Our van stops at our balloon, which it the first in a line of other balloons. It is four o'clock in the morning. I have booked a balloon tour for me and my family with Urgüp Balloons. For many tourist visiting Cappadocia, the vast plains of central Turkey, a balloon ride is the main reason for the visit. I will admit, I too was drawn to Cappadocia after seeing beautiful photos of brightly colored balloons over the strange and surreal landscape of Cappadocia. However, unlike other tourists, I booked four days in Cappadocia and not just one in order to ride a balloon. For the past four days, I have fallen in love with this beautiful region of Turkey that is filled with history, natural beauty, delicious food and the nicest people on earth. At this point, the balloon ride is just the cherry on top.
We all squeeze into the wicker basket that hangs from out giant inflated balloon. Just over my head, I can hear the roar of the flame and feel the heat as our pilot sends the flames into the belly of the balloon. We begin the rise and my heart leaps as I feel out basket disengage from the ground. All around us, over 150 other balloons are slowly floating skyward all across the landscape. As the balloons ascend, the sunrise slowly turns the sky from indigo to pink to orange to blue. But for the occasional distance roar of a flame, the balloons are so quiet, like a swarm of jellyfish floating in a vast sea.
About 30 million years ago, volcanoes spewed ash over this landscape. Eventually, the ash solidified into rock, called tuff, tens of meters thick. In the millions of years that followed, wind and water eroded the tuff into odd shapes, including spires, cones and even a camel. The Central Anatolian Plateau was once largely covered by great lakes which dried up. The present Tuz Golü (Salt Lake) is a remnant. In more recent times, a different force went to work on the rocks of this region. The tuff was soft and easily worked, and people made this place home, hollowing out the rocks, and carving windows, doors, and curving stairways. Locals even carved churches into the rock. In 1985 Cappadocia’s Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As we rise, this landscape unfolds beneath us. Göreme is in a vast valley of fairy chimneys. My throats burns and my eyes tear up with the overwhelming beauty of the scene. The sun greets us as it rises over the flat plateau in the distance. As far as the eye can see, balloons fill the horizon in the quiet beauty of the morning sky. For an hour, I am mesmerized by the surreal and silent choreography of the balloons, descending and lifting, passing and circling, in the buoyant aerial ballet. At the end of our journey, we gently nestle our basket onto a truck bed. We climb out of the basket and drink a champagne toast.
A balloon ride over Göreme is a once in a life time experience. I booked our ride on line a month in advance with Ürgup Balloons. The classic flight cost 195 Euros for a one hour tour that included a shuttle pick up and drop off at our hotel. I would recommend booking well in advance if you want to ride a balloon. I also recommend that you book your ride for your first day in Cappadocia as the balloon companies will cancel if conditions are not absolutely safe. You will get a full refund if they cancel, but if you want to try again the next day, it may be hard to reschedule if you have limited time. A family staying at our hotel went home disappointed because their balloon ride was canceled and they only came for two days.
What do we mean by saying “a journey to Armenia”? Walking in Yerevan? Or seeing Ararat? Or exploring Khachkars? Trying national food? Communicating with local people? Spending the night in a village house? Climbing mountains? Feeling the nature? The answer is very simple: all the above mentioned and even more.