conditions were a bit too windy for ballooning, so we decided to go for a drive instead. Cappadocia has formed from centuries of volcanoes and later weathering that results in large layers of ignimbrite which forms steeped rock formations known as fairy chimneys. These have been fashioned into accommodations and storage. Our first stop was at Kaymakli underground city, an ancient network of tunnels and rooms is carved deep into the hillside, first excavated by the Persians, but later used by Christians in refuge from the Romans. The engineering in these is also impressive with large stone doors and ventilation shafts carefully designed to both keep the air fresh and disguise outgoing smoke. Coming to Derinkuyu, the more popular tunnel network, we opted to try Gozleme pancakes, filled with potato, cheese and spinach, washed down with a frothy white Ayran yoghurt milk drink. Not quite what we were expecting…
Driving further south to Ilhara Valley, we found the Selime Monastery – site of a Star Wars Movie Scene. Here, fairy chimneys were carved into cathedrals and facilities to cater for many worshipers. On our return we found dinner at a family restaurant/homestay, it was very homely, with the father joined in preparing the table with his doting wife and two daughters. The meal was great and the small awkward pauses in conversation with the family made the evening even more special. Two other guests were “also” from New Zealand – Queenstown in fact, although their accents and confusion at the mention of ANZAC day made us realise they were most probably recent additions, but still we had something in common. Walking down the hill we were later passed by the father running his dog. It was common to see locals exercising their dogs, horses and donkeys out the windows of their cars.
Waking up early for the hot air balloons was relatively easy, despite adjusting to time differences, the excitement had us all ready. We raced the operators who were all jostling for the best spot on the launch fields down the valley. As we climbed into the bucket of 20 people we saw many other balloons starting to rise, but once we lifted off the ground the number was amazing. At a rough count, about 80 balloons. We quickly rose to 600 metres and flew ahead of the main pack – probably so our operator could show us a few tricks. These included flying close to the rocks, the pigeon holes and later taking out both a tree and a retaining wall before landing. Once on the ground, Mitch and one other were permitted to get out. Tam and Sara thought this was the call to abandon ship and when they too leapt out, the balloon rose quickly and had to be pulled back down again. A glass of champagne and cherry juice capped off the morning. Today was also Shaun and Catherines’ 1st wedding anniversary, so a good way for them to celebrate.
Back at the hotel, Tam tried to find the source of the strange noises she heard earlier in the day. Mitch told her it was turkey’s, so she set off with her new camera in tow. She found a small boy on his bicycle and asked him if he knew where the “Gobble Gobble’s” were. After a bit of confusion he managed to reply in Turkish and point to the nearby section. His mother came up the road, confused at Tam’s queries, dismissed the question “No, Turkey here”. Tam eventually found the turkeys. Turned out that the boy knew all along.
With time left in the afternoon, we drove to Soganli, stopping off in Mustafapasa for Tam to spend a while browsing scarves. Lunch under cherry blossoms and another quick hike around rock caves chewed up some time before our Whirling Dervishes show. The Dervishes are dancers that wear white robes, that when they turn with great skill and balance, spiral outwards. With the slow music and chanting it wasn’t the most exciting spectacle, but it signified their transcendence to a state similar to nirvana. Mitch swiftly fell into his own similar state of sleep and a few others followed suit. If one of the dancers had lost balance and fell over that might have made it a bit more theatrical…
Returning the following day for Kayseri we flew south to Antalya, ready for a road trip around the Turquoise Coast.