Today we continue our Topdeck Turkey Explored Tour by waking up in the Turkish capital of Ankara after a late arrival last night to our hotel. Before our bus trip to the famous Cappadocia region and after checking out of the Ankyra Hotel we will make our first stop to The Mausoleum of Atatürk in honour of the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Ankara to Cappadocia – 09 September, 2013
Having breakfast in our hotel this morning we were able to eat with an impressive view of the city from the top floor of the building. It was a little added bonus given we are not going to see anything in this city so it provided a bit of perspective on how large the capital is. Once we finished breakfast we went to check out, but on the way back to the room found a sneaky exit outside that lead to the outside roof of the building where we had a complete 360 degree view of the city.
Once we checked out of our hotel it was a short bus trip to The Mausoleum of Atatürk where we had to gain entry by getting off the bus so that the bus can be checked over for explosives (yes really for just entering a museum, but the only time this ever happened on the trip) and we all had to get off the bus and walk through metal detectors. This process only takes 2 minutes as we were the first tour bus for the day.
The bus then drops us off at the beginning of this massive monument where we are greeted with the changing of the guard, theses soldiers look really young and I assume they are here to serve their national service as it is compulsory to do so in Turkey. After the changing of the guard was complete we learnt some facts about why this monument was built and what it means to the people of Turkey. A demonstration of how much this man meant to the people of Turkey I even saw pictures of Atatürk on the wall of people’s homes as I walked past.
We all then walked down the Road of Lions, a long avenue leading up to the main monument lined with pairs of lions to represent power and peace. The pavement on the ground has been laid out so each tile has a gap between it and the next, this is so people walking down the avenue watch where they are stepping and approach the area in a respectful manner. Our guide told us it was to force you to look down so you are bowing your head to the Turkish flag at the end of the avenue. Of course then everyone tried walking without looking down, but it was hard not to. Although it makes you think later on, would we have still looked down if he hadn’t said anything…
Once at the end of the avenue you are greeted with the great expanse that is the main square, you could easily fit a couple of thousand people in this space alone. We then went inside the Mausoleum of Atatürk, his final resting place is a large tomb at the end of the building. The tomb itself is symbolic as with Muslim culture the body must be buried within the dirt, Atatürk is buried under this tomb.
From here we then went on a self guided tour of the rest of the Mausoleum which includes an amazing museum underground demonstrating the Turkish perspective on World War I and Gallipoli as well as some of Atatürk’s personal effects, paintings and other Turkish cultural items.
This was a very interesting way to kick off the morning before our long drive to the Cappadocian region, back on the bus we headed there now stopping along the way at a popular salt lake called Lake Tuz where we all took our second group photo of the trip and tried our best to come up with as many silly poses as we could using the panorama feature on all our iPhones.
As we approached closer to our destination the landscape changes dramatically, the land looks more and more baron without many trees in sight, old ancient caves can start to be seen dug into hillsides that are now unsafe to occupy and have been replaced with soaring apartment towers. On arrival we stop at a lookout to grab our first close glimpse at these caves and their famous fairy chimneys, this is as close as we get today as we will be having dinner inside the cave of a local family tonight and tomorrow morning most of us will take up the optional extra activity of Hot Air Ballooning over the region, the thing I’ve been looking forward to most.
We checked into our hotel and as there was a shortage of rooms on the first night, some of us had to go from twin share to triple share, which was fine as we were all getting a new room the next night. Our hotel for the next two nights was the Altinyazi Hotel that featured a large pool for everyone to enjoy, we had a few hours to kill before jumping on the bus and heading out for dinner at the home of a local family.
On arrival we were greeted by the family hosting us tonight and it couldn’t be a more authentic experience with the mother and grandmother in the kitchen cooking up a storm while the father greeted everyone and their sons became our waiters for the evening. The cave was fully decked out with rugs on the floor along with pillows and tables as we all sat down for the feast we were about to enjoy. Dinner is included as part of the tour, however like with any included meals you need to pay extra for drinks.
After dinner everything was cleared up including the tables to make room for dancing, most people got involved including our bus driver which was a massive highlight. All in all it was a fantastic night and a unique experience, we headed back to the hotel with most people straight off to bed ready for the early 5:00am rise for Hot Air Ballooning.
