Ballooning in Cappadocia

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January 14th 2013
Published: January 15th 2013
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We had a HUGE day today! We were collected at six o'clock this morning for our balloon flight over the Göreme Valley. It was still dark as we drove out to the launch site. Once we arrived, we didn't have to wait very long before all of the balloon companies started to arrive with their balloons and baskets. In no time at all there were balloons inflating all over the place. Very exciting.

Yalçin escorted us across the snow to our balloon while it was still being blown full of hot air. Before it was fully inflated they started loading us into the basket and handed out an instruction sheet. The first instruction was - No Smoking. Hmmn, the guys working on the balloon already broke that one! The second instruction was no-one within a five metre radius while the balloon is being inflated. Hmmn, not much notice being taken of that one either. We all stood around watching the balloon being inflated from inside the five metre radius before we were loaded. Next there were some alarming instructions about how to brace ourselves for our landing. Time enough to worry about that one at the end of the trip!!

Up, up and away - one moment we were still on the ground and then we were off. It was simply awesome looking out over the snow covered fields and the features of the Göreme Valley as we gained altitude. And it was spectacular sharing the sky with about 30 other balloons. It was hard to imagine what it would be like in the summer when hundreds of balloons fill the sky at dawn.

We snapped away taking hundreds (yes, really) of photographs of our magical balloon flight over Cappadocia. Our pilot took us up to 1,001 metres at which point I couldn't feel my toes anymore as it was very cold up that high. All too soon it was time to return to earth. Our pilot briefed us on how to brace ourselves for landing. He told us that we might bounce a couple of times and/or the basket could be dragged across the ground. OK, that's starting to sound a bit scary. In the end, just metres from the ground, our pilot told us there was no wind and we would 'kiss the ground like a bird' without needing to brace ourselves.

Thankfully, we did indeed enjoy a very soft landing. Once the guys on the ground had hold of the guy ropes we lifted off again slightly so that the basket could be manoeuvred onto the trailer. With the balloon secured we were finally allowed to disembark into a snow covered field where we toasted our flight with a glass of 'champagne' and received our certificates of participation in a hot air balloon flight over Cappadocia. We were so lucky to be able to take a balloon flight today because apparently they haven't been able to fly for the last 10 days.

We were taken back to the hotel for breakfast and then it was off to a carpet factory after one quick stop for a panoramic photograph of Uchisar Castle, the highest point in Cappadocia. At the carpet factory (Bazaar 54, a government sponsored co-operative) we watched some of the women working on their carpets. A couple were working in silk while others were working in wool. It was amazing to see how quickly they were forming the double knots that are the distinguishing feature of a Turkish carpet.

From the weavers room we were taken to see how silk thread is unravelled from the silk worm cocoons. That was pretty incredible too. The silk is so fine and so fragile until it is boiled and then it can be handled and unwound easily from the cocoons. The silkworms can't be let hatch because they would destroy the silk thread breaking out of the cocoon and obviously boiling the cocoons kills them. The dead silkworms aren't wasted though, they are fed to the chickens!

Next we were shown some antique carpets that were woven by master carpet weavers more than two hundred years ago before being taken into the carpet room to be shown carpets. So many different shapes, sizes, patterns and colours - something to suit everyone! OK, I admit it - we bought a Turkish carpet. It's being shipped compliments of an incentive scheme funded by the Turkish Government. It will arrive about the end of February. We chose an un-dyed Kayseri Yūr 0.61 x 1.85 metres made from the wool of a rare breed of Cappadocian sheep that we can't remember the name of.

The carpet is going to go on the floor on my side of the bed. I wonder if Golden Retrievers will like sleeping on it?? Both Meredith and Alex made purchases too, but theirs were small enough that they have opted to carry theirs with them. They were supplied with some pretty neat carrier bags for their carpets.

After our expensive stop at Bazaar 54 we drove to the Göreme Open Air Museum. The museum showcases the churches that were carved out of volcanic rock in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.

After the eruption of Mount Erciyes about 2,000 years ago, ash and lava formed soft rocks in the Cappadocia Region. The softer rock was eroded by wind and water, leaving the hard cap rock on top of cone and pillar shaped formations. The people of Göreme carved out these formations to create houses and churches. The museum contains the finest of the rock-cut churches, with beautiful frescoes (wall paintings).

We had Gözleme in Göreme for lunch today before visiting the Zelve ruins on the steep northern slopes of Aktepe. Consisting of three separate valleys, the ruins of Zelve have a high concentration of fairy chimneys that have particularly sharp points and thick trunks.

It is not known exactly when people began living in the dwellings carved into the rock, a lifestyle also common to other places in the region such as Uçhisar, Göreme, and Cavuşin. What is known is that an important Christian community lived in Zelve and it was an important Christian religious centre from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Zelve was occupied by a large number of Greek Orthodox people until the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey that was based upon religious identity. Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey had to move to Greece and the Muslim citizens of Greece had to move to Turkey as part of a major compulsory population exchange. An earthquake hit the Zelve area in 1950 and two years later the government decided it wasn’t safe for people to live in the caves of Zelve anymore.

After the Zelve ruins we stopped at another section of fairy chimneys for some more photos of these amazing rock formations before driving to another spot with some elevation for another panoramic shot over the valley. Finally, Yalçin tracked down some dondurma (Turkish ice-cream). Despite the fact that it is freezing we had told Yalçin that we had to taste Turkish ice-cream before we left. It's not quite ice-cream and not quite gelato - it's texture is chewy due to the addition of salep and mastic to the milk and sugar.

Our next stop was to a home that is inside one of the fairy chimneys. There are families who still live in the rock dwellings. These homes cannot be sold, but they can be handed down to the next generation. We entered through the kitchen that was equipped with all the mod cons - cooker, dishwasher, washing machine - despite being carved out of rock. From the kitchen we went through to the living room which was really cozy with Turkish carpets on the floors and walls and a fabulous little wood stove burning. We were given lemon scented cologne to freshen our hands before being served tea. Rather incongruously a 'Sylvester & Tweety Pie' cartoon was showing on the television in the living room!!

Mr Erhan then drove us up to the rim of Pigeon Valley for another panoramic photo opportunity and a visit to a Jewellery factory. I managed to resist all of the beautiful jewellery, but Meredith found a ring that she really liked. It was similar to one that she has had her eye on in Adelaide so she was very happy with her purchase.

After a quick stop at the hotel we ventured out again to attend a Sama (Whirling Dervish) ceremony. I'm not sure why, but I expected that the music would be recorded. We were very fortunate that Yalçin took us to a genuine ceremony that had five musicians accompanying the seven dancers. The ceremony was very solemn and quite mesmerising. We were not allowed to take photographs during the ceremony and we weren't allowed to applaud at its conclusion. Afterwards a couple of the semazens returned to the stage for photos.

With another group or two in the hotel tonight they had an open buffet in the dining room so we could help ourselves to just a small amount of food after the excess of yesterday. After dinner, Bernie and I sat by the open fire for a while writing the diary and processing photos. The public areas of the hotel are so cold though that only our fronts were warm!! Thankfully the rooms are warm even if the rest of the hotel is chilly.

Steps for the day: 9,840 (6.72km)

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15th January 2013

Wow!!! We have seen many photos of Cappadocia but yours are by far the most awe inspiring. You could win awards for these! We both dash to the computer each morning to follow your blog and look at your photos! Thanks for sharing your exciting experiences with us.
17th January 2013

Goreme Valley looks soooooo different covered in snow. Great photos. Really enjoying following your blog every day. Caroline

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