Balloons, Champagne and Doggy Biscuits…

After Istanbul we set off on the 700km drive to the Cappadocia region of Turkey – we were heading for a small town there called Goreme but first had to survive the manic Turkish roads and meet our new driver! Never known driving like it, but am told that this is nothing compared to India! Roads that look relatively smooth, aren’t! And every now and then we’d have to break hard to avoid the cows/goats/geese crossing the road!

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Quite a fun experience but the 10 hours to Goreme really did start to make me feel queasy- even Richard was feeling ropey and he never gets travel sick! Driving from one end of Turkey to the other was really interesting as we watched the landscape change dramatically from green to flat & dry to rocky mountainous terrain!

We also drove past Lake Tuz which is the largest Salt Lake in Turkey. We thought we could see some bright white in the distance and wondered if it was a mirage but when we got closer we could see the whole lake in all its glory!

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The Goreme area was without a doubt the most dramatic with its strange limestone ‘chimney’s stretching up to the sky. This massive rocks of all shapes and sizes were caused by tectonic collisions many many moons ago and shaped through wind and rain. This would be significant enough in itself but these ‘fairy chimneys’ (or houses as the locals call them) were discovered by Jews and Christians escaping persecution from the Romans. They fled to this area and upon reaching Cappadocia and seeing these rock formations decided to hide out there. The structures reminded them of churches so they stayed to make towns and cities there in order for other Jews and Christians to be safe and live peacefully.

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Everywhere you look you can see rocks with little windows and doors carved into them – it really was fascinating to see and we tried to imagine what it must have been like to live here.

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Our hostel in Goreme was cool. It was called the Flintstones Cave Motel (lots of the hostels and hotels around here used the Flintstones theme- for obvious reasons!). I was in a room with Jana and Joanna and I have to say we definitely had the best room! It was a ‘cave’ bedroom of course but had a private bathroom which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 4 star hotel!

Unfortunately the others didn’t fare as well – Richard and the rest of the boys were in a bit of a dark & damp cave room and the rest of the girls described theirs as ‘The Dungeon’. Opps!

Had a nice bbq when we first got there then tried to get an early night as I had to be up at 4am for a hot air balloon ride. On this part of the trip, there are lots of excursions and extra things we could choose to do – the best two and the ones that we had made the decision to take part in where the Ballooning in Cappadocia and a flight around Mount Everest in Nepal.

Watching the budget we tossed a coin to see who would do what and I got the balloon ride. The company we used was Kappadokya Ballooning – the same one Michael Palin used for his ‘round the world in 80 days’ trip. Our pilot was called Sanjay and the whole crew were really friendly, making sure that they took pictures of us all before the balloon set off. It was very strange seeing so many balloons getting prepped at that time in the morning. And amazing to see them all eventually rise up into the sky. I was a bit apprehensive about the heights but really shouldn’t have worried at all – it felt that we were floating (which we obviously were!) but was actually very calming – especially with the sun rising over the dramatic landscape. I took as many photos as I could, especially so that I could show Rich what it was like, but I very much doubt that they can do the views justice.

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We flew over the valleys (I remember one was called the Love Valley, but I can’t remember the other names) and could see for miles around. Will definitely never forget my ballooning experience! It was a great start to the day and I really didn’t mind the really early wakeup call. Plus we rounded off the morning with some cherry flavoured Champagne and chocolate cake! Doesn’t get better than that!

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Later that day we managed to go for a swim (our hostel had a pool! Yayyyy!) then decided to go for a walk on our own to explore. We asked somebody from a local tour company where he would recommend us going for the ‘best’ views of the landscape and he told us to catch a bus to the next town (Uchisar) and go up to the castle. From there he said we could walk through Pigeon Valley and the winding road would lead us back to Goreme.

He was spot on about Uchisar Castle (and by Castle I do mean another rock formation which had been turned into a castle). The views were spectacular and we just clambered around the rocks surrounding the castle taking pictures!

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The walk back through the valleys was great – but slightly knackering in the midday heat! We saw God knows how many weird and wonderful creatures along the way and thousands of melons! If we did get lost (which at some point I really thought we would as we passed so many forks in the road and just guessed which way to go) we knew we’d have plenty of fruit and insects to survive on until we were rescued! We both put our Bear Grylls heads on but thankfully the road DID lead back to Goreme in the end!!

