After a week and a half in Istanbul, and after the serious business of completing a marathon was over, #MohennysDoTurkiye headed to the magical land of Cappadocia. It is easy to see why this place really feels like magic. With its natural fairy chimney rock formations, cave hotels, underground cities, hot air balloons dotting the skyline at every daybreak, and the most generous and hospitable people we have come across on the trip, the tourist can escape and slip into a wonder filled existence that seems too unreal to be anything but a fantasy.
To top it all, we also got snow while we were there, adding another level of surreal to the valleys and mountaintops dotted with the powdery white stuff. But more about that later!
We stayed for 2 nights, and the first half of the first day (before we even got there) was filled with drama. Quaseem had gotten sick during the night, and he outright refused to leave Istanbul (initially). After the ordeal of eventually getting him to agree to come, and getting to the airport in the very early hours of the morning, the Turkish Airways checkin staff refused to let him onto the flight until he sees a doctor, because he looked like he was going to collapse right there and then at the checkin desk. To cut a long story short, after way too much walking for a sick person, between terminals, we eventually did make it to the boarding gate with literally 1 minute to spare before they closed. When we arrived in Cappadocia he spent the rest of the day out cold in bed, and Fadeelah and I explored the town of Göreme a bit. In case you are judging right now, Fadeelah did do her best to see that he is ok and has everything he needs before she went galavanting with me.
The cone-formations on the landscape were formed by sedimentary rock of the lakes and streams, and deposits from ancient volcanic eruptions 3-9 million years ago. The rocks eroded over the millenia and today forms hundreds of spectacular pillars, shafts and cones. The rock is naturally soft and malleable, but hardens when in contact with air. So people carved homes and monastries into the rocks, and many still live in cave houses. When you visit, you should absolutely stay in a cave hotel…it is an experience you will not get anywhere else. And don’t be fooled by the name, this is not primitive-type living. The cave hotels have all the comforts, with amazing lighting, very efficient heating in winter (including underfloor heating on marble floors, mmmm) and airconditioning for the hot summers, phenomenal local buffet breakfasts of fresh, local produce, and stunning Cappadocian hospitality.
We stayed at Aydinli Cave Hotel, a family-run establishment. They let us check in soon after we arrived the morning, even though officially checkin is only from 2pm onwards. Fadeelah and I slowly (marathon legs still, remember) climbed the terraced stairs to check out the top terrace, where breakfast is served. We figured with a vantage point that high, it should have decent views of the valley and Göreme town. While we were sitting on the outdoor balcony, someone came to us with complimentary drinks, and asked if we wanted anything more.
After that we went walking around down the sokak and into the cute little town. It wasn’t so kak. In fact it wasn’t kak at all! (Sorry for my language. Coming from SA we found that very amusing, but a sokak is a street) Göreme is a tourist town. I suspect (almost) everyone is either a balloon pilot, works at or owns a cave hotel, a restaurant, a store, a tourism company or gift shop. Viewpoint Café came highly recommended by Irfan from Aydinli for their food AND views, so we went there for lunch. The recommendation was on point. The chicken dish I had was the most delicious food I had in Turkey! And Fadeelah had a testi kebab, cooked in a clay jar that you have to break open with a hammer to access the food when it comes to the table. No, the procedure is not as violent as it sounds. LOL
I wanted to order a Schweppes mandarin, but they didn’t have stock of it. However, when my meal came, there comes a Schweppes mandarin with it. The waiter went to go and hunt one down for me at the stores while the food was being prepared. Wow, I hope he didn’t have to search far. We are certainly not to such great service back home in SA as is shown by the people in this town.
After lunch we were going to walk to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is 1km out of town. On the way there we got slightly distracted looking at the gift shops, and realised if we wanted to be back in time to be dropped off at the sunset viewing point, we would not have ample time to appreciate the museum, so we headed back. Irfan gave us a lift to the sunset view point and said we could walk back once we are done. That was a really nice place to also have a look at the town from another vantage point, and the next valley over the hill. It started getting a bit chilly on the way back so we were happy to be back in the toasty rooms afterwards.
