So, who wants to crawl out of a comfy bed in the pre-dawn hours while on vacation? In Cappadocia, everyone does when it means watching the sunrise kiss the summit of Mount Erciyes from a colorful hot air balloon! As dawn breaks, we are treated to a bird’s eye view of the famous “fairy chimneys;” the fantastical wind-sculpted geological formations for which the area is renown. Photographic opportunities abound as our skilled pilot ensures we have amazing views of villages and countryside alike, while dropping us into historic valleys then rising over spectacular ridges.
While some of the formations are still occupied, being rock-hewn family dwellings, many caves were carved out to serve as beautifully frescoed Christian churches from the 10th to the 12th centuries. These form part of the Göreme Open Air Museum (a UNESCO Word Heritage Site), which we visit on a more earthly plane, as well as a charming ridge walk along Pigeon Valley. For those of us still keen to climb, there is monumental Uçhisar Castle, which provides panoramic views from the top of the fortifications tunneled through the natural peak.
As breathtaking as the landscape is, the cultural heritage is equally rich. We visit the atelier of master ceramicist Galip Körükçü, whose works are found in museum collections globally, and who teaches internationally as well as at his studios. He specializes in Turkish designs, but also produces museum-quality reproductions of Hittite ceramics that we recognize immediately from the National Museum in Ankara and the site of the capital of the Bronze Age Hittite Empire, Hattusa, and its sacred sanctuary at Yazilikaya, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, that we visit en route to Cappadocia.
We also have the rare opportunity to experience an evening Sufi religious service, after which the practitioners kindly repeat the whirling portions of the service for photographs. This is held in a former caravansary, an ancient hostelry, many of which continue to serve as museums and restaurants.
These are just a taste of what awaits for those joining the optional Cappadocia extension to the Circumnavigation of the Black Sea expedition…provided you don’t mind departing your own cozy cave for an early morning (yes, you really do stay in very luxurious caves).