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After our walk we had the most lush meal in Fatboy cafe. We both had a Chicken Scatava which was diced chicken, onions and peppers with boiled rice. Best meal to date! We actually went back there for dinner too and this time shared some Chicken Nachos and Cappadocian wine. The wine was really nice and crisp – the owner of Fatboys told us about how pure the grapes are in the valleys – which definitely makes a difference to the quality!

The next day we set off for our next stop which is pretty dot on in the middle of Turkey. The town is called Erzincan and was about 600km from Goreme. Another 9 ½ hour’s drive! Here, we are heading more into Kurdish territory so were told to keep our wits about us and start to dress more conservatively. We drove past Mount Erciyes and the landscape became so dry and sparse.

The flat plains beneath Erciyes was the scene of the Armenian genocide, where over 1 million Armenians were frogmarched across the land until they died of starvation, exhaustion or heat. If you look closely when driving through you can spot individual and mass graves where they were buried as they died.

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Must have been awful as we could see just how harsh and dry the landscape around there was.

Talking about harsh and dry – the land of central Turkey didn’t do much good for our new, air-conditioned bus, as we had our first break down! The inclines of the mountains were just too much for it and the fan belt broke! Our driver somehow managed to get the bus to a garage in the middle of nowhere and about 7 people set about trying to fix the problem and fit a new belt.

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We knew that something was up as while on the bus, the floor started to get really, really hot then the alarms started going crazy! The bus is an Isuzu and the engine is basically under the floor (there is no bonnet) so the hot feet was a sure sign that something was up! We were only held up for about an hour and a half in the end and were soon back en route to Erzincan!

Pulling up beside the Hotel Gulistan in Erzincan, we could see that there really wasn’t a lot going on! We didn’t have much time there however, so our plan for the night was to get something to eat (our last taste of ‘Western’ food) and to raid the supermarkets for supplies to get us through the next few days into Iran. We went to a cafe called 212 – the whole group went there in the end – which played some funky music! The burgers were awesome so we savoured every minute of it, not knowing when we’d eat something familiar again!

Managed to get a bit of a lie in the next day before jumping back on the bus to Dogubayazit (about 35km from the Iranian border and our last night in Turkey). The town is otherwise known as ‘Doggy Biscuit’ which actually makes it a lot harder to remember the correct way to say it!

Getting there didn’t take as long as the previous day and we broke up the tedium on the bus with a few quizzes and games of charades. The mental driving of our Turkish driver and the rest of the road users also gave us a bit of entertainment – I swear the bus nearly flipped twice! We stopped for a ‘toilet break’ in the middle of nowhere which turned into a 45 min lunch break as Tomas somehow managed to blag a bbq and started cook meat outside a petrol station!

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Closer to Dogubayazit we spied a huge snow-topped mountain in the distance. Found out that this is Mount Ararat – 5137 metres tall and the biblical resting place of Noah’s Ark. It was a very impressive view – especially rising up beyond the rest of the dry, orangey-coloured mountains of the same range.

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The town of Dogubayazit (where I am writing this from) sees very few westerners and I have finally made the transition to full length clothing! The town is a military zone and again, deep in Kurdish territory so we need to watch our actions and resist the urge not to take photos of the police and patrolmen with guns! Just had a really nice meal here too – no idea whatsoever what it was – we just ordered off a menu based on the pictures but thankfully it was gorgeous. We also hunted out a couple of cans of beer to have before bed as alcohol is strictly forbidden across the border!

Very apprehensive about tomorrow and hope that our food stash doesn’t get confiscated by the border police! Am also expecting a lot of waiting around at border control – apparently last year it took 5 hours!

Wish us luck for the next couple of weeks – our ‘holiday’ is most definitely over and now the real adventure begins!..

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3 Comments

  1. August 01, 11:53 #1 margaret D.

    Know what you mean the feeling you get in a baloon.been ther done that ha ha

  2. July 30, 13:41 #2 Aisleen Author

    haha, Nadine, u make me laugh – thanks for reading!

  3. July 29, 16:59 #3 Nadine

    Oh my God, having goose bumps reading this. Can`t wait to read all about Iran tomorrow… oh dear. I love this blog, it makes me addicted and thanks for writing this!

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