After taking a compulsory travel hiatus for six months due to border restrictions worldwide, I decided it was time to test the waters of traveling during a global pandemic. My friend, Ralph, and I were limited on options so it made the decision easy, Turkey was calling our names!
Do you have a bucket list? I sure do, and riding in a hot air balloon was right there at the top! What better place to take my first balloon ride than in Cappadocia, Turkey! So, Ralph and I started planning our 9 days & 8 nights trip to Turkey. We decided on spending our first four nights in the small town of Göreme situated in the Cappadocia region.
As an American traveling to Turkey, you must secure an e-visa for $50 USD before departure; if you are not from the USA, be sure to check entry requirements from your countries government before booking your trip. After we purchased flights and booked hotels we had to complete a new step in the planning process and that was reviewing Turkey’s Covid-19 protocols to make sure we were compliant throughout our trip.
We flew with Turkish Airlines and departed for Kayseri, Turkey via Istanbul on September 20th. Everything on our 18 hour journey was clean and efficient, just what every traveler loves. Once we touched down in Kayseri we took a prearranged van transport to Göreme which was about 55 minutes. We checked in to the Blue Moon Cave Hotel around 9pm local time and we were famished.
It was time for food and thank goodness there was a great restaurant with local food open late (till midnight) right across the street! We headed over to Kapadokya Kebapzade and enjoyed our first meal in Turkey. I had the Beef Casserole which is a beef skewer with roasted eggplant (aubergine), tomato, and garlic while Ralph had a traditional Adana Lamb Kebab. Delicious! The server gave us complimentary Turkish çay tea (pronounced like chai) as an after dinner drink. As I would come to learn çay tea is a huge part of the Turkish culture as they drink it throughout the day and after every meal, especially with loads of sugar. It was the first of many çay teas we would drink over the next week although I only added one cube of sugar and Ralph preferred his without.
Ralph and I have traveled to over 80 countries combined and one thing that is almost always guaranteed your first 24 hours in a new time zone of a 5+ hour time difference is…JET LAG! We had already decided to take it easy the first day so we got a good nights sleep and woke up around 9:30am to partake in the hotels delicious complimentary breakfast. Let me tell you, don’t pass up a free breakfast in Turkey! They go all out with fresh fruits, breads, cheeses, eggs, and don’t forget the Turkish coffee or tea. Side note to those of you who have never had Turkish coffee, DO NOT STIR. Boy did I learn the hard way. I am used to stirring my coffee to cool it down and as soon as I had started, Ralph tried to stop me, too late. It’s a very rich coffee with heavy sediment which settles at the bottom of the cup so you never stir and never finish the last sip or you’ll be in for a bitter wake up! It reminds me of Kopi Luwak coffee if you have been to Bali and tried that.
After breakfast we headed to the ATM for a cash withdraw to last us a few days and then book our hot air balloon tour and possibly a day trip in the region. There are a dozen different places to book your tours around town but on our way to visit The Göreme Open Air Museum, we stumbled upon Heart of Cappadocia tour company. We ended up sitting down with Vehbi for a few minutes and decided we would book everything through him. It was a great booking experience as he explained all the tour options and worked his magic to get the best deals for us. This is pretty common from company to company and you can expect prices to vary depending on demand for the day and season. We lined up 3 tours with him and were set for the next few days…sunrise hot air balloon ride, sunset ATV tour, and the “Green” day trip.
It was midday by this point and we were only 15 minutes from The Göreme Open Air Museum ($10 USD entry fee). Its on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is a fascinating experience. Here there are many churches carved straight from the face of the rock formations. It’s Rockin’ architecture if I must say so myself! We walked around for about an hour and really enjoyed the visit. It is definitely a must see while in Göreme. By this time, we had worked up a sweat walking around in the sun up and down the hill to the museum and were ready for lunch and an Efes. Now if you don’t know me, then you don’t know how much I love trying new beers and Ralph had been talking up this Efes beer (ps: this is his second trip to Turkey), so I was excited to taste what all the hype was about. Like most people, we love great views to accompany our meal times. Well, the Viewpoint Cafe Restaurant did not disappoint. We enjoyed the famous Turkish Pottery Kebab for lunch and two tall Efes…and let me tell ya, it was refreshing! We enjoyed our chill lunch with a view and realized we need to see more of this gorgeous town. What better place than Sunset View?! With a 3₺ ($.38) entry fee and a hike to get your heart pumping it was totally worth it for the stunning 360° view of Göreme. We called it an early night shortly after sunset as we had an early wake up the next day.
