Hot air balloons in Cappadocia

One of those life bucket list items, floating above Cappadocia in a hot air balloon at sunrise was an absolute dream come true. Doing it at the end of May was perfect timing, with excellent weather, and tourism on the upswing, but still enough space to squeeze one extra person into the basket.

lucky me!

The trip started in Istanbul, flying into the world’s largest, brand new IST airport. It took longer to walk from the gate to the taxi stand than it took to drive the brand new highway to old city Sultanahamet, nearly 50km away.

heating up the hot air balloon before take off

The markets and bazaars were buzzing, and the Bosporus river traffic non-stop, so flying away to central Anatolia was a breath of fresh air. We flew into Kayseri, but out of Nevsehir, and both were closer to Cappadocia and less populated than any neighbourhood of Istanbul.

Goreme

The quaint town of Goreme near Cappadocia was visitable by foot, offering incredible walks among the minaret-like rock formations. The pillars looked like fairy chimneys, and carved valleys and caves were found around every corner, sometimes even incorporated into the hotel or restaurant building. There was the obligatory Turkish hamam to visit, a post office, a handful of great restaurants, and the most incredible sunsets and sunrises to see – especially floating above the town, silently, hundreds of meters in the sky.

sunrise from the air

The dozen or so hot air balloon companies all said they were fully booked until July, but walking around Cappadocia town the first night resulted in a couple of options. Some last minute cancellations would have cost me 179 euros, but the ‘black market’ option, which meant the trip was being resold to me without refunding the original passenger, were upwards of 250 euros. I didn’t figure out how that made sense, but I was excited to get Robin Callaway’s certificate during our ‘champagne’ toast after the flight, which was actually sparkling, non-alcoholic grape juice.

sparkling juice anyone?

Waking up at 3:30 am to make the sunrise flight, and getting back to our hotel at 8, made a 9 am breakfast feel like dinner, but we couldnt quite get back to sleep with the lure of Turkish bazaars reopening for the day. My advice for a visit to Turkey and your hot air balloon ride – save Istanbul for another time, and head straight to Goreme!

 

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American Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Maya's mom Kathy and the delicious outcome of our 2 day cooking spree

Maya’s mom Kathy and the delicious outcome of our 2 day cooking spree

Having spent alot of time in Canada growing up, I know all about the Thanksgiving holiday and traditions, and really the only difference between Canada and the USA is that they happen a month apart, and the Americans get alot more holiday days than Canada’s measly 1 day off.

This year, I spent it with my roommate Maya and her extended family in Oakland. We started cooking Wednesday, the day before thanksgiving, at around 4 pm, for five hours, prepping all the meats, veggies, potatoes and toppings, and cooking four (different) pies. The day of thanksgiving, we arrived at Maya’s mom’s house at 1 pm to peel more potatoes, brine the turkey, reheat everything, and cool down all the bottles of wine and appertif. The entire meal was home cooked, and totaled a feast large enough to feed about 4 families even though there were only 8 of us. It was absolutely amazingly delicious, and I was uncomfortably full for the entire experience, from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday night when I fell asleep, paralyzed from the goodness in my tