Captivated by Cappadocia: History & Adventure in Central Turkey

Captivated by Cappadocia: History & Adventure in Central Turkey

The first thing I realized after stepping out of the airport shuttle in front of the Kelebek Cave Hotel in Goreme is that two nights wouldn’t be near long enough. I was instantly smitten by the fairy chimneys, valley views, and our cozy bedroom (with fireplace!). I got lost pretty much every time I tried to go anywhere on the property but who really cares when the place looks like this!

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Even though I could have happily hung out at the hotel all day, I was eager to explore.

Goreme is the most popular village in Cappadocia but since it is still relatively small, we decided to check out the nearby Open Air Museum on foot. It is important to note that I was expecting a casual wander not an epic hike, which is of course what happened. We reached the museum near closing time so we opted to check out the caves and hills in the surrounding area instead.

What seemed like a gentle incline soon turned into a treacherous climb due to my flimsy sandals on shale rock. We spent the better part of two hours playing in the hills with many screams and much laughter. Rachel and I were hobbling around like old ladies with Caleb mocking us while trying to keep us from falling. It ended up being one of my favourite evenings and we got some incredible photographs too.

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The next morning we were supposed to go on our hot air balloon ride but it got cancelled due to bad weather. It eventually got rebooked for the next day (THANK GOD!) but in the meantime we consoled ourselves with an amazing day tour by Heritage Travel.

The History and Adventure Tour picked us up from our hotel at 10:00am and drove us 5 minutes to the start of our hike in the beautiful Rose Valley. The weather didn’t cooperate very well with some light rain cutting our hike a bit short but we were still able to see fairy-chimneys, local farms, pigeon houses and cave chapels.

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The weather cleared up just in time for our next stop at the Monks Valley (Pasabag), where we got to see the mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys and St. Simeon’s monk cell.

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By this time we were ready for lunch in the Kings Valley. After some pretty lacklustre buffet lunches on previous tours, we had very low expectations for our meal. We certainly never expected it to be the best meal of the entire trip! Our group was taken to a private organic farm where some local ladies cooked us a fresh, vegetarian meal in a picturesque outdoor setting straight out of the movies. Now that’s farm to table!

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In the afternoon, we toured the Kaymakli underground city, the first and most popular underground city in Cappadocia. This complex carved underground was used for hundreds of years by locals to hide from Romans, Persians and Arabs. We were able to explore 4 levels deep and get a sense of what life was like underground.

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That was supposed to be the end of tour but because our hike was cut short, we were able to add one last stop at the Panoramic View. This is a popular viewpoint in Goreme that earns its name in spades.

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Our tour guide was informative and interesting and the stops on the tour gave us a great overview of the region. I had no idea there was so much to see in Cappadocia but I sure hope I make it back someday. It’s a one-of-a-kind place like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Eating my Way through Greece & Turkey

Eating my Way through Greece & Turkey

When I first started telling people that I was planning a trip to Turkey, the one thing that everyone told me was that food was ahh-mazing!

Now I already rank Mediterranean cuisines like Italian and Greek on the top of my list so I was confident that Turkish would be just as delightful (pun intended). After two weeks of indulging in meal after decadent meal, I couldn’t help but share some of my favourites. Hope you’re hungry :)

Tomato keftedes (fritters) & Greek Salad   Skala Restaurant (Oia, Santorini)

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Santorini is famous for its flavourful tomatoes. We sampled them many times in our daily Greek salads but we also sampled the local island delicacy of deep-fried tomato fritters. They were so good that we ordered them more than once. And with a view like the one from Skala restaurant… I could have sat and savoured them all day long, especially when a parade of donkeys passed by our table. Dinner AND entertainment… what’s not to love?

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki     Fanari Restaurant (Fira, Santorini)

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For our final dinner in Santorini we headed to Fanari Restaurant in the main town of Fira where we enjoyed flawless sunset vistas and a classic Greek dish – souvlaki! It’s simple but it’s famous for a reason – you simply can’t do Greece right without this dish.

3. The best Gyro in Greece  Lucky’s Souvlaki (Fira, Santorini)

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If there is one meal that stuck in my mind for the entire trip it was this gyro in Fira. A gyro is like a doner or a kebab, essentially meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie and then wrapped in a pita or sandwich. The toppings differ from place to place but I prefer mine fully loaded. I did some pre-trip research and found out that the best gyros on the island could be found at Lucky’s. The internet did not let me down because this place was cheap (2-3 euros) and mind-blowingly delicious.

