Up, Up, and Away, and Round and Round

Thursday, July 3, 204

Our day in the sky was supposed to start with a 4:15 am wake-up call, but the muezzin at the mosque next to our hotel made the first call to prayer at 3:27.  By 4:50 we were in the vans headed to the balloon take-off point.

WOW!  At our site there were at least half a dozen multi-colored balloons in various stages of inflation in the early morning glow.

We were prepared, as this area, somewhat desert-like, gets pretty chilly until the sun comes up. After a few minutes, our whole group (28 in all) climbed into the basket, and with the two pilots, gently lifted off. 

This experience should definitely be on everyone's Top 10 list of Must Do's.  The combination of floating gently with the breeze, the 50+ other balloons simultaneously floating all around and above and below, and the other-worldly landscape at sunrise make this a truly magical experience. 

OK, enough with the words. 

We floated at various altitudes (reaching a maximum of 700 m), and covered several kilometers over about an hour, before we touched down so softly that there was barely a bump. The pictures cannot convey the ethereal feeling. It is very quiet, except for the occasional "whoooosh" of the propane flame heating the air. At times we just hovered in one spot; other times we would come (seemingly) perilously close to a towering hoodoo and then, at the last minute, follow the air current up and over. We had a fabulous pilot.  It was hard to believe the hour went so fast. And they do just one flight a day!  Of course, there was the standard champagne-for-all as we alit from the basket, plus official "you survived" certificates for everyone. 

Then we were back on the vans and headed for an outdoor breakfast in a secluded arbor. We also saw a woman demonstrating the traditional way that she makes pita bread with a cheese filling (it puffs up when put on the hot stone).

So good.  

Then we drove to the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is really a number of fairy chimneys in a specific area, dating from the 10th to 13th centuries, that served as an early Christian monastery and its associated chapels.

What makes this place extra special (there are other similar church complexes) are the exceptionally well-preserved frescoes. Photography is not allowed, so here are some pix from the Internet.

By 9:30 we were back at the hotel! There were no other activities scheduled until 6 pm (except for an optional rug weaving demo; been there, done that), and everyone was pretty tired.  So many folks, including us, took naps.

Fully rested, it was time for lunch.  We walked a short bit into the little village at the foot of the hill and had mezzes at A La Turka restaurant. First, a basket of fabulous bread with olive oil and sesame and spices for dipping.

Then, the mezzes: a beautiful salad, smoked eggplant puree, and beans-potatoes-carrots in sauce.

Finally, the obligatory baklava. This was exceptionally good.

Then Wendy had a face massage (complete with mud!) at the spa.  

At 6 pm we headed to another hotel which is where the Whirling Dervishes can be seen. We don't say "perform", since this is really a religious ceremony. And, as such, no pictures are allowed. First, three musicians began playing. They had a tabor, a recorder-like flute, and a really large zither. Then, two Dervishes came out (it was a pretty small space). There was a black light, so their white robes fairly glowed. They went through a series of ritual bows and other movements, then began to whirl. And whirl. And whirl...all while the music was playing. After about 5 minutes, they stopped, and repeated the whole bow-whirl process two more times! At the end, the lights came up and they did some "practice" whirls so that we could take pix.

Then we went into another room where we were served a traditional Turkish dinner by the hotel staff. It was good, but not exceptional or picture worthy.  

Friday, July 4

Another early morning wake-up call for our flight back to Istanbul (but, once again, it was beaten by the muezzin chanting at 3:29).  We were all set to go by 6:00, but the breakfast dining room did not open until 6:30. So we went outside to take a little walk. WHOA!!! Balloons overhead!!!!!  So we quickly went up the stairs to the rooftop terrace and saw this:       

Amazing!!!!!  A different perspective from yesterday when we were aloft.

A quick breakfast, ride to the airport, and our 1 hour flight back to Istanbul!  It was kind of strange coming back here...on most of our other trips, we see a city and then leave. So returning here (after being away for a week), felt like coming to a place we already knew (and we're back in Europe!). By the time we got in (the flight was a little late) and got the bags loaded and drove into town, it was 11:30, so....lunch!  We went to Hamdi, a well-known and highly rated restaurant right near the Spice Bazaar. This was a food tsunami!!  In quick succession we were given puffy pita bread,

a tomato and cuke salad, something like a falafel filled with meat (tastes better than it looks),

a Turkish mince meat pizza (when we asked what kind of meat it was, the waiter replied "mince meat")...


...a plate of bulgur...

and then 2 pieces each of beef, chicken, ground meat, and vegetable shish kebab (it was coming too fast to get it all in the pictures!)

Then, of course, MORE BAKLAVA!!!! This time it was walnut.
Everyone was now suffering from an extreme case of vacation-food overload!

So we walked it off by going the half block to the Spice Bazaar. This indoor market (though much smaller than the Grand Bazaar) has been operating for centuries. Originally it was called the Egyptian Bazaar, since many of the spices came from Egypt. At one time it exclusively sold spices; now it has stores with spices, nuts, caviar, Turkish Delight, candied fruits, etc., as well as some jewelry, lamps, hookahs, and other merchandise. But they all make for a colorful experience (as the merchants try to hawk their wares) and photo op.

We had an hour to wander around, but even after buying a few gifts, we still had 40 minutes to kill. So we decided to walk around outside and head back to the meeting place at Hamdi. But as we headed to the exit the crowd was thicker and we could see people wet and with umbrellas!!!!  After 20 days of absolutely perfect weather, it was now raining. And this was one of the few days we didn't put our umbrellas in our day bags! D'Oh!  So we quickly made our way to Hamdi, where a number of our group was already waiting.  By the time it was time to go, it was pouring! And our bus could only stop on the main street across the square. So we all dashed and splashed our way over, and everyone was soaked, but all were laughing about it. A fun way to end the tour.

Our hotel for this last night was the Pera Palace. This is a Grande Dame hotel, having first opened in the 1890s (and had major renovations 3 years ago). This was the place to stay for those who traveled on the Orient Express. Indeed, Agatha Christie wrote her famous book re same in this hotel! And Hemingway also stayed here and used the hotel in one of his books. Indeed, we were lucky enough to be put in the Hemingway room! Lots of pictures and press clippings on the walls. Very luxurious.

With that, it's güle güle (goodbye) to Greece and Turkey. We didn't really know what to expect and found this trip to be magical and memorable in all respects. The people, the history, the scenery, the weather, the food, the shopping, and the chance to share it all with you. If these countries (beyond a cruise stop) weren't on your itinerary before, perhaps they will be now. 

So, Chicago here we come. You'll get more posts in in October when Wendy and Emily travel to Israel for a 10 day dual-narrative, interfaith adventure. Until then, happy travels!


wendy and wayne

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