A Travellerspoint blog

West on the Dagu Expresi to Erzurum

Things That Do Scare Me

View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 10, 2023

The cold meds worked, so I managed to get some much-needed sleep. I was packed and at breakfast by 7:03. I gulped down my yoghurt and granola along with a cup of coffee and was downstairs by 7:10. Three minutes later I was in my taxi and arrived at the station by 7:25 for my 8:00 am train. I guess I could have had a second cup of coffee.

Since Kars is the eastern terminus of the Dagu Expresi, the train was already waiting. I walked to the end of the platform to admire the train and take some photographs.


There was an excited couple checking things out. He posed on the old engine beside the platform.


I had arrived two days prior on the Dagu Expresi from Kayseri. That trip took over 19 hours, and I had my own sleeper compartment. My journey on this day would only take four hours. I found my car and boarded. I now had a seat in a coach car.


I was going back along the train line to the city of Erzurum. From there I would take a bus to the Black Sea city of Trabzon and then another bus to Georgia.

I had an assigned seat, but the car was not full, which allowed me to move from one side of the car to the other to take photographs. My activity was noted, especially by a man who constantly pointed out things that he thought I should photograph. The scenery was quite beautiful and even though I had been this way less than 48 hours before, it was new to me since we had been in the dark on this part of my eastbound journey. There were lots of towns, farms, cattle, horses, the river, and mountains. This ride really completed my time on the Dagu Expresi.


There was a steady flow of passengers getting on and off at every station. I was the only foreign tourist.

The time passed quickly. I was sad because this was my last train ride of the trip. I had been on trains for almost fifty hours during my two weeks in Turkey, and I was still loving it. I would soon be in Georgia where a driver would take me everywhere. I would no longer be responsible for boarding the right trains or finding my hotels. I had thought that would be a relief and make the latter part of my trip a bit more relaxing, but I now recognized that I would really miss this part of my travel experience.

We arrived right on time at Erzurum station.


A week earlier I had enjoyed what I called a rest day. I had spent the night in Konya rather than being met at the train station and heading out for an eight-hour day of travel to Cappadocia. This was my second rest day. The first itinerary had me transferring straight from the train station to the bus terminal to take a five-hour bus ride to Trabzon. I decided instead to spend the night in Erzurum and be on my own, no tours or guides on this day.

The Rafo Hotel was only a ten-minute walk from the station, so I started rolling my little bag along, using my Google Maps to guide me. The weather was perfect. Snowcapped mountains towered over the city. The app told me that I was close. I saw a hotel where Google maps seemed to indicate that my hotel should be. I said to myself, “Please don't let that be my hotel.” It wasn't. I compared the directions to the street and decided the app could not be right, so I turned left. Google disagreed. After a few steps I turned back around and followed the directions down an alley. I was glad that it was daylight.


The app was correct. I was soon at the Rafo Hotel.


This was my seventh hotel in Turkey but the first one where I was greeted by a female hotel clerk. It was also by far the nicest greeting I had received. Not only did I get a warm welcome, but she offered me coffee and a sweet. “Do you want Nescafe or a Turkish coffee?” At my last hotel I took the Turkish coffee. This time I went with Nescafe. She told me that she had made the pudding herself.


It was a modern room, and I had a great view of the mountains.


I did a quick WhatsApp with Po and headed out to see the city.

Erzurum is a small city of about 375,000 and sits at 1,900 metres (6,200 feet). Like other cities in this area of the world, it has been passed back and forth over the centuries between various empires- Assyrians, Armenian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Persian and Russian. It once had a substantial Armenian population which was subsequently eliminated during what is known as the Armenia genocide in 1915. After WWI the city was one of the starting points for the war that established the modern Turkish republic.


I walked first to the Yakutiye Madrasa which was built in 1310. It is now a museum.


From there I walked past Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque on my way to Erzurum Castle.


Then I saw an interesting looking pizza restaurant and decided a late lunch break/early supper was in order. I chose a pasta dish.


I continued my walk up to the castle. The first fortification was probably built during the iron age. The present fort dates perhaps to 415 AD, but it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The last big restoration took place in the 16th century. The minaret was built in 1137 and was rebuilt in the 19th century with a clock.

