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Balloons and fairy-tale castles

Worth getting up early for

The early part of the drive from Lake Egirdir gave us spectacular scenery and some steep climbs. Despite the temperatures, there were snow chains, snow depth poles and black ice road markings showing how the seasons can shift the extremes of weather hereabouts.

We were heading for Cappadocia, one of the most famous destinations (UNESCO Heritage site) in Turkey. It was a long journey of about 5 hours but quite an interesting one, albeit it through the windscreen. There were very high mountains and long, long plains. Periodically, you come across a little stall where a family sit, waiting for a punter to show up. We called at one who already had customers, lifting fairly decently beefy sacks of fresh cherries into the boot of their car.

Just speak loudly and slowly!

I turfed up and of course the language barrier kicked in. They first produced a massive plastic sack, similar to the other ‘local’ family), then I heard the word ‘kilo’ and touched the middle of my arm to signify half a kilo and we were away. Everyone seemed slightly fascinated by this old geezer turning up in a French registered car. The two kids thought it very novel.

I gave a little girl (checked with Dad first), a small Haribo pack and she reacted like it was her birthday.

Danger! Don't use the water!

Off we set in the car again and after a few minutes I wondered how we were to wash these beautiful, red cherries. Then, as if by magic, there was a road sign with a tap on it. We continued on a few hundred metres and there we found a tap, gushing (presumably spring-water) into a large concrete basin. There was a sign above it. Yes, it might have said ‘deadly water, do not use’ or perhaps ‘for use only for washing before prayers’. But I saw a couple of cherries floating about in it so assumed it was probably OK. The freshest, sweetest cherries ever.

The rest of the journey went fine. There were a few outbreaks of rain and a few Police checks, where the same strategy (look confused, foreign and friendly, and they’ll wave you on) was proving to be a winning plan. More irritation at having to drive many kilometres, on a dual carriageway at a set limit of 50kms/hr.

Our hotel was in Goreme, close to the caves. I say close, it was actually a 3km pavement hike to them. The hotel was made of stone and cave-like in style, very comfortable. The shower in this one was big but the shower shot out of its bracket when turned on and confusingly the hot tap opened clockwise. There was a large terrace at the top which had a superb 180 degree view of the caves.

The centre is a bit odd. Tourist scruffy and very much of the hippie trail about it. But non hippie tourists pour into the place daily too. I overheard a guy trying to impress his girlfriend with the great line (say with don’tyaknow accent) “Yeh, I found exactly the same kind of thing in Kathmandu…” OK, I didn't hear it, I made it up, but the place inspired the thought.

We ate an average dinner in town. I’d heard about the balloon excursions which start at 4:30am but we decided against. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of the staff asking people to be quiet, the excitement was erm palpable. But I was awake already (Call to prayers just before). They came back at 7:00 for a little more shuteye and I got a tiny bit of noisy revenge.

The noise of the flamers from the balloons warned of the impending flyover. We rushed to the top floor and, in the dawn, 50 or so glowing balloons floated by. Just wonderful.

Pretty impressive sight, even at 5am

As I mentioned, we walked to the open air museum where the most historically important caves were (well actually the churches and chapels mainly). The caves have been occupied as far back as the 4th century. Nuns, monks and hermits have all made their homes and life there. The churches have magnificent frescos dating from the 9th century, some of them in fine detail and full technicolour.

Indiana Jones does Cappadocia

It’s a great, unique place to visit.

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