Cappadocia is one of the top three places on the planet to go for a hot air balloon ride, or so I have been told (the others, if you were wondering are the pyramids in Egypt and the Loire Valley in France). And for very good reason – the view is spectacular.
I had never ridden a hot air balloon before, but I have seen them often enough in in the air in my hometown. I knew that they are launched at dawn and dusk – and dawn is the time to go if you want a longer ride. Before leaving Canada I did some research on ballooning in Cappadocia; choosing which company to go with was difficult. Eventually I chose the one affiliated with our hotel – by doing that we saved 25 Euros per person, making the hour-long ride only 150 Euros each. As I said yesterday, I really didn’t want to spend the money, but I was convinced by my wife that it would be worth it.
The balloon flight was our introduction to Cappadocia. I hadn’t planned it that way, but these things happen sometimes when you travel. Our original two-day trip to the area became a very long and very fulfilling day – and we couldn’t squeeze in everything I had planned. All the more reason for me to go back another time, if at all possible.
We had arrived in the dark the previous night, so the balloon ride was our introduction to Cappadocia (well I suppose the call to prayer form the local mosque came first, but after a while you just filter that out since you hear it five times a day, every day). There was breakfast first, and then we loaded into vans for the trip to the launch site. We could see some balloons already in the air and hear the sound of the burning gas being used to heat the air and inflate the balloons. The basket was big enough to hold 16, but there were only a dozen on our flight. That doesn’t seem like very many until you realize there were a hundred other balloons aloft with us. That means each year more than 100,000 people take a balloon ride in Cappadocia (and I’m probably grossly underestimating there). That’s big business – at a conservative estimate more than 15 million Euros.
It was a magical experience. I’m not quite sure how to describe the landscape – I had seen nothing like it before. Our flight was through the Rose Valley, or should I say over the Rose Valley. There are cliffs and cave dwellings (whole cities in caves really) and fairy chimneys (that’s a specific type of rock formation that in Western Canada we would have called a Hoodoo), all viewed from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand feet up, drifting along in silence wherever the air currents would take us.
Key to enjoying the flight was our pilot, who aside from his skills with the balloon was personable and knowledgeable of the area’s history. He was able to point out specific formations, such as a former convent carved into the rock, and tell us the story. It was a little surprising to discover that people had been living in the caves until the 1960s, and in some of them even later. Indeed, you can stay in a cave hotel if you don’t mind paying a little extra for the room. It wasn’t my frugality that prevented that – I was a little unsure about sleeping in a cave in February; I thought it might be rather chilly. I have since learned that is not the case.
We’ll continue our flight tomorrow.