Kansai Scene Magazine
 

 

Lifting off
Goreme and Cappadocia, Turkey

The day dawned and it dawned early. At 4:30 in the morning we were roused out of bed and loaded into a shuttle van. Our destination? The desolate outskirts of Goreme village in the lunar landscaped region of Cappadocia, Turkey.

Getting a lift out of life

This was no ordinary sunrise gathering, however, as groggy-eyed tourists huddled together, sharing cups of warm tea and trying to guess which balloon they would have the pleasure of boarding. For the vari- ous hot-air ballooning companies in the vicinity, it was just another day at the office.

Slowly but surely, the massive helium monsters came to life, growing ever bigger amongst the picturesque grape fields and gradually lightening rocky landscape. "Hurry up!" I thought to myself, "we're going to miss the sunrise." Little did I know that we'd be watching the sunrise half a dozen times during our 1 hour journey, as each rise and fall in altitude quickly hid and exposed the first rays of the dawning day.

When it finally came time for boarding call, we found ourselves one of the lucky few to have a smaller basket (hence less passengers). The extreme popularity of hot-air ballooning ensures that all baskets are filled to the brim, so having one that held a maximum of 10 was much more comforting than the ones that held twice our number.

Lift-off was smooth, thanks in part to our competent pilot Seniz. Fluent in English, with over a decade of piloting experience, and a bigger build than most Japanese rugby players, we knew we were in good hands. Seniz pointed out all of the surrounding sights, and her frequent communication with the ground crew put even the most acrophobic of passengers at ease.

Incredible weather, outstanding scenery, and a bird's eye view of life – no one wanted the journey to end, but 60 minutes flew by faster than the helium could burn. To cure our sudden jolt back to reality, we were treated to a champagne toast and a sou- venir flight certificate. For those interested in the journey of a lifetime, be warned that, just like most things in life, it doesn't come cheaply. The one hour flight will set you back €160 (¥27,000 at time of writing), while the longer, deluxe journey goes for €230 (¥38,000). Budget conscious trave- lers will have to settle for an early morning stroll to watch the helium monsters in flight from the ground.

Feet on the ground

Turkey is a surprisingly big country, and one that requires a lot of diligent planning in order to capitalize on its richness of wonders. It's nearly impossible to explore every corner of the place, but having covered most of the western part of Turkey, I can confidently say, that if you could only go to one place, it would have to be Cappadocia.

For starters, the weather is phenomenal. While the rest of the country melts away in the hot and muggy summer air, Cappadocia somehow manages to keep the stickiness away. Although the daytime mercury still hovers around 40°C, the heat is really dry and you'll hardly break a sweat while explor- ing the cave dwellings, colorful canyons, and underground cities. You can also safely stroll around without an umbrella in the summer, as Mother Nature shows off her deepest blue hues and spectacular sunsets, creating more photo ops than a yukata-clad child at a summer festival.

Good weather makes for outstanding sight- seeing, and the area boasts so many wonder- ful attractions that exploring them all would take weeks, if not months.

At the top of most travelers' must-see list is Goreme Open Air museum, a collection of Byzantine-era sanctuaries of worship, all carved into beautiful rock formations.

Designated as a World Heritage site, the outdoor museum features religious frescoes, subterranean chapels, and ancient iconoclastic graffiti, all entwined within a series of huge rock outcroppings. The place is crawling with history, and having a guide that can help explain the stories behind the artwork will make the visit so much more meaningful.

If it's castles you're after, then head to nearby Uchisar, a majestic hill town with a huge stone fortress sitting directly on top. The castle is unique in that very little is man- made. In fact, it appears to be just one giant rock formation until you get closer. Uchisar dominates the skyline of Cappadocia, and offers incredible panoramic views of the entire valley. Between Uchisar and Goreme, there are countless other cave dwellings and uniquely shaped boulders, which are best explored by renting a motor scooter or car. Bicycles are another option for environmental and health-conscious explorers. Camel rides are available at some of the better-known tourist stops, but the animals look quite uncomfortable standing by the sides of the road.

A good option for escaping the sun is to explore the various underground cities scattered throughout the region. Kaymakli, located about a 45-minute drive southwest of Goreme, is the largest and most famous of the subterranean metropolises. Running deeper than the Tokyo subway, the eightstory city houses stables, storage areas, kitchens, and sleeping and living spaces for thousands of people. Ventilation shafts were carefully designed to alleviate the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Although only used in emergency situations, the cities show the amount of effort the people undertook to protect themselves from invading armies. If someone came to conquer the land, the residents could simply flee their aboveground dwellings and barricade themselves for years under the earth. Only five of the eight stories are open to the public, but it's well worth a look inside.

Nature lovers might consider walking through Ihlara Valley, a picturesque gorge filled with dozens of beautifully painted churches carved into the rocks above. It'll take a full day to traverse the entire canyon, but most of the main churches can be seen within the first five kilometres or so. Backcountry hikers with a thirst for adventure will want to consider scaling Mt. Erciyes, the tallest mountain in Cappadocia. Clocking in just under 4,000m, the peak is quite challeng- ing even for experienced hikers, and a trekking guide familiar with the mountain is strongly recommended.

Text & photos: Wes Lang

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Ways & means

When to go
Summer and autumn are the best times to visit Cappadocia.

Visas
Visas are available at the airport upon arrival in Turkey for most of the nationalities. For further info, please check with Turkish Embassy. www.turkey.jp/english/embassy.htm
Tel: 03-3470-5131.

Getting there:
There are direct flights from KIX to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. From Istanbul, there are daily flights to Kayseri and Nevsehir airports, both in Cappadocia. Additionally, there are overnight buses between Istanbul and Nevsehir, where you can transfer to a bus bound for Goreme.

Money
The unofficial currency is the euro, and most places in Istanbul will quote you in euros, and charge you double if paying with Turkish lira, so be careful. Additionally, some banks won't take Japanese yen for exchange. It's much better to carry a combination of Turkish lira and euros. The Turkish currency was completely re-valued in 2005, making the country on a par with other places in Europe in terms of cost, which will disappoint budget-wary explorers.

Tip
Keep some loose change at all times in order to use public toilets, as you'll have to pay no matter where you are in the country.

On the web
• Cappadocia cave hotels: www.maxiturkey.com/forumdisplay.php?f=26
• Hot-air ballooning:
www.goremeballoons.com