Cappadocia

“Happiness does not depend on who you are or what you have. It depends solely on what you think” – Buddha


10479735_10152418100968513_7193517166228530014_nThere is no other place on earth remotely like Cappadocia. The valleys, the hills, the strange rock formations – all feel like it’s a place  from another planet. I was excited to come here to explore the caves and experience the hot air ballooning that it’s most famous for.

Getting around the Turkey is fantastic. The bus system is reliable and comfortable. I thought Kamil Koc was the best company (best solely on comfort level), however I travelled with numerous different bus companies during my trip and they were all decent! I caught an overnight bus from Pamukkale which cost me 80TL (US$32), stayed for 5 days and then caught another overnight bus to Istanbul which only cost 60TL (US$24).

Where to stay?

Cappadocia is actually a region and not a city. It is made up of numerous small towns scattered among the valleys. I stayed in Goreme – which was definitely the best location. We booked at Rock Valley Pension and it was probably one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. It has an amazing breakfast, big pool, outdoor lounges, hot decent showers and most importantly – comfortable beds! Everyone I met during the visit was happy with their hostel too so there seems to be lots of good ones to choose from.

8 TOP CAPPADOCIA EXPERIENCES

1. G O  O N  T H E  G R E E N  T O U R

Cappadocia is a big place with lots and lots to see. There seems to be 3 main tours that are offered – red, green and blue. They each do different sites. After reading about each – the green tour appealed most (110TL however I think we may have got ripped off – other people paid 80TL) There is no need to book a red tour. All of the sites they take you to are free and can be easily walked to if you are staying in Goreme.

Derinkuyu Underground City

1235242_10152418095703513_955656793006756440_nThe green tour covers the largest geographical area which makes it slightly more difficult to do on your own. The 16 seat van picked us up at the hostel at about 9am and continued to drive around and pick the others up. Our first stop was Derinkuyu underground city which was roughly 45 minutes away. It was phenomenal. The city is 60m underground and stretches for over 8km. It  used to house 22,000 people hiding during the Arab takeover almost 2000 years ago. There have been over 200 similar cities found in central Turkey and archaeologists believe there is still more to discover elsewhere. An article in The Independant from December 2014 states that a brand new city has been discovered and it’s estimated to be over 5000 years old! Some of the cities are 3 levels!

10609447_10152418095988513_2989227712959406372_nThey allowed us to walk down into the city (not recommended if you are claustrophobic) and wander through the various rooms such as the wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories, classrooms and chapels. It was amazing. They also explained the various booby traps that were set up incase of an invasion. Interestingly enough, there are no toilets down here, so for months at a time, waste would be collected in pots and stored until it was safe to empty above ground! We hung around for about half an hour taking photos and exploring small rooms – some entrances barely big enough for a child!

Ihlara Valley

10678709_10152418096503513_5650384588481739109_nNext stop on the tour was Ihlara Valley – a beautiful, lush green 16km canyon formed thousands of years ago from volcanic eruptions. But what makes this valley even more special is the hundreds of small churches built into its walls by ancient Greeks. We carefully went down the staircase into the valley and explored one of the oldest churches with beautiful roof paintings and a hidden entrance.

10686708_10152418096918513_4769082313255156170_nWe kept wandering down the valley for 2 or 3 km until we reached a riverside restaurant selling drinks and food. The walk was stunning and exactly what we needed after being underground for an hour! It had the cutest setup with bamboo seating areas stretched over the flowing river and beautiful flowers and trees surrounding the area. We didn’t really have time to sit and eat here because we were running late however it sold all sorts of hot soups and fish. Great chill out spot!

Selime Monastery

10646773_10152418100973513_4898113501762818312_n (2)The bus had driven along and met us at the riverside restaurant ready to pick us up and take us to the monastery at the end of the valley. It was amazing! It was built back in the 8th century but was entirely hidden within the lava rock formations and consisted of various rooms similar to the underground city. We literally had to climb to the top via small foot holes. A few weren’t brave enough from fear of falling but my friends and I made it to the top and were able to wander around. The monastery contained a large kitchen, a huge church and sleeping quarters too. The ceilings are almost 10m high! How did they manage that!? It was mind blowing.

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Panorama point

We stopped at Panorama Point literally just to take a photo. We were lucky that it was a clear enough day to soak in the view. Nearby, we also visited an onyx factory and were shown how they carved the beautiful stone and turn it into jewellery. On the way home we stopped at a couple more picture perfect cliffs to take in the sunset and were home by about 6pm. It was such a perfect day and we managed to see so much without feeling rushed.

2. G E T  I N  A  H O T  A I R  B A L L O O N 

10689742_10152418110618513_4264326951096691652_nHot air ballooning was something that I had been looking forward to ever since I booked my flight overseas. I knew it was going to be expensive but I was prepared to pay for it considering the incredible reviews and feedback I had received from family and friends who had been. I was SO excited. I had been told that you need to book in advance. This was not my thing. I was used to rocking up last minute and sorting it out as I went however I followed this advice and kept an eye out for booking agencies.