One room was a small, carpeted mosque. It was obvious to me that I should take off my shoes before entering. Two men walked in. I saw one of them look down at my feet. I assumed it was to see if this old foreign tourist had done the right thing. He saw that I had and nodded.

The minaret was in the corner. I have climbed a few minarets during my travels so suspected what was involved. There were many uneven steps in the circular staircase. At the top I had climb a ladder and fit through a hatch.

There was a great 360-degree view of the city.



There is a ski jump in Erzurum. I assume that it is a legacy from 2011 when the city hosted the World University games.


The men from the mosque were there with two young women who said that they were studying English. They wanted to practice.

Then it was time to descend. Luckily, I had my friends to help by handing down my camera after I had climbed back through the hatch. I then had to walk down the uneven steps (later I learned that there are 67) with no handrails. A misstep would have likely meant at least some major bumps and bruises. The ride in the balloon did not scare me. But going back down that minaret did.


I had been lucky in previous stops such as Izmir, Avanos, and Kars where I had found really nice coffee shops. I was not so lucky in Erzurum. I walked up to a second-floor café with large windows looking out on the city. When I went to order I was asked if I smoked. The main area was full of smoke. I sat at a table next to the cash. Yes, I have learned all about the great Turkish vice, “smokes like a Turk”.


I returned to the hotel. I asked about a taxi to the bus stop and had my photo taken with the sweets lady.


I retired to my modern room. I did my routine of alternating downloading and reviewing my photos and videos with a bit of reading. I had not done or seen anything amazing, but I had taken a four-hour train ride, visited a 1600-year-old fort, and climbed a nine-hundred-year-old minaret. I was quite happy with my decision to spend the night in Erzurum. After this I only had two more nights in Turkey.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:54 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains turkey dagu_express erzurum Comments (2)

The Ancient City of Ani

And a Good Time in the City of Kars

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May 9, 2023

I had been taking meds every night to help with my cold, which thankfully remained mild. I had a bit of a sore throat and a stuffy nose and kept thinking, “Please don’t let this get serious,” and it never did. I was almost out of my Tylenol supply, so the past evening I had thought that I could try to sleep without taking anything. That was a mistake. I felt it as soon as I put my head down. I just could not breathe, so after a minute would pop back up, take in some air, and try again. Eventually I gave up and took a couple of pills from my remaining supply. I still had to sleep sitting up until they took effect. It was not a good night.

Then I still woke up early. I had been listening to running water all night . I looked out the window to see the beautiful grounds of my hotel and the lovely stream flowing past. A young woman was sitting in a chair beside the river enjoying the early morning sun.

I was now awake, so I got ready and walked down the hall to the dining room for breakfast. The woman I had seen sitting next to the river was now eating her breakfast but left after a couple of minutes. I wondered if she left early to catch the morning train, the one I would be on the following day. There was no one else there, neither staff nor guests.


I checked out the buffet and found some granola and yoghurt, but there were no bowls or spoons. There was a drip coffee maker, but it was empty. I walked down to the front desk, and when I asked for coffee they replied, “Nescafe?” I told them I wanted the brewed coffee. A woman soon arrived. I followed her to the pantry and pointed to the bowls and spoons. The coffee was brewed. I enjoyed two helpings of the cereal and yoghurt and a couple cups of coffee.

There might not have been any other diners, but at first I had the resident cat for company. She was quite relaxed under my table until other diners arrived. Then she left me. Maybe she was looking for more than company.

I knew that I had to replenish my supply of cold medicine. Po had also been after me to buy some more Vitamin C. She is a big believer. I “somewhat” believe that they help but also take them so that I can be honest with Po when I tell her that “Yes, I have been taking my Vitamin C.”

My guide, Mr. Djelil, arrived, and I asked him to take me to a pharmacy before we headed out of town. Like most places in Turkey, language was an issue. The cold meds were fairly straightforward, but the Vitamin C request caused some confusion. I made the mistake of mentioning that my wife was telling me to buy it and used the expression, “Make my wife happy.’ Well, there are other ways to make your wife happy. They suggested Cialis. When I laughed and said that was not what I was looking for, my guide explained that it was like Viagara. I really laughed at point and tried to explain but gave up. I saw a tube of chewable Vitamin C and put that with the cold tablets.

We left Kars to visit the site of the ancient city of Ani. There were vast fields of green with mountains in the background.


Mr. Djelil wanted to show me Mount Ararat. It is the highest peak in Turkey at 5,137 m (16,854 ft). It has been described as the resting place of Noah’s Ark. Visitors often take a day trip to get closer. He joked that he would charge me more for taking me to see it from the road. This was the only time that it appeared through the clouds.


He told me that Kars area gets quite cold in the winter, down to minus 40- or 50-degrees C.

Ani is on the Turkish side at the border of Turkey and Armenia. There is a Russian base on the Armenian side. Djelil told me that for many years special permission was required to visit, and no photographs were allowed. That history and the continued existence of the base lends a bit of an ominous air to the site.

The ruins at Ani are not quite as old as the Greek and Roman ruins that I had seen at Hieropolis and Ephesus earlier in my trip, although there is a fire temple that dated from around 100 BC. In the 10th and 11th centuries the city was one of the largest in the world. It was renowned for its splendor and was a major trading center on the Silk Road. Ani was attacked by the Mongols in 1236 and suffered an earthquake in 1319, that typical double blow that states suffered during those centuries.

Although the site does not have some of the spectacular ruins such as stadiums and theatres, it has a mesmerizing, haunting beauty. The landscape, grasslands with the mountains in the background, was especially pretty. The weather was perfect, both for walking and for photography, especially with the clouds that added a nice touch. There were few tourists.




Djelil kept asking for my phone to show me the various functions that were available. He thought that my phone had a great camera which surprised me since it is a basic Samsung model. I have to admit that I have been a snob about camera phones, but I have come around and used it for many shots on the trip, especially when I asked people to take my photo and for wide angle shots that I could not capture with my Nikon. Here are a couple that Djelil took of me.


I had a Turkish coffee afterwards at the café. I really tried hard to appreciate them.

We drove back into Kars. There are many Russian era buildings in the city, reflecting its relatively recent history of being part of Russia from the latter half of the 19th until just after WWI. In Medieval times it served as a capital for various Armenian kingdoms and was subject to attacks from the various empires such as the Mongols and Timur. The Soviet Union had eyes on the city after WWII but gave up in the face of western opposition.

We went to a restaurant located in an old house. The owner served me a traditional soup and a stew. Both were really good. Djelil had me sample his pasta which was even better.


After lunch we visited a mosque which was originally constructed in the 10th century as an Armenian church, the Church of the Holy Apostles. It became a mosque in 1579, and then was converted back into Russian Orthodox church in the 1880’s. After the Russians left it became a warehouse in the 1930’s, then a museum, and finally was abandoned for twenty years. If fell into disrepair before being converted back into a mosque in 1993.


The church sits below the Citadel which I would visit on my own later that day.

Djelil drove me down past my hotel to some old military buildings along the river. During the Crimean War, the Ottoman garrison was led by British officers as they fought off the Russians before surrendering after a long siege. It was quite beautiful along the river.


Djelil dropped me off at my hotel. My tour was over. He was my last guide for Turkey. I had been quite impressed with his services, just as I had with most of the guides that Amber Travel had arranged for me.

I took a couple photos of my hotel before I went back to my room for a brief rest.


I did not stay long since I wanted to do some exploring on my own. I wandered along the river to the town area. My first stop was the Castle of Kars or the Citadel which was first built in 1153 and then rebuilt in 1579.

I walked up the hill and took some photographs. I tried to hurry since the skies looked quite threatening.


I walked further into town where Google Maps had said that I could find an ATM. The rain started just after I got my cash. I had earlier seen a café that looked interesting so went there to wait out the rain. I ordered a latte from a young man and when I picked it up, a young woman with flaming red hair popped out from behind the espresso machine, handed me my coffee, and said “I think you will enjoy this.” I was taken aback for a second. I was expecting the man and definitely not a lovely woman with red hair. Most women in Turkey had dark hair, and it was often covered.

I did enjoy my coffee. It was quite a trendy little café. It was quite busy, and I was the only tourist. They were playing a selection of my favorite Western music (Eagles, Sting, Grover Washington). I thought it was amusing that they were listening to music from the 70’s and 80’s, music from long before they were born. I think that I was probably at least thirty or forty years older than everyone there.


