I remember the first time I searched for “Cappadocia” on the internet. I read about it in a book, and at the mention of hot air balloons and crazy rock formations, I had to do a little research.
What I found has fascinated me for years – especially the hot air balloon ride… so when we decided to move to Germany this year, I knew I had to find a way to get to Cappadocia and see everything for myself.
Getting to Cappadocia
You can take a plane from Istanbul. It is also possible to take a train or night bus, but airfare within the country is pretty cheap. We were able to get one-way flights for 60 TL (about $33.50) to Kayseri. From Kayseri, we took a bus for an hour to get to the city of Göreme.
Now, it’s fairly easy to book a hot air balloon flight once you get into Göreme, but I did a lot of research online before getting to Turkey, and I knew I wanted to book with Royal Balloon. The reviews on Trip Advisor were very positive, and many other travellers also used that company.
A word of warning: hot air ballooning is not exactly a frugal activity – the 60 minute flight costs €170 ($215), and the 90 minute flight is €240 ($305) – but it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never, ever forget. Included in the price is an open buffet, insurance, champagne ceremony after the ride, and pick-up/drop-off from your hotel.
The early morning wake-up call
We were picked up at our hotel at 5:00am, and driven to the Royal Balloon headquarters for breakfast. From there, we were driven to the launch site that the pilots had chosen for that morning. The sunrise was gorgeous!
At the launch site
We were able to watch the crew inflate the balloon, meet our pilot, and get a short lesson on balloon safety. Our pilot was Suat Ulusoy, who is actually the Chief Pilot for Royal Balloons. He was really personable, and provided us with a wealth of information during the flight.
The actual balloon is typically made out of nylon or polyester – the same stuff that parachutes are made of. The material is coated with a material that makes it very air tight, and the basket is attached with steel or Kevlar cables.
We flew quite low in the valleys, so we could get a good view of the rock formations that make the region so famous. And we learned that almost all hot air balloon flights in Cappadocia happen in the early morning. This is because balloons need stable winds to operate effectively, and the wind is usually at its calmest in the morning.
We float where the wind takes us
The pilot doesn’t have control over where the balloon goes, but they can do a lot of research to ensure that the forecasted wind direction doesn’t take the balloon into an unsuitable area – and the chosen launch site each morning has a lot to do with it too. Air currents at different altitudes are used to assist the balloon’s flight direction.
The balloons can usually travel up to 5 km/hour, but it’s largely dependent on the wind speed. On our flight, I thought it was
Over 100 balloons filled the sky
Our guide said that there were at least 100 balloons up in the air that morning. It’s such a popular thing to do in the area, and Cappadocia is frequently mentioned as one of the top 5 places in the world to go hot air ballooning.
Try going during off-peak tourist season
Our hot air balloon had 12 or 13 people in it, which seemed like the perfect amount. I think that we went during the right time of year – November. With less tourists in Cappadocia, it felt a lot quieter and less rushed. Plus, the temperature was perfect. It was chilly in the mornings, but during the day I was wearing just a t-shirt.
(note: our hot air balloon ride was courtesy of Suat Ulusoy and Royal Balloons, but this review is entirely my own opinion.)
A short video
I made a short video during the flight. It’s a little noisy, and people are talking a lot, but you can really get a feel for how magical it was. Also, please not the extremely awesome and cheesy instrumental version of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” playing in the background. :)
Hiking in Cappadocia
… and just for fun, here are a couple of pictures of where we were hiking, and a close-up of the rock formations.
The rock formations are soft, so it can be easily carved into. Communities took advantage of this to make their home inside rock caves and underground. Today, many locals still live inside the rock, and we even stayed in a cave hotel! It was really, really fun exploring the abandoned tunnels and cave homes that must have taken a lot of effort to build.
Here’s one of Nic goofing off on top of one of the rock formations near Rose Valley.
It’s hard to see me in the middle of the picture. :) We took a path behind the Göreme Open Air Museum and into what seemed like a rarely explored valley. We found amazing (skinny) tunnels carved through rock, and even a small rock cave where clearly people currently lived. We eventually came out of the valley into the open area pictured below.
We took a bus to a nearby town called Uçhisar, where we visited this castle – the highest look-out point in the area.
We heard that there is a path in Pigeon Valley that connects Uçhisar to Göreme, so we decided to walk back from the castle. However, there were multiple trails and no signage along the trails, and we saw another hiker coming towards us, she said that the trail goes nowhere and drops off into a canyon. Great. She was turning around and told us we should follow her. We retraced our steps for about 5 minutes before we came across a local man. The other hiker kept going, but my gut told me to trust the local man. After all, he must know the paths better than anyone else! He said we were on the right path, and told us to follow him. He walked with us halfway to Göreme, and then stopped to have tea with us at his friend’s tea house – which was randomly located in the middle of nowhere. :) The tea house owner knew French (which he proudly told us he learned while attending the University of Life), and before we left, he gave Nic a few postcards, and me a little ceramic turtle as a present.