I would’ve been fine to just eat nibbles for dinner, but Fadeelah really wanted to check out Top Deck Cave Restaurant. The wife of the owner is a South African, and the restaurant also got rave reviews on TripAdvisor. Also, it is in the next sokak from us so it literally took 3 minutes to walk there. Quaseem was still out cold, not even knowing how it looks outside (LOL), so it would just be the 2 of us again and she got him a take-away. Top Deck is a splendid, immaculately cosy cave restaurant with a fireplace and seating either at tables or Ottoman-style floor seating. We chose the floor seating.
That night was to be an early night because we had a balloon flight and pickup was at 6am. We were concerned because there was a rainstorm predicted for the morning at that time, and they don’t fly in the rain. But when we woke up the weather was chilly, but not raining. At Royal Balloon, they gave us a fabulous full buffet breakfast and we ate while waiting for clearance to fly from the meteorological association. We eventually did get clearance and were good to go, and were driven to the launch site where they were preparing the balloons.
The balloon ride was amazing! It is probably one of the priciest things you will do on your trip because it’s not cheap, but it is totally worth it because of the sheer magnitude of the experience. Our balloon pilot was Tolga, and he was awesome. He was cracking jokes the entire time, and gave us information about the towns and valleys that we flew over. On a clearer day, the sunrises from the balloon rides are spectacular!
After landing and heading back to Göreme, we went for 2nd breakfast at Aydinli (yes, the Kenny sisters do have a “healthy” appetite for food), and then went out for the day with the driver that Aydinli organised for us. By now Quaseem had recovered, and so joined us. Ibrahim, also part of the family, was our driver and guide for the day, and he took us to everything that we wanted to see and more. Places we went to were the Kaymakli Underground City, the Göreme Open Air Museum, Avanos (Smurf Town) and a local co-operative nearby for lunch, Pigeon Valley, Love Valley. We would have done a short hike in the valley, but it started snowing by the time we emerged from the underground city, so our trip was rerouted a bit. We went to an onyx factory instead, to see how they carve and polish the onyx creations, and to marvel at spectacular sultanite jewellery that we can’t afford.
Underground cities were built as a defence against enemies. When news of an enemy advancing came (via smoke signals from other cities), the entire city would retreat underground, with all their food, supplies, animals and people. The enemy would then arrive and find the town “abandoned”. The underground city had everything required, as it was often used for long periods of time. Even burials of people who died had to be seen to. The cities had an ingeniously complex system of air supply, water supply, tunnels, rooms and food storage. In fact, a lot of their food was stored underground all the time because the temperature in the underground caves were constant throughout the year at between 15-17 degrees, whether it was -20 or +50 degrees outside.
That evening we went to dinner at Top Deck again, and the owner came to speak to us. He told us about the time he lived in Athlone in Cape Town, and working at Anatoli’s Restaurant in Sea Point. He made a special effort to come and see us because he couldn’t make it the evening before.
The next day, sadly, was the day we left Cappadocia, and ultimately leave Turkey as well. With it now being freezing cold outside because of the day and night of snow, I really, really didn’t want to leave the room and checkout. The bed was so comfy and walking barefoot on the warm floor was an awesome sensation. But I guess most good things come to an end hey? We didn’t really have time to get breakfast at Aydinli because our airport shuttle was so early, but they did say we could come up a bit earlier. So we did. Even if it was just for a bit of Turkish tea and seeing the valley now covered in snow, it would be worth braving the cold. We also got to see the balloons fly over, this time from the ground.
So long Cappadocia, it’s been real. From there we flew to Istanbul, then travelled back to the apartment we stayed in for our other luggage, and had a..uhm…adventurous trip back to the airport with all our luggage, navigating a public transport route we hadn’t used before. Thank goodness for friendly Turkish bus drivers who saved us from getting completely lost. We eventually did make it to the airport in time, before it was another 2 flights to get home. A very, very long and tiring day and a half of travelling. But it’s always good to be home, especially since it is in beautiful Cape Town.
PS… None of the establishments mentioned have paid to be reviewed or offered any sort of reward for writing about them. It is entirely my independent opinion.