I fell completely in love with Istanbul the first time I visited, in 2015 with my sister. When I planned my 2016 summer trip, I knew I had to go back to Turkey. I had originally scheduled a return to Istanbul followed by a few days in surreal Cappadocia, but a slew of terrorist attacks scared me off the capital. I knew I would return as soon as I could (spoiler – that was in 2019) but this time, I transited right through the horrible Sabiha Gokcen airport onward to Kayseri: the gateway to Cappadocia.
You’ve probably seen tons of pictures of Cappadocia, maybe without even realizing its in Turkey. It’s become an Instagram hotspot since tourism in Turkey picked back up, with countless influencers sharing shots of them leaning out of a hot air balloon basket, or watching balloons float dreamily across the sky at sunrise. I believe travel is beneficial no matter how you do it, but I’ve seen so many ‘Instagrammers’ visit this gorgeous part of the country without sharing a single thing about the wonderful people, the captivating culture, or the very real struggles that a lot of locals face here. I wanted to make sure I dug a little deeper here, actually hung out with locals, and learn about the place that I was in.
And guess what – I did. I feel inexplicably at home in Turkey. The language is music to my ears, even if I struggle to remember more than the basics. The men can be a bit…forward, and sometimes verge on aggressive, but in general the people are kind, welcoming and genuinely want to meet tourists rather than just selling them something. I spent five full nights in the town of Göreme and for the last four years, I’ve been dreaming of going back.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
I got the most popular activity in Cappadocia out of the way early. I landed at the nearest airport around midnight, took an hour and a half shuttle to Shoestring Cave House, and then proceeded to get up at 4:30AM to drive to a hot air balloon. These flights get cancelled regularly, if there is too much or too little wind, hence why I booked something that left me with so little sleep – I wanted to make sure I didn’t risk missing it. If your flight is cancelled, they just put you on the next day, but if you leave before you get to go up, you’re shit out of luck.
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or the distinct and ephemeral landscape of the surroundings, but this whole morning feels like a literal dream. I was disoriented and in awe of everything around us. The pilot pointed out the towns and areas nearby, which was very helpful for my first morning in the region. The best part of the views is indubitably the other hot air balloons surrounding you: if these weren’t there, it would be a lot less colorful and interesting.These hot air balloon rides are expensive – I paid 150 Euros, and I went with Royal Balloons. This wouldn’t normally be in my budget, but when there is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I have to take it. I don’t really feel the need to ever take a hot air balloon ride again, so this is something I was able to literally check off the list.
The other main activity I did was a horseback riding tour. I booked this directly through my hotel, so I don’t remember how much it cost but I don’t think it was too much. I do remember it was through the company Dalton Brothers Ranch. A lovely Turkish guy picked me up and drove me over to the ranch, where ironically my Canadian guide greeted me and got me all kitted out. I am NOT an experienced rider, so she was great at keeping me on the lead most of the time and calming my nerves. Of course the scenery was incredible, and we stopped at ancient ruins that I got to climb on and look around in, but our conversations were the best part. She was a backpacker who had stopped in Cappadocia on a long-term trip and ended up staying as long as she was allowed. We talked about how travel had changed with smartphones – she was of the internet cafe generation – and the best ways to get around and meet new people. She was just one of those cool people that I could have talked to for hours.
SHENANIGANS WITH JULIE
Those activities were great, but what really made Cappadocia for me was the last few days. I had been very lonely in my dorm. There were almost no travellers here, and literally not a single other backpacker at my hotel. I woke up one morning to the sounds of someone checking in, and as soon as she was settled I psychotically walked over and said, “Hi my name’s Bethany, do you want to be friends?”
Shockingly, this WORKED. Julie and I spent the whole rest of our stay together, going on adventures and making friends. One day we went on a hike, sans map or route. The hiking trails are extremely confusing here, and at one point I basically climbed through a ditch to avoid a rogue horse. We also stumbled upon this random oasis that I seem to be remembering as “The Secret Garden” – this was something else that felt like a dream. We were deep in the middle of nowhere, and up popped a rambling cottage, yard cluttered with curious and mysterious Turkish couple waving at as from a balcony. It was very random and very charming.
We also spent a glorious and free day with a rental motorbike (Julie drove, thank god) exploring towns other than Goreme. My favorite location was Uchisar, which I seemingly don’t have pictures of – but the town itself rises into a spire, visible from almost everywhere nearby. We clambered our way to the very top, up rusty ladders and past crumbling ancient walls. The views were stunning, and I wish I could show you, but I guess you’ll just have to go for yourself!
The next night, we went to a Turkish cultural show in a town nearby. It was pretty cool but also very touristy, with things like belly dancing and whirling dervishes. Super cool, but not necessarily the most authentic thing I’ve ever seen. The amazing part of the night came later, when we couldn’t find the taxi driver who was supposed to be taking us home. I recognized a voice nearby, and found the man who had picked me up for horseback riding a few days ago! He was with a few other Turkish and European friends, and immediately offered us a ride back to Goreme.
It turned into a night of new friends, raki shots, and Turkish dancing. We hung out with these locals for the next few days, asking them how the tourism downturn had affected their livelihoods (a lot) and finding out what they thought of the USA and Canada (very differing opinions). It was serendipitous that we ran into this guy again, and delightful that they welcomed us into their lives for a few days. Experiences like this can really make or break your opinion of a place, and man did this one give me a great opinion of Cappadocia.
Often I’m asked about my favourite country. Recently I’ve been saying Albania, but for many years I said Turkey. The next and logical question was why. I’d say, “The food, the people, the language, the history”, but that just didn’t quite get it across. Writing this post has helped me to understand why I loved Turkey so much: fortuitous friendships, natural beauty in spades, and the way it feels like home. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of this wonderful country.