At 5:20AM with just a hint of light in the sky we met the bus at hotel reception along with a number of other hotel guests for what turned out to be a two minute bus ride down the hill to Butterfly Balloons. Here they gave us a quick cup of coffee and a roll to help get us going for the morning adventure. I was delighted to get the coffee but even at this early hour I was already wide awake with the anticipation of my first hot air balloon ride.
We boarded buses labeled with the name of the balloon pilot (we were with Mike of Lonely Planet fame) and drove ten minutes to the launch pad passing a long field of balloons being inflated for the morning’s voyage. Once off the bus we met Mike and were ready to climb into the balloon basket, divided into four padded sections each holding four people.
Mike gave us a short safely lecture on how to prepare for a “hard” landing and we were on our way. The take-off was so gentle I hardly noticed that we had left the ground. The next hour was magical, floating over an amazing landscape of valleys of strangely carved conical and mounded rock formations made more colorful by a sky literally filled with balloons. Mike took us down into the Love Valley and up and over Goreme with the Uchisar Castle in the background.
Landing was as soft as promised in an open field southeast of where we started. The basket was quickly mounted on a trailer and the balloon deflated.
Champagne and cake are served to celebrate our safe return.
Back at the hotel just before 8:00 we head up to the terrace restaurant for breakfast. A cool drizzly morning with the guests packed into the small dining room at the few indoor tables. The breakfast buffet is a wide selection of bread, cereal, yogurt, dried fruits and nuts, cheese, five kinds of olives, fresh honey comb, etc.
Underground Cities of Derinkuyu
With the weather not conducive to outdoor activities we drove down to Derinkuyu to visit one the underground cities in the area. They were inhabited by early Christians in the 6th and 7th century seeking to escape persecution and the incursions of the Persian and Arabic armies. An extensive maze of low ceilinged tunnels wind down through the cavern rooms as many as 8 layers below the surface.
The small rooms and narrow passages are filled with tour groups even though this is supposed to be the less crowded of the two larger tunnel systems. Despite the crowds and having to descend and climb stairs hunched over it is worth it to get a glimpse of just how these people lived.
Back in Gorome the drizzle had turned to rain and we headed to Didek restaurant for lunch. A fun traditional dining room with low tables surrounded by cushions. The Turkish menu offers a modest selection of homemade dishes. Tasted the mixed veg sauté and the kurufasulye, a white bean and tomato sauce dish with a choice of meat. Dishes were not as interesting as one might expect after reading Lonely Planet’s recommendation. The atmosphere, however, is top notch and a great place to wait out the rain.
Goreme Open Air Museum
In the late afternoon after it had finally stopped drizzling we took advantage of the late afternoon hours before a closing time to visit Goreme Open Air Museum (open until 7PM). Arriving at 5PM most of the tour buses had left and by the time we finished around 6:30PM we nearly had the place to ourselves. Originally a Byzantine monastic settlement it later became a pilgrimage site in the 17th century.
A number of the chapels carved in the soft stone decorated with frescos are well persevered. Some simply painted in red resembling the scrawl of a young child while others, such as the Dark Church, (well worth the extra ticket) are intricately rendered. Photos are not allowed in some of the more impressive chapels.
May 7, 2012
For links to all the posts in this series see the Turkey page.