I finished my latte, and the rain had stopped. I walked out and found a shop to buy some fruit. The evening light was amazing with the setting sun reflecting off the clouds.


The daylight was disappearing as I walked back along the river. I was not sure how the path would be after dark, so I was happy that I would soon arrive at the hotel. I was exhausted after my travels and adventures of the past couple of days and could not wait to get back to my room.

As I reached the front door, I was quite surprised to run into my two friends from the train. I had apparently told them where I was staying, and they had come to take me out to listen to some traditional music. It sounded like a fantastic idea. I was absolutely touched that they had thought to include me in their activities. But I was just too tired and had a train to catch in the morning. I had to say no. I asked if they would at least sit with me for a drink, but they wanted to rush to the concert. I really let down the old man side. We posed for a photo, and they went off for a fun time. This old man needed to retire to his room.


I asked at the front desk about a taxi to the train station in the morning. I was leaving on the 8:00 am Dagu Ekspresi, this time going west, and only as far as the first major stop at Erzurum, a four-hour journey.

Back at my room I gathered up my laundry that I had washed the night before and packed my bag for an early departure. I was a bit sad that I had missed out on my night with the ladies but did not regret my decision.

My day had not started well in those hours around midnight, but I had just had another amazing day. I was ready for bed and only hoped that my cold meds would work so that I could sleep.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:06 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey ani kars Comments (2)

Dagu Ekspresi

The Eastern Express Train to Kars

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May 7 at Midnight

Necip and I arrived at the Kayseri train station just before midnight. He escorted me inside and even found me a seat.


I said goodbye and thanked him for his help. I had never felt more comfortable with a guide.

It was midnight, and I had been up since 4:00 am. I should have been exhausted, but instead was still feeling excited, almost like I had felt in the morning. I had been in Turkey for ten days and seen and done some amazing things. But Cappadocia was the culmination of a mostly standard tour of Turkey. Now I was off a wholly new type of adventure to the other side of the country.

I was taking the Dagu Ekspresi or Eastern Express train. When I had learned about this train, I had decided that I must take it. Of course, it is a train, and I always want to get on trains. But more than that, this train goes across much of Turkey, all the way to Kars, a city near the border with Armenia, on the eastern side of Turkey. The scenery promised to be quite beautiful as the train followed the Euphrates River, a name that invokes memories from my history classes from long ago.

When I had planned my tour of Turkey, I had said that there were two things that I had really wanted to do. The first was a balloon ride in Cappadocia, and the second one was the Dagu Ekspresi. Now I was doing both things in the same 24 hours.

There were several people waiting. There was an announcement in Turkish and most of the people moved to the track area. A train pulled in and I walked along looking for my car. Then I saw the name of the train. It was not the Dagu Ekspresi. I pretended that I knew that all along and moved back to the station, but I stayed outside as it was more pleasant than waiting inside the stuffy station.

Another train arrived on the other side of the tracks. This had to be it. We walked down the platform and crossed over. I walked the length of the train to find my number. There were about seven or eight coach cars at the front of the train, followed by the dining car, and then the one sleeper car at the very back. That was for me. I showed my ticket to the conductor. He waved me in.


The one sleeping car had only four-person compartments. Since there is no sharing with unrelated parties on Turkish Railways, I had to pay for the entire room. My ticket showed a price of 333 Turkish Lira, less than $15 US, so not a lot of money even when multiplying by four seats. It was barely bigger than my two-person room on my train to Konya and not as nice. That one had a wash basin and a refrigerator where this one had two extra beds.


The Dagu Ekspresi might have had provided me with a nicer room at a different time, a smaller two-person room or even a nicer train altogether. A few years ago, the railway began running a tourist train on the route that stops along the way and provides local tours. I never got a clear answer about whether the tourist train was currently in operation but suspected that it might have been a victim of the Covid shut down.

It was after 1:00 am. I needed to brush my teeth. Without a basin in my room I had to go to the shared toilets. There was one at both ends of the car, one a western style and the other Asian. Checking one and finding it occupied meant walking the length of the car to check if the other was available. I ended up in the Asian one, so my brushing took place balancing next to the open toilet.

