For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be able to fly. Sometimes those attempts would fail miserably with me tumbling painfully towards the Earth, but on my first solo trip to Turkiye I was able to do that successfully and painlessly.
Flying Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease
It was an early 5:00 am start to our day in Cappadocia, but that was necessary as the conditions in the early morning are the best, I was told, for hot air balloon flights. This also meant that I would be able to watch the sunrise while drifting over the beautiful valleys and across the limitless skies, so I was able to convince my body that waking up at 4:00 am was a good pain.
Watching the attendants prepare their balloons in the field and fire up the enormous torches that brought the balloons to life was amazing! The sun had yet to rise while they were doing this, so the flames bursting out of the darkness were something special to behold.
After a few safety announcements, and instructions on how we could assist a safe landing, the balloon began to lift into the air. I was amazed at how smooth the journey was, but that was likely due to the skill of our pilot. I believe there were over 100 balloons in the air that day, and I am still amazed that they were all able to choreograph their movements so that they didn’t collide with each other. The pilots were constantly in radio contact with each other and their ground crews to achieve this delicate dance in the sky.
While a hot air balloon ride would be cool anywhere in the world, I highly recommend it in Cappadocia because it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find another place where you will be able to share the skies with this many other hot air balloons at the same time. You’ll also never get better photos of the region's famous and iconic fairy chimneys.
You can see video highlights of my flight on our Solo Traveler Instagram account.
Better than Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Instead of our usual buffet breakfast at the hotel, our Exodus tour guides surprised us with a special al fresco breakfast to celebrate our successful hot air balloon adventure.
Our tables were lined on a cliff overlooking a valley, set against an endless, clear, blue sky. Hints of lavender would occasionally be detected in the air, as it was carefully planted between the tables. To say that we were surprised to be served a beautifully catered Turkish breakfast, at the edge of a cliff, by a random valley in the middle of Cappadocia is an understatement.
I would never have been able to find this experience on my own (I tried without success to find online the amazing team that hosted us for this unique breakfast), but that’s the benefit of having an experienced local guide who can unlock these unique experiences.
The Secret Underground World Beneath Our Feet
As if the experience of flying through the air, followed by a breakfast that could have been inspired by an Albert Bierstadt landscape painting wasn’t enough of a magical experience for my first solo trip to Turkiye, there was more! Cappadocia is also home to many underground cave cities. We toured one of the most famous when we descended beneath the Earth’s surface and into the Kaymakli Underground City.
While there are hundreds of underground cities in Cappadocia, not all of them are open to the public, and not many are as large as this one. Construction on this underground city started in the seventh century BC and it housed as many as 5,000 people. The complex has eight levels, with only four levels currently open to visitors, and extends 131 feet (40 meters) below ground.
This vast complex includes living quarters, kitchens, storage rooms, stables, wineries, churches, ventilation shafts, and more. Early inhabitants carved out these subterranean complexes to protect themselves from invaders and marauding armies who swept across the plains of Anatolia.
As I was going through the labyrinth of tunnels in this underground city, I was amazed at the skill and determination it must have taken to dig through rock to create these rooms and tunnels without the benefit of modern tools or electric lighting.
I’ve never seen anything like it, anywhere. A word of caution to anyone visiting with mobility issues: do not descend more than two levels. While the first two levels are relatively easy to navigate, the third and fourth get more challenging with tighter spaces and many areas where you will be crouched down for periods of time to squeeze through tunnels.
Unforgettable Accommodation on My First Solo Trip to Turkiye
Finally, I have one last unforgettable Cappadocia experience to share and that was my hotel room at the Yunak Evleri Cave Hotel. First, I will tell you that the hotel and its rooms are created from caves found in the landscape. That in itself was really cool, but I could not prepare myself for the jaw-dropping suite that I had during my stay. It was a three-level unit with two private balconies, my own in-suite hot tub, a personal hammam in my cavernous bathroom, and to top it all off, I had my own private dual-level cave at the end of my upper balcony.
