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An American Expat’s Guide to Travel in Cappadocia, Turkey

Today, Cappadocia is a region that spans the Nevşehir and surrounding provinces in the country of Turkey and there are remnants of its deep history everywhere. A city that has withstood multiple empires and a modern state, it is a natural wonder of the world with its fairy chimneys, underground cities and beautiful landscape. Did I mention they have an insane hot air balloon ride attraction? Which city in the world takes roughly 2,500 people up in the sky at once each day?!

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Note: This blog post is a longer read, so feel free to skip around to the sections that interest you.

A brief history of Cappadocia

Cappadocia (Turkish Kapadokya) gets its name from the Persian Katpatukya, which means ‘beautiful horse country.’  It is located in Central Anatolia, modern day Turkey. Some of the first signs of human life were uncovered by archeologists who found human bones during an excavation that date back to around 3500 BC. Different groups that ruled in this region are the Hittites, the Phrygians, who brought horses from Europe, the Medes and the Persians. It remained under the rule of the Persian Empire under the control of Alexander the Great until he was eventually defeated by the Roman Empire. The region of Cappadocia was a Roman province under the Byzantine and Roman empires for hundreds of years, and much of the population was Greek and Armenian. The early Roman empire had not liberated Christians, so during those early centuries at the founding of Christianity, Christians in Cappadocia experienced great persecution. They used the caves and underground cities as both a place of worship and a shelter from their enemies. Cappadocia appears in the book of Acts (2:9-11) in the bible.

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Inside one of the Christian churches at the Göreme Open Air Museum

Turkish clans began to migrate there after 1071, led by a group called the Seljuks, who were Turkish-Persian Sunni Muslims and Turkish powers grew more influential in the region. It was around late 12thcentury when the Seljuks secured their power in the region. Around the 15thcentury, Cappadocia was added to the Ottoman Empire when the Ottomans defeated the Seljuks and conquered the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople (Istanbul). The Ottoman Empire was quite diverse and allowed for freedom of religion, so Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together in Cappadocia under the Ottoman Empire. However, as the Ottoman empire was falling and the formation of the republic of Turkey was being born after World War 1, conflicts hit a high during the Greco-Turkish war (1919-1922). All of the Ottoman Greek Christians who survived were removed from Turkey (including Cappadocia) and forced to migrate to Greece in 1923 as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Thus, the old Greek dialect that was once spoken in Cappadocia was lost and Christianity virtually came to an end in that region of the world. It is worth mentioning that this exchange decision was mutual between the Greek and Turkish governments under the Treaty of Lausanne, affecting both Greek-Turk Muslims and Ottoman-Greek Christians at a fundamental level. Could you imagine being forcefully removed from the only home you ever knew based on nothing but your religion?

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It is good to remember that there is often deep, sometimes painful, history at the places we travel in, and we ought to be respectful of that as we explore them. The mountains of Cappadocia get their unique shape from various natural events. Millions of years ago a volcano erupted that spread lava over 20,000 square kilometers. After the volcano became inactive and the lava cooled, the region experienced wind and water erosion for hundreds of years, leading to the soil being swept away with the wind. It was only the rocks that were able to withstand the abrasion that remained. Some of the small hard rocks remained on top of the larger rocks, creating the fairy chimneys that we see today.

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Close view of the fairy chimneys at Monk’s Valley (Paşabağ)

Transportation to, from and in Cappadocia

Since we live in Turkey, we decided to take an overnight bus from Izmir to Nevşehir (the capital province of the region of Cappadocia), which saved us a lot of money on our vacation. If you don’t mind the extra cost, flying to Nevsehir is a great option. A bus ticket one-way costs 90-100 TL, while a plane ticket one-way costs about 380-400 TL. We were able to buy all of our bus tickets for the price of one plane ticket! However, trying to sleep on the bus is not an easy task. To us, though, the savings were worth it because we had way more disposable cash to explore with in Cappadocia!

Once we arrived in Cappadocia, we went to the local car rental agencies because we thought it would be cheaper to do than renting online. This ended up being a big mistake, because all of the car rental agencies were totally booked and there were no cars! This affected our first day, but we still had a great time exploring the area our hotel was located in (Ürgüp). The next day, we snagged the last rental car at the 5thagency we went to. We rented the car for two days, and this was absolutely necessary because the local public transportation is terrible. We could not find a bus or minibus anywhere, and all of the sites to see are too spread out to rely on taxis. My recommendation- definitely book a rental car for the entirety of your trip and book it in advance!