There was a bag with a blanket, sheet, and pillowcase. I made up my bed and crawled under the sheets. I doubted that I would need the blanket this night.


May 8

I slept well for a few hours but woke up when we pulled into Sivas train station at 5 am. I looked out at the station and saw a more modern train then my Expressi, the high speed train to Ankara.


I went back to sleep and woke up after the sun came up. I checked out the sights and took a few photographs.


I went up to the dining car where it was rather quiet. I met a young French woman. She told me that she is travelling as a WWOOFer, a volunteer with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The members travel around the world exchanging work for room and board on farms. Our neighbour in Pouch Cove employs a revolving door of such volunteers, so I have met many over the years. Many of them are quite stable and talented. Others are a bit spacey.

The dining car man (he was the cook, waiter, and maybe manager) asked if we wanted breakfast. I shrugged and said yes, without really knowing what I was going to get. My friend also ordered one. But when our meals were served, and she better understood the price, she decided that she did not want it after all. She told him she did not have enough cash, even though the price was at most only about $10 US. It went back and forth for a few minutes, with the waiter saying that he could not take the meal back since it had been prepared and served. She kept saying that she had no money. I could not see a good end to the discussion and did not want to be a witness to an international incident. I told them that I would pay for her breakfast.


After finishing my breakfast and having enjoyed my second Nescafe, I tried to pay with my credit card. There was a bad connection, so I was told to pay later. I knew that they would not forget that I owed for two.

I went back to my room and enjoyed the views. I took some photos and did several videos. We passed some dams and went through many tunnels. The scenery reminded me of my trip the year before on Amtrak and Via Rail when I went back and forth through the Rocky Mountains.


A man was smoking outside my room. Another came along and asked for a cigarette.

Yes. In Turkey it seems like everyone “Smokes like a Turk”.

I needed to charge my phone, so I returned to the dining car where I spent the rest of the afternoon. I paid for the two breakfasts and ordered another Nescafe. I was almost starting to like them.


Erzurum is the last big stop before Kars. I had read that passengers would phone ahead to order kebabs from vendors at the Erzurum train station. I was hoping that I could get one since it did not look like there would be much food offered on the train. I am not sure that I would have been asked if I was back in my room, but the waiter came by and asked if I wanted one. I was pleased to accept.


I talked a bit with a nice young Turkish woman who was interested in my travels and photography. She and her friend were going to Kars as tourists.

Our daylight ended, and it began to rain. There would be no more photos taken going this direction. However, I knew that I would get to see the landscape in two days when I took the train back to Erzurum on my way up to Trabzon on the Black Sea.


I saw my new friends and ended up spending the last hour chatting with them. Like many of my conversations, it was done using our phones and Google Translate. Their names were Derya and Sümeyra.


The train arrived about 30 minutes late. It was dark and drizzling. I thought my guide might be meeting me but did not see anyone, so I accepted a taxi ride. I wanted to use my Google Maps to see where we were going but that seemed to bother the driver who kept saying it was not necessary. We pulled up next a large stone building, an old mansion, the Katerina Sarayi Hotel.

I would not see the surroundings until the next morning as I hurried into the hotel. I am not sure if the house had hosted royalty like the name suggests, but the inside was quite beautiful.


I was greeted and offered a Turkish coffee which was probably not a great thing to drink at that hour.


My room was nice but rather small.


I had to go to emergency rations of a granola bars for supper. I thought I was going to have the apple that I had brought from Avanos for dessert, but it was rotten.

I did some laundry and went to bed. Although I had now finished my “must do” adventures, I still had lots of amazing things to see, such as another ancient city in the morning.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:24 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains turkey dagu_express Comments (0)

Riding In My Beautiful Balloon

Last Day In Cappadocia

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May 7

I managed to get some sleep after my somewhat traumatic ending to the previous evening. I woke up before my alarm could play my Spotify smooth jazz wake up selection and was up and out the door 15 minutes before my scheduled 4:20 am pickup. I was worried that the front door might be locked, which was a bit silly since they probably have daily balloon riders. It was pleasantly cool. I had asked if I should wear a warm coat but was advised that the flight is not cold with the constant flames from the hot air heater.

