Turkey: Goreme

One of the places Aunt Sue was most looking forward to in Turkey was Cappadocia.  She’d read all about the weather-made rock formations, cave houses and underground cities, but when I tried to find it on a map—I couldn’t.  I found out later it was an ancient kingdom started around the 6th century BC (not on the map anymore) and our destination was actually a small town called Goreme.  Aunt Sue rented an incredible house built into the rocks.  Our rooms were cut into the stone, we had more space than we knew what to do with…I’m not sure anyone went into the third bedroom…and our views of the town from our rooftop deck were spectacular.

We visited the Open Air Museum, a series of churches, convents and houses built into the cliffs, where people from the area used to escape invaders.  We squeezed into a few tour group to hear the explanations (thank you Spanish school in Nicaragua to allow us flexibility in our language options!), but decided the claustrophobia wasn’t worth it and looked on our own.

The next morning we were collected at 6am for one of Cappadocia’s most famous activities—hot air ballooning.  I can honestly say I never thought I would go hot air ballooning, but the temptation to see these intricate valleys and fairy chimneys from above proved too great.  Mustafa from Butterfly Balloons made our trip.  He was hilarious in a deadpan “I already drank all the champagne” kind of way.  Despite relatively high winds, we skimmed the rock formations with 60-100 other balloons for sunrise.

At the end, I was lifted like a princess from the basket and served bottomless champagne and chocolate cake (my perfect morning).

Joshua and I were so enthralled that we woke up early the following morning to watch the balloons from a lookout point.  I don’t know how it got so popular, but balloons fill the sky every morning in all the colors of the rainbow.  We followed the morning show with a traditional Turkish breakfast (who can eat all that food?!).

We put some serious kms on our rental car driving to Derinkuyu, an 8 story city underground which housed up to 20,000 people.  Joshua had so much fun exploring the little alleyways and tunnels underground…Aunt Sue not so much.  I wasn’t a huge fan either, so we compromised with a short visit.

In Turkey, the ruins are so accessible.  They are everywhere, sometimes even unprotected, but almost always open to the public.  We were surprised by how close you could get to their antiquities.  I guess that’s the reason tourism in Turkey is growing exponentially:  great sites, unique art and culture, nice people, delicious food.  If only the language was a little easier to pick up.  Six syllables for thank you is four too many.

Our best decision in Goreme was to eat at a family run restaurant called Top Deck.  The family came from Cape Town, South Africa to take care of their 97 year old grandmother and opened a restaurant to supplement their income.  Every night they make three dishes: chicken, beef and lamb, all prepared in different ways (and always a surprise).

One of my favorite tips we received before leaving on our trip was to not be afraid to frequent restaurants if you love the food.  If you find somewhere you like, go back instead of trying somewhere new.  Choose a new dish; it’s likely to be as good or better.  In doing so, you are supporting the local community and you don’t have to throw the dice picking out another spot.  The minute we tried our lentil yogurt soup on day one we asked to make a reservation for the next day.  Our service was divine—both daughters acted as waiters.  We got free dessert and extra attention.  The chef tested out some recipes on us for future use.  We already loved Turkish food, but our meals sealed the deal.  As my good friend Margaret says, any country that does meat and bread well, wins.

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