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Turkey - Day 6 - Part I - Ballooning

Sunrise balloon ride with Royal Balloons

When I heard that hot-air ballooning is offered in Cappadocia, it had immediately gone on our "must do" list for the trip. It's something I've always wanted to do, and I honestly have no qualms about it. I figure if my number's up, the balloon will go down, but if not, it will be a beautiful ride. There are countless hot air balloon operators to choose from in Cappadocia, so we relied on our travel agent, Karen (as always), and she recommended Royal Balloons.

As pre-arranged, Royal Balloons picks us up at the Museum Hotel at an ungodly hour before sunrise and takes us to the Royal Balloons office in Goreme. As we walk in, an attendant checks our name off of a list, saying we are in balloon number 10 and that we will be departing in about 30 minutes. That's just long enough to grab a quick bite to eat at the breakfast buffet and meet the other occupants of our balloon - a couple from Chicago, a couple from Pakistan, and a couple from Egypt/Saudi Arabia with one young son. Then we load up in a van and head off!

The pilot and ground crew are already on site, and our balloon is mostly inflated when we arrive. But we get to watch some of the inflation process, and I'm amazed that the powerful gas burner doesn't ignite the balloon itself.

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We're anxious to go, seeing that our balloon is one of the last to take off. We quickly load up, our pilot, Murat goes over some instructions about the brace position upon landing, and we're off! Actually, the "lift off" is so subtle and gentle that it's almost imperceptible. I barely even have the sensation of moving at all, except that the ground is slowly becoming more distant.

There are approximately 120 balloons in the air on this particular morning. I'll explain a little more at the end of this post, so be sure to scroll to the bottom. Enough of the jabber...Enjoy the photos.

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Uchisar, as viewed from the balloon:
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The next two photos are fairy chimneys in the aptly named "love valley":large_IMG_3518.jpglarge_IMG_3519.jpglarge_IMG_3522.jpglarge_IMG_3523.jpglarge_IMG_3530.jpglarge_IMG_3535.jpg
This is Ortahisar:
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At this point, Murat asks us if we want to go up really high? "YES!!!"
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And here's the view looking straight down:
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All too soon, we start our descent:
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And Murat sets the balloon basket right down exactly on top of the trailer! Really! Gosh, he's GOOD!
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The ground crew has prepared a beautiful greeting for us:
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Frank toasts, Murat, our pilot:
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Naturally we toast with a TURKISH sparkling wine:
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We each get a souvenir medal:
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And here is our basket group, safely back on the ground:large_IMG_3606.jpg

By the way, the aerial photos of the Goreme Open Air Museum in yesterday's blog posting were actually taken by me when we floated over the area during our balloon ride. It was so cool to see it all from that perspective.

A few suggestions if you're interested in going up in a hot air balloon...
1. Be sure to check out the equipment, training, experience, insurance, and safety record of the balloon company you go with. Ballooning accidents DO occur. And there are no parachutes. Earlier this year two balloons collided in Cappadocia and one person died.
2. Ask how many people will be in your "basket." With only 10 people in our basket, we were in one of the smaller ones. Some with other companies held as many as 20+ people. Smaller is better.
3. Conditions are better in certain times of the year, so check first to see how likely it is you will be able to go as scheduled.
4. Our trip was about 1 hr. 15 minutes long, and I felt like that was the right length. I think 2 hours would have been too long.
5. Last but not least, you won't likely have much control over it, but a fun pilot will enhance your experience. Murat kept us entertained and laughing throughout ("Is this your first time in a hot air balloon? Really? Mine too." "None of you have asked the name of our balloon. It is called the Titanic") and we enjoyed it so much more because of him.

