Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

IMG_3413 (Small) One of the famous things to do in Cappadocia is a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Christine and I had high expectations for this excursion and we can honestly say that those expectations were exceeded. It was really a magical experience. We had to get up at 4am on the day of the ride (which isn’t as bad as it sounds since we have generally been woken up at around 5am each day in Turkey from the muslim prayers that are blasted through the loudspeakers on the miniarets). After a bit of admin to pay and get sorted into groups we then were transported to the site where the balloons took off from. It was still dark at the time we arrived so seeing these massive balloons glowing as they were getting heated up was quite stunning.

With little ado, we then jumped into the basket of our balloon. There basket was divided into 5 sections. One for the “driver” and 4 other sections that fitted 4 people each. Our driver quickly explained what we should do for landing while he periodically released hot air into the balloon. Shortly after, we felt the balloon start to move, and then when we looked down we saw we were no longer on the ground but a few inches up. And then, very smoothly, we lifted up, up and up. Before long we were 700 metres up in the sky! I’ve done hot air ballooning once before in Melbourne (which I loved), but I have to say that this experience was a whole lot more special.

First of all, there are probably 50 or so hot air balloons that take off every morning, so the air is littered with all of these balloons. It is just breathtaking to see. I actually said to Christine at one point that I thought we’d been transported back to Tomorrowland because it had that similar Alice in Wonderland kind of magical feeling.

The other reason this hot air balloon experience was so special was because of the landscape. Cappadocia, with its other-worldly rock formations and cave homes is a truly incredible place to experience from the ground, and even more incredible from the air.

The ride went for a little over an hour before we softly touched down in a small field. We toasted the experience with a glass of bubbly (apple cider) and then were shuttled back to our hotels where we were able to get a quick nap in before getting on with the rest of the day.

If you’re ever in Cappadocia, I highly recommend doing the hot air ballooning. It’s magical.


Making new friends

IMG_3492 (Small) One of the goals of our year-long trip is to get to know people around the world and hear their stories. Turns out that Cappadocia was a great place in that regard. We had booked a day-long tour to visit some of the main sights in the area (called the “Green Tour” that hits the Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Canyon and the Selime Monstery). Upon boarding our mini-bus outside of our B&B, the Rose Valley Guesthouse, we saw a couple jump in right after us. After only five minutes on the bus, the guy turned around and asked where we are from. Turns out he, Greg, is from Australia, born in the same district of Sydney as Christian, studied opera singing and will get married this December at the same church that Christian’s parents got married at. What are the odds! Only after a few minutes of chatting, I knew we would get well along with the two of them. Hannah, who is originally from the UK but has been living in Australia for the past seven years, works in social media marketing. Greg is a teacher. Both seemed easy going, cracked jokes, shared their own stories about life and were really interested in what we were up to. What I initially expected to be a rather touristy and theory-packed day (in general, I’m not a big fan of group tours) turned out to be really fun and interesting. Not only was the tour much better than I thought (thanks to our upbeat tour guide Dennis who shared many stories about Turkey’s history and culture but also made an effort to introduce the whole group to each other) but sharing this experience with others and making personal connections made a real difference.

Even without making concrete plans to meet up again (that said, the four of us were living in the same B&B), life had another encounter planned for us! The same day after dinner in the village, Christian and I were passing a little restaurant (well, one could say it was more of a cave/barn) I saw someone waving in the corner of my eye. I almost ignored it, thinking some local wanted to lure us in for dinner or to sell us some other goods. Fortunately I did take a closer look, as it was Greg sitting there with Hannah! What was intended as a quick hello, turned into a true Turkish cultural experience. Ali, the owner of the place called “The World of Kebab” couldn’t speak much English. But turns out he had spent 30 years of his life in Germany so we were able to communicate in German (plus, Greg, who’s really into languages, speaks German as well). Ali had returned to Cavusin (the little town we stayed in next to Goreme) about five years ago. While he was ready to move back to Turkey and be closer to his family after three decades in Germany, it sounded like he was still trying to re-integrate in his little village. Having grown up in a small town myself, I can see how hard it must be to come back to a place with a well-knit community where everyone has grown up with each other. That said, Ali seemed to focus on the positive side of things. He proudly showed us how he had built a baglama (also called saz), a Turkish guitar. And a few minutes later there we were: listening to his guitar play and singing, passing around a drum so that all of us could showcase our musical talents. Curious to learn what Ali had planned with his restaurant, he showed us two adjacent cave rooms that he was renovating (formerly used as stables for animals). Not only was he going to redo both rooms by himself, he also decorated them with his own wall paintings and sculptures. It struck me that Ali was (and probably needed to be) completely self-sufficient to make his dream come true. Very inspiring to see him with such energy and enthusiasm as he was building out his small business! At the end of this special evening, we took our “running into each other” destiny in our own hands and Greg, Hannah and we decided to meet up again for a sunset dinner picnic the next day (yay, I love picnics!)

The next day we met Greg and Hannah at 6pm and assembled the last delicatessen for our picnic feast. Turns out we came up with a good spread of nuts and dried fruit, local cheese, some bread, savory pancakes (think ‘wrap’), a chicken sandwich and, of course, some local red wine. A short, steep ascent later, we were on top of the “old city” of Cavusin (ancient caves that were built into the stone walls of the hill). It was a beautiful and fun evening, enjoying a great conversation over local food while watching the sunset. We learned that Greg and Hannah just got engaged (one week after our wedding!) and are about to move to Hong Kong to “try something new” (where we may try to meet up again when we visit our friend Shilpa in September). Lots of our conversation centered on learning languages. It’s really fascinating. The topic of language learning and how to best go about it keeps coming up on our journey. So does Duolingo, an online language learning app, which seems to already have gained widespread use around the globe. If you are interested in learning a new language, stay tuned. Christian will soon write a blog post on his insights while learning German.

Cappadocia, thanks for introducing us to Greg, Hannah and Ali. I felt like I got to know the more personal side of the little village of Cavusin and made friends that we’ll hopefully meet again on our journey around the world.