If you are looking for an exotic place to visit in the middle of autumn, a place where you can get lost and feel as if you're in a fairy tale, then you should go to Cappadocia.
It is like being Alice in Wonderland.
For this reason, I was not surprised to learn that Apple has shown the mesmerizing Cappadocia balloon flights in a recent advertisement.
“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” author L.M. Montgomery once said, and “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower," Albert Camus said about fall.
Cappadocia is one the most beautiful places in the world to enjoy in autumn.
When my friend picked me up from the Nevşehir airport on Monday morning, we stopped by Avanos, a small town near the Kızılırmak River, which is famous for its pottery. You can visit pottery stores there and even try to make pottery yourself; then, you can walk by the Kızılırmak River and feed the ducks and geese, especially if you'd like to take pictures of them.
My hotel was in Göreme, a city surrounded by natural formations called fairy chimneys and one where you can feel as if you are living in a fairy tale. It is also famous for Göreme National Park, with numerous churches carved into the rock.
These are the churches that were actually used for protection by the early Christians. Here you can even find beautiful samples of Byzantine art. The frescos that can be seen here are considered to be some of the most important examples of post-iconoclastic art.
It is believed that the houses and churches were carved into the rocks of Cappadocia in the fourth century at the command of St. Basil of Kayseri (Caesarea).
Besides the Churches inside the grounds of the national park's open-air museum, you can also see the Nazar Church and Hidden Church, which are only a half mile away from downtown Göreme.
You can find many restaurants in Göreme or other nearby towns and enjoy local Turkish foods. Hotels are quite convenient and comfortable, and many of them are sculpted into the rock.
If you want to see a mesmerizing sunset, you can visit Uçhisar, only a few miles away from Göreme and known for the incredible Uçhisar Castle.
And here is the most charming part of the trip: hot air balloon flights.
The hot air balloon flights in the area started in the 1980s. Even though some may think they are a bit dangerous, the truth is, they are not so. In all these years, only a few balloon crashes have occurred. After the recent accident this past May, tighter safety regulations concerning balloon flights were introduced.
I joined a balloon flight with Anatolian Balloons and interviewed our 24-year-old pilot, Seyit Erköse.
He told me that the pilots are required to train for at least six months to be a balloon pilot. During the flight, there was another pilot right next to Erköse who was helping him and also checking everything he was doing.
The only drawback to the balloon ride, which may come as an inconvenience, is that you must wake up at 5 a.m. I would say that, yes, it is really freezing. When you go to the waiting area for the balloon flight, they serve you hot beverages and some snacks. But there is no heater in the waiting area and it is really cold.
The reason the balloon flights start so early is that they need stable winds to operate effectively. The hours following sunrise are the best for finding suitable, stable winds.
Don't be surprised when you discover that the air balloon flight prices are like those of a flight on an airplane.
It is a little expensive and may not be less than 130 euros. The prices change according to the companies and services. A 60-minute flight can cost between 130-225 euros for one person. Discounts are always possible, especially for large groups.
Erköse says the reason for the high flight prices is due to the expenses. "We use six canisters of propane gas for just one flight," he said. Then there are the personnel expenses. The companies pick up the passengers from their hotels and then take them back after the trip. A ground crew helps fill up and take down the balloon. The companies are supposed to have at least two pilots for every balloon.
There are more than 20 hot air balloon companies in Cappadocia now. Every day, close to 100 balloons appear in the Cappadocia sky. Is it safe? Erköse says that it is.
By balloon, you can see the whole of Cappadocia from the sky, at heights of up to 2,500 feet.
After a balloon flight, I recommend you see the underground city of Derinkuyu, 30 miles away from Göreme. If you go, make sure that you follow the signs in the underground city so that you don't get lost in the tunnels.
Derinkuyu was discovered in 1963. Since then, archeologists have not done much further researches on it. It is believed that it was built by the Hittites for security reasons. It is also believed that it was used by early Christians for the same purpose.
Experts believe that the underground city carries signs of both the Byzantine and Roman periods. The underground city is approximately 60 meters deep and, including the unexcavated parts, it covers four square kilometers. But only eight floors of the underground city have so far been excavated. Therefore it is not known how many floors it has.
If you'd like to spend time in an exotic place that has both history and mesmerizing natural beauty, and where you may want to just get lost, I would say try Cappadocia.
Fairy chimneys in Cappadocia
The underground city of Derinkuyu
Seyit Erköse, a balloon pilot (Photos: Aydoğan Vatandaş)