4. Authentic Greek Frozen Yogurt   Selatrevo (Fira, Greece)

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I’m was already a frozen yogurt fan before this trip but now I’m craving a Greek fro-yo place to frequent at home. The flavour of the Greek yogurt is so much richer and Selatrevo has even caught on to the craze of letting you add your own toppings. The store clerk told us that she knew we were from North America because no one else knows what to do with the self-service bar. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment but we certainly knew what we were doing :) It may have been the priciest cold treat we bought during our travels but it was well worth it.

5. Gözleme   Kelebek Hotel (Goreme, Turkey)

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Our cave hotel in Cappadocia ended up having a very nice restaurant terrace that became a permanent fixture during our stay. For our first dinner, I ordered a dish that I had never heard of before called gozleme, which is a savoury traditional Turkish flatbread made of hand-rolled dough that is lightly brushed with butter and eggs and filled with cheese, chicken, and mushrooms. It’s basically a pancake that you’re allowed to eat for dinner – so that made this breakfast obsessed traveller verrrry happy.

Farm to Table Lunch   King’s Valley Farm (Goreme, Cappadocia)

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The best meal we had in Turkey was this unbelievable lunch that was included in our History and Adventure tour by Heritage Travel in Cappadocia. They took us to this private farm in the King’s Valley where a group of local ladies cooked us a four course, vegetarian meal consisting of bread, salads, stuffed peppers, soup, bean stew, and dessert. I’m not exactly sure what I ate but it was all quite delicious and the experience of sitting outdoors in the middle of this hidden valley was definitely a highlight.

Chicken Curry  Kelebek Hotel (Goreme, Turkey)

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I said we couldn’t stay away from our hotel restaurant and I wasn’t kidding. We returned for another dinner and the Turkish version of chicken curry did not disappoint. But then again, I think everything on the menu was a win.

Meatball Durum Wrap    Mama’s Shelter (Istanbul, Turkey)IMG_4263IMG_9969One thing that I knew we HAD to do in Istanbul was eat dinner on a rooftop terrace. I found Mama’s Shelter online and even though the price tag was a bit steep for this crew of backpackers – the sunset views of the Sultanahmet were well worth it. And they didn’t even charge me for my delicious rose sangria so I can’t really complain.

What are some of your favourite travel dining experiences? What country tops your list? Leave a comment below.

Travel Highlight: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

Travel Highlight: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

This is what $100 million dollars looks like. IMG_4259 Do I have your attention? This is without a doubt the best thing that I did in Turkey. Not only was riding a hot air balloon a giant check off of my travel bucket list, but it was the reason I wanted to go to Turkey in the first place. That’s a dangerously high mark to live up to. Fortunately, Cappadocia and it’s famed hot air balloons delivered one of my favourite travel moments ever!

But, it almost didn’t happen at all…

Everyone knows that things can go wrong when you’re travelling. And unfortunately, Murphy’s Law often comes into play at the most inopportune times.

When I started organizing this trip, I wanted to leave very little to chance. Not only did I have some newbie travellers joining me but I had some major travel dreams that needed to come true. So, I used my expert planning skills to secure our flights WAY in advance with a top notch balloon company in Goreme. The best flying weather is from April through October when the skies are clear and the winds are light at dawn. We booked our flight smack dab in the middle on June 30th. I triple confirmed our dates with the hotel and was ready for the experience of a lifetime. But, as we got closer and closer to the designated date my weather app stalking revealed a blip in our weeks of sunshine-filled Mediterranean bliss. I started to get very nervous. What happens if they cancel our flight? We were only spending two nights in Cappadocia and had a flight to Istanbul scheduled on our second morning. We only had one shot.

On the morning of our flight we woke up before dawn for our 4:40am hotel pick up. It was at this point that my friend Mindy informed me that she had been sick all night and after taking one look at her I knew she wouldn’t be joining our group. With strict orders to stay in bed and drink lots of water, I left with Caleb & Rachel. We arrived at the balloon office to a light buffet breakfast and a waiting game. The weather forecast was not promising. After repeatedly being informed that they would decide in 20 minutes and then again in 20 minutes, we got the news. What CAN happen DID happen. Our balloon ride was cancelled.

I had mentally prepared myself for this disappointment and had already begun working on a back-up plan. We would simply rebook for the next day and if necessary push our flight to Istanbul back a few hours – it only cost €15 anyway. What I was not prepared for was the news that they were fully booked for the next day. WHAT!!!! For those of you who know me, I’m sure you can imagine my reaction and the full scale meltdown that proceeded. Not my finest hour.