I was joined by a German lady. She was scheduled for later than me, but her van came first. I asked the driver to check if I was on his list and being left behind. That was another needless worry. There are about 150 balloons flying each day in Cappadocia, with likely twice that many vans collecting the passengers. The vans are organized by balloon, not by geographic area.

My van arrived a couple of minutes later. I was the first passenger. We drove a few minutes to another hotel where the van was quickly filled with Filipinos. Necip had said that the balloon operators market to tour groups to fill their balloons and only offer the excess seats to individuals like me. My balloon was booked for this group from the Philippines. A tour leader came to the door and began to count heads. I suspected what was going to happen. She got to me and stopped. I smiled and said hello. She stepped out and came back to announce that the driver had confirmed that I was okay.

We then drove to our launch site. We were joined on the drive by a dozen or more vans. More would have come from the other directions. The sites are well marked so that the drivers know where to drop their passengers.

I was not nervous. Back in 2018 when I thought about balloon ride in Namibia I hesitated, both because of the price but more because I was not sure about flying in a balloon. I assumed that I would be nervous before the flight. But that morning in Africa I was not nervous, just really excited. I then had the great disappointment when it was cancelled.

I have been thinking about a flight ever since, but I wanted it to be over interesting terrain. I read about the balloons of Cappadocia. It became a big reason for this trip. When Amber told me that the price had gone up to 300 Euros and suggested that I might not want to take the flight, I did not hesitate to confirm that I still wanted to do it. Despite my issues of last night, that had not changed. I was ready to fly.

We arrived at our site. The fields were full of balloons being filled for takeoff. The sound of the heaters was quite loud.


There were several people already waiting. We were given a bag with juice and a pastry, but I had no time to eat as we were immediately divided into groups and sent to our balloons. I dropped my breakfast bag over the side and climbed in. The balloon held twenty passengers plus two crew members and was divided into four sections, so five of us in each. I was standing next to a couple from Vancouver. He was quite nervous and was streaming the Los Angeles Laker basketball game for a distraction. It was the playoffs after all.

I soon realized that we were in the air. It is not like a plane. One moment you are on the ground, the next you are floating into the sky.


As sunrise approached the wonderful landscape of Cappadocia came into view. The sky was full of balloons.



Hot air balloons are quite simple. Hot air makes the balloon go up, as it cools the balloon goes down unless more hot air is created. There is a constant hissing. The pilots have to go with the wind but can control the up and down and get quite close to the rocks. We were quite high at times and then would float down next to the rocks.

There was no way we could fall out. Old folks like me would later need help to climb out. I found a place on the end of the basket and stayed there for most of the flight except when asked to move for photos.

Many people get up early to watch the spectacle from the ground.


I asked my Laker fan to take my photo.


The pilot announced that he was making a 3D video of our balloon using his camera which was attached to a long pole. He wanted 30 Euros. It seemed like a ripoff considering what we paid for the ride, but I knew I had to have it for my own video. I called out that I wanted one. A very nice Filipina made sure that the pilot heard my order. I gave him the money.

These are still shots from his video.


I could see that I was the only person in the balloon who looked to be over 40 years old. That was my cutoff for the young folks. I am far older than that!

We had been in the air for an hour when the pilot announced that we needed to get into landing position which meant kneeling down and holding on to the side. He demanded that we put away our phones and cameras. The landing sequence was especially painful as the position was hard on my old knees. I felt my age at that point. Our flying crew was in constant radio contact with the landing crew, so they were waiting for us when we landed. We hit with an abrupt thud. I have seen video of balloons landing right on top of their support trailer. We landed next to it and then floated back up a bit to land on the trailer. The other balloons were landing at the same time, working to the standard one hour flight.


We climbed out (with help) and were served Champagne and given our certificates.


The pilot handed out the videos. They were on memory sticks attached to little balloons. He questioned if I had paid, and my Filipina defender emphatically confirmed that I had done so. Was it due to my advanced age? She was definitely looking out for me.

I had been told that a balloon ride would be an experience of a lifetime. Had it been? The gentle movement into the sky over the over worldly geography of Cappadocia was amazing. Being joined by 100 other balloons made it even more spectacular. Yes, it would rate quite high on a list of my experiences. It was definitely magical.