4:00am the alarms sounded…today was the day I would ride in a hot air balloon! 5:10am was our van pick up right outside of the hotel and by 5:45am we were watching hot air balloons inflate as the sun started peaking over the horizon. By 6:00am we were boarding our balloon! Ahhh, I couldn’t believe I was really there, it was such an exciting time! Now, as much as I was excited I was also a bit nervous, naturally, because it was something new and unknown. We had an amazing pilot, Ibrahim, who was extremely nice and informative with any questions that arose. For example, after we had observed 4 very large helium tanks on board, Ralph asked how many helium tanks were needed for the 1 hour flight? Ibrahim said, “Only 3 but we have an extra just in case.” After hearing that, I realized I had nothing to be nervous about, we were in good hands. Y’all, the views from above were indescribable and absolutely peaceful. About an hour later Ibrahim found a nice area of land and radioed down to his ground crew to meet us there. After a small bounce, the landing was quite soft for having such little control. Overall, it was an experience of a lifetime; if you ever get a chance to take a hot air balloon ride, don’t hesitate!
We were back at our hotel around 7:45am, just in time for the free breakfast. After such an early start and jet lag dragging out a bit longer than expected we took a nap until about 1pm. Just in time for lunch and then off to the meet point for our sunset ATV tour. They shuttled us over to where the ATV’s were and we had a briefing on the operation and safety. Then they asked that we replace our personal masks with a new disposable one from them, they gave us a hair net and helmet. This Georgia girl was ready to hit the road on that ATV! Since I grew up driving four wheelers (haha yea never called it an ATV until I moved away from Georgia) and this was Ralph’s first time, I drove first. The tour was a great mix of riding and making a few stops for some gorgeous views. We took turns driving throughout the 3 hour tour and had an absolute blast! They took us to a different Sunset Viewpoint this evening and it was even more stunning than the night before.
On our last day in Göreme, we had an 8:00am pick up for our Green Tour day trip. Keep in mind, depending on how long you have in Göreme, you can do the Red Tour which is a half day option or the Green Tour full day trip which takes you out a bit further. The first stop was an hour away at the Derinkuyu Underground City. This was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen. It is the deepest underground city in Turkey and was originally built during 7th or 8th century BCE to protect over 20,000 people from invading forces. Interesting fact about me, I have a pretty good case of claustrophobia so I was going to test my own personal limits as we made our way down 8 stories below ground. Thank goodness I have been practicing breathing techniques with my yoga and meditation practice because I honestly don’t know that I would have been able to go all the way down without those breathing skills. Regardless if you deal with claustrophobia or not, I highly recommend visiting and giving it a shot, it was a very cool and surreal experience to see where people lived all those years ago. The rest of the Green Tour took us on a leisure hike through the Ihlara Valley (& be aware of the 400 steps to the top of the valley at the end and bring an inhaler if necessary), an included lunch at a local restaurant, the Selime Monastery cut from the rock face, and the famous Pigeon Valley where we saw hundreds of pigeons everywhere we looked. Overall, we had a fantastic last day exploring the Cappadocia region outside of Göreme.
By the time we returned from the tour, it was time for dinner and to meet up with some friends that had just arrived. We couldn’t resist one last dinner from our new favorite restaurant, The Viewpoint Cafe. What a wonderful 3 days in Cappadocia! Turkey was already proving its stunning beauty one sunset at a time and I couldn’t wait for the rest of the week to unfold.