Rachel and I tore back up the hill to our hotel reception and begged the night manager to help us. Keep in mind that it’s still before 6am. We asked if we could call the other balloon companies in town to check for other openings. He politely informed us that reservations at all the balloon companies would be closed until 8am and that we should come back later. We all decided to go our separate ways – Rachel & Caleb to get some more sleep and me, to sulk alone on the breakfast terrace. I ended up making friends with some of the kitchen staff and had a long leisurely breakfast with bottomless coffee and apple tea – so I guess there are worse places to be disappointed. Did I mention that we stayed in a cave hotel? IMG_1634 IMG_1633 When 8am rolled around – Rachel & I were back at the reception. We hijacked the front desk and basically demanded that the receptionist call every balloon company in town, which he did. We are quite a convincing pair. Unfortunately, he got the same response from every single company. Full. At this point we had to get ready for our History and Adventure tour (more on that later) that was departing at 10am and I needed to tend to my sick room-mate. But, not to be deterred, I went back to the front desk at 9am to speak with the daytime agent. She promised to call around while we were on our tour and sounded quite optimistic.

And what do you know… she came through with a confirmed booking on Deluxe Balloons and an earlier pick-up time that would allow us to still make our original flight to Istanbul! I couldn’t have been more thrilled to find out that I had to wake up before dawn yet another morning.

So early on Canada Day, my travel crew with a mostly recovered Mindy, woke up to clear skies and minimal wind. We were a go! IMG_4255 IMG_4254 IMG_1821

This is what happiness looks like :)

This is what happiness looks like :)

After a chilly dawn launch in our 16 passenger basket, we floated for one hour over the Cappadocian moonscape dotted with villages, vineyards, and the show-stopping Rose Valley. Our pilot informed us that no two flights are the same because we go wherever the wind takes us. We watched the sunrise over the mountains cast the most picture-perfect lighting over the dozens of balloons that joined us in the skies. It’s crazy to think that this is an everyday occurrence here. Each balloon costs roughly a million dollars and with approximately 100 balloons launched each day, we helped fund a 100 million dollar view. And we were happy to do it!IMG_1839 IMG_1864 IMG_1904 IMG_1908 IMG_1848 IMG_1866 IMG_1898 IMG_1935 IMG_1938 IMG_1912 IMG_1852 IMG_9896 IMG_1927 IMG_1943 IMG_1948 IMG_1874 After taking approximately a trillion photos and videos we proceeded to land in a nearby farmer’s field, narrowly missing some fruit trees and a vineyard. The ground team that had been chasing our balloon from below arrived within minutes to help guide the basket onto the truck and return us to our hotel.

But first, some bubbly for a traditional champagne toast to a successful aeronautical adventure! IMG_4250 Have you ever been on a hot air balloon ride? What’s on your travel bucket list? Leave a comment below.

Departure Lounge: Greece & Turkey

Departure Lounge: Greece & Turkey

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!! Summer is swiftly approaching and with it… my next big travel adventure!

In many ways, this trip has been 5 years in the making. It all started in a crowded pub after the first day of an economic conference. My university friends, married couple Rachel & Caleb, were hilariously sharing the story of their disastrous honeymoon in Paris. It was a 3-week comedy of errors and the retelling had our table in stiches. But this story was more of a tragedy in truth because poor Rachel virtually swore off international travel ever since. Being the travel evangelist that I am, I promised that someday I would take her back to Europe and show her how awesome it can be. Well, that someday has finally arrived.

In just a few weeks I am travelling to Greece and Turkey with both Rachel & Caleb (wish me luck!) as well as my frequent travel partner Mindy. If summer in the Mediterranean can’t win them over, then nothing will. We only have 2 weeks but I am confident that our itinerary has something for everyone: Beaches, History, Culture, Adventure, and Food!

Itinerary

June 20-21: Athens, Greece

June 22-25: Santorini, Greece

June 26: Bodrum, Turkey

June 27: Ephesus, Turkey

June 28: Pamukkale, Turkey

June 29-30: Goreme, Turkey

July 1-4: Istanbul, Turkey

These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • Renting ATVs and driving around the island of Santorini.
  • Drinking wine while watching the famed Oia Sunset
  • Exploring Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient sites in the world
  • Riding a hot air balloon in Cappadocia!
  • Sinking my teeth into Turkish cuisine (rumored to be A-MAZING!)

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I am SOOO excited for this trip and I can’t wait to start posting about it. Stay tuned this summer for all the details!

Where are your summer plans taking you? Have you been to Greece or Turkey? Any tips? Leave a comment below.