Places to Stay

Our hotel was located in Ürgüp, which is very close to a lot of the main attractions in Cappadocia (as long as you have a car). We stayed at Dere Suites and I have to say, we may have never received such incredible customer service anywhere else and we have been a LOT of places here! They were kind, sacrificial, placed all of our needs first, offered great amenities, and were flexible. Their breakfast was the best I have ever had at a hotel in Turkey, and it was included in our booking. What made it so great? They provided real FILTERED COFFEE. This has only happened to me one other time while in Datca, Turkey, and the only reason this place beats the other is because they also offered complementary gozleme that was handmade right in front of us by the kindest Turkish woman. I mentioned gozleme in my Fethiye blog post, but to recap, it is like a Turkish quesadilla made with cheese, potatoes, butter and really any ingredient you want melted inside a thin lavash bread. It is delicious.

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Entrance to our hotel Dere Suites

Exploring around Ürgüp a bit, we noticed there were many gorgeous hotels on the surrounding streets. They are all cave suites, meaning they have suites available that are literally built inside caves, which is part of the charm of Cappadocia! Ürgüp was clean, calm, charming and much quainter than its neighbor Göreme. Göreme is like the party sister of Ürgüp- its loud, crowded, colorful and has a lot more to do and see. A local told us that hotels in Urgup are much nicer and have better customer service than the hotels in Göreme, and we would have to agree. But if being close to lots of shops, restaurants, very limited night life (meaning there are just a few pubs), and a lot of the tours you can take, then staying in Göreme may be right for you. I would say that if you are in Göreme, you don’t really need a rental car, since most of the main activities are located there, but you won’t easily be able to explore anything outside of that area if you don’t have some transportation.

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Posing at the top of Temenni Tepesi in Ürgüp

You can expect a night’s stay at a hotel to range anywhere from 300-500 TL depending on your budget and what amenities you want. Almost all of the hotels have breakfast included.

Places to Eat

Han Çırağan Restaurant in Ürgüp

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Entrance to Han Çırağan Restaurant. Fun fact: we saw a picture of the owner of this restaurant posing with Nicholas Cage!

Oguzhan and I both loved our dishes at this restaurant. They had great customer service. They didn’t hover or pressure us to buy all of these extra things. I ordered a local specialty of lamb with apricots covered in an apricot sauce. This is pretty unusual for Turkey because they don’t like sweet things in their food! But this dish was perfect. It was not too sweet, yet it had a great flavor with the apricots. It coupled well with a glass of red wine. The red wine in the Cappadocia region is said to be some of the best in the country. I am my mother’s daughter and I love red wine, so I was so excited to try some! I was really pleased with it. The restaurant was priced at a medium level, about 45-50 TL per plate.

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A local specialty, lamb with apricots and apricot sauce. The Turkish for apricot is kayı

Restaurant Lagarto in Ürgüp

This restaurant was located at our hotel and we chose it based on convenience but were also very pleased with the food and beautiful view. The food was excellent. I ordered another local speciality called testi kebabı, which is a type of meat they cook within a sealed clay pot. It came with a side of Turkish Pilav (classic oily deliciousness). I also enjoyed a glass of red wine with this meal. This was the most expensive restaurant we ate at; one dish was about 60 TL.

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Handsome hubby with his food
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The outcome of testi kebabı
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Red wine by Turasan, a local winery

Aslan Restaurant in Belisırma at Ihlara Valley

We stopped here for lunch after our trekking through Ihlara Valley, and we loved the atmosphere. There were a number of tables with floor seating outside built upon the Melendiz River. I ordered seabream fish (Turkish Cipura), which was so delicious. I usually eat grilled cipura, but this was cooked in something called kiremit, a clay tile pot, in an open furnace oven. I was really happy with my fish! It was fairly priced around 30 TL.

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Çıpura, or seabream, my favorite fish! Note that you will have to clean you own fish! If you need tips on how to do that let me know

Peking Chinese Restaurant in Goreme

Did I mention that there is a great number of Chinese tourists in Cappadocia? Ozzy and I had eaten a lot of Turkish food at this point, so we were ready for something different. We randomly drove by the Chinese restaurant on our way back from Ihlara Valley, and I said ‘we are definitely eating there tonight.’ They had authentic Chinese food, which made me so happy. It is really hard to find good Asian food in Turkey, but in the last few years they have done better. I ordered broccoli beef with a side of egg fried rice. It was so much food I couldn’t even eat half of it, so I recommend sharing! They were brought to us in true Chinese food portions, which is not true of the Chinese food in Izmir…

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Broccoli beef and egg-fried rice. My mouth is watering just looking at this.