Posted by BeachGlass 16:27 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia balloon Comments (0)

Turkey - Day 6 - Part II

Pigeon Valley, Uchisar Castle, Cavusin, Avanos, Mustafapasha, Dervent Valley

Following our hot air ballooning adventure, we return to the hotel and enjoy our second (or is it third?) breakfast of the day. It's going to be ugly when I step on the scales back at home. Oh well. That's what vacations are for. This entertaining chef at the Museum Hotel says his feelings will be hurt if we don't have one of his special omelets!

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Pigeon Valley (Guvercinlik Valley)

Although we feel like the day is already half over, Ramazanan and Tuncay arrive at 9 am to take us on a full day of sight-seeing in Cappadocia. Our first stop of the day is a scenic overlook of the "Pigeon Valley." True to its name, flocks of pigeons are congregating at our feet as we take in the view:

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This valley located to the east of Uchisar takes its name from the many dovecotes it contains. A little bit of history about pigeons in Cappadocia:

Until 50-75 years ago, the people of Cappadocia actively encouraged nesting pigeons. Dovecotes were carved into the native rocks and fairy chimneys. In addition, many rock homes and (sadly) many early rock churches were converted into dovecotes. The pigeons were fed regularly and their excrement was collected once or twice a year and sold as fertilizer.

We see dovecotes virtually everywhere we go throughout Cappadocia, but haven't seen very many pigeons until today. Ramazan explains that his grandfather reports that back when he was young, there were so many pigeons that they could practically black out the sun. Now that chemical fertilizers are being used in lieu of pigeon poop, people no longer feed the pigeons, and their numbers have decreased dramatically.

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The Museum Hotel has some "fancy" pigeons that look as though they're wearing pantaloons:

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Evil Eye

A tree and table at the Pigeon Valley scenic overlook are filled with Turkey's most iconic tourist item: evil eyes

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In Turkey, as in many other Mediterranean cultures, some people believe that a person with concealed envy, even involuntarily, can cause harm or distress to others. The Evil Eye is used to guard against ill feelings or a wish for bad luck that can be transferred through the eyes of someone harboring these inner thoughts or feelings...thus "giving the evil eye". The Evil Eye is believed to have the power to reflect, absorb or ward off this type of negative thinking or energy and thereby protect the person or object from the possibility of misfortune. Our guides tell us that most people in Turkey really do believe in the protective powers of the evil eye, or "nazar boncugu." Consequently it is attached to everything and everyone that people want to be protected: children, cars, buildings, people... you name it! We see countless examples of this, but here are just a few.

I happened to notice yesterday that our Royal Balloon had one:

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I wish I had seen these dog collars for sale somewhere. This one is sported by "Joe," the German Shepherd at the Museum Hotel.

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And here they are at the entrance to a cafe in Sirince.

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Uchisar Castle

Next stop up is Uchisar Castle. Castle, you say? Hmm. Doesn't look like any castle I've ever seen.

This two-part natural rock formation towers above the surrounding Cappadocian landscape and functioned as a natural defense point against Arab invaders during Roman and Byzantine eras. You may recall the pictures I took of Uchisar during our balloon ride yesterday. The "castle" is hollowed out with rooms and interconnecting passageways, complete with giant millstones to block entryways against invaders. An underground cistern even provided a fresh water supply. Erosion has caused many of the rooms and passageways to collapse, and although it's still possible to tour part of the Castle, we opt not to.

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Cavusin

Next stop is Cavusin, one of the oldest villages in the area dating back to the 5th century. It was continuously occupied until 1950, when a collapse and landslide forced the evacuation and relocation of the village. Ramazan explains that we will go behind these souvenir shops, climb up the rocks and then rappel up the side of the cliff to the church above.

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Naw! Just kidding.

In truth, if you walk up the hill to the right, there is a stairway that provides fairly easy access to the upper level of the ruins where a 10th century church is located. Unfortunately, the church has sustained damage of three types: the landslide broke off the front section of the church, locals closed up some of the openings to create dovecotes, and some of the frescoes have been damaged by graffiti artists and smoke from tandoori fires.

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After we tour the church we climb around the back of the edifice to see more fairy chimneys and Roman grave sites.

