hot air balloons

Cruising In Cappadocia, Turkey

Lisa and I get off the plane, and our driver heads towards Cappadocia. My research before deciding to go to Turkey made me quite certain that this was a destination not to be missed. In fact, I had seen a short documentary about this area on public broadcasting. The hot air balloons, Zelve Fairy Chimneys, Goreme Valley Open Air Museum, Red and Rose Valleys, all looked quite other-worldly. I'm excited.

This is the ancient region of Anatolia, a world heritage site near the Black Sea, that has existed in various forms since 499 BC. The incredible natural wonders, as well as the unique historical and cultural heritage, have drawn me to this region.

I get up early the next morning, walk outside of our bungalow, and there they are-an incredible assortment of hot air balloons strewn throughout the sky. These balloons are gently drifting as far as my eye can see, taking in the surrealistic landscapes below. Their purview includes the Fairy Chimneys with unique rock formations, impressive valleys and colorful vineyards, all of which we will be seeing on foot over the next two days.

We hop into the van and head to the Goreme Valley Open Air Museum. As we step out of the vehicle, I'm absolutely amazed by the monastic complex in front of me. There are numerous refectory monasteries lined up side-by-side, each with it's own church. These rock-cut structures have beautiful frescoes that lace the walls, making this rock hewn architecture one of the truly unique sites to see in Turkey. These churches were chiseled into the rock in front of us between the 10th and 12th centuries.

It's now afternoon, and we get dropped off at the Zelve Fairy Chimneys. I'll have to say, in my travels I have never seen a natural phenomenon that looks like this. For the record, this canyon came about from volcanic rock and erosion. Legend has it, however, that a holy man was being chased by soldiers in this valley. Through an act of God, the soldiers were transformed in rock, hence, the Fairy Chimneys were created.

There is an element of human culture that combines with the mystical quality of the geologic beauty of the formations in front of us. Remnants of ancient societies are in evidence here with old doorways and windows noted in many of the rock spires.

The next day I wake up to find that Lisa is feeling under the weather and won't be accompanying me on the planned excursion. Not to worry-I grab my camera bag and hop into the van. My guide and I are headed to the Rose and Red Valleys for a day's trek through some amazing terrain.

Starting at Sunset Point near Ortahisar, we hike through the Red Valley. Approaching the Panoramic View Point, dovecotes and fresco'd churches come into view. The Rose and Red valleys get their names from the reddish rose-colored rock that comprises the terroir here. The hue and intensity of the rocky contours varies depending on the time of day, season and weather conditions. The orchards and vineyards, together with the geologic formations, blend together to create a compelling landscape.

The day has come to an end. Lisa is feeling better, and we sit in a restaurant sharing a bottle of wine. My research has proven to be correct. Because Cappadochia has such natural beauty with incredible rock formations and fresco'd churches carved out of stone promontories, I feel lucky to have taken all this in. Unfortunately, I know that the specter of ISIS and the war in Syria will make travel in this part of the world dangerous for years to come.