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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cappadocia, Turkey

Hi all,

So for Spring Break 2015 I had 2 weeks off. I had decided to go to Turkey and had arranged to meet a friend in Istanbul the last week. The first week though, I was on my own - my first REAL solo trip. My first stop was Cappadocia (transit through Istanbul). Basically it is a gorgeous area of the world, well worth visiting, and the Turkish people I met were very warm, welcoming, and helpful.

I flew from my home airport in Saudi Arabia to Istanbul directly. Normally I try to travel with just carry-ons (my purple “backpacker” backpack and a school-size backpack as my personal item) but I wasn’t sure about taking a nail clipper, tweezers, or a razor on the plane with me. I asked at the check-in desk and the attendant advised that I check the bag containing them. I was on this flight with two other friends so I didn’t want to waste time. I stuck the items and my keys into the top pocket of my purple backpack. A pocket that I hadn’t used before and will never use again.

The flight to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines was quick and easy. I like flying with them. My second favorite airline. I split from my friends since they were transferring and went to immigration. To purchase a tourist visa for Turkey you use a machine that takes euro cash OR card. I didn’t see the part about using card until I’d already taken euros out of the ATMs. Oh well, I decided to save them for a trip to Europe. I also took out Turkish Lira. Returning to the visa machines I used card (since it would count as a travel cost and earn me points) and got my visa. Two gentlemen then approached me and the one who clearly worked for the airport asked if the other gentlemen, a tall Egyptian man, could possibly use my card to purchase his visa since he didn’t have access to cash. He’d pay me back in US dollars. Since it made logical sense I agreed and got him his visa. The cost of the visa was $25usd but he handed me a $100 note. Though I explained that this was too much he said it was for being very helpful. Being nice earned me $100! 

After crossing through immigration I went to wait for my checked bag. It was at this point that I started to remember why I avoid checking luggage. It sucks to wait for it and worry about making it to your next point in time. Luckily I had about 4 hours to get to my next destination. Once my bag arrived on the carousal I noticed that the top pocket was completely unzipped. I dug inside and found the tweezers, but everything else was gone. Not on the carousal, not on the floor. The main worry was that my keys, containing my house key for my Saudi villa, were gone. It sucked to lose the keychains and such from other travels but I wasn’t that concerned. To solve this I went to the Turkish Airlines help area and filed a notice for the missing keys. I also emailed my friend who was still in Saudi at our compound to ask her to please contact the management and arrange for a new key to be left for me at the gate when I came back in April. (A few days later I got confirmation that she’d arranged it.) 

So far it was a weird start - $100 up but a set of keys down. My next stop was Istanbul’s other airport (SAW) across the city. I’ve given myself plenty of time but I still always get nervous about missing a flight so the sooner I got there the better. I went to find out my transport options. There was a cross-city bus but they estimated it would take 3 hours to just get to the city center, and no clue how much longer after that to get to the airport. (At this point I didn’t know about the Istanbul metro/train system but that could have also been a good option.) I decided on a private taxi, since the cost would save my sanity of worrying about making the flight and I wouldn’t have to guess which stops to make. 

The taxi driver was nice, an older Turkish-German man, but he didn’t speak much English so the drive was mostly quiet. At one point another driver called to him for directions while we were stopped on the bridge, that was an interesting exchange. Like I said, the taxi cost more but I got to the airport and was able to relax a little before my flight from Istanbul to Cappadocia. (I flew into Kayseri on Pegasus Airlines). 

The flight was fine and I arrived after dark. I had arranged a shuttle to the hotel and they were there waiting. However, we had to wait about 30 more minutes for the rest of the passengers who were on a later flight. This shuttle service wasn’t a great welcome to the area because once we were all loaded in (an hour after I’d been in the bus) we then meandered through 2 or 3 towns, dropping off 1 or 2 passengers. Basically the ride felt endless, and I was tired. We FINALLY got to my hotel, I paid for the one-way trip there, and got checked in. Here’s one thing all hotel managers, Airbnb hosts, friends hosting a friend, etc. should know: Let the guest have some alone time right when they arrive. Often they want to use the restroom, or change clothes, or have a shower. You can catch up or give them the grand tour or all the information when they reappear. 

The hotel manager was really nice, but I wish he would have let me just get to my room straight away. It was almost midnight. I’d also arranged for one of the mornings there to do hot air ballooning since that was a major tourist attraction in Cappadocia. The manager told me that this was scheduled for the coming morning - 5 hours away. He said it wasn’t certain but he’d call up at 5am to tell me if it was on or off (due to weather). Exhausted I finally got to bed. 