Göreme is an amazing and very special place, and I’m so glad that we were able to go. Turkey has by far been my favourite country to visit so far this year. We’ve already talked about a future trip – but to the Black Sea region, and the Mediterranean Coast. :)
Surprisingly, Copenhagen has been my favourite city in Europe so far. There’s just something I really like about it… something almost magical (maybe it’s because the walking tour guide kept talking about Hans Christian Andersen).
I loved all the different neighbourhoods. The history. The people. Everything. And since I’m from Vancouver (and have a bit of hippie in me), I really appreciated the eco-friendly, green culture present throughout the city. We both agreed that if we had to choose one city in Europe to actually settle down and live, it would be Copenhagen. :)
Breakdown of Expenses:
- $105.29 (642 kr) – Accommodation: HostelBookers.com sponsorship at Generator Hostel (3 nights total, 1 night sponsored)
- $114.68 – Transportation: train from Sweden
- $81.49 (500 kr) – Food: average of $27.16/day, or $9.05 per meal
- $3.93 (24 kr) – City Transit: metro to airport
- $9.84 (60 kr) – Entertainment: tip for tour guide, entrance into Church of Our Saviour
- $11.76 (72 kr) – Miscellaneous: magnet
TOTAL COST: $326.99
Almost every day I see panhandlers and beggars. Whether it’s a someone playing the accordion on the metro for spare change, an old woman sitting on a corner with a paper cup in front of her, or people sitting outside the steps of major tourist attractions with a funny – they’re everywhere, and they’re hard to ignore.
In Milan, we came across those that literally forced something into your hand – whether it was bird seed to feed pigeons, a bracelet, charm, or flower – and then harassed you until you paid them a few euros to go away. I’m not sure how they get away with that, but the police officers didn’t seem to care, and some tourists looked really happy taking pictures and feeding the pigeons.
In Barcelona, we saw a woman sobbing and begging each individual person for money on a metro line. In such an enclosed space, it was extremely difficult to look away. Especially when she was inches from your face, crying her eyes out. A few days later, we saw a very old woman enter a metro and start singing. What I assume was her granddaughter (she couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old), approached everybody with a tattered paper cup. Some gave money, but most didn’t – and the ones that did give seemed to be locals.
As a Canadian, I’ve never seen such aggressive panhandling before. Don’t get me wrong, panhandlers are everywhere in Vancouver – and everybody has a different view of what to do about the situation. But I’ve never experienced crying-screaming-in-your-face begging, or people crawling on the ground pleading with tourists for a few coins – like I’ve seen all across Europe.
I think that the amount of begging (and the type of begging) in many countries depends on how much tolerance there is for beggars and panhandlers (do police sweep them off the streets? do locals and tourists complain, or do they give instead?), as well as how deep a person will sink before they resort to begging in order to survive. It’s one thing to see someone sitting on a street corner with a “spare change” sign, but what about someone completely bent over on the ground, never looking up, begging, pleading for a few cents to be placed in their open palm?
Everywhere I go, I think about these people – where do they live? How much do they really make? Does the money ever help them get out of their situation?
In Victoria, I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter, and it was really hard to see my community from that perspective. In Vancouver, people are also really sensitive to the problem of homelessness. But on the other hand, when you see panhandlers smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, or doing drugs, you have to wonder if your spare change is even going to help them for the better.
Once after a dinner out with friends in Vancouver, I saw an old man sitting on a corner had a sign that read “Hungry. Spare some change for food.” I offered him my leftovers, and he refused – asking for money instead.
Street artists can be a vibrant part of a city’s downtown culture. We often stop to watch, and I’ll throw in some of my loose change. But what about the beggars who have nothing to offer? People seem to be really divided on the topic.
“They’ll just spend it on drugs or alcohol.”
“The change I give them will help buy a bit of food.”
“Giving money only encourages more beggars and doesn’t solve anything.”
“Homelessness will never go away – my spare change is making a difference.”
“They probably make more money than I do.”
Does it make a difference whether they’re old or young, healthy or sick, male or female, clean or dirty? What if it’s cold outside, or if they have newborn baby with them, or if they are aggressive (and giving a few cents will make them go away)?
Many people would rather give their time, money, or donations to charitable organizations instead, but it never seems to be enough to reach everyone – and it won’t help the immediate problem of helping someone afford a meal. So now, I will often keep a bit of spare change in my pocket (coins less than 50 cents in value) to give. Whether I’m helping or making the situation worse, I don’t know.