Saturday, September 6, 2014

Travels in Turkey: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

Cappadocia is an adventure out of Dr. Seus's imagination.

Today is your day.
You're off to great places!
You're off and away!
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high-fliers
who soar to high heights!

After a night on the bus from Fethiye, I looked out the window into the 7 am sunlight. The hilly dry Northern California coast-like landscape had transformed to a sweeping vista of even hillier even dryer Central Valley-like golden hills (clearly someone is homesick and has CA on the brain). As we descended into the Goreme Valley however, things took a turn for the weird. The hills were suddenly interspersed with giant sandstone pillars, and the washes off the giant mesa above the town reached their fingers into the landscape.

Shepherded off the bus we were immediately put into a car and two minutes later were at out hostel, which was literally built into the rocks. Morning glories and bougainvillea and roses are everywhere you go (which would explain all the rose flavored turkish delight and perfumes and soaps here). And stone of course -- everything is made of stone. After a delicious breakfast (bread, roasted eggplant spears, and big slices of fresh feta = yummm), our tour van picked us up for the day.

I'm not an organized tour person (at all), but in the case of Cappadocia it seemed like the best way to go. The sights are spread out far, so besides renting a car, there's really no other way to do it.

We started the day at a tower of cave churches built into cliffs. The area was inhabited by ancient Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans (or whomever else was invading at that point), so they built they homes and places of worship where no one could find them.

If you know me at all, or have been a Eat Run Read-er for a while, you know how much I love scrambling over rocks. Climbing into high up caves, clambering to ledges, and peering over edges -- i.e., the entire Cappadocia region -- is my jam.

Next stop was the Ihlara Valley, which is a deep canyon also full of ancient churches. We did a little (4k) hike along the bottom and had lunch along the stream at the end and it was lovely.

Third (and final major) stop that day was an underground city. It was HUGE -- a series of eight floors of caves and caverns and hallways and rooms. And there are many many more caves of this city that you can't go into, or haven't yet been excavated! On the bright side, it was nice to be underground and out of the hot sun. On the less bright side (literally), I am not a huge fan of caves so the underground city was fine but not my fave. Once you've seen one in a series of caves, you've pretty much seen them all...

And I have to share this part -- that night our hostel room was in a cave. As in, Kathryn and I climbed up a very scary ladder drilled into the rock and found two nice mattresses on the floor of a spacious well-lit cave, pleasantly separate from our hostel-mates.

Alright so the next morning was the BIG EVENT that everyone does: a sunrise hot air balloon ride. We were picked up at 4:30 am and shuttled to an office waiting area where blurry-eyed tourists sat quietly (I repeat: 4:30 am) awaiting whatever came next. They soon put us back into vans by balloon pilot. In the pre-dawn light we drove on a dirt road through the rock pillars and hills but then eventually realized that many of what we thought were hills were actually hot air balloons, slowly slowly inflating like giant elephants waking up.

We watched others and our own inflate, and then were told to climb in. The take-off (and the entire ride actually) was completely smooth and gentle. Our balloon rose to join those a few minutes ahead of us, and watched others take off below us. The sight was surreal: a slow moving invasion of tourists, all neatly contained in large baskets of 20 and propelled slowly slowly 500 feet above the ground by giant colorful balloons.

The ride in total was 45 minutes. Our pilot took us up and down with the air currents, flying over pumpkin vines and pistachio trees and phallic pillars (you know you're thinking the same thing). 

We saw the sun rise over the mesa, getting a complete view of Goreme, and finally touching down in a vineyard. I could not be happier -- what a magical way to spend a morning!

And since that started so early, we still had a full day ahead of us. Day 2 was the "red tour," which is mostly sights close to Goreme. It was a lot of ok get into the van, ok now get out, ok now back in....but I can't get over how cool the high caves and rock formations are!

My favorites were the open air museum...

...and wherever this was (Imagination Valley maybe?)...

...and this last stop because I very definitely climbed up everything. Kathryn is a great travel buddy because she fully supports, encourages, and often documents any and all antics. 

In conclusion, Cappadocia was amazing, and hot air ballooning might be the coolest thing I've ever done, and this blog post is way too long, and we did even more things than I told you about here, but basically you should just go and see for yourself. 

Next stop: Istanbul!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Travels in Turkey: Beach Time in Fethiye

After a summer of fun (and also a lot of work) in DC, my adventure itch started itching, the travel bug bit, that overwhelming urge to visit all the places took effect, and the wide world called — To Turkey it said!

My good friend Kathryn had already planned her trip, so the logistics were already taken care of. Just a bit of time online booking and I was ready to go.

After a very loooong travel experience, and a run-in with the WORST TRAFFIC IN THE WORLD (if you happen to do what I did: fly into Attaturk International, then take a bus across the city to get on a domestic flight out of Sabiha Gökçen, know that it takes 3-4 hours to get across the city), I arrived in Fethiye around midnight. I could regale you further with the struggles of multiple-mode of transportation international travel, but let's take a moment for perspective: I sat on many chairs in the sky, most of this experience involved A/C, people brought me food, and I traveled half-way around the world in just 36 hours. Technology is amazing guys, never forget it.

So anywho, I was thrilled to see Kathryn, who had been working in Geneva all summer and weekend tripping all around Europe (oh the life). I crashed pretty hard immediately upon arrival, but was all kinds of ready to go the next morning.

I awoke to a beautiful view of the harbor and a very Turkish breakfast of crusty bread, hunks of feta, some other white cheddar-ish cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and hard-boiled eggs. There's nothing like a breakfast view, and our hostel (Fethiye Guesthouse, highly recommend) definitely had that.

We took our first day easy at the beach. Blue Lagoon is the famous one, so we hopped on a mini-bus and were soon there, marveling at what a great blue color the water was! The day was hot and the water was just cool enough to be refreshing so we spent it all there. Perfection.

That evening we meandered around town, obtaining the requisite baklava.

The next day was our "sporty" day and we started it (after beautiful breakfast of course) with a short hike up to the cave tombs above the city. If you know me at all, you know that any day I can scramble up some rocks is a good day. So into the tombs we went.

Continuing with our activity, we decided to hike up the mountain above town along the Lycian Way. We didn't go far enough to see any epic views, but it was a nice (and very sweaty) adventure nonetheless.

"It is dangerous to climb on the rock and forbidden." Whoops. 

The day ended with a beach sunset (we are on the most romantic Turkish vacay ever), and the BEST dinner of the whole trip. Seriously, if you find yourself in Fethiye, go to Mozaik Bahce.

Lamb Kebabs
Mezze Platter.

On our last day in Fethiye we took a boat from the Blue Lagoon to Butterfly Valley. We "hiked" up to see the canyon waterfall (it was less than a half-mile), then hung out on that beach for a while.

Butterfly Valley

We'd booked paragliding along the coast for that afternoon, which would have been AMAZING, but tragically it was too windy and our trip was canceled. So instead we got smoothies and enjoyed our last couple hours on the beach.

That night, armed with snacks and comfy clothes, we boarded an overnight bus to Cappadocia. Turkey to be continued...