This restaurant is somewhat expensive, but since they give you so much food and you can share it I would say they are the most fairly priced. My broccoli beef was 49 TL and the egg fried rice was a bit over 20 TL.

Mack Bear Coffee Co. in Urgup

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All the bears reminded me of California, which made me miss home a little more than usual.

I almost always bring ground coffee and a French press with me on vacation in Turkey, because filtered coffee has not quite made it to the tourism sector, yet. However, we found Mack Bear Coffee Co. in the city center in Urgup and I was so happy. They had great coffee, spacious seating, and they allow you to sit there for hours even if you haven’t ordered anything. We came to this coffee shop three or four times during our trip and I ordered my summertime favorite, iced mocha. Even if you aren’t in Urgup, this little coffee shop is worth a stop to get that caffeine fix.

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Activities and Tours to do in Cappadocia

Here is the bread and butter of this blog post. We were in Cappadocia for four full days and we felt that even if we stayed for another four, we could find more things to do! Thanks to people’s recommendations and having a rental car, we were able to do a lot!

Day 1 Activities

Like I said, we couldn’t get our car until the second day, so we stayed local in Ürgüp and explored that area. We were pleasantly surprised by the charm of the local shops and friendliness of the people! It is always my hope when I travel somewhere that I will connect with a stranger in a meaningful way, and that happened a lot on this trip.

Temenni Tepesi in Ürgüp

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The view from Temenni Tepesi

After checking into our hotel and napping for a few hours, we went out to explore. We walked up to the top of a hill (hill in Turkish is tepe) called Temenni Tepesi. This had a great panoramic view of the area and a cute café at the top where you can get some tea, Turkish coffee or cold refreshments.

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Quaint house with a terrace on their rooftop at Temenni Tepesi.

Back in the city center, we found a cute little jewelry shop called Tash Taki. The owner Ayhan is actually a hot air balloon pilot whose hobby is making handmade jewelry. After buying a few gifts, we had some Turkish coffee and talked about his daughter who is studying marketing in Santa Monica, CA, which was fun because that is my home state!

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Ayhan’s beautiful handmade jewelery. Great stop to grab gifts for your friends and family!

We said goodbye to Ayhan and went into another shop where I bought a pair of grayish-blue flowy pants that I’ve been wanting for a long time! The owner recommended we visit his wife’s shop where she practices an art called Ebru art.

Ebru Art House, Urgup

We walked up the hill for a while before we found her shop. She showed us a number of beautiful silk scarves and clothes she sells. She then demonstrated how she uses Ebru art to create uniquely painted scarves. In a large tray of special water, she flicks drops of paint then uses a thin needle-like tool to swish around the paint into a unique design. She then places the white silk scarf on top of the water and lets it sit for a moment. Then, she slid the scarf out of the water and the design was perfectly imprinted on the scarf! After a brief rinse, dry, and iron, the scarf is ready within 15 minutes. It literally looks like magic and her creations were so beautiful.

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The silk scarf right after the slid it out of the water.
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Finishing touches with the iron.

While we were waiting for the scarf to dry, we were chatting and once she realized Ozzy’s “hometown” Tokat was the same as hers, she lit up and sang us their local song! She even shared peaches that she brought back with her from her last visit to Tokat, which is a huge compliment and gift because those are precious in number. It was probably the best peach I’ve ever tried, which made me want to visit Ozzy’s hometown even more. If you’d like to follow her on Instagram, you can find her here.

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Yummy peaches from Tokat, Turkey.

Cultural tip: In Turkey, when people ask others where they are from, they are actually asking what city their family comes from. Although Ozzy has never visited Tokat himself, since his ancestors and family are from there, he is from there. One day, our children will also be from there!

Day 2 Activities

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Our hotel arranged for us to go on a hot air balloon ride, the most famous (and expensive) activity in Cappadocia. Many people who opt not to do it still wake up before the crack of dawn to watch these beauties take off and fly in the sky. We left our hotel at 4:00 am and were up in the air by 5:00 am. They offer a complimentary breakfast before taking off, but it was really crowded and there was nothing left by the time we got there. Sad.