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Avanos pottery

No trip to Cappadocia is complete without a visit to one of their outstanding ceramic shops. Clay from the nearby Red River has been used to make pottery in Avanos for centuries, going back to the Assyrian traders and Hittites. We ask Ramazan to take us to one of the better shops so we can select something as a souvenir of our trip. He chooses Guray Seramik in Avanos, where "Cameron" starts with a tour of the impressive museum that Guray will be opening very soon. He leads us through demonstrations of pottery throwing on a kick-wheel and hand-painted decorations, and then we are left to wander in Guray's showroom. This is ceramics Heaven! On the other hand, it's all so beautiful that making a decision is next to impossible.

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Although I'm very tempted by this beautiful platter, it's impractical and way-y-y-y out of my price range. We settle for a much more modest souvenirs.

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A word of caution to future ceramics buyers in Turkey: if you are interested in actually using rather than just displaying your ceramic piece, make sure it is food safe. Most of the inexpensive ceramics that are commonly sold in Turkey on the streets and in markets have glazes that contain lead, which will leach into foods. Only the more expensive lead-free glazed ceramics should ever be used to serve food. Quartz ceramics with lead-free glazes are the most durable and desirable, but also the most expensive.

Old Greek House

Speaking of food....gosh, it's been a few hours since we last ate, so we head to Ramazan's hometown of Mustafapasha.

This town has an interesting history...

Most of Mustafapasha's former inhabitants, who were Anatolian Greek-Christians, were forced to leave their homes in Mustafapasha during the mandatory population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. You can read more about that exchange here on Wikipedia. Essentially, 1.5 million Christians living in Turkey and 0.5 million Muslims living in Greece were forced to leave their existing homes and move to the other country. The exchange was mandatory, based entirely on religious identity. Muslims who had been living in Greece moved into homes in Mustafapasha that had been abandoned by the Christians who had been forced to move to Greece.

Homes and buildings in Mustafapasha, including the Old Greek House Restaurant where we eat lunch, still retain much of their Greek flavor and decorations.

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Ramazan tells us that, in fact, his grandfather was one of the people forced to give up his home in Greece and move to Turkey, simply because he was a Muslim. His grandfather had considered himself a Greek, but was suddenly forced to leave his home, move to a new country, and learn a new language. Hard to believe they made people do this, isn't it? Even more amazing is that the exchange seems to have been completed more or less peacefully. These days, if something like that were attempted almost anyplace in the world, I think there would be an uprising, revolt or riots - at a minimum.

During our conversations Ramazan has told us a little about his personal history, and we learn that he is currently restoring and renovating the home in which he was born, which is a traditional Cappadocian cave home. The house is located in Mustafapasha only a few blocks from the restaurant where we are eating. We twist his arm and persuade him to give us a quick tour of the building. Since it's a private residence, I won't share photos of it, but I will say it's going to be spectacular when it is completed. Ramazan hasn't decided yet exactly what to do with it, but is considering turning it into a rental investment property or perhaps a small inn (yes, please!).

Dervent Valley

Our energy levels are flagging at this point as a result of our early morning balloon ride, so we decide to make Dervent Valley our last stop of the day. This valley's nickname is "Imagination Valley" because it's oddly shaped formations remind viewers of various creatures and objects.

Here's a camel
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And a Madonna and child
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And this Whirling Dervish is very convincing
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Here's the real thing (which incidentally is from Turkey)
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But calling this a penguin is a little bit of a stretch...
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And of course, no valley in Cappadocia is complete without its own hermit's cave, and Dervent Valley is no exception. Based on the steep climb, I'm guessing this hermit REALLY wanted to be left alone.

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We make a quick stop for some Turkish ice cream (thanks, Ramazan!), and then head back to the hotel for dinner and to rest up for another big day tomorrow.

Posted by BeachGlass 16:44 Archived in Turkey Tagged caves Comments (0)

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