A Cure to My Addiction

I am back in Paris after a lot of time spent in airports and airplanes. So much so that I don’t feel like seeing any of them for a little while!

I had a very interesting discussion with Libby, a vegetarian Jewish Canadian woman expatriated in Senegal, on the plane between Kayseri and Istanbul. We were able to have a calm discussion about the situation in Lebanon and the way people react about it in Israel where she spent a week before joining her brother in Turkey.

The rest of the trip was uneventful if not boring as I had to wait a long time in Istanbul.

The only bad thing about the trip is that I somehow manage to break the LCD screen of my camera. I don’t know when and how it happened. I just know that once in Paris, when I turned the camera on to show some pictures to my very good friend Mathieu (that is kindly hosting me every time I am in Paris), the LCD was broken!

It is very annoying though as I cannot set anything on the camera anymore and it is difficult to take pictures now. Also, I had this camera on my pants pocket for more than 4 months and I break it the last day of the trip!

This is actually the good thing about it. Glad it did not happen earlier as it would have been very annoying. Also, I did not loose the pictures in the camera and it seems like everything else is working. I looked a bit on the web and I can get a spare LCD for a reasonable price once I am back in the states.

The bad thing, of course, is that I will not be able to take pictures in the next month or so.

Thinking about it and looking at the bright side… This is a sure way to get over my addiction ;).

30 Wonders

Today is a special day.

So I decided to celebrate it the way it should be!

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I woke up very early this morning, got picked up by a minibus at 4:45AM and by 5:45AM, accompanied by the sun, I rose into the air aboard a hot air balloon piloted by Lars, one of the most experienced pilot in the region of Cappadocia.

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This ride was a first for me and it will definitely be one of the highlights of my trip. Alongside a second identical balloon piloted by Lars’ partner Kaili, we were airborne for almost 2 hours reaching a max altitude of 800 meters (2400 feet). On a background spotted with tens of other balloons, we loomed over Cappadocia enjoying the valleys and the rock formations, descending in some of the canyons, brushing against the top of the trees, landing on the top of the fairy chimneys, hovering above villages or greeting people as they were peeking outside their house to find out from where that hissing sound was coming from.

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The two balloons followed an intricate choreography, played with the wind and with each other to see which one could get closest to the ground or a rock without touching it.
The view from up there was amazing and picturesque. People on the balloon were very nice and wanted to make this flight a great memory for me.

Long after all the other balloons had disappeared from the sky, we finally landed in a field several kilometers away from our take-off point. Lars landed the balloon right on the trailer (With some help from his land crew). We then jumped on the balloon to help deflate it.

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Soon after, we were served a celebration drink and cake.

Kaili, Sandie and some other people started singing the ubiquitous song for me.

Yes, today is my birthday. I am now 30. The big 3-0! My 30 Wonders :).

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If you did not guess it before, one of the goals of my trip was to fulfill a dream, a promise I had made to myself that I would go on a long trip before I was 30 y/o. I wanted to see more of the world. Especially its wonders and based on that list (that could be debated for hours on), Cappadocia is the 30th Wonder I have seen since I am born. How fitting!

Today is also the end of this trip. I booked the plane tickets and will be flying back to Paris tomorrow. I decided it was the perfect symbolic time to stop. I have been feeling overwhelmed and empty at the same time for almost a week now. If I had a lot more time planned for my trip, I would have settled longer here and waited until the will and desire would come back but since I have only 10 days left max, it does not make sense.

However, I am not fully finished with this trip yet since I will not be back to San Francisco and real life before mid-August. So keep on reading!

Free Wheeling In Cappadocia

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Stewart left Wednesday night for Olympos to catchup a gullet for a blue cruise. Since he already had explored Goreme on his first day here, I thought it could be nice to explore a bit further. And renting scooters seemed the best way to get where we wanted.

After shopping around for prices and the types of scooters, we went with 2 Peugeot 60cc for 27YTL each for 4:30 hours.

The nice thing about the region is that there are not many cars and the roads are nice. Some of them even have a bike lane!

We spent some time planning a circular itinerary including places we wanted to see based on recommendation of the guide book and places we already had seen the day before but not long enough in our taste.

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Riding was a lot of fun. I don’t know how fast we were going because my tachometer was broken but that was fast enough to feel the wind blow in my t-shirt and around my helmet. Yeah, still not riding with the wind in the hair but first, I don’t have enough hair to do that and second, I am getting too old for something that stupid ;). Anyway, it reminded me of last year in Peru when we were ridding motorbikes in the sacred valley; the kind of moments you never forget.

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The best part of the day was when we went to explore an old cave city. Imagine a set of hills with valleys in between and tens of cave houses carved into the hills. It was very nice to walk around and explore the caves. In one of these, we found a dark tunnel leading to a steep staircase ending in another cave house on the other side of the mountain. Thankfully, we had flashlight because it was pitch black down there. Later, as we were exploring another set of cave houses, we noticed a hole in the ceiling of one of the room leading to another level. I climbed up to take a picture from there. It turned out to be challenging but I finally made it. I was thankfully for the hours I spent in the climbing gym practicing some moves! To make it more challenging, when I came back down, I realized I had forgotten the camera up there so I had to climb a second time!

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Continuing our tour, we got to Ortahisar, another small town in Cappadocia with a natural citadel (i.e. a hill where a lot of caves have been carved). As we were leaving the town, it took a right that led us on a curvy paved road with a steep decline. Curvy, Slippery and steep, the perfect combination :). I was trying to go slow, breaking a lot to fight the gravity, so much so that the scooter ended up stalling several times. Not really the kind of ride I enjoy.