1604528_10152418095928513_5283423406452242046_nNo matter how quickly you are travelling through the country – everyone recommends to spend at least 3 days in Cappadocia (at least have the flexibility to) because the hot air balloons are cancelled on average every 3rd day due to bad weather so it is very possible that you will need to wait a day or two before going up. If you book for the first day, at least you will have the next 2 days as a backup should the weather be bad.

10479735_10152418100968513_7193517166228530014_nAnyway, when we were in Pamukkale, we walked into a tour agency to book a bus to Cappadocia later that evening. We were greeted by a lovely man named Brie. He helped us with the bus, gave us maps of Pamukkale and recommended some great places to eat. He even stored our bags for us free of charge while we explored the nearby limestone baths. We chatted to him for awhile.

10341639_10152418108328513_6109286091326442432_nThen he mentioned he also had a travel agency in Cappadocia and was able to offer hot air ballooning for a decent price. Booking in advance meant that we could potentially do the hot air ballooning straight away and have a few days afterwards as a fallback. We had come in high season so if we didn’t book now – it could sell out for the next few days. We really didn’t want to miss out, and considering we liked him already, we gave Brie a deposit of 20 euros each and we said we would pay the rest when we actually go up. Obviously he couldn’t guarantee departure on the day we asked (this was expected due to weather) but we agreed to go as soon as it was decent.

10710691_10152418108703513_4232834812611506658_nIn summary, it was a disaster. Brie totally scammed us. When we got to our hostel in Cappadocia, we asked the owner to call for us and confirm the next mornings departure. The weather was said to be perfect and it was confirmed. However when we woke up at 4am for our pickup – no one ever showed up. We were really pissed off. We ended up going back to bed at 7am after waiting for ages! We called Brie again to ask why he hadn’t come and he told us it was due to bad weather. This was a lie because we saw hundreds of other balloons up in the sky and the morning was perfect. He apologised and informed us that he would definitely be there the next morning. Wrong again. We woke at 4am to another no show. I was really frustrated by this stage so called Brie asking for our money back (60euros between the 3 of us) but conveniently, Brie had disconnected his phone, wouldn’t reply to my emails and no one had ever heard of his company before. Scammed!

10329190_10152418098223513_3885554471668959063_nIt was now our last day in Cappadocia we so extended our stay. There was no way I was leaving until I got up in a balloon. We asked around all the travel agencies in the town but they were all booked out for days in advance. We put our name on a few waiting lists hoping for cancellations and we got lucky! Atlas Balloons were able to accommodate the three of us for 2 days time! It was 150 euros pp. This company was a lot more reliable and we were picked up at the right time and driven to the departure fields. It was incredibly exciting. Each company generally offers 2 different flights each morning. The first flight is the sunrise flight and the second departs just after sunrise.  The only opening was for the second flight so we actually missed sunrise – they took a bit too long blowing up the balloon and didn’t get up until later however it was still a stunning sight at 7am. It was really cold but fresh and we were lucky enough to be in a small balloon with only 10 people so we all got a view!

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TIP: DO NOT book hot air ballooning until you get there and you can see the agency for yourself. There are many fake companies scamming tourists and it really does look legitimate so be careful. Allow at least 3 days in the city to see it all and book the balloons the second you get there!

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The landscape is like nothing else I have ever seen. The odd rock formations were formed approximately 10 million years ago from layers of lava from ancient volcanoes and thousands of years of eroding rains and winds. Thousands of years later, the city was then built underneath to house refugees fleeing from the Muslim Arabs during ancient wartimes. It was amazing to see the beautiful valleys and canyons and our pilot even let my friend drive it for awhile! We were only up in the air for an hour but it was enough time to go up and down through the landscape. When we landed, there was a champagne breakfast waiting for us and we all celebrated! Such an incredible morning and one I’ll never forget.

3. T R Y  T H E  F O O D

10184_10152407613278513_1077153237946840041_nI had already been in Turkey for almost a month by the time we reached Cappadocia and the food was already creeping to my top 5 favourite cuisines! I had read about lots of different places to eat in Cappadocia but they were difficult to find because the city is relatively hidden. One night, we dined at Topdeck restaurant which is a small family run, 10 table restaurant in a cave. We made a booking the day before to avoid disappointment and lucky we did because we reserved the last table.

10421197_10152426076808513_4157080865504304589_nGenerally eating in places like this excites me greatly and I end up over-ordering, but the chef/owner came and sat down with us and greeted us personally. It was so lovely. He explained the dishes, portions and flavours and helped us pick a good mix of food. It was all delicious. So good in fact that I wanted to return each night but held back so I could try others. We ordered a mixed platter to start because it allowed us to taste a bit of everything. It was all homemade and fresh. We then ordered a few main dishes to share with a bit of chicken and beef and spicy rice! It was amazing! A ‘must go’!

Cappadocia is renown for pottery kebabs and sometimes it can come with an interesting show! The meat and vegetables is cooked in a ceramic pot and then cracked open on your table in front of you and poured onto your plate. It’s hot, fresh and delicious! Most restaurants in the area have them so give it a go for the experience!

