Turkey is balancing reopening their tourism industry with pandemic safety in a way that only a burgeoning autocracy can accomplish. It seems that plenty of people around the world have gotten the memo and descended upon the country. After my warm stay in Belarus, I had personally reached a point where Turkey was feeling like a home away from home. Returning there was a bastion of safety. While nearly every country is throwing up political or public health barriers to entry, Turkey is welcoming you right in. I’ll admit that years ago my first impression of the place was not great. That has really changed on this trip. It doesn’t hurt that the Turkish Lira exchange rate is insanely favorable right now. Additionally, domestic flights on Turkish Airlines are absurdly cheap ($10-$50 one-way). Everything has come together right now to make a visit to Turkey really easy pleasant. When you get to some of the popular destinations in Turkey, you’ll see that people from around the world have come to the same conclusion.
The first couple stops on this little ad hoc tour of Turkey were Ankara and Cappadocia. Ankara is a stop I can wrap up rather quickly. Basically, I made my escape from Belarus, got back to Istanbul, and considered my options. A flight to Ankara was maybe $40 and left thirty minutes after I landed. It was early evening and I just went with that to try something new and figure it out from there. Ankara has a few tourist sites, but overall I would say it is a city that a foreign tourist could skip if they were on a time crunch. I hired a driver to check out a few places and made plans for the rest of my time in Turkey. This brings me to the next stop and highlight: Cappadocia.
Cappadocia is not actually a city, but rather a region. The city that you’re most likely interested in (as a tourist) is Goreme, while the city that you’ll be flying into is Kayseri. Kayseri is a small town with a small airport, but there are pretty regular direct flights from Istanbul. From there, it’s a long ~$20-30 taxi ride to Goreme. Many people spend 3-4 days in Cappadocia, but I was trying to see other parts of Turkey as well and kept my time there a little shorter. That being said, if you only make one stop in Turkey, I’d recommend Cappadocia. It was extremely memorable.
I was quite lucky that in my limited time and with zero notice and planning, I managed to get a spot on a hot air balloon ride. These are fully booked almost every day. Also, on many days they are cancelled if the weather is even slightly inclement. When that happens, you get a backlog of tourists trying to book balloon rides. If you’re going to Cappadocia for one thing, it should be for a balloon flight, and in that case, you should allow for several days to make sure that happens. I didn’t plan for that and I just got plain lucky. The weather was perfect and there was a single spot for me on one of the premium 12-person balloons.
Most of the time, “tourist” activities are highly overrated and disappointing. That’s been my take, at least. A hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is definitely an exception. You pack one to two dozen people into one of these baskets… there’s a frenzy of activity and then… takeoff. Everyone goes silent in awe. Seriously, it’s absolutely breathtaking. The balloon moves silently, the only noise the heat being topped off. No wind, no clouds, nothing. Before you know it, there are dozens more balloons surrounding you. In the valleys below, there were weddings and crowds of onlookers. It’s a one-of-a-kind spectacle. It goes on for a few hours in the cool morning air and then it’s back to the hotel in time for breakfast and to get ready for tours for the rest of the day. It was really nice, particularly this year.