Turkey: Cappadocia

Total distance travelled: 12650km

A break from the chronological narrative of the blog to write about our magical morning in Cappadocia. Ever since learning about the sunrise hot air balloon flights from Martjin Doolard's book One Year on a Bike (he uses a photograph for the front cover), Cappadocia has been firmly on the list of places to see during our pedal-powered adventure. Hilary (Olly's mum) bought us Martjin's book for Christmas in 2017, the year before we hit the road; we understood the gift to be acknowledgment, acceptance and encouragement of the journey we planned to take (interestingly, my mum also bought us several bicycle/camping themed gifts too). Martjin is still adventuring and his Instagram handle is @_espiritu.libre.
Many cycle-tourists visit Cappadocia and we have looked in awe and wonder at photographs on Instagram for the past twelve months. A trip to Cappadocia seems to be a cycle-tourist's rite of passage (one of many!) and our experience this morning absolutely proved why.

Of course, this morning actually started last night. We cycled 85km yesterday from Kayseri to Ürgüp, a nice, small town just outside of Göreme, which is the main, touristic hub for Cappadocia. To reach Ürgüp, we initially cycled along the main road, the D300. Although a dual carriageway, the road started off with a good hard shoulder and we speedily rolled along its smooth surface.

However, after pausing for lunch in a bus shelter, Olly commented that he would never consider cycling along such a road at home and neither of us were especially enjoying the traffic flying past us, albeit respectfully. There was an easy solution: a smaller and almost parallel road, the turn off for which was approaching in a few kilometres. It was just the numbers that were putting us off: the smaller road required double the amount of climbing as the main road did. But, we had time. I silenced the voice in my head that was telling me to take the quickest route so that we could "just get there". Even after a year of travelling and even when heading for Cappadocia, it is important to remember that the journey is so often just as, if not more, important than the destination.

And so we turned off the main road and it was immediately evident that we had made the right decision. There was next to no traffic on an undulating road through agricultural countryside. As we neared Ürgüp, rock formations and cave dwellings that are iconic of this region in Central Turkey started to appear and they were captivating.

Spot Olly!

It was a hot day yesterday and the cycling wasn't easy. It was mostly the good type of challenging and we rewarded ourselves in Ürgüp with an ice-cream from a shop where we also managed to buy a beer. We sat and ate the ice-creams in a small and well-maintained park just beside the shop. About fifteen minutes beforehand, we had had an emergency Mars bar and our final two cookies in order to make it the final few metres up the penultimate hill of the day which climbed 200m in six or seven kilometres. 

Olly reaching the top of the penultimate hill 

We knew that from Ürgüp we had another 200m climb to get to the Panormaic View Point which @twobiketo had recommended to us as a starting point for finding an epic camp spot. @twobiketo are British couple Matt and Becky who recently arrived back in the UK after completing a year-long cycle tour. We have never met, but did really enjoyed following their adventure on Instagram and found many of their posts inspirational.

As we left Ürgüp we joined the throng of tourist traffic and bumped along a cobbled street and past more, better-preserved cave dwellings. We briefly stopped to admire them, but pausing on a climb, especially a busy one like this, is never a good idea.

We finally saw the brown sign pointing right towards the Panoramic View Point and we squinted at it in the evening sunlight. It was about 18.00 and we felt we had made good time and should be able to enjoy the sunset which we find to be surprisingly early, about 19.30.

We joined a queue of cars all heading towards the Red Valley for sunset. We were a bit miffed that we had to pay 4 Lira each to access the view point, but this could have been avoided, we now know, had we followed a different track. We were just anxious to find a good spot before the sun went down and so we stuck to the main, obvious route. Also, 4 Lira is about 60p.

It was when we turned off the road and onto a track leading into the valley that the fun started! Initially, the track we followed was big enough for vehicles and a few did take it to find a more secluded spot from which to watch the sun go down. Before too long, though, we were walking with our bikes and bumping and skidding along sandy, hiking trails in search of our top spot.

We were soon joined in our quest by Davide, an Italian cycle tourist. With much fatter tyres, he was calmly pedalling along the trails whilst we clambered all over the rosy rocks. The setting sun cast such a beautiful warm glow over the pink stones.

Davide ventured up higher than we dared to and shouted down that he had found the perfect place up on a plateau. We had settled on a spot a little lower down by this point, but couldn't resist taking a peak. As soon as we did, we realised that we had a hard job ahead of us as we would be lugging all of our stuff up there! The views over the valley were awesome and afforded what we hoped would be a brilliant vantage point for the hot air balloons rising in the morning.

Olly checking out the views from our initial camp spot

Our first camp spot came with a friendly dog

It was a truly laborious task - for Olly. My job was to pitch the tent before the light completely faded, and by this point it was fading fast! As Olly struggled with the bikes, pushing and pulling them up steep, narrow, winding tracks, I pushed tent pegs into the sandy and rocky ground. The tent was up and just in time for the wind really picked up; before we went to bed a few pegs were blown clean out of the ground. 

The sunset was sublime, but due to running maniacally around the Red Valley's trails and then frantically setting up camp, we didn't take any photos of it. It was a clear night and the moon shone bright in the deep, rainbow-coloured sky. I love when the sky displays such a spectrum of colour. Stars twinkled and a saxophonist started to play in the café at the official view point behind us. Although I think we would have preferred the feeling of being quite alone in this magical place, it was nice inflating the Therm-a-rests to George Michael.

