Urgup, Turkey - This morning, I had one of the most amazing experiences in a (so far) not very short lifetime of adventures around the world. The Travelife Magazine team is in Capadoccia right now, which is in the central part of Turkey, a dry region of awesome landscapes and amazing rock formations with evidence of civilizations that date back to the start of Christianity. I'd first been to Capadoccia 20 years ago, when there was nothing else apart from the sightseeing spots but small villages and minor tourist infrastructure. You could go for hours and be the only tourists around, and there were so many undiscovered underground cities and churches that all you needed to do was walk 500 meters or so and you'd stumble upon some cave rock door, for example, that had not been moved in 1000 years. There were so few restaurants for tourists that we'd had to pay village families to cook us a meal. Today, Capadoccia is still amazing but it's now so much more built up vs 20 years ago.
Anyway, we woke up at 4 AM today, after a late and very pleasant evening puttering around the carpet and pottery shops of Urgup (which close at midnight) and then dining on the Turkish version of a hamburger in our hotel garden while exchanging stories of past adventures. Frankly, when I finally went to bed after midnight, I didn't think I could wake up in four hours and was half-regretting booking an early morning balloon ride that required a pick-up at 450 AM. However, the chantings from our neighborhood mosque ensured that we were up and about long before the wake-up call came, and so we made it to the nearby town of Goreme for our balloon ride with Goreme Balloons, among the most trustworthy names in Capadoccia's hot air balloon business.
I'm writing more about our balloon ride in the upcoming Aug-Sep issue of Travelife Magazine, so I'm not including too many details here, except to say that today's ride across Capadoccia in a balloon left me speechless in wonder. The experience was almost spiritual, actually, as I found myself thinking about the power of god and the beauty of nature -- and yes, about having the good fortune to be able to experience this amazing ride. Apparently, this experience was lost on my companion, however.
We were at one end of the basket gazing out at the vast plains, when I said aloud: "There are balloon rides, and there are Balloon Rides. This has got to be one of the most amazing experiences in the world." Again, let me stress, this is not something someone who spends half of her life in a suitcase, doing unique experiences every other week, says lightly. He looked at me and said, "I'm hungry. When do you think we'll be able to have breakfast?"
Let me assure you, though, that the hot air balloon ride across Capadoccia is a must-do when visiting this part of Turkey, and it certainly should make it to every adventurer's bucket list.
But so far this trip has been so full of wonderful adventures for a bucket list -- so much so that we feel we've been here for weeks instead of days. Each and every day is long, varied, interesting and incredibly stimulating.
On our last night in Istanbul, too, before flying to Capadoccia, we spent a very enjoyable evening at Reina, one of Turkey's most famous restaurants and hottest nightspots. It's a massive and beautifully designed open-air restaurant-club right on the Bosphorus, so you can enjoy a view of the Bosphorus and of the many boats passing by as you drink and dance. Nesli, one of my Turkish friends from Manila, also happened to be in Istanbul at the same time, and she very kindly invited us to a Turkish degustation dinner at Reina.
We arrived earlier than her so for several minutes, we just sat around enjoying the sunset and people-watching. It was only 8 PM but the sun was still on the way down, and there were lots of beautiful people already dancing to European club music in the middle of the restaurant. Someone was celebrating a birthday and a lot of young people from Istanbul University were celebrating the end of university studies and the start of summer and real life. There were also several large families having dinner, with everyone from the grandparents down to the toddlers dressed in incredible casual chic.
Then Nesli arrived and we immediately started eating an assortment of Turkish appetizers and knocking back glasses of raki, a Turkish anise-flavored liquor that is normally mixed with water and ice, but that the brave drink straight. The weather was perfect, every table was full of people laughing and eating, the music was cool, the food and company excellent, and the Bosphorus settting simply awe-inspiring. It made for a very surreal atmosphere of chic sophistication that would be hard to replicate elsewhere in the world.
After dinner, we didn't want to go home yet so we decided to do a round of drinks at Reina's bar right be the seaside. It was great for people-watching, especially for observing all the glamorous partygoers arriving at 11 PM by boat at Reina's private landing for some midnight dancing and drinking on a Sunday night -- yes, on a Sunday!
"I want to live here," I told Nesli. I've always loved Turkey for its deep history and culture, and find it endlessly fascinating. But this time around, I also found it to be a good mix of European and Asian culture -- Istanbul literally sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia after all, with one side of the city in Asia and the other side of the city in Europe -- and also an incredibly sophisticated and relaxing city with a population that knows how to live well and enjoy life.
"Why don't you open a Travelife Magazine office in Istanbul?" Nesli jokingly suggested, and from the corner of my eye I already espied my managing editor, seated next to me, ready to raise his hand and volunteer as branch manager for Turkey. While that's not entirely possible right now, it did give me an idea to organize Travelife tours to Turkey that will provide a good combination of cultural visits, shopping opportunities, unique experiences and interaction with locals. We're hatching this idea right now as we sit outside in our hotel garden in the charming town of Urgup, with a marvelous view of centuries-old cave dwellings and incredible rock formations. Stay tuned for more details.
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