Insider Travel Tips to Cappadocia

posted on: Friday, August 28, 2015

Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-20 Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-23 Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-19 Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-4 Cappadocia is a region, not a city or town name. The tourist cities and surrounding regions comprises of Nevsehir, Kayseri, Aksaray and Nigde. The landscape here is really literally out of the world - it is dotted with many valleys with honeycombed rock cliffs and "fairy chimneys" as termed by the locals for the shape of the towering rocks, which were carved by people in ancient times. Hence, you can find many now-abandoned cave houses as your hike in the valleys, and bedding in a cave hotel is probably an experience to remember, which cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

To Do

Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-18 Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-15 Go forth and explore
Cappadocia boasts many beautiful rock valleys and it is really fun to go hiking in them, explore the landscape and discover cave houses and churches carved within the "fairy chimneys". Some of the valleys I recommend to explore are Red/Rose Valley (named after its color), Pigeon Valley and Love Valley. There are of course many others which we have yet to explore, such as Zelve Valley and Zelve Open Air Museum.

There are lots of small paths near to Tourist Hotel on the main road of Goreme, which will take you to the respective valleys. Ask for a map from your hotel!

Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-7 Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-1 Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-9 Watch sunrise on a hot air balloon
This is really a once in a lifetime experience, which I would really like to have again. Cappadocia is probably one of the top places in the world to take a hot air balloon, because looking at the otherworldly landscape 800m above the ground is already mindblowing on its own.

We woke up at 4am, shivering in the cold and gulping down hot Turkish tea while waiting for the hot air balloon pickup. The minibus dropped us near the balloon, which the crew was just beginning to set up. We packed into the balloon basket, with everyone buzzing with anticipation and slowly, we felt the balloon basket leave the ground and we began to rise.

It is just magical watching the sunrise over the valley, see layers of layers of rolling mountains bathed in golden light and the silhouettes of other balloons around us. Depending on weather conditions, the balloon will also take you to see most of the valleys and admire the strange and beautiful landscape of Cappadocia.

There are tons of balloon companies asking for prices between 120 - 160 euros - be sure to consider the following with the price: Reputation of company and Number of people per balloon basket.

Horseback riding in the Red and Rose Valley
Out of the 3 full days we were in Goreme, it rained in the afternoon 2/3 days. We originally booked our Sunset Horseback Tour on the first day, but we had to postpone it due to the poor weather. So on the final day, which also happened to be my birthday, we were both praying so hard with our fingers crossed that the sun will stay. And it did.

It was really a beautiful experience as I rode up and down the rocky terrain of the Red/Rose Valley - I bobbed up and down with the rhythm of the horse. I was one with nature and my horse - No other distractions. As we rode back in the direction of the sunset, the Red/Rose Valley changed its hue gradually from light reddish rose to golden rose, and it was the second time which I felt like I was truly in a movie or a fairytale. Magic.

Climb atop Sunset Point 
Ask your hotel where the Sunset Point in Goreme is - it is really easy to climb atop and a beautiful sight watching the sunlight bathe the valleys in a golden hue. One side of the sunset point faces Goreme town, while the other overlooks Love Valley. In the distance, you can see the Red/Rose Valley, which makes the sunset experience all the more spectacular.

Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-24 Go stargazing after dark 
This was originally not on our itinerary at all as we did not know of it. But because of the friends we have made at Nostalji Cave Suites & Restaurants (more below), we eventually went back to the Sunset Point after dark, brought by the waiter, Ali, who had the same birthday as me. We brought red wine, two giant Golden Retrievers, and climbed back to Sunset Point after dark.

We laid in the grass and stared at the stars, we finished a bottle of red and made toasts to music, friendship and the beauty of Cappadocia. It has been a long time since I felt content and brimming with satisfaction just laying down, doing nothing. Ali started his playlist on the phone and it was London Grammar. I almost couldn't believe - Here, in Cappadocia, an Iranian guy working in Turkey shares the same birthday and music taste as myself. I'm usually not a huge believer of fate or destiny, but then I think it was really fate that we met.

Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-11 If you'd like to go for a tour, choose the Green Tour
There are 3 main tours which local tour companies offer - Red, Blue and Green. Choose the Green Tour as it covers the most miles and takes you to the Derinkuyu Underground City, which you can only visit with a guide.

Cappadocia Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-14 Climb atop Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle is probably the highest point in the Cappadocia region and it looks like a giant block of cheddar cheese. On a good day, you can see for as far as your eye allows! If you, for any reason, cannot go for the hot air balloon, then a visit to Uchisar Castle is a definite must.

Note: You can skip the overcrowded Goreme Open Air Museum as I found it to be simply too touristy and that takes away the experience of admiring the cave churches while jostling with people in a tiny, cramped space. I would recommend you to explore and discover cave churches on your own in the valleys instead.

