Ok. this morning I woke up at 3.45am with a mixture of emotions, including excitement, nervousness and anxiety, the reason, at 4.30am we were being picked up to go for a hot air balloon ride. It is something that I have always wanted to do, and all the pictures of Cappadocia include this sight, but I never thought I would get the chance as it costs around 150 euros per person, which was beyond our budget, and these prices are mostly for the larger baskets where you can have over 25 people and if full you cannot see very much. However once we saw the balloons yesterday, we just had to do this 'once in a lifetime experience', and Angela the owner of the hotel did some ringing around yesterday and got us three tickets with Mecca Balloons for 130 euros each and the basket only held 18 people, so it just had to be done.
It was pretty could standing out on the road waiting for the pick-up, (we were even up and out before the first mosque call of the day), I am so glad I packed my thermals!
The minibus took us to Mecca Balloons headquarters where a Turkish breakfast was provided for us while we waited for the initial balloon preparations to take place. I have to say the breakfast looked nice but none of us ate much of it, I think 4.45am is a bit early for breakfast!
The only paperwork needed to be filled in by us was our name, age, nationality and signature, and then we were back on the minibus on our way to the launch site. Our pilot Joao Rodrigues originates from Portugal and has made over 3000 hot air balloon flights. He came to Cappadocia from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
When we arrived at the site the sky was just starting to show some light, but it was still quite dark at ground level. As we looked around we could just start to make out deflated balloons everywhere. It was quite difficult taking these photographs as it was so dark.
When we arrived our balloon had been attached to the basket and was just starting to come to life. The noise from the fans blowing air into the balloons was incredible.
One of the staff was going around taking photos of us as the balloon was taking shape and then we were told to get on board, easier said than done. The basket is divided into five compartments, the middle one being for the pilot. Fortunately there were only 10 of us including Joao, the pilot, with the three of us in one section. To climb into the basket you have three metal edged foot holds in the basket which you use as a ladder, you then have to cock your leg over the basket and lower yourself, graceful it is not!
Our pilot Joao was carrying out his pre flight checks, and gave us our final safety talk about how to brace ourselves if the landing was not going to be smooth.
He then gave the balloon several bursts with the hot burners, at this point the ground staff had to really pull onto the ropes to keep us there before we started to slowly lift from the ground.
Joao said the wig keeps his head from getting too hot under the burners!!
I have to say that for the first few minutes of the flight I kept my back against the centre partition of the basket and was sandwiched between my husband Ian and our friend Paul, until I felt confident enough to stand up against the edge of the basket and it took me several more minutes before I could look straight down over the edge of the basket.
Ok at this point I will let the photos speak for themselves as the experience was amazing. I was surprised at how gentle the whole flight was, occasionally you felt a slight rock of the basket, but considering people kept turning around to see the view the basket was very stable.
The triangle shaped object that you can see suspended in the centre of this picture is the on board camera, taking shots of us every few minutes, which can then be viewed on Maccan's Facebook Page.
Our pilot Joao was very good and kept us entertained throughout the flight. You certainly have to admire their skill, not only are they constantly having to check the situation with the balloon, they are having to look all around them, top and bottom for the position of the other balloons, plus keep an ear on the two radios that are constantly on as the ground control and the other pilots constantly communicate with each other.
Here you can see some of the ground crew support vehicles waiting to find out where they have got to go to meet their balloons. You will also notice that I am finally looking straight down from the balloon now, finally have my balloon legs!!
Some of the balloons have already landed, the landscape looks like one big parking lot!
Can you see the camel?
That's us and that's the ground looking very close to the bottom of the basket!
Yep we are definitely in the valley now.
Ian and Paul grabbed a leaf each from this tree as we drifted past.
There are balloons parked everywhere!
Here come our ground crew.
Even at the end of the flight the pilots show of their skills landing the balloons on the top of the ground crews trailers, not an easy feat, even our pilot had to have help from the ground crew with the final positioning.