Turned out that the hot air ballooning was cancelled that first morning, and then next 2 after that. The winds were too strong or there was a forecast of snow/rain. Still I woke up early every morning to that yes/no phone call. 

While in Cappadocia I did 2 day tours with the same company, and surprisingly the same guide. The tours were fun and the people were nice, though I didn’t make any new friends. One of the highlight memories was the first tour day when we went to this old monastery on a hillside. The weather that day was snowy, like fat snowflakes and a constant wind. I had not expected that of Turkey in March but I was glad to have packed some warm pieces. Anyway to get up to the monastery you had to climb up this dirt path. Well due to the wet snow the path was muddy slush. Several of us slipped and fell on the way up and down, but it became pretty funny trying to help each other and keep the snow off our butts. The monastery itself was worth the climb and the snow gave it a very ethereal quality. Wet, cold, but smiling after the laughs we made our way down and into a small shop for some turkish tea (apple tea, you’ve gotta have the apple tea).   

So yeah, those first two days after the ballooning as cancelled I did the tours, which were full-days. See the photos for the other parts of the tours. The third day there was a potential for the ballooning so this couple and I rode out to the site and were then told that it had been cancelled (still too windy). Sharing the disappointment we then spent the morning chatting over a long breakfast back at the hotel. They were from Ireland and Poland and were here on a short vacation as a couple. Really nice people. I also talked to a waitress who worked in the hotel and wore the hijab. She was definitely younger than me and very spunky. The highlight of that conversation was her showing me photos of her in Ankara without her hair covered and asking, “Which is more beautiful? (with or without her hijab)”. My answer was diplomatic - that she looked beautiful in both. 

One of the last days there I also went horseback riding in the valley. There were nice views and the  horse was pretty obedient but the guide was a bit too physically helpful (helping me up and down from the horse when I didn’t want it, reaching for my hand when walking or riding, etc.) His unwanted attention kept it from being a good experience. At this point I was also sick of people, specifically older men, asking if I was married or single, and taking my answer of “single” as an invitation to flirt with me/compliment me/or ask the follow-up, “Why?”, often all together. So the horse guy talking about his lack of a wife and how he cared about his horses and could take care about people too was very off-putting. I did tell the hotel manager about his horse friend’s behavior and advised him to not take single travellers there again. My advice if you do go horseback riding in Cappadocia is to go with at least 1 other person. That shouldn’t be a thing I have to say, but it is. 

The last morning I had in Cappadocia I finally got to go up in the hot air balloon. There were a good number of other tourists also there, which was kind of nice since that meant there more lots of balloons in the sky. It was pretty chilly up in the air but it was just overall awesome. I chatted a little with a couple in the basket with me (there were 6 of us in the basket total, I think) and we took turns taking photos for each other. One girl did get sick over the edge of the basket and someone else gave her water. It was really cool to have the balloon fly low into the valley and then soar way up to give us this great panoramic view of the area. Check out the photos and then go do it yourself! Definitely worth the wait and the cost. At the end the company had champagne and a medal for each of us. Kind of cheesy but it was a good souvenir.    

The last morning before my flight it was rainy so I walked around the town a little. I bought earrings and then had pide from a local restaurant. I recommend you have apple tea and pide while in Cappadocia, as well as all the other local food and wine you can get.  

One last thing to say about Cappadocia. The town of Avanos was worth a visit (I went there through one of the tours) and the carpets in this part of Turkey had an interesting history. I don’t remember it exactly but part of the practice was that a girl would weave a carpet and then put it out on her balcony if she was ready to get married. Suitors would see the carpet and decide if he liked her work, then talk to her family, etc. The edges of the carpet also had meaning. Finally, there is a story with the dolls from Cappadocia being given as gifts and if you are given a doll it means you’ll have twins. Basically go learn these things for yourself by going there! It’s well worth the trip to see this unique part of central Turkey.  

My next stop was Izmir to see Ephesus! (Next post!) (I flew out of Kayseri to Izmir.)

Where I stayed: Old Town Stone House, owner: Mehmet

Tour company: _______

Total time there: 4 days

Recommendations: Put your name down for the hot air balloon ride even before you arrive, that way if the weather is bad you have every possible morning available. 

adding photos soon

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