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How do you describe the feeling of total freedom? I think it is very difficult to do. Once, I think, I came as near to being a bird as I will ever be. The hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia’s landscapes as the sun rose was one of the few times when I got to experience total freedom.
I had to wake up at an ungodly hour to be picked up and taken to a field where I would board a hot air balloon. We got up at 3 am and put on layers of clothing. It was pitch black outside and bitterly cold. The ride to the hot air balloon field took us about an hour. Once there, we were thrilled to be served some strong Turkish coffee.
Gradually, as the twilight came, I was able to see hundreds of balloons spread out on the ground all around us serenely waiting to be raised into the sky. Soon, every single balloon was at some stage of being set up. Hot, bright gusts of air were thrust into the canopies and one by one the balloons gently rose from their earthly bounds to seek freedom.
We climbed into the basket and suddenly we were airborne. In the first light I could see hundreds of other balloons mushrooming out of the earth and up into the air.
There was a lot of chatter at first as we rose. The pilots sorted out between each other who was going to go first and which route they were going to take. Then there was absolute silence. We gently gained height and drifted with the morning breeze. The air felt soft and silky. The magnificent landscape unfolded right before me and in that moment I felt still and at peace with the world.
We watched the sun rise over the hills and bathe the landscape of Cappadocia in a rose gold light. It was like looking at a painting by Salvador Dali or something dreamed up for a futuristic fantasy film. I saw cones and tall pillars that looked like sentinels of some petrified army. It reminded me of the moonscape with eroded, cracked rock formations in the shape of chimneys.
Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia
Cappadocia, standing 1,000 meters above sea level, is a high plateau. It is pierced by volcanic peaks created between nine and three million years ago. The volcanic peaks, also called tent rocks or earth pyramids are best known as “fairy chimneys.” They may range from 1.5 to 45 meters (4.9 to 147.6 ft) in height and consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each fairy chimney from the elements. They usually protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or an area of land where precipitation collects and drains off into a river or body of water.
Subterranean Cities of Cappadocia
The area’s most extraordinary period occurred when it became a refuge for Byzantine Christians. They chiseled homes, churches and monasteries in the soft rock. The persecution they experienced, first by Romans and then by Muslims, caused them to abandon the cave dwellings and go deep underground. Beneath Cappadocia’s rock formations is a network of subterranean cities, connected by narrow tunnels, capable of housing up to 10,000 people each. There are stables, churches with altars and baptism pools, special walls with air circulation holes, granaries and kitchens.
Today, many cave dwellings and fairy chimney chapels have been converted into boutique hotels.
The plateau is a very fertile land as well and is dotted with villages, fields, orchards, and vineyards.
Hot Air Balloon Ride over Cappadocia
Our pilot was very skillful and guided the balloon within touching distance of the fairy chimneys. Sometimes we were cruising lower than the peaks of the fairy chimneys and when we thought we could almost touch the rock formations, he would sweep us up into the air again.
It was difficult to decide whether to photograph the sunrise with a myriad of balloons around us scattered like colorful butterflies in the clear sky or to photograph the lunar scenery below. I realized that I was experiencing the pictures I saw in books, on postcards or on Instagram.
I consider my Cappadocia hot air balloon flight as one of my life’s greatest thrills.