Cappadocia, Turkey: Hot Air Balloon Rides and Fairy Chimneys

In looking for our next home, it must be a place that inspires stories. Our globetrotting friends have so many wonderful stories of their own, and this guest post from Jackie Stanfield shares her adventures as a single woman traveling in Cappadocia, Turkey. — Angela

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Guest blogger Jackie Stanfield in Cappadocia, Turkey (photo: Jackie Stanfield)

I started my new year with one resolution. I was going to get my passport and, dammit, I was going to use it. Through a series of fortunate coincidences and mutual friend introductions, I found myself destined for my first international experience in Turkey. I know, everyone said that Turkey was a big one for my first trip. Hey, go big or go home, right? As a single woman, my family was totally pooing a brick about the thought of me going to Turkey. It did not help that my father has watched Taken starring Liam Neeson a few too many times. I assured them that it was safe, secretly hoping that was true, and promised to check in every day. They begged me to go to some other place they perceived as safer, but my heart was set on Turkey. Besides, I had already started studying the language. I wanted my first trip to be big and unusual. I did not want to go to sit in some all-inclusive Americanized resort. I wanted to go somewhere very different. I got my wish.

My first international flight was exciting. I liked that they gave you free drinks and, since I am a movie-holic, being able to watch new movies was enough to keep me occupied like a three-year-old on a long car ride. After what seemed like FOREVER, we finally arrived in the Istanbul airport. That was not our final destination, though. After stretching our legs, getting my first passport stamp (yay!) and having the first of many cups of Turkish tea, we got into a van for another long ride. It was night and there were no movie distractions, so it felt like I was being taken somewhere in secret. I must admit to a bit of nervousness.

We finally arrived to check into our hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey. I was deliriously exhausted after traveling for 24 hours but excited. It was a cave hotel, but (thank God) it was modernized and was not like sleeping in an actual cave. Whew! Can you tell I’m not much of a camper?

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International glamping, Turkish cave style. (photo: Jackie Stanfield)

The next morning, I woke up and eagerly looked outside the window. After all, it had been pitch black when we arrived the night before. Holy crap! I could swear that I woke up on the moon. When I walked outside on the balcony, I saw the most jagged, mountainous terrain I had ever seen. I was blown away by it. Was this even real? After breakfast (which, if you have never experienced Turkish breakfast, is mouth-wateringly awesome), we headed out for our tour.

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Cappadocia, Turkey (photo: Jackie Stanfield)

Cappadocia has tons of really cool historic features. I had done a little research before going, but it exceeded expectation. I mean, where else can you go to see mosaics created during the time of Jesus, literally? It made history seem so much different when you are standing there looking at it. Surreal.

One memorable story told by our tour guide was about a mosaic of the Virgin Mary that has small chips in it. Turns out the locals knew about this priceless work of art long before it was “discovered.” To them it was just something everyone knew was there, no big deal. In fact, the guide told us that the local kids used to go in the cave and try to hit the middle of her face with small rocks as a game, like hitting a bullseye, having no idea that they were defacing a historic, irreplaceable relic.

Additionally, the tour made the stories in the Bible come alive in an unexpected way. We went into caves that turned into a series of rooms and hallways where Christians used to hide out to avoid persecution or death. They did not let the tourists go very deep, but it is told that there were passageways that carried Christians to neighboring cities when things got really bad. It was fascinating to see the actual places that the stories occurred.

It was not all history, though. Interacting with the locals and practicing my limited Turkish was fun for me. I found the Turks to be welcoming, hospitable and friendly.  Everywhere you go, people are offering you tea and trying to sell you stuff. Most of it was fairly inexpensive and crazy unique, so I was racking up the souvenirs and drank about a thousand gallons of Turkish tea.

Then we got to the most striking natural landscape feature in Cappadocia. We got to the fairy chimneys. I will admit that my mind is in the gutter sometimes, but there was literally no way around the fact that these “chimneys” looked like dongs. That’s right … a valley full of man-parts of varying heights and widths. It was a hilarious. They kept calling them Fairy Chimneys, but I do not know where that came from. Am I the only one seeing this? Finally, the tour guide acknowledged it to some degree when she said that they called one area full of Fairy Chimneys the “Valley of Love.” My guess is that calling it “valley of schlongs” was probably not going to send the right tourism message.

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Cappadocia’s Fairy Chimneys, also known as the “Valley of Love” (photo: Jackie Stanfield)

Near the end of my time in Cappadocia, my guide had another activity planned that I was very excited about experiencing. It was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip: the hot air balloon ride. I had to get up SO early, but a few cups of coffee and I loaded into the balloon. If you have never been on a hot air balloon ride, it is not one of those little baskets with five people in it or something. This was a huge basket that had twenty people in it. It is quite a spectacle to see everyone trying to hoist themselves into this basket. I’m pretty sure that some people just fell in after getting over the side.

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Sunrise hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey (photo: Jackie Stanfield)

Once everyone piled in, we ascended. There are no words that can describe how beautiful it is to be up there watching the sunrise. I was especially fond of how peaceful and quiet it was, with no machine or motor noise, just the occasional blast of hot air from the center. Like most tourists, I had to take a couple of photos, but eventually I just put the camera down. I had to just be present and enjoy this for a moment. I could not believe that I was there. Little old me from Tennessee had been brave enough to go far away to Turkey, and there I was in a hot air balloon floating peacefully, watching the sun rise over the valley. It was a triumphant and unforgettable moment that instilled a wanderlust in me that still lives today.

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Sunrise hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey (photo: Jackie Stanfield)