Like most, I love coffee. One of my earliest memories from childhood is visiting my great-grandmother and drinking what she called “coffee milk.” Coffee milk was made using 10-parts milk, 1-part coffee, mixed with enough sugar to cause ... Read more
Enjoy A Delicious Morning Cup of Joe? Thank A Turk! 01/10/2018
Coffee has a long, interesting, and disputed history—one that leads to and through the Ottoman Empire and a city now known as Istanbul. In fact, it is safe to say that were it not for the Turks, coffee would not be the world’s favorite ... Read more
Memorial Day in Normandy 26/05/2018
In 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It was a privilege to join hundreds others in attendance in honoring those who died bravely defending the United States of A... Read more
Şalgam - Adana's Medicinal Miracle 06/05/2018
Şalgam (pronounced shalgam) is a drink that provokes a strong reaction for all who have tasted the blood-red brew. For most who live in the southern Turkish city of Adana, şalgam is a staple on the table at almost every meal. For expat Ad... Read more
Crimson Gold 02/10/2015
September in Adana always brings three things: slight relief from the soul-crushing heat and humidity, smoke wafting into the city from the farmers burning the surrounding agricultural fields, and, lastly, fresh salça. Salça (pronounced s... Read more
Balloon Ride Over Cappadocia 07/01/2015
I am jolted awake by a firm knock on our hotel door. My first reaction is to kick into Jason Bourne mode. "They" have come for me. After several seconds I come to my senses, my heart rate returns to normal and I realize it's the shuttle dri... Read more
I am jolted awake by a firm knock on our hotel door. My first reaction is to kick into Jason Bourne mode. "They" have come for me. After several seconds I come to my senses, my heart rate returns to normal and I realize it's the shuttle driver picking me up for my morning balloon ride. "But it's only 5:40 am and they aren't supposed to pick me up until 6:15," I think to myself. "No one has ever been this early in Turkey." I assure the driver that I will be out shortly...as soon as I put on pants. I hurriedly get dressed and stumble toward the group waiting to board the shuttle. The driver approaches, asks my room number and orders me to board his van.
Before we take off, the driver comes around to make sure everyone is on board. I notice that he is handing out stickers of various colors to different people on the bus. I figure the sticker color signifies which balloon package one has purchased. I await the cheap sticker. He, again, asks for my room number. I, again, tell him, but this time he looks very confused checking his roster. He tells me to stay seated but passes on to the next traveller without giving me a sticker.
Half hour early? No sticker? By this time I suspect something is wrong. Judgmental readers will think, "You are obviously on the wrong shuttle, dimwit. Disembark before you join ‘Balloon Tours Over Moscow.’" Go easy on me. It's not even 6 am and I've only been awake long enough to put on a shirt and hop into a van.
Our driver maneuvers down the narrow Göreme streets, coming within inches of clipping prehistoric rock formations and other shuttle buses. After picking up a few other passengers, we arrive at the balloon company. Pulling into the parking lot I notice the name of the company. “Doesn’t ring a bell,” I think to myself. We walk into the crowded waiting room and everyone is told to sign into a certain computer corresponding to one’s sticker color. I approach someone who appears to be in charge and inform them that I still don’t have a sticker. He finds my van driver and is briefed on my situation. They whisper to one another, making sure I do not hear their conversation.
By this time, I am certain that I am with the wrong company. However, my hotel is a 20 min walk uphill. I likely will miss my correct shuttle anyway, and honestly, I don’t want to walk up that hill at 6 am. A balloon ride is a balloon ride, right? Who cares which company I go with?
He gives me a green sticker, tells me to sign into the green-sticker computer and that we are waiting on permission to fly. I grab a hot tea and piece of cake, and walk outside to wait. Employees of the balloon company are releasing helium balloons in the parking lot to determine wind direction and how the balloons will fly. I chat with a pilot for a while and he tells me they haven’t flown in 5 days because of weather. He estimates that we have a 50/50 shot of flying today. While we are chatting, the guy in charge approaches and tells me that my correct balloon company has called and is looking for me. Apparently, they had come to our hotel door at 6:15 and my wife told them where to find me. I was soon taken to the balloon company where I had made my reservation, Butterfly Balloons.
They are waiting for me as I walk into the office and within 10 minutes we board the vans and are headed to the take off area.
We weave in between the valley walls and the massive rock formations that make Cappadocia famous. Quite frankly, I am terrified. The side of our basket comes within inches of one of the famous “fairy chimneys.” At one point, it appears that my corner of the basket will be crashing directly into the side of a cliff. I pull out my phone to get a video of what I believe is my certain demise. However, Eftal is a pro. Just in the nick of time he ignites the burner sending an 8-foot tall column of fire into the center of the balloon lifting us safely over the canyon wall…barely.
As we exit Red Valley, a sense of relief and disappointment rush over me simultaneously. I am relieved that we narrowly escaped death, yet disappointed that a big part of our journey is already complete. Almost immediately the wind shifts. The balloons that we had been chasing are now coming towards us. We would be forced to traverse the valley again. After his first trip heroics, I am much more confident in Eftal’s ability to guide us through the valley and on to safety.
Nearing the end of Red Valley, we rise up and over the massive plateau that dominates the Göreme skyline. By the time we reach our maximum altitude (about 2700 feet) we are well above the clouds that cover that landscape on the other side of the plateau. Eftal points to a nearby field and informs us that is where we will be landing.