We were assigned into our vans and driven back to our hotels. I rode with my original group including my new friend. I thanked her for the help.

Here is my video of the balloon ride. The only part of this video that I did not take are a couple of clips from our pilot Bekir’s camera which captured our balloon and one of me.

I was back in time for the hotel breakfast. I returned to my room and felt the familiar moisture. It was another nosebleed. I wondered if it would ever stop. (It did. This was the last one.) I was quite relieved that it did not happen on the balloon.

I did a WhatsApp with Po and Zoe and finished packing. I had a train to eastern Turkey that night but was not leaving until 11 pm. I could hang around the hotel, but not in my room. I left my bag in a front room and walked down to the river. I found a little café and ordered a latte. Note the little street cat in the doorway. The manager fed it a few minutes later.


I had learned the expression “Smokes like a Turk” from my guide at Ephesus. Smoking was accepted in cafes. A young woman wearing a hijab sitting in front of me lit up a cigarette. That part made me miss the non-smoking world of Canada. When I paid, I told the woman that her latte was the best one I had found in Turkey. She asked me to post a review.

I did a walk around the old town. There is not as many cave buildings in Avanos as the other places in the area, but it was still interesting. Avanos is known its pottery, but I did not feel any desire to sit through a demonstration and the inevitable sales pitch. I knew that I had no room in my bag for even one little cup or bowl.


I had arranged to meet Necip’s son at the hotel so that I could pay him for the balloon ride with my Visa card. I was surprised when he arrived with a fairly large machine that needed to be plugged into the internet but was not surprised when he was unable to find the right connection at the hotel. I had learned the day before that I could get Euros from an ATM, so I suggested that he drive me down to the square with the bank of machines so I could just pay him with cash.

Afterwards I declined a ride back to the hotel and set out for another walk.


I then repeated my pattern of the day by returning to the hotel for a brief rest. I was sitting in the family’s living room.


I went back out to my café. I told the woman that I had done the review that she had requested. She checked, saw the review, and thanked me. But I did not get a discount on my second latte of the day.

I wandered into a sandwich shop. The man asked if I wanted it with the hot paste. I said yes. I sat beside the river and ate my spicy sandwich.


I returned to the hotel. Necip had said that the father had suffered an illness, perhaps a stroke. He spoke very little and was no longer managing the hotel. His son led him into the room and turned on a soccer game. The three of us were one happy family watching football.

I left to get some supper, walking away from the river this time. Just behind the hotel was a sign for a restaurant. It was built into the hillside. I had the local pasta dish, Kayseri Mantisi.


Then it was back to my temporary home to wait out the last couple of hours before Necip would take me to the train. I used up the time by reviewing my many photos of the balloon ride.

Necip was right on time at 11 pm. My soccer watching friend gave me a Cappadocia fridge magnet and a couple of small pieces of pottery made by students "for my wife the artist". I had forgotten that I had mentioned that to Necip, but I had spent a lot of time with him. I was happy for the magnet; it could join the ones from my Central Asia trip.

It took less than an hour to get to the Kayseri train station. My next adventure was about to begin.


Posted by Bob Brink 13:11 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains cappadocia turkey balloons Comments (2)

Cappadocia Day 2

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May 6

My first failed attempt at a balloon ride was in 2018 at Sossusvlei in Namibia. That time I had to get up early and ride to the site before finding out that I could not fly. I was picked up at 6:40 am (still dark since it was winter in Southern Africa) and driven to the launch area. Two balloons were filling with air, and we were told to hurry to the second one. Seconds later everything stopped as the balloons quickly deflated. The head pilot had determined that it was not safe due to the increasing winds. "We can get you up but might not get you down."

My second failed flying attempt was this morning. It was also cancelled but not by one pilot and not just before taking off. The Turkish authorities had already determined the day before that the winds would be too high for the safety of the hundreds of balloons that take to the air in Cappadocia. Knowing that I would not be floating above the earth, I was able to sleep until 7.

I was a lot more relaxed about the white tablecloths this morning and quite enjoyed the buffet. The warm items were fresh, and I found granola, fresh strawberries, and yoghurt and a few cups of brewed coffee. It was quite pleasant sitting in the courtyard.

My original itinerary for the day showed only the balloon ride. After that I was to be on my own, which seemed quite reasonable back when I signed off on the tour. I often have my best days when I am wandering about without a guide. I wanted to do some hiking and had assumed that it would be relatively easy to arrange transportation to a trail. But once I got to Cappadocia, I realized just how spread out everything is in the area, and what made it more complicated, I was staying in Avanos, which is not walking distance to any of the major sites or trails. I was happy to accept Necip’s offer to guide me for another day. It turned out to be a great decision.

Necip chose the Red Valley for my hike. We parked in the small village of Çavuşin. The old part of the village is next to a large ridge that contains parts of old churches and homes. In the past people used the caves as extra rooms and put their houses in front or on top of the caves. It was a Greek town, so would have seen the expulsion of most of the residents in 1923. The remaining residents were moved away from the hill in the 1960’s due to fear of their homes collapsing and the dangers from falling rocks. Now luxury hotels are being built in the hillside.



We walked out of Çavuşin into the Red Valley. Necip said that he was happy to be hiking since it is not part of his normal guiding activities. He walked fast. I told him that he was testing me. We took a slightly different route than he was used to and came to a spot where we would need to scramble up a slope. He asked my opinion. I need to make some concessions to my age. I was in the middle of a long trip and did not want to get injured due to some foolish bravado. We turned around.

The hike was not too strenuous, and the weather was quite pleasant. I was just mesmerized by the colors and shapes of the rock formations. It was magical.


We took a break at a small café where I tried their freshly squeezed pomegranate and orange juice. I then walked up to the Haçlı Church.


On the way to our next destination Necip pulled over and pointed to a cave. He told me to go in and take some photographs. “They will not mind.” I followed his instructions and found some women sorting potatoes. They obviously did not mind.


We stopped at a lovely little restaurant beside a river.


My meal was sizzling and very tasty.

We were in the Soganli Valley. Over 100 churches have been found carved into the hills. The area was occupied by Byzantine monks in the 9th to 13th centuries AD. Necip dropped me off at one end of the trail and told me to walk to the other. There was only me and a couple with their guide. The temperature was perfect and the views spectacular. I had a great time.



According to my hiking app I had walked about 10 kilometres this day. I took over 400 photographs. That is not bad for an old guy. I might have been fighting my cold, the issues with my nose, and a lack of decent sleep, but I was tough. I was likely only going to be in these places once in my life. I had to make the most of it. I did.

As we were leaving the area, I asked Necip to stop the car so that I could get a few more photos of the cliffs. When I returned to the car, Necip informed me that my balloon ride was a go and that I had to be outside my hotel by 4:20 am. I had actually given up on the ride, thinking that it would be cancelled again.


I asked Necip to stop so I could take this photo.


Necip stopped in a village to show me some Greek houses.


But this day’s activities were not over. Necip next drove me to a caravansary to see a whirling dervish ceremony. In Konya I had visited the The Mevlâna Museum, the former centre of the Mevleviye Sufi order of Islam who practice the Sema or whirling ceremony.

I took my seat just before the show was starting. We were told that we were not to take photographs during the actual ceremony. It was all quite interesting, not just the dancing but also the haunting music. The dancers came back out at the end and did a short encore so we could take photos.


I did not get back to my room until after 8 pm, ten hours after we had started. Because I had eaten a late lunch, I decided to eat an apple and a granola bar for supper. I wanted to get to bed early since I had the 4:20 am pickup.

It had been an amazing day. There had been great hiking, fantastic scenery, good food, and an interesting evening performance. Yes, it had been magical. And I was going to fly the next day!

Then my nose began to bleed. I had thought it was finished. I got it stopped, took my shower, and it started again. I was more than a little concerned by then. How could I go up in a balloon with this happening? I wondered if I could cancel. It was almost 10:30 pm. I thought for a few minutes and decided to text Necip. He replied quickly that his son’s agency had already paid, so there was no cancellation. I had assumed that would be the case. I had understood that they do not have empty places in the balloons. I replied, “I guess I have to plan to be ok.”

Posted by Bob Brink 15:41 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey Comments (1)

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