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A PERFECT DAY in URGUP, CAPPADOCIA

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The components of a perfect day:

  • Shopping
  • Massage
  • Good food
  • Warm weather

SERINN HOUSE

At breakfast (a pancake-like item that Serinn House makes to order) I tell Eren about the necklaces I spied in a small shop on Gulluce Caddesi (street).

“Never pay more than 95 Turkish Lira (TRY) for silver!” instructs Eren. She tells me that the shopkeepers buy it by the kilo and that they expect you to negotiate. I’m not that good at negotiating.

URGUP

I can’t choose between the necklaces. The shopkeeper polishes my favorite four, helps me to try them on, compliments me on the look. I narrow it down to the one with blue and gold accents.

Necklace

“195 TRY,” says the shopkeeper.

“150 TRY,” I reply.

“195 TRY. It is a good price. Discounted just for you.”

“Ok.”

I produce a credit card and the shopkeeper asks that I pay 185 TRY with my card and 10 TRY in cash. Whatever.  He rings-up the necklace for 185 TRY and pockets the remaining 10.

“My tip,” he explains.

URGUP SEHIR HAMAMI

I can’t believe it’s 90 degrees out and I’m going to a sauna.

Urgup Sehir Hamami (the city turkish bath), a domed century-old building situated in the center of town, is difficult to miss.

Urgup Hammam Exterior

Inside, I’m instructed to undress (I’ve brought my swimsuit) in one of the changing rooms and my belongings are locked in a locker.

Urgup Hammam Lobby

Wrapped in a towel, I’m escorted to the bath area, a large common space surrounded by smaller shower rooms. An octagonal slab bathed in light from a glass dome overhead dominates the area. I lie here on my back, roasting slowly. So far it’s more pleasant than my only other hammam experience in Essaouira, Morocco, where I laid in the dark on a concrete floor until a girthy woman clad only in a prodigious brassiere and tighty whities snuck up behind me, poured a bucket of water on my head, then scrubbed me down like a bad potato.

I’m happy to see that my tellak (masseur) here is a young, attractive Turkish man. He leads me into a private room where he lathers, loofahs and rinses me, then applies a pressure point massage that’s therapeutic almost — but not quite — to the verge of being painful. Eren had warned me that, although her male guests love the hammam, it’s too much for some of her female guests, but I feel great. My skin is soft and my muscles weak.

I slouch my way back through Urgup to Serinn House.

ZIGGY CAFE

Post-nap (awoken by the Call to Prayer), I cut through the Urgup alleyways and arrive at Ziggy Cafe, a 10-minute walk from Serinn House.

Urgup Road Shadow

Ziggy Cafe, a restaurant and store located a restored stone house, came highly recommended by my sister, other bloggers and travel guides. I like the relaxed vibe, stylish decor and terrace view of the rocky Cappadocia landscape, so I’ve returned for my second dinner since arriving in Urgup.

Tonight I order olives, the ubiquitous Turkey eggplant and — of course — two glasses of white wine.

Dinner at Ziggys Urgup

I watch Ziggy, the terrier after which the establishment was named, dart across the street and jump onto the wall on the opposite side. A server unsuccessfully calls him back home. The couple and their daughter from Singapore with whom I shared a van and balloon ride are seated next to me, and we share photos on our phones. The gracious owner, Nuray, stops by to check on me and chat.

A pretty perfect day spent in Urgup.

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EXPLORING CAPPADOCIA: GOREME, UCHISAR and BEYOND

GOREME

My Cappadocia explorations begin at Goreme. Per Lonely Planet:

Surrounded by epic sweeps of lunarscape valleys, the remarkable honey-coloured village of Goreme, hollowed out of the hills, may have long since grown out of its farming hamlet roots but its charm has not diminished. In the back alleys new boutique cave hotels are constantly popping up but tourists still have to stop for tractors which trundle up narrow winding roads where elderly ladies dally for hours on sunny street-side stoops doing their knitting.

The description is accurate: Goreme is a sleepy town with just enough going on not to be boring. It’s a good base for exploring some of the many excellent hiking trails in the area or just wandering aimlessly to catch glimpses of real life in Cappadocia.

Goreme is situated among multiple valleys, and is the starting point for several scenic hikes, including a 1-2 hour trek through Kiliclar Vadisi:

Gnomes Hat Goreme

Or a person can tackle the stretch of the Rose Valley from here:

Cappadocia from Dervent

Plodding through these dusty, strange environs I feel like a Dothraki in search of my horse, to the point where I can hear the Game of Thrones theme song in my head.

From the town of Goreme I walk the highway to the Goreme Open Air Museum, a vast complex of rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Goreme Open Air Museum

UCHISAR

It’s possible to walk from Goreme to Uchisar uphill through Pigeon Valley, but considering that I’m traveling solo, the temperature is approaching triple-digits beneath this July sun, and the fact that I would somehow have to return to my parked car, I drive the distance.

