Thursday, May 5, 2011


We enjoyed 4 days and 3 nights in the town of Ürgüp.  Ürgüp is located in the historical region known as Cappadocia.

Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is a geological phenomenon. The unique landscapes are the result of the combination of enormous and recurring eruptions from a group ancient volcanoes millions of years ago followed by centuries of erosion from wind and rain.
Rose Valley

After arriving at our hotel,  Esbelli Evi, we settled in for a very short night of sleep arising at 4:00 am. We had read that the best way to view the Cappadocian landscapes was to fly over them in a hot-air balloon. We had made arrangements to fly with Butterfly Balloons. Departures take place at dawn.

It is difficult to describe the excitment that we felt when casting off into the air to view the sunrise.

The chill and stillness of the new morning, only occasionally disturbed by the sound of gas burners, accompanied by the breathtaking views took us to a wonderful place. Seen from the basket of the balloon, the relief below appeared in all its complexity: contours, ravines, furrows, hills… yet revealed a simplicity which approached magical… the fairy chimneys.

Our flight was piloted by the able Sky-God Mike (5 gold bar epaulettes on each shoulder versus “only” 4 for the rank of Captain).

Mike navigated us through a riot of colors and other balloons:

The balloons, though, were upstaged by the “moonscapes”.

Culminating in a successful landing:

We returned to Esbelli Evi; shortly after finishing a simple but fabulous breakfast we were met by Mustafa, our guide for the next day and a half.

Arrangements had been made for Mustafa’s wife, Deniz, to take us around. However, due to a bit of “morning sickness”, Mustafa came to the rescue. We were not disappointed. Mustafa is part owner of Heritage Travel and an experienced guide of the area. He is also a hot air balloon pilot and part owner of Butterfly Balloons.  And most importantly he is a … well educated young man and a story teller par excel lance … and certainly "better looking than a camel".

Our first site was the Underground City at Kaymakli – while unusual; the underground network is not unfamiliar. The tunnels of Củ Chi, which we experienced 3 years ago, are an immense network of connecting underground caves that are located in South Vietnam. Both underground networks served similar purposes. The populations took refuge in the underground caves or tunnels when an invader marched through or occupied the area. The Underground City at Kaymakli is believed to be among an estimated 150 multi-level, underground establishments in the Cappadocia area. To this day no documents have been found which explains the origin of the veritable cities.

From the underground city we ventured to Uchisar Castle – a former citadel, a watchtower, and a place of refuge which resembles a legendary castle. Uchisar Castle is the highest point in the region.

To complete our long day we viewed:

We dropped into bed and sleep heavily. The next morning started a bit later; quite a bit later. We left the hotel with Mustafa at around 10:00 am. We were treated to a real gem site. Driving, driving, and driving further down a dirt road we came to “Forgotten” Cave Chapel.

 And later:
Ortahisar Castle

"We will Struggle, Struggle, and Win"
 What was to be quick stop at the Farmers’ Market in Neveshir turned into a foodie adventure.

The stop at the Market was on the way to Mustafa’s home to meet his wife, Deniz. We arrived at a time appropriate for tea and coffee and a few Turkish Delights. We became a part of delightful storytelling, plenty of laughter, and a genuine acknowledgement that life is good.

Next we visited the “so-called” highlight of Cappadocia – the Goreme Open Air Museum. Mustafa described and explained the meanings of the frescoes covering the walls of each of the 5 out of 12 cave churches that we visited (N.B. Mustafa, a Muslim and our guide, has according to urban legend taught a Jewish guide to teach a Christian guide who, in turn, told the story of Jesus and his apostles to a Catholic nun from New York and for her to not have contradicted a single word of the story). You will not see pictures of the Goreme Open Air Museum because taking of photographs was prohibited not because the churches and their frescos were not worthy of photography.

Finally, to end the day with Turkish coffee and sweet black tea we traveled to Mustafapasa:

 Mustafapasa - was one of the largest Greek towns in Cappadocia until the 1924 population exchange between Turkey and Greece. One of the biggest population exchanges in the world which caused approximately 2 million people to leave their homes.
Urgup (click for pronunciation)

Tomorrow on to Istanbul.

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