Cappadocia – 10 September, 2013
The day I had been waiting for had arrived, I was really looking forward to going on my very first Hot Air Balloon minus the 5:00am wake up time. But once up and waiting out the front of the hotel to be picked up the excitement kicks in and you don’t mind being up despite the chilly morning (even more chilly when the back door of the mini van we were in didn’t close properly). Most people on the tour decided to go so we were split up into two smaller groups and occupied two balloons.
We were taken to the site where most of the balloons will be launching from this morning and are provided with some morning tea to warm us up while the balloons are being inflated around us. Within 20 minutes of arriving most of the balloons were up and away with the morning sun starting to peek over the horizon.
Being my first time in a Hot Air Balloon I had all sorts of fears going through my mind on what it would feel like to be floating up in the air, simply put you feel nothing and if you had your eyes closed you wouldn’t even know you had lifted off from the ground it was that smooth.
As all the 70 odd balloons started drifting in the same direction we passed many of the cave formations that we would later on in the day get up close and personal with. Our balloon even came very close to hitting a minaret on one of the mosques below, but our pilot was very skilled and navigated it with ease constantly communicating with the ground team via radio.
Towards the end of the one hour flight we were taken down into a valley of the famous fairy chimneys, our pilot even cracking a joke telling us not to touch them as a woman did a few days ago and they grew overnight (check out the shape of the fairy chimneys to get that joke). Our balloon then came in for a perfect landing on the back of the trailer it was transported to the site in.
Afterwards a bottle of sparkling white wine is popped (not a very nice one but it’s the custom of it all) and everyone toasts to a successful flight. We are then all handed out a commemorative certificate before we are picked up by the mini van and taken back to our hotel. Definitely one of the best experiences in Turkey, don’t let the price put you off and just do it, you won’t regret it.
On return to the hotel most of us went into the restaurant to grab a quick breakfast and then get ready for the day ahead of sight seeing. Our first stop for the morning is the Devrent Valley where we get up close and personal with this strange lunaresque landscape and learn more about how this area was formed thousands of years ago and who, why and when people started using the many hundreds of cave formations.
We are then taken to the Zelve Open Air Museum which is an entire abandoned town full of many caves containing homes, rooms and some stunning churches and burial grounds. The heritage listed site will cost 8 Lira to enter and is well worth the visit as our guide takes us around to each of the main attractions and explains the signifance of them all and offeres suggestions on what to see in our spare time.
Later on in the day we stopped off at another site which we flew over in our Hot Air Balloon earlier in the morning, we were free to climb throughout the rocky ruins. Following this we were dropped off in town to grab a late lunch before heading back to the hotel for a spare couple of hours to relax.
Tonight we have an optional extra activity of going out to dinner and a Turkish Night Show, the cost is 100 Lira which includes a three course meal and unlimited drinks… I think you now know where this is heading after the phrase unlimited drinks has been used.
The restaurant has been decked out in the style of a Cappadocian cave with five sections splitting off surrounding the centre performance area. We are treated to a performance from a belly dancer and also some traditional Turkish dancers who are telling the story of a Turkish wedding day.
Back to those unlimited drinks… Those who have travelled outside Australia would know that most countries do not have the same ‘responsible service of alcohol’ concept that we do back at home. A drink such as a simple Vodka and Orange Juice in Australia will have 30ml of Vodka while anywhere else the drink will have more Vodka than Orange Juice. These and Vodka and Cranberry Juice seem to be the main drink of the night and you know things are going to get messy when your table decides it would be a good idea to skull as many of these as we could get by attracting the waiter over. 8 of these three quarter Vodka and one quarter Orange Juices plus a bit of wine later and you get a slight idea about what’s going to happen later on…
When the traditional dancing was over the music starts pumping as if we had gone back into the ’70s disco era with everyone giving their best YMCA rendition, after which it was time to jump (stagger) back onto the bus and head back to the hotel. Once we arrived back at the hotel, a separate room outside was opened up to us to play table tennis and make as much noise as we liked without disturbing other hotel guests.
After and hour or two I staggered back to my room wishing the world would end while making a new friend by hugging the toilet bowl. The funny thing being that I left the folder in the room advertising the hotel features wedged in the door so my roommate could get back in without me getting up, this meant the entire hotel were able to listen to the harmonic echoing sounds coming from me for the next hour.
Tomorrow morning we are up early with sore heads and back on the bus heading towards our next destination which is the conservative town of Konya.