Balloons, Caves and Underground Cities

Trip Start May 03, 2013
Trip End May 22, 2013

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday May 12 Day 10: Adiyaman/Cappadocia
"Another early morning as we depart for the daylong journey to Cappadocia. We stop along the way for lunch and in Kahramanmaras to sample the city’s famous ice cream, arriving late this afternoon. "

Another early wakeup. And there's a familiar high tub with enclosure similar to the one that we faced before in Istanbul. This time, I grab one of the small stools to step in and out of the tub.

Now we're on our way to the Cappadocia area of Turkey. It's about 350 miles away. It's a beautifully scenic ride through the mountains and valleys, past tremendous snow capped volcanoes. We stop in the lovely city of Kahramanmaras for lunch (yes, kebaps!) and some special ice cream.

We eventually swing south around the magnificent Erciyes volcano and head into the Cappadocia valley and our hotel in UÁhisar. It's been a day long drive and it's raining again!

Monday May 13 Day 11: Cappadocia
"Centuries of volcanic eruptions dumped mud, ash, and lava here that was later sculpted by rain and wind into whimsical cone, needle, and chimney formations in which early Christians built thousands of churches in the Goreme Valley. They also built the “rock city” of UÁhisar, and the underground village of Kaymakli, all of which we explore on today’s tour. "

Our hotel is actually entered from the road above and we walk down to the 2nd floor- not up. It's built down the side of the- and inside!- the hill. Beyond our hotel and above us is the tall fortress built into the peak. Across the little valley are some cave dwellings. This early morning I wake to hear what sounds like very loud vacuuming. We open the curtains to discover that colorful balloons are floating through our little valley past our hotel and beyond. The sound is the roar of gas jets from the equipment that fills their balloons. One of them dips quite low before gaining height again. That's where we'll be the next morning!

Our room is below the road and seemingly carved from soft rock, much as the ancient cave dwellings of the area. Lovely, but do not touch it- you'll take off a bit of skin!

We start our sunny morning outing by visiting the citadel/fortress just up the hill and look out over UÁhisar Kaya or Pigeon Valley. I don't notice if anyone takes advantage of the offer to purchase Turkish Viagra.

Then we head on to the underground village of Kaymakli. These underground communities were the villagers last and best line of defense against invaders. I can't imagine living underground!

We enter through a bazaar- run the gauntlet and get your shopping done! We head to the first level underground. There's no heading back if you go beyond the first level- it's onward not backward! Again, just a handful of our group continue on. It's amazing that they had areas all laid out for living, cooking, even wine making. It's a tight squeeze in several areas. And challenging to capture photos in the low light.

On the way back through the bazaar I'm tempted by potato chips. Luckily, a fellow traveler shares theirs on the bus. They are delicious. They're a long, single peel of potato, stuck on a stick and then quickly deep fried. A touch of seasoning and voila!

We get back on the bus and head out to the Red River area with a great view of the formations up close. Some folks are dropped off to visit a carpet emporium...and make some purchases. I head back to the hotel to relax before dinner. Tomorrow is a VERY early morning.

Tuesday May 14 Day 12: Cappadocia
"Today’s touring features the vast Zelve Valley complex of caves laced with dwellings, churches, and public spaces where villagers lived until just 40 years ago; the amazing fairy tale chimneys at Pasabag; Urgup winery; and the medieval Ottoman town of Avanos, where we watch craftspeople as they fashion pottery."

Van pickup this morning at 4:30 to take us to our balloon. It's chilly and I'm wrapped up in the fleece and scarf again. And it's very dark! We wait while our assigned balloon is 'gassed up'. Then we're on board and floating up into the sky. Unfortunately, yesterday's sun doesn't make a return visit. It's an overcast grey day- the balloons the only spots of color and then only when their gas jets are on. The weather also means we're limited in where we can float. We don't make it down the valleys, but stay as high as possible. The lack of wind means lack of control to the pilot. We land in a muddy field for our toast of faux champagne. It starts to rain as we are forced to hike up a slippery muddy track on the hillside and down the path to our van. My feet are caked with pounds of the beige stuff. We leave plenty of mud in the van as witness to our disgruntlement. And even more mud at the hotel. I wonder if my boots will ever come clean!

Then we finally have some breakfast before we begin the day's tour through the Zelve valley. First stop is a visit an old 'apartment complex' carved from the strange stalagmite-like formations. We get to visit with one elderly couple who have been allowed to stay in the village. They serve up tea in their tiny dwelling. It's like munchkin land.

We head on to an ancient monastery with amazing frescoes. And then onto more strange little cone hillocks with funny flat hats before stopping in a pottery shop. I hang out with the pigeons instead and enjoy some tea with Mustafa and our driver.

Dinner back at the hotel and an opportunity for a night shot again. Though this one is from a balcony at the hotel of the fortress and hillside of UÁhisar. Not such a long trek and I didn't get lost even once!

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