Well we are down, what a ride.
We stayed in the basket while they started to deflated the balloon as this is interesting to watch. Firstly they lift off the top of the balloon to let out the air.
The ground staff giving the deflating balloon a helping hand to fall to the ground in the right direction.
We then had to get out of the basket. I had climbed up the side of the basket and then got myself in a bit of a muddle, I was then rescued by two of the ground crew who actually lifted me and carried me down to ground level, two very brave souls, I hope their backs are ok!!
We were then treated to a glass of champagne and a speech by Joao on the tradition of champagne and hot air balloons. Legend has it that early French hot air balloon pilots carried champagne to appease angry or frightened spectators at the landing sights. Joao has added a Turkish twist by cutting the top of the bottle with a fancy Ottoman looking knife to add to the spectacle.
We were then given a certificate of our experience, plus you could purchase a souvenir copy of the photos taken by the lady at the start of the morning for 30tl. Then it was back on the bus for our shuttle back to our hotels, just in time for breakfast.
Not a sight you see everyday, an inflated balloon driving down the road!
After a leisurely breakfast we decided to have a walk to Pigeon Valley via a couple of cave churches that are not on the main tourist route, but mention to us by Angela the owner of our hotel. The first called Yusuf Koç, the second I don't remember the name of.
We found the first, Angela had warned us that it may be locked and if so we were to go to the house behind and ask for the key, which we did. Climbing up the rickety stairs to the church was worth it, he paintings in the church, apart from being defaced, where brighter and more intact than the ones we had seen in the Göreme Open Air Museum.
This donkey was making quite a racket when we walked down the track to the church, but on the way back he seemed to have come over all shy and was trying to hide from us.
We didn't find the second but we found a third larger one with no sign post. This was one of the largest carved churches we have seen on our visit, and the carvings looked more modern and more intricate than we had seen before.
The carved structure to the side looked like it was quite large, with lots of connected rooms, although there was no access to these.
We then carried on to Pigeon Valley, as we started to enter into it, it felt like autumn had arrived. One thing we have noticed in this area is how autumnal the trees look, as the weather here in autumn is cold enough to turn the leaves on the trees lovely shades of red and yellow.
We followed the path along the bottom of the valley passing through a couple of rock tunnels, before the path started to climb.
Here you can see some of the layers rock that make up the tunnel.
Now I confess I am not the most agile of people, and I have been a long a few goat tracks this last couple of days, but I totally got out of my depth along this path, My poor husband and friend really had to go on at me to keep going, until we could bet on a flatter patch. We then met a couple coming towards us who said that the path up ahead was blocked due to a rock fall, so we would have to turn back. Fortunately we found a lower route back, and later discovered that we had totally gone wrong and should have been able to get right through the valley, it still was lovely and the rock formations and carvings we saw were impressive, but I did reach my limits with my nerve.
For lunch, yes, we went to Fat Boys, as they have a lovely soft seating area out the front which was well needed after our very early start and walk through the valley. For lunch we had 2 plates of spring rolls with Thai dip and a plate of şakşuka (diced aubergine, potato, zuccini and onion, fried in tomato sauce, served with bread, 3 coffees and 2 cokes comes to 30tl. After lunch we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta.
Once again the weather was beautiful, we learnt from yesterday and didn't put on so many layers, as more sunshine bathed us throughout the day.
Again, being creatures of habit, we went back to Fat Boys for our evening meal, we all opted for the well publicised Cappadocian Kebab Pot, we had the beef one, 3 of these, with 3 bottles of Tuborg and 2 coffees came to 104tl. The dish comes in a sealed pot, traditionally sealed with a piece of pastry, but these days a piece of tin foil. The pot is then cracked open at the table, the food inside was molten hot and very tasty, but you do have to be careful in case you your pot didn't break cleanly!!
Walking back to the hotel we were walking though a light shower, and a little nip in the air than the last few nights.