The Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia look surreal, otherworldly, as though you’ve just walked onto a fantasy movie set. Part of the drama comes from traveling quickly from sea level to the thousand-foot elevation comprising central Anatolia. The formerly lush, green seaside vistas have become a high, wide plateau, brown and plain. Mile after mile, flat and dry, never an undulation of the landscape much less a hill in sight.
Suddenly on the horizon looms two 9000 foot volcanic mountains, Mt. Hasan and Mt. Erciyes. Their last eruption occurred around 6000 BC, which makes them “active” volcanos in geologic terms. They left behind hundreds of feet of volcanic ash that hardened into rock called tuff. Then over top of it, the volcanoes spewed a layer of molten lava forming a hard black basalt layer.
Basalt over tuff
The beautiful undulations in the scene below suggest how erosion has been at work on tuff exposed to the elements over millennia. Before you travel to Cappadocia, you may want to visit the Smithsonian Magazine for more photos and info.
The Ozkonak Valley (below) with its tall basalt topped columns (some 130 feet in height) is colloquially referred to as the “Valley of Love,” a none-too-subtle anatomical reference. Somebody had lowered a couple of divans from the parking lot above to an adjacent ledge over-looking the whole valley. At the time I was photographing the site I quite deliberately cut it out of the frame because it seemed tacky and inauthentic. Now that I’m home, l remember it as an amusing anecdote.
How safe is a hot-air balloon ride?
Going up in a hot-air balloon may sound to some seniors like a high adventure sport, but I don’t think so. If you are healthy enough to get to Turkey, you’d be just fine in a hot air balloon. Besides, it’s the absolute best way to see the fairy chimneys and the various other valleys, some a lovely shade of pink. So, my answer to the question of how safe a hot-air balloon ride is has to reside in the skill-level of the pilot. Always use a reliable company–that’s just common sense. A senior friend of mine in less than stellar health counts the hot-air balloon ride as the most memorable part of a wonderful visit in Turkey.
Now here comes the sad part! We could not rise into the air to see the fairy chimneys either of the mornings we were in Cappadocia. Typically the balloons load with visitors at 5:30 AM just as the sun rises. But on all the days of our visit, the hot air balloon company said the winds were going to be very strong and it was too dangerous.
Later that morning when I viewed the group picture a photographer had taken, at first I couldn’t find myself. Weird! I was sure I’d been there! Then I realized I was the person with hair standing on end. A sudden updraft had literally raised my hair straight out in a sort of dandelion-gone-to-seed effect. Laughing about the photo partially mitigated my acute disappointment in missing the aerial view from the hot-air balloon. On another level, though, I appreciate the safety measures in place for hot-air balloons.
If you want an armchair experience, you might go to the blog post, “Hot Air Balloon Flight Over Cappadocia, Turkey.”
Life in a cave
One advantage of visiting Goreme with a native son was the chance to meet his friends who so graciously invited us into their fairy chimney home. As is customary, they served us either hot apple or Turkish tea while we chatted. I had thought caves were by definition dark and dank places. Not this one! For one thing, their home was all above ground and for another, it was carved out of the relatively soft tuff, a breathable rock. The family had lived in the “fairy chimney” for many generations, and over the years had added modern conveniences to the interior, including electricity and running water.
Once Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, however, the government instituted strict measures to prevent home owners from making changes. All old homes were photographed and each year comparisons are conducted. Infractions are met with state confiscation of property. I can understand the impulse to preserve what is unique. But I can’t understand the new hotels I saw under construction. Built by corporations as an invasion into the historic cave system, it seems sort of like an Orwellian, “some pigs are more equal than others” situation to me.
A modern car and a satellite dish outside their home didn’t seem surprising, really (although the privy did). But I loved the bird pole forest on the patio before the front door.
The couple’s home felt comfortable, with rock walls covered in rugs, paintings, photos, and embroidery. Upholstered divans lined the living room area on all sides, and handmade rugs by the woman of the house and by family members of earlier generations covered the floor. The textiles had that dusky look of age, which made them even softer and more lovely.