To Eat

Top Deck Cave Restaurant
Probably one of the best meals I've had in Turkey! This family-run restaurant is slightly underground in a cave, offering some really good homey, comfort food. Pop cooks the main meat dishes, which is Chicken, Beef or Lamb and the cooking method changes daily, Mom helps out in the kitchen, and their daughters take your order. Order the Large Meze Platter to get a taste of Turkish mezes. Do call to reserve in advance as they are usually all packed the whole night!

Nostalji Restaurant
Try the famous Pottery Kebab here! Pottery Kebab is a meat stew served in a small clay urn, which you would need to break to open. At Nostalji, the Pottery Kebab is made according to traditional recipes, comprising mainly of quality meat which the Emin, the restaurant owner, buys from the market daily. Come here for traditional Turkish dishes and really friendly and genuine service - plus the view here is great when they open their rooftop terrace.

This was also the restaurant where I celebrated my 23rd birthday.
"It's her birthday today," Adeline remarked to the waiter who has been serving us at the end of the meal. We were both curious what Turkish hospitality will bring us when we said that.
"Well, today's my birthday too," Ali, the waiter, replied somewhat casually. He has been half teasing us the whole time while serving us, so we just brushed off his remark.
"No, it's really my birthday," he stressed, pulling out his wallet and giving us his identity card. We stared in disbelief. "You can't leave yet, you have to celebrate!"
So it was after the restaurant served its last customers, that the lights were switched off and a guy brought out a cake lit with candles and sparklers. The rest of the staff started singing a birthday song in Turkish. They made a big deal of having both me and Ali make a wish and blow candles together, cutting the cake and then popping champagne. We then spoke to Emin, the owner of Nostalji Cave Suites & Restaurant, who was born and raised in Cappadocia, for close to 2 hours. What was originally meant to be a simple dinner progressed to a celebration lasting to almost 4 hours in the restaurant.

Turkish hospitality has yet again surpassed my expectations and amazed me.

Koy Evi 
This openair restaurant has a great atmosphere and bread here is always freshly toasted to perfection in their stone carved oven. Plenty of good dishes to choose from, but do order a baked dish to taste the difference its stone oven makes!

We didn't try this restaurant but I stumbled upon it on another guide - this is a great place for traditional Turkish plates as well and of course the Pottery Kebab, local only to Cappadocia.

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I think for now, Cappadocia will always have my heart - I only spent 3.5 days there, and it has never failed to surprise me what other experiences it can give. From crawling into cave homes, getting lost in hiking trails, sliding down steep sandy paths (that was scary), to riding horses in the valleys and riding a hot air balloon for the first time... Cappadoca has so much to offer and there is so much which I have yet to see in the region. Trust me, go to Turkey and go to Cappadocia.

Day Trip Out to Pamukkale

posted on: Monday, August 24, 2015

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About Pamukkale

Pamukkale, meaning cotton castles in Turkish, was named as such thanks to its cascading layers of chalk, filled with pale, chalky blue waters. It is really a sight to behold as you see this blindingly white chalk cliffs rising in the middle of nowhere, amidst all the greenery, and in the middle of it all, a pale blue lake. Surreal.

Pamukkale's layers of terraces are made of travertine, and the cliffs are eroded by the water which emerges from the hot springs at the head of the cliffs, depositing calcium carbonate (limestone) which eventually hardens. So as you walk up the cliffs, you can see multiple marks made by the water streams flowing down. Such poetry. You really have to see it for yourself - the blindingly white cliffs in the sun, which will turn golden as the sun sets.

Getting There

The cliffs of Pamukkale is the main tourist attraction in the area of Denizli of Turkey, with the Hierapolis atop the cliffs being a secondary attraction. I wouldn't recommend going into Hierapolis, as you can witness much more magnificent Roman ruins in Ephesus, Selcuk. So it's safe to conclude that you can visit Pamukkale on a day trip, the whole site visit would probably take you 3-4h max to complete.

Me and my best friend, Addie, took the alternative route to traveling get there. We hitchhiked. It took us about 3-4h to get there via 4 different cars from Selcuk. Anyway - side note - hitchhiking is a great way to interact with the locals in Turkey! They are all extremely friendly and kind people, each one genuinely willing to help foreigners and show you their country. We had so much fun chatting with a 12 wheeler cement truck driver (it was our first time on such a huge truck!) - even though he didn't speak much English, he still kept trying to talk to us, offer us tea and drinks, and even introduced us to his friends (at a pit stop!)