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Take off selfie! Bright and bushy-tailed at 5:00 am.

There are different sizes of baskets. Usually, anywhere from 9-20 people can fit into one basket. The balloons are HUGE, and it was amazing to see them all being filled up close. Once we got inside the basket, we were a bit frightened by the fire right over our heads, but it just made the whole experience even more thrilling.

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The view just a few minutes after lifting off the ground.

I’ve shared before that I am super afraid of heights, so doing this ride was a huge step out of my comfort zone. Honestly, I didn’t sleep at all the night before. But once we were going up, I felt allmost of my fear go away. It was much smoother and safer than I was expecting. The view is incredible and it’s just a lot of fun. I knew I would regret not doing it and my husband was so eager to go. If you have it in your budget, I highly recommend doing it! If you live in Turkey, you may be able to barter the price down to 120 USD, but they typically charge foreigners 170 USD. Since I live here, and my husband is Turkish, we got me the Turkish price 😀

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This is what nearly 1,500 meters high looks like
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Me realizing that hot air balloon rides aren’t so scary after all.

You stay up in the air for about 45 minutes to one hour. However, it doesn’t feel that long! It goes by so fast. The pilots can only make the balloon go up and down and turn the basket, but other than that they rely on the winds to carry them. Part of the reason they go so early is because the winds are calmer, and it is much safer; also, watching the sunrise from the hot air balloon is a once in a lifetime experience. Our highest point was 1,500 meters, which is as high as you’re allowed to go! Once you land, they give you a certificate and pop a bottle of fake champagne. Sorry friends, drinking alcohol in open fields is apparently now illegal in Nevsehir. But the sparkling cider was still yummy!

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Cheers to overcoming fear!

Once we got back to our hotel, we slept for about 4 hours before moving on to our next journey.

Göreme Open Air Museum

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Maybe the second most popular attraction in Cappadocia is the Göreme Open Air Museum, in Turkish the Goreme Acik Hava Muzesi. I was able to get in with my Museum Pass that I purchased as a resident, but I am pretty sure the one-time entrance ticket is about 30 TL. This museum had a number of caves in the mountains that were used as churches by early Christians living in Cappadocia. There are beautiful frescoes painted on the ceilings inside many of them. This museum is definitely worth a trip. We spent about 1.5 hour exploring. However, be ready for the hills and stairs! Almost nothing in Cappadocia is flat so you will get a good amount of cardio exercise exploring.

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Beautiful fresco of the Virgin Mary inside one of the churches at Goreme Open Air Museum. I was rebuked immediately after taking this photo, because it is apparently forbidden.

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We decided to take it easy the rest of the day after this and explored the city center of Göreme for a bit, learned about Turkish carpets at a place called Sultan Carpets that I found on Instagram. I think old Turkish carpets and kilims are so gorgeous and most of these salesmen have been in the industry since the 80’s, so they know a lot.

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Some of the rugs at Sultan Carpets in Göreme

Day 3 Activities

After breakfast, we hopped in the car and drove about 1.5 hours to a place called Aksaray, where Ihlara Valley (Turkish Ihlara Vadisi) is located.

Ihlara Valley

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This valley spans a range of nearly 14 kilometers and is 100 meters deep. It is similar to many other valleys in Cappadocia, in that it houses small churches inside the caves of the mountains, many of which have beautiful frescoes painted inside. Walking on the path alongside the river was so peaceful, so this is a great option for those who love trails and the outdoors. It is not an intense hike, but you can potentially walk on the trail for several kilometers if you have the time and desire to do so. There are multiple entrances, but if you are entering by car then you will likely enter at the Belisirma location which offers free parking. The entrance fee to Ihlara Valley is 20 TL if you do not have a museum pass. We only explored about 3 km of the valley, and even that spanned about 1.5 hours.

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If there is no selfie, did it really happen?

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SO much green, I love it!

Tour tip: There are daily tours you can participate in at Ihlara Valley, if you prefer to have a tour guide who can describe the history of the valley. The tour includes the entrance fee, tour guide fee, and lunch. It costs about 50 or 60 Euro depending on your payment method. There are tours like this available for almost anywhere you want to explore in Cappadocia.

Derinkuyu underground city

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The final story down at Derinkuyu underground city

Derinkuyu in English means “deep well,” which is fitting because this underground city goes 7 stories down! Like most of the caves, there are churches built inside, but we didn’t see any frescoes in this one. It is a slim fit, so you have to bow most of the time while walking downstairs. It isn’t a good idea for anyone who is claustrophobic or has panic attacks when they are in confined spaces. Other than that, it is an amazing thing to see! We would recommend not eating right beforehand, because the stairs were kind of killer. There are many other underground cities you can see, so I recommend researching others to explore if you really like them. However, Derinkuyu is the most famous one. We were able to enter with our museum cards, but if you don’t have one then entrance is about 25 TL.

ATV/Quad Tour ride

On our drive back, we wanted to see some of the fairy chimneys. While we were searching for them, we stopped by an ATV tour center to see if they would let us use them to ride in the valleys. They had a sunset ATV tour available from 5:30-8:00 which we decided to participate in. This was a nice change up from all the stairs and hills we were walking! We were able to rest at the hotel for about 40 minutes before we had to be at the ATV center, which was so needed. We went tandem with the ATV, but we could have each rented our own as well. One motor cost 150 TL, and we took turns driving. It was so much fun riding through the fields and we stopped at 3 different locations. The first stop was just a café, nothing special. The second stop, however, was beautiful. It is called Ask Vadisi (Love Valley) and it is a great place to take some pictures. At the final location, we watched the sunset from a small hill and it was a great end to a long day. The ride is very dusty, so come prepared with glasses or sunglasses, or else it will be hard to see while you drive. They also offer a face mask to cover your mouth, so you don’t eat the dust. It looks a bit funny, but it is very helpful! We highly recommend the ATV ride, it was really fun and there were probably about 400 other people riding that evening, too!

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Sunset at the end of the ride
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These face masks were so necessary!
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Me trying not to laugh at the phallic fairy chimneys…

Day 4 Activities

We got up early in the morning and headed to Paşabağ (Monk’s Valley), because we were determined to see the famous fairy chimneys up close. This location had mushroom shaped fairy chimneys and also camels! You can pay to ride a camel, but don’t be deceived; camels are not a normal part of life anywhere in Turkey, it is just part of tourist attractions. I didn’t really want to ride one, but they were cool to look at. This location wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything very special compared to the next place we went.

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Mushroom style fairy chimneys at Monk’s Valley

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What should we name him? He was a bit old and crabby.

Zelve Open Air Museum

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Zelve Açık Hava Müzesi in Turkish is another incredible, must-see valley and the entrance is about 10 TL. There are many fairy chimneys at Zelve, way more than at Pasabag. Since we had to return our car, we didn’t have as much time to explore the valleys as we wanted, but we were so glad to explore during the time that we had.  It is a short drive from Goreme, about 10 km, and wasn’t nearly as crowded as all the other places we went. Like much of the region that makes up modern day Turkey, during the Ottoman Empire, Christians and Muslims lived in this valley in harmony together until the exchange that took place in 1924. Local people lived in the valley until the 1950’s, when it became too dangerous to remain there due to erosion. Now the valley functions as an open-air museum for tourists and brave rock climbers. It takes around 2 hours to explore the valleys, and there are many small ancient churches to visit.

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View of the valleys at Zelve

Overall, there is a lot that we did in Cappadocia, but there is a lot that we didn’t do, too! There are more valleys, ancient churches and monasteries, castles, and underground cities to be explored. Just get your adventure shoes ready and I have no doubt you will have a great time in Cappadocia!

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Cappadocia Travel Guide

 

Extra Pictures (As if there weren’t already enough!)

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Melendiz River at Ihlara Valley
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Sunrise or Sunset? (Hint: we are on the balloon)
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More beautiful flowers at Ihlara Valley
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View at Goreme Open Air Museum
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Selfie at Ihlara Valley
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Another photo of our crabby old camel friend in Monk’s Valley
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Beautiful Turkish Lamps
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Yummy ayran in my favorite cup!
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Inside a church at Goreme Open Air Museum
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Pumpkin seeds!
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A 40-year old kilim rug with origins from Adana Turkey.
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Pretty poky purple flower at Ihlara Valley.
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11 thoughts on “An American Expat’s Guide to Travel in Cappadocia, Turkey”

  1. WOW! Don’t even know where to begin–SO much here! Thank you so much for such an extensive and beautiful introduction to Cappadocia–a place I honestly didn’t even know existed. Man, the world is SO big! Amazing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cappadocia has intrigued me for a long time! You’ve covered so many things to do! Saving this for when I *finally* get to plan my visit 🙂 ATV riding will be near the top of my list!

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