Waking up at 4 am for any activity is no fun, but I’ll make an exception for hot air ballooning. The spectacle of literally dozens of balloons rising into the sky with the sunrise in the background is a unique sight, and to witness it one must travel to Cappadocia. And that was our last major destination in Turkey, but first we made a more spiritual stop at a place known for its Sufi mystics, the city of Konya.
The drive from Antalya to Konya takes one through the Taurus Mountains, and is very picturesque. After sadly bidding farewell to Kaleici, with a beautiful carpet stashed away in the car trunk, we were on the road en route to Konya. We took our first break after about a couple of hours in Manavgat. We stopped at a little cafe, ordered some tea and pastries, turned out there was an electricity breakdown in the city, later on we came to know this was a nation wide blackout, and as with all such things conspiracies have abounded regarding this. The staff was just sitting down to lunch and very generously insisted that we at least try out some of the food, their Bulgar pilaf was probably the best rendition of the dish I have had. Back on the road we soon got to the mountainous terrain, we came across fruit vendors, selling fresh fruit and various preserves, we stopped to procure some fruit for the way. There was plenty of snow on the mountains and it got rather cold but the drive itself was very scenic, and we stopped a couple of time to enjoy the views. We took a lunch stop at the Zirve Service Area, there are caverns in the area one can explore, unfortunately we did not have the time to do so, this time around. The drive into Konya city gets boring as one goes through the industrial area before getting to the old city. We checked into the Hich Hotel, this turned out to be an interesting place, the decor was in a word, exquisite, the whole place had been designed and built with a lot of passion, with great attention to detail, I would definitely recommend the place. After a little rest we went exploring the area. What draws most people to Konya is the Sufi tradition which can be traced back to Mevlana Jalaludin Rumi. Since visiting hours for Rumi’s mausoleum were over, we visited the Aziziyah Camii and the Mausoleum of Shams Tabrez, this mausoleum is symbolic as Shams himself left Konya and there is a dispute as to where he is buried, two claimants to this honor being Khoy in Ajerbaijan and Multan in Pakistan. We roamed around the market and observed that the people had a very different attitude here as compared to the more touristy places, we had countless cups of tea as the shopkeepers insisted on this hospitality as soon as we stepped in. After a quick dinner we called it a day.
The next day we headed to Rumi’s mausoleum. It is quite the experience, one walks past tombs of members of the Sufi order, each marked by the deceased’s turban, the highest and biggest of these is the tomb of Rumi himself. Besides the mausoleum the quarters have now been converted into a museum with props depicting the Sufi life. It takes about 3 hours to visit the place. We headed back to the bazaar to get some souvenirs, once again we were surprised by the generosity of the shopkeepers in Konya. The is a mehfil e sema or the ceremony with the whirling dervishes at the cultural center in the city, it is an exhilarating experience and a must do while in Konya. That evening we had a leisurely meal at the Mevlevi Sofrasi Restaurant, the food and service was excellent and it is definitely recommended. The following morning we were back on the road.
The final stop on the trip was Cappadocia, the magical land of fairy chimneys and underground cities. The drive from Konya to Cappadocia was uneventful and a little monotonic till we got closer to Cappadocia where the terrain became interesting. There are several towns where one can stay in Cappadocia including the more popular Goreme, along with Urgup, Mustafpasa and Uchisar. We chose the Goreme Cave Suites in Goreme for our stay. Many of the hotels in the area are built around the natural cave formations, our hotel had similar architecture. We got in late in the afternoon, booked a hot air balloon ride for the following morning and then headed out to explore the town and get some food. The economy of the area seems to be heavily dependent on tourism, there are a number of good restaurants and cafes. It seems that a culinary specialty of the area is “Pottery Kebab” which we had for dinner, perhaps it had been oversold by everyone at the hotel and the restaurant and all I can say is that it was pretty underwhelming. The balloon companies arrange pick up from hotels about a couple of hours before sunrise and take the passengers to the balloon launch site after a buffet breakfast. Due to a misunderstanding we thought that we would be picked up at 5 am, however we got a call form the reception at 3:45 that the pick up from Turkiye Balloons would be here in 15 min, A and I had to rush to get ready in 15 minutes and were on our way. I have been hot air ballooning other places as well, but the spectacle of dozens of balloons going up is unique to Cappadocia. The ride itself was a lot of fun, with breathtaking views, and our pilot M was very informative and entertaining, A was a bit taken with him. The ride lasted for 40 minutes and after a celebratory drink we were schlepped back to out hotel.
We caught up on our sleep after getting back, waking up around 10 am. After a second breakfast, yes hobbits had it right!, we headed to explore the area. First on the list was a tour of one of the underground cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, the cities were built as shelters form various invaders over the centuries and were inhabited as late as the early 20th century. We started off navigating towards Derinkuyu but due to my bad navigational skills stumbled upon Kaymakli fist, and decided to visit it this time around. Although we ventured in without a guide, I would definitely advise a guided tour in retrospect.
We wanted to explore one other town in Cappadocia, decided to check out Urgup and also get lunch there. We had a nice lunch at a cafeteria type restaurant, then went exploring the town. Our first stop was Kocabag Wineries, the staff was very friendly and helpful, it turned out one could taste wines there and purchase a bottle but there was no place to sit and have a glass there, they did however point out a place nearby where they did sell by the glass. Wandering on we came across a religious school Urgup Muftulugu and decided to see what the place was all about, the gentlemen there were very polite and hospitable, although the language barrier made communication very hard. They insisted that we have tea, gave us a tour of place, and a couple of brochures on their institute. Another short walk later we came to the Effendi Wine House, it was slow there and the bartender made us feel very welcome, we sampled some of their wines, then enjoyed a glass in the bar. It was time to head back to Goreme, we stopped for dinner at Sedef Restaurant, another place I would definitely recommend, before going back to the hotel.
The next morning we started the journey back to Istanbul, it was an 8-9 hour trip taking us past Ankara and back to Istanbul…..