4. EX P L O R E  T H E  R E D  V A L L E Y 

10710537_10152418099133513_9048179401688649415_nWhen we arrived In Goreme, we were told not to bother with booking a widely popular “red tour” simply because you can do it yourself for free. They were right. We walked around and explored the red valley and rose valley ourselves. It was a full day out and really rewarding. With no map, and really no idea where we were going, my friend and I set out towards the valley. We were trekking for hours and spent most of the time laughing because we had no idea where we were. We had to slide down rocks at some points as we had diverted from the original pathway but it was all a part of the excitement. We finally stopped at a little hillside village and had some chickpea soup from the local vendor. We also passed an extremely old cemetery and met some lovely other trekkers along the way. We also visited the museum which was interesting but long. We were done after a few hours and didn’t want to see anymore rocks! You have the option to hire quad bikes and explore the red valley this way however I had a fear of quad bikes after being in an accident in Greece earlier in the trip so decided walking was safer!

TIP: At the bottom of the hill at the entrance to the museum, there is a set of shops – try the Turkish coffee, sit on a cushion and enjoy the people watching!

10659387_10152418101248513_9105429403465562066_nWe also headed up to the mountain behind Goreme (also a part of Rose Valley) and enjoyed sitting with the locals and trying their different dried fruits (apricots are a speciality) and drinking tea with them! If you walk up halfway there is a man who owns a jewellery store. He resells on behalf of a lady in town. If your interested, ask him for a tour of his home nearby and he can explain to you how he lives without electricity. Really interesting guy! He can then show you the best point to watch the sunset over the valley!

5. G O  S H O P P I N G

10660255_10152418096658513_4896780129904170623_n (1)Shopping is good all over Turkey however I found that Cappadocia had some really fascinating things. You can buy everything from cushions, lamps, curtains, bags, jewellery and paintings. Its slightly cheaper here than in Istanbul so load up on staple items that you want. There is one jewellery shop in the main street selling rare turquoise stones. Turquoise is a bluey/green mineral and the named is derived from the old French word for ‘Turkey’ where it was first found. It’s on the expensive side however you know you are getting quality compared to fake turquoise in the markets. My friend bought me a ring here for my birthday which I absolutely LOVE!

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6. WO R K  F O R  A  D A Y

1508624_10204344575111074_955912739372703596_nWandering around the town one day, we met Ali, a local who had grown up in Cappadocia. He guessed we were Australian and promised us that he would make us the best coffee in Turkey! How could we refuse? We followed him to his restaurant – Cafe Safak, right in the centre of town. We enjoyed the coffee, met his family and sat there chatting for ages and sharing stories. Ali also happens to own a very popular coffee shop in coffee heaven – Melbourne, Australia. This is where he sources his coffee (no wonder it was so amazing!) He enjoys meeting travellers and believes that having backpackers work in his restaurant is good for business. It helps draw in more customers and creates a social vibe. He offered us a job straight away and we began working in his cafe for the whole next day. My friend and I loved it! Having a hospitality background, we quickly felt at home and helped with waitressing, preparing coffees, drawing in customers as they walked by and just socialising with the kitchen team. In between working we would sit down, have a drink, share stories and just laugh really! In exchange for the work we were given as much food and drink as we pleased. It was such a fun day that we went back and did it again. He wanted us to stay as long as we could but we had more exploring to do so came back and visited randomly during our stay. He welcomes all travellers of all ages so if you are in town and have a spare day or afternoon – walk down an introduce yourself to Ali and work for a free meal!

7. D O  A  C O O K I N G  C L A S S 

10678763_10152418113278513_6331724557124113044_nAli’s sister, Fatma, runs cooking classes for 75TL in her cave house throughout the week. It was one of the best experiences I had during my visit to Cappadocia. We met her at Ali’s cafe and she walked us to her house. She didn’t speak much English so we mainly used made up sign language to communicate. She gave us English recipes and we spent the next 3 hours making a variety of dishes. We pondered around her house in slippers, played with her daughter, looked through her organic ingredients and got to see what life was like living in a cave!

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We made lentil soup, stuffed vine leaves, stuffed eggplant with beef and aside for dessert. Some of the ingredients she had was all written in Turkish and I highly doubt I will be able to find the same quality back in Sydney! Once we were done, we sat down and feasted for the entire afternoon! It was one of the best meals I had on my entire trip. Let’s just hope I can replicate it at home!

8. V I S I T  A  T U R K I S H  B A T H  H O U S E 

I had already experienced a Turkish Bath so knew what I was getting in for. It’s something I would recommend doing in each city simply because they are all slightly different. In Cappadocia, I visited Elis bath house located near the main bus station in Goreme. It was a tad pricey at 50TL for an oil massage (compared to other places) however once we got there, we knew why. I was in dire need of a massage after all the walking (plus we were about to get on an overnight bus!) so it was perfect. The bath house was stunning. It was set in an ancient stone building with large spacious relaxation rooms. When we entered they welcomed us with tea and water and we were able to lie on lounges and relax before the massage. Bliss!

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