We got through it and got back to Goreme on time. Nothing bad except for the huge sunburns on the forearms and the neck.

That was enough excitement for the day so I spent the rest of it around the pool of the hotel.

It is actually what I have been doing most of the time in the last two days since Stewart has left. I am not feeling very courageous and it is very hot here. In the evenings, I have been back to the Flintstones bar with some of the folks here.

Turkish Buses

There are a lot of things to say about Turkish buses.

First, there are a lot of things that I find very cool.

  • Smoking is forbidden. Might sound like something normal but not here in Turkey where it might be the only place where smoking is forbidden. Of course, the rule is that it is forbidden for everybody except the driver so it could still be annoying if he did smoke but thankfully, I never got close to one that was smoking in the bus.
  • Talking on a cellphone is also forbidden. It is not strictly enforced but this rule allows you to stop loud mouths that think they are alone in the bus. I never witnessed such an occasion but someone told me the story of an obnoxious woman that was yelling on her phone and was immediately shut by the driver.
  • Most of the buses don’t have toilets or they have been locked so that nobody can use them. Of course, if you really need to pee then it might be a problem but at least nobody dreads getting seat 28 (just in front of the toilets door) anymore. So being seated in the back of the bus is not such a bad proposition anymore since you only have to endure the other passenger body and feet odor!
  • There is always a steward to take care of things. This includes providing you all you can drink cold mineral water, a dose of hand sanitizer from time to time and a drink at least once per trip. They also go around spraying some air-freshener focusing on the back of the bus where bad odors tend to accumulate.

Then there are some annoying but acceptable things.

  • Air conditioning sucks at the back of the bus or sometimes does not work at all. Other times, it seems like they turn it on and off making one go from cold to hot to cold to hot..
  • Turkey is so large that it always seems like the next place you want to go is a 10+ hour ride from where you are right now. Basically, it takes forever to get anywhere. Also, while the bus usually leaves on time from its first stop, it always gets later and later on the schedule as it gets closer to your destination. Strange paradox, maybe we should call agent Sculley for that one!
  • Drivers have the tendency to do stupid stuff like baking up on a highway ramp for more than 500 meters or going through red lights.

But the one thing that is driving me nuts is that whatever your ticket destination reads, the bus will eventually drop you wherever the driver or the steward pleases. It happened to Stewart, Charlie and I when we went from Camakkale to Selcuk and it happened again to me today on my way to Goreme.

Every time I buy a ticket, I specifically ask if I will be dropped at the right destination and I get an affirmative answer. And every time, I get asked to get off the bus at the wrong place. And Every time I get into an argument with the steward who just drops my bag off the baggage compartment and leaves without letting me argue much. Well, it is not like I can argue much with him since I do not speak Turkish and he usually does not understand English. And finally, every time, it requires some extra work to locate another local bus to get to my final destination. I do not mind much this situation when I know about it beforehand. But if I bought a ticket for somewhere, I expect to get dropped where my ticket says and not 20 miles away!

The thing that makes me feel better is that it looks like this happens to the locals as well! I know, saying this is low but you find comfort where you can in these situations ;).

Wonderful Cappadocia

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At 6AM, the first things you notice when you arrive in Goreme (in the heart of the Cappadocia region) are the tens of balloons hoovering over the city and the valley. It is so much magical that I have decided to follow the advice of many people I have met on my trip and go for a ride before leaving from here.

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The second thing you notice, and you cannot really miss it, are the hundreds of houses carved in rock mushrooms spotted with doors and windows around which the town has developed, albeit in a more traditional architectural style.

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And as Petra should not be reduced to the Treasury (what you saw in Indiana Jones), Cappadocia is not just Goreme but a very large region with great landscape, interesting architecture and a very interesting history. Cool rock formations, fairy chimneys, cave houses, churches and even whole villages carved in the mountain, underground cities, valleys and canyons are scattered over the region and offer countless hours of exploration for hikers and sightseers.

Some tourists think it can be visited in one day. That is true you can see a lot in a day but you are merely brushing the surface if you do so. This place definitely deserves more time.

But as a start, the day tour providing an overview of the region is perfect and it is what I did today with Stewart that I had joined as planned this morning at the hotel. He had booked the tour yesterday evening and I just tagged along ;).

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The most interesting part of the tour was definitely when we explored the largest underground city. It is eight floor deep! It has very narrow passageways equipped with large rolling stones that were used to shut close the city in time of raid.

It is quite mind boggling to learn that the two first floors were dug by the Hittites around the XIIth century BC and that the city was extended by the Christians that used it to protect themselves against the Romans and then against the Army of Islam. There were up to 30 of these underground cities! And the one we visited was linked to another main one by a 9kms tunnel!

An added value to keep in mind is that joining an organized tour is always a good way to meet other backpackers that just arrived in town too. I have kicked myself for not doing it more often earlier in my trip – especially in Egypt but I guess I was also more courageous then 8). Of course, it sometimes does not work out and you do not meet anybody you get along with.

This time though, it worked out quite well and we met a bunch of nice people: Jess and Hana (Aussies), Sandy (Kiwi) and Sivan (Israeli). Jess and Hana are leaving tomorrow so we just hung out tonight. We had dinner and found a cool pub called Flintstones Cave. Like most, make it all, of the Aussies I have met on this trip, they worked in England for a while as part of a long trip.

Cappadocia seems like a wonderful place to linger and explore, I plan on staying for several days.