Lonely Planet‘s description of Uchisar:

Pretty little Uçhisar has undergone rapid development since the heady Club Med days. The French love affair with the cliff-top village continues each summer as busloads of Gallic tourists unpack their joie de vivre in trendy hotels at the foot of Uçhisar Castle. The royal rectangular crag, visible from nearby Göreme, is the dramatic centrepiece of a stylish Cappadocian aesthetic, albeit at times a touch manufactured.

I park at the outskirts of Uchisar, and walk the length of the picturesque village to the castle.

Uchisar

MAZI

In addition to staying in a cave hotel and taking a hot air balloon ride, another one of the “things to do” in Cappadocia is to tour an underground city. The Mazi Underground City is one of the best known in the region.

Spoiled by the proximity between Urgup, Goreme and Uchisar, the drive down to Mazi is becoming a little long, and the route is not quite as intuitive as the map suggests. I eventually arrive at a somewhat deserted intersection, the cave entrance to the left of my car, a picnic table of swarthy men smoking and playing cards to my right. They stare at me.

I back-up, turn around and speed out of here while silently castigating myself for coming all this way and chickening out. Mustering up all the bravery I can, I stop again, turn around, continue to the underground city and swarthy men, park the car and get out, oscillating between trepidation and determination. Trepination.

One of the men gruffly beckons me over to the cave entrance — just a little hole in the wall — and hands me my flashlight. Aside from his buddies, there’s no one else in sight. I look down the hole to the long, dark tunnel below. Me, a strange man, in a foreign country, alone in in a shadowy underground city.

It’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. I hand my flashlight back to the man, apologize for inconveniencing him (not that we speak the same language), and scoot back to my car.

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CAPPADOCIA HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE at DAWN

CAPPADOCIA HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE

Two things you’ve GOT to do when visiting Cappadocia: 1) stay in a cave hotel, and 2) take a hot air balloon ride.

There are dozens of Cappadocia hot air balloon operators to choose from. Considering that I would be caged in a straw basket suspended by a large swatch of nylon held aloft by an open flame, finding THE BEST Cappadocia hot air ballon operator seemed like a good idea. In keeping with my history of impeccable travel timing, only six weeks ago two Cappadocia hot air balloons crashed, leaving three dead and more than 20 injured. The activity obviously carries some risk.

My sister, Eren and Duke Dillard, a writer at Captivating Cappadocia with whom I had exchanged tweets, all recommended Butterfly Balloons. Eren booked my one-hour flight with them for me (175 Euros).

BUTTERFLY BALLOONS

Crap. It’s 3:50 a.m. and my iPhone alarm is nagging me, dragging my Central Standard Time-programmed body from an Ambien-induced sleep. I’m so confused.

The Butterfly Balloons van picks me up at 4:15 and I share it with a couple from Singapore and their college-aged daughter. We exchange sleepy greetings.

At the Buttefly Balloons HQ we pay our balances, are assigned pilots (mine is Captain Mike), and eat a continental breakfast. We reboard our assigned van and are delivered to the Butterfly Balloons launching site where the crew is busy preparing our aircrafts for launch.

Hot Air Balloon Prep

The 16 of us assigned to Pilot Mike are divided into groups of four and placed in a quadrant of the basket (I’m with the Singapore family again). Pilot Mike educates the group on crash landing procedures with enough gravity that we pay attention and sufficient humor that we don’t become nervous.

And off we go.

Our ascension to 7,000 feet, interrupted by occasional bursts of fuel to push us upward, is peaceful. We’re one of the first Cappadocia hot air balloons off the ground, giving us the advantage of viewing the other 50 or so balloons ascending over the sunrise-lit horizon.

I love Pilot Mike. There’s something attractive about a man in charge of his craft. Pilot Mike, who moved to Cappadocia from England over a decade ago, strikes the perfect balance between professionalism and next-door-neighbor likability.  He answers our many ridiculous questions and regales us with Cappadocia hot air balloon stories, yet doesn’t hesitate to shush the conversation as he receives or imparts information over his headphones.

The other-worldly Cappadocia countryside is breathtaking from above, flattered by morning light.

Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon from Below

Cappadocia Valleys

Pilot Mike explains to us that he can control our height and rotate our craft, but he is powerless as to the direction the breezes take us, which is why he is in constant communication with his ground crew. They read the winds and speed along the roadways to greet us at our anticipated landing site.

Although I’m a fairly cautious, skeptical person, I am not the least bit worried in Pilot Mike’s hands: he knows exactly what he’s doing. He lowers our balloon skillfully until our basket lazily skims a tree top. In a Willy-Wonkaesque gesture, Pilot Mike plucks a piece of fruit from a branch and hands it to one of the passengers to sample its sour pulp.

tree from hot air balloon

We land, the Butterfly Balloons crew and Pilot Mike’s yellow lab rush us. Once released from our communal basket we’re treated to sparkling wine and cookies.

I would normally find sparkling wine and cookies at 7:30 in the morning forced and corny, but something happened up in the air and the feeling of celebration and conviviality between all of us is palpable. I break my No-Drinking-Before-9:00 a.m. rule and indulge.

Cheers!

Captain Mike Butterfly Balloons

I can’t speak to all the other Cappadocia hot air balloon operators, but I highly recommend Butterfly Balloons.

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