As Olly quickly had a Sea2Summit sink wash, I found out my head torch for by now it was dark. We then set up our chairs and started rummaging around in the food pannier. It was not quite the relaxed and serene evening I had envisaged: sipping beer and chatting about the almost 13000km we had pedalled to get to this point. It was dark and getting very cold by recent standards. The wind was fierce and blew anything left unattended, even for an instant, frighteningly close to the edge of the plateau. We got some water on to boil and snapped a load of spaghetti in half and dunked it in the water causing Davide to wince!  He cried out in horror when I told him that I hadn't added salt to the water either!

Davide is from Bergamo in Italy and has been on the road for four years. It was such a pleasure to meet him and it was inspiring to hear a few of his tales. Davide had taken a few books with him to his friend, Dino's, house one summer. One of the books was Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Sibera.  Rob is a great mate of Al Humphreys and is mentioned in Al's books too. Davide declared to Dino that the following year he was going to cycle the Pan-American Highway, did Dino want to come? Dino didn't, but Davide's mind was made up, and he left for Alaska with Patagonia as his goal. 

Davide said that he had no experience of cycle touring before he set off, but Al Humphreys had emailed him to say that none is required: you just have to step out of your front door and start pedalling. Davide talked about hypothermia, grizzly bears and being held at gun-point (sort of, it wasn't a real gun...). He told his tales calmly and seemed so wise. It was when he was in Colombia, a country he calls "the university of life", that he decided that after cycling the Americas, he would have a go at Africa too. He recently arrived in Turkey from Egypt and is now headed for home - for a while at least.

Davide was great: humble and honest and he told us how he has been supporting himself through creating postcards and paintings; he gives talks about his adventures to date when he can too. You can find Davide on Instagram @davidetravelli And yes, that is his real name. It was clearly meant to be. He said he has no idea how he'll return to an office job. We encouraged him not to...

Davide had set up camp a little further down from us near a cave, and he arrived to say hello just as I had planned to have a dip in the sink. As such, I opted for a baby wipe wash just before bed instead! We had one of our most hurried dinners of the trip and then got straight into bed. It was cold and windy; it felt like the tent might take off, and we felt like excited children on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus.

The wind didn't make falling to sleep easy, but suddenly my alarm was sounding and I quickly pulled on my clothes. I had set the alarm for 4.50 as sunrise is just after 5 and I didn't want to miss a thing! As I peeled myself out of the warmth of the inner of the tent, the cold air hit me. Upon emerging into the morning of our Cappadocia day, it was clear that at 4.50, not much was going on. I got back into my sleeping bag and set the alarm again, allowing myself ten more minutes to snooze. I continued to do this until 5.30 when the roar of inflating balloons, that we had been able to hear for about 20 minutes, was coupled with the first sightings of the balloons too. I squealed for Olly to join me.

The view out over the valley at 5.30

The beginning

What followed was simply magical. Despite having seen lots of photos of the hot air balloons rising into the sunrise in Cappadocia, I realised as I stood spotting balloons lying on their sides (I could only count five initially), slowly enlarging, that I had no idea what to expect. Later on in the morning (so at about 08.00!), Olly admitted that he had wondered whether it would all be worth it as he fought to get the bikes up to our camp spot. He said it was!

The first balloon - apparently all of the pilots are keen to be number 1 
And then there were two

Slowly at first, and then all of a sudden, what must have been one hundred hot air balloons rose into the morning sky. The sky was a pale spectrum of colours at first, but then as the sun appeared from the mountain behind us, it became a brilliant and clear blue. It was fascinating to see the balloons rising so quickly, and they went straight up before the pilots started to play with fire and facilitate the balloons' gentle drifting across the sky, and occasional rapid descending before floating up again too.

It was spectacular! We hurried to the end of the track with our chairs and food panniers in order to make a hot drink and eat the packet of biscuits we had bought especially for our early morning feast. We couldn't sit still for long though, constantly hopping up to take photos and desperately trying to capture such a special scene (unfortunately the lens on Olly's super camera has broken and so it was our phones and the point-and-click at work). I had such a brilliant time, that I feel I can't properly remember a thing. We were completely caught up in our Cappadocia day.

It had been our plan for a while to spend two nights here and so today, after slowly packing away and shaking sand from everything, we started the difficult return journey to the main road so that we could cross over to the other side of valley and spend a night in a paid campsite in Göreme (I needed a shower!). Olly had scouted out an alternative and less ridiculous route, and we managed to push and pull our bikes down from the picturesque plateau to the smooth, paved road in an hour. We were really pleased! (The journey did involve two falls, both me, and some run over feet, also me.)

The journey to Panorama Camping was straightforward though involved more bumpy cycling along busy, cobbled roads. We passed tourists queuing for caves and I wondered if they too had had such a magical morning. Perhaps they had even been in a balloon! Word on the street is that balloon flights need booking up to eight weeks in advance and cost between 100 and 200 Euros per person. We had waved at the folk in one of the baskets that had got close.

The moon and stars are now out again as I write this and it's approaching 9pm. Seeing as we're here, I see no reason not to set my alarm again for the 5.30 in the morning... It was so dreamlike and I would just love to see the balloons dancing in the sunrise again.

Time Lapses