I don’t know what I did in a previous life to deserve this, but I cherished every moment of my stay in what I nicknamed “Wayne Manor” (it’s a Batman reference if you’re confused). It was actually quite appropriate as I did feel like I was in the Bat Cave. If only my real life were this cool!
There is no way to visually present this room in pictures and do it justice, so you should check out the video I made of the Bat Cave on the Solo Traveler Instagram page.
My Turkish Water Fight
I was fortunate enough to spend a few extra days in Istanbul after the official tour ended. For one of those days, Exodus Travels was generous enough to arrange a private tour for me of some of the city’s palaces, museums, and other significant landmarks that I hadn’t already seen.
Among the day's activities was a Turkish bath or hammam experience. I had heard about this activity, as it is a very traditional and ancient ritual that has been enjoyed by Sultans and the Turkish people for centuries. I was a bit hesitant, but my adventurous side is always up to try something new. I told myself it would probably be like a day at the spa. I’ve been to spas before, but no spa day that I’ve ever encountered came close to preparing me for this experience.
The Hurrem Sultan Hamami has been around since 1556 and for those who aren’t familiar with a Turkish hammam experience, it is a steam bath that is accompanied by aggressive exfoliation, some massage and chiropractic adjustments, and lots of rinsing.
Some find the experience relaxing; I found it to be a deep scrub combined with a water fight, as I was constantly splashed with alternating hot and cold water. But whatever your experience, in the end you will emerge a bit lighter as your therapist will have scrubbed off about a pound of dead skin from your body. Or, at least it seemed like about a pound of skin. I had no idea I had that much dead skin to give! I will say that my skin has never been that smooth in my whole life, and I left the treatment feeling like a dolphin!
I still haven’t decided how I feel about my Turkish bath adventure, but whether it's your first solo trip to Turkiye or you've been there before, I do think that everyone should have an authentic hammam experience at least once in their lifetime. I promise it’ll be the most memorable spa day ever!
For those who are wondering, at my establishment I was given disposable shorts to wear, and I was told that they have disposable bikinis for women. I believe at most places, towels are used for women and men to maintain your modesty. As everyone around me was in various states of undress during my time there, I do not have photos from my visit to the hammam, but you can find some beautiful shots of it on their Instagram page.
Tasty Tips for Your First Solo Trip to Turkiye
Here are some final tips for a fun time in Turkiye:
- Eat everything you see, especially if it has the word kebab in it.
- Always have your eyes on your food when dining outdoors, unless you’re intending to share your food with one of the many stray cats in the neighborhood.
- Honey is incorporated in many Turkish dishes, but I also recommend trying it on its own as the native flowers in the area give the local honey a very distinct and delicious flavor. Honey is often served with the comb, so an easy way to try it on its own is to just break off a piece, pop it in your mouth, and enjoy it like a stick of chewing gum. Note: don’t swallow the wax.
- Don’t just eat in a typical restaurant environment. Immerse yourself in the energy of the city by dining at an establishment with a makeshift outdoor table, in the middle of a bustling pedestrian sidewalk, just inches away from oncoming traffic.
- For a fun experience that is the complete opposite of what you had with the grand mosques and palaces in Istanbul, visit the Balat neighborhood to see what some call the most colorful area of the city, and what I assume has to be the most hipster area in all of Turkiye. What do I mean by that? Let’s just say that the only vegan restaurant I saw in the country was in Balat.
- Fans of the late Anthony Bourdain should make time to visit his favorite kebab shop, Dürümzade in Istanbul, which appeared in an episode of No Reservations.
- For more tips for your first solo trip to Turkiye, be sure to read, Exploring Turkiye Solo on a Group Tour: Fascinating & Beautiful.
Thank you to Exodus Travels for sponsoring my trip on their Walking the Ancient Trails of Cappadocia – Premium Adventure. All experiences and impressions are my own, and Solo Traveler maintains complete editorial control over all content.