But if you're feeling less adventurous, buses are a great way to travel in Turkey. A bus from Selcuk to Pamukkale takes 3h, and costs 30-35 liras. You can go into Pamukkale in the afternoon around 2pm, have a late lunch there of freshly made gozleme (Turkish pancake) and then leave for your next destination in the evening around 6 or 7pm. We caught the bus towards Goreme, Cappadocia at 710pm, and reached Goreme shivering in the wee hours of morning at 4am.

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What to bring

If you want a dip in the chalk pools, feel free to bring your swimsuit! There are plenty of pools to go around in Pamukkale, with lots of people dipping in. Also remember the following -
Sunscreen and shades
Slippers/ sandals

Basically you bring what you would bring to a beach!

Hope this guide was useful - feel free to ask me anything in the comments below.

Insider Travel Tips to Santorini - Travel in Style

posted on: Friday, August 14, 2015

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To Do

Rent an ATV for a fun way to get around
It's easy to drive around in Santorini as there are only two main roads which connects you to all the different districts. You can easily rent an ATV - you'd need an international driving license - and it's a cheap way to get around, as long as it doesn't rain! If not, you can rent a tiny Smart car.

A word on night driving though - there are limited street lights. On the first day we had the ATV, we were driving back after being intoxicated on red wines at Santo Wines after sunset. It was pitch black and all we could see was the headlights of cars in the distance. We accidentally took a one-way road and had horns blaring at us halfway - literally a deer caught in headlights situation!

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-22 Hike from Fira to Oia
The path is generally quite easy to hike as it's well marked and mostly paved. It's a 10km walk, which will take you about 3-4h depending on your speed. Bring lots of water and small snacks, as well as your camera, as the path is very very scenic and well worth the hike.

Hunt down postcard locations
Hunting down postcard locations is fun, in a treasure hunt sort of way. Sure, it's cliche and all, but they're postcard images for a reason. Here, I show you how you can find the various locations.

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-19 1. Fira - That famous 3 bells
You need to go up the stairs next to Mama Thira restaurant and up past the carpark area. There's actually a very helpful sign showing where's the photospot once you get up to the carpark.

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-26 2. Oia - 3 Blue Domes
Look out for a glitzy jewelry store full of bling on the main street of Oia. Just before the store, there is a small path that will lead you to the photospot. If you can't find it, just follow the crowd!

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-16 3. Oia - Classic Sunset
Also deemed as the most famous sunset in the world (almost). I went to Santorini in May, before the peak season and I still had to station myself at the Oia Castle Ruins 1 hour before sunset to ensure that I get a good spot to catch it. If you're arriving in Santorini during the peak season (June - August), be sure to park yourself at least 1.5h early for sunset.

Santorini church bells-1 4. Oia - Church set against the town
It's easy to find this spot if you follow the same small path where you shot the Blue Domes. If not, there is an alternative path leading from the main road of Oia behind. Just look out for small paths branching out from the main road of the town.

Cliff Jumping at Ammoudi Bay
We didn't have time for this one but I suppose in the hot summer days, cliff jumping would give immense pleasure! You can find this tiny rock cliff when you walk in the direction of Katerina's at Ammoudi Bay.

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Hiking on Nea Kameni and Swimming in Hot Springs
It was first time I had hiked on a volcano, and getting to know Nea Kameni, otherwise known as the beautiful caldera in all the Santorini photos was really a wonderful experience. We arrived there atop a giant wood yacht ship, complete with white sails and all, which made me fantasize about Pirates of Caribbean. Hiking atop the volcanic rocks and seeing Santorini from another perspective was definitely a worthwhile experience.

We were then brought off to the sulfuric hot springs near to Nea Kameni and we jumped into the cold sea water. The blue and cold waters gradually turned to a greenish hue and warm, thanks to the high sulfuric content, as we swam into the bay. It's not exactly hot springs ala Japanese style, but to be swimming in the Mediterranean sea, and then to come back atop on deck toasting in the hot sun. I was content to say the least.

There are lots of cruise companies in Fira and Oia, you can simply walk in and book a cruise. Depending on the time you want to spend and your interests, you can book half day, full day or sunset cruises. I would recommend a half day cruise to Nea Kameni and the hot springs, and to skip Thira, the island nearby Santorini.

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-30 Art Space Santorini
We kind of stumbled upon Art Space without really actively searching for it. We were in the Exo Gonia district, originally planning a trip down to Kameni beach. On the road we saw a sign directing us to Art Space and we thought why not? Turned out to be one of the more interesting and not so touristy places in Santorini.

Art Space is a winery and an art gallery - Works of Greek artists are exhibited in ancient cellars which were used to make and mature wine. The biggest cellar stretched 40m underground and it was really a novel way to exhibit art. We were also given a free tour of the winery, learning about ancient and modern ways on winemaking on Santorini, which ended with a wine tasting (at just 5 euros!).

Explore Pyrgos
Pyrgos is reckoned as one of the earliest settlements in Santorini - Streets are narrow, houses condensed and painted stark white that they almost resemble igloos. Many of the houses are also abandoned, but the original facade of the houses remained interesting, giving a side of Santorini that is less touristy. Do dine at Selene's when you're in Pyrgos - They're probably one of the best restaurants in Santorini. More below.

Lioyerma Cafe Pool Bar
We didn't manage to get to Lioyerma due to time constraints, but from the photos, they look like a good place to spend a whole afternoon at, and also catch the sunset with their unblocked view.

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Alternative Sunset Locations

Imerovigli Skaros Rock
Sure, it's great to catch the sunset in Oia, but to catch one there would also mean you'd need to reserve your spot 1.5 hours in advance, squeeze with a lot of other people and watch the sunset with the crowds. Sunsets are best enjoyed at peace in my opinion, so I think you should give Imerovigli a try. Simply get there and you'd see this huge rock cliff jutting out from the rest of the coastline.

Sunset Boat Cruise
There are also plenty of boat cruises offering Sunset Boat Tours, where the boat will bring you directly in the face of the setting sun for a more private viewing experience.

Other alternatives would include restaurants where you get an unblocked view, such as those at Lioyerma, Santo Wines, and some other locations you can find in Oia and Fira.

To Eat

Selene's Santorini-1 Selene's - Pyrgos
Selene is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in Santorini. We received such attentive service when we were there - the waiters are willing to explain all the dishes to you, from the ingredients they use to the method of cooking. Food presentation is impeccable and taste is really top notch with fresh ingredients. Do go there when you visit Pyrgos!

Metaxi Mas - Exo Gonia
This tiny restaurant is probably the only lively place in Exo Gonia, as most of the houses there have been abandoned. They are famous for a reason - great Cretan cuisine and mezzes, with a beautiful view to boot. Try the pastry encrusted pan-fried feta cheese, which is unique to Santorini!

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-8 Santo Wines - Pyrgos
Santo Wines is definitely worth the visit - you can choose from an extensive winetasting menu. We got 12 wines for sharing between us, and it was sufficient to say you got quite happy thanks to their generous portions! The wait staff were very friendly as well, they loaned us windbreakers when he noticed that both of us were shivering from the cold winds blowing in from the caldera side. On top of wines, you can also choose to have platters of cold cuts and cheeses.

Mou Taverna - Finika, Oia
For a more authentic, homey dining experience, I strongly recommend Mou Taverna, which is one of the first tavernas in Santorini. Live bouzouki music (a Greek instrument similar to guitar) and singing everyday. We got there from a recommendation from the artisan at Maria Baba Vida (more below) as it coincidentally happened to be the restaurant owner's birthday that night.
We were treated to a joyous celebration with the owner and his friends singing and strumming bouzouki, and having both the owner's personal friends, and tourists mingling around in the restaurant. As a showing of Greek hospitality, we were also treated to a free flask of red wine and also lots of birthday cake!

Lucky Souvlaki - Fira
For a very reliable souvlaki, head to Lucky's located on the main street of Fira. At just 2.50 euros, both the doner and stick kebab versions were equally good. I miss it already!

Argo Restaurant - Fira
We didn't manage to make it to this one, but from the site's menu, it certainly looks like it's worth a visit. Frequently recommended as one of the best restaurants in Santorini, the food is accompanied with an unblocked view of the caldera.

For more recommendations, you can refer to CN Traveler.

To Shop

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-24 Atlantis Bookshop
This cosy bookshop has books filled in every crevice and corner and makes a really unique bookshopping experience. They stock an extensive range of English books as well.

Santorini Travel Guide nakedgloryvera-27 Maria Baba Vida
Maria Baba Vida is a jewelry store, but not just any jewelry store. They carry an extensive range of ethnic and byzantine jewelry collected from Maria's travels around the world, and also make their own byzantine inspired jewelry. Maria is an old lady bringing with vitality, which was one of the first few hippies to settle down in Santorini. Talking to her and the artisan guy who operates the shop with her is a pleasure - you can find out a lot of about the local, non-touristy side of Santorini from them.

Fashion Boutiques
There are plenty of fashion boutiques along the main street of Oia well worth a visit. The style from those I recommend (from the photos above) is generally summer bohemian - with lots of crochet, loose cottons and slightly frayed hems.

Hope this guide comes in handy when you eventually make your way down to Santorini! Sure, it is a tourist hotspot, but it is also a place of immense beauty. It's probably the most picturesque town I have been to, and it's true when they say that once you get to Santorini, all your problems will disappear. Doing up this post makes me miss the island immensely already...

All photos by Vera Mao and Addie.
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