Cappadocia is a small town in the middle of a volcanic area roughly in the middle of Turkey. The ground is packed ash and pumice, pretty much. Apparently it’s technically called ‘tuff’. Apparently someone’s decided recently that it’s OK for technical words to sound like ‘tuff’ these days. The state of the world these days… (That’s OK, I’ve just discovered I get to use the world ‘troglodyte’ correctly in this post – and not just to refer to my friends. So I’m happy.)
So anyway, it doesn’t rain much in Cappadocia, but when it does, it rains hard. This combination – ‘tuff’ and occasional erosion-friendly torrential rain – results in vaguely conical stalagmite-like protuberances projecting weirdly out of the ground, looking for all the world like they’re made out of gingerbread.
There are a couple of valleys in the area, and in the cliffs of these, and in the stalagmite things, people have carved out caves. They started doing this a very, very long time ago, and it seems to have been a popular past-time in particular for early troglodyte Christians, who built cave monasteries and cave chapels and whole cave settlements there. (Hooray, ‘troglodyte’!) So lots of the caves are decorated with old friezes, etc. Some of those are viewable from the other side of ropes in the Göreme Open Air Museum. Others you can go climb through if you find them yourself when hiking through the valleys.
So I spent about five or six hours one afternoon hiking and climbing through the valleys. There’s something very rewarding about discovering and exploring these little bits of history yourself. And some of the cave decorations are surprisingly well preserved.
So I recommend the hiking – though ideally with a better map than my crappy tourist thing: the trails are reasonably well marked, but finding where they start and figuring out how they diverge can take a bit of work, especially when your crappy tourist map has them starting off roads which turn out not to exist.
But the hiking isn’t why people go to Cappadocia – in fact, most people don’t bother with it (their loss, the fat, lazy bastards!). People go for the hot air ballooning over the valleys and stalagmite things. (They’re called ‘fairy chimneys’ apparently. Personally I’ve decided that’s a silly name, so I’m sticking with ‘stalagmite things’.)
I’ve never been in a hot air balloon before, so I can’t compare it to ballooning elsewhere. I can, however, compare it to not going hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, and compared to that, it’s fantastic. Of course, to get the best display over the valleys and stalagmite fairy things, you and 139 other balloons all go up at sunrise. And of course, clever bastard that I am, I did mine the day after the summer solstice, making it a somewhat early morning, with a hostel pickup at 4.50am. But the whole experience was spectacular, even if it was finished off with a less-than-quality and somewhat cheesy glass of crappy ‘champagne’.
The colours of the sunrise over the valleys, the stalagmite fairy things, the caves, and the other balloons – yeah, not too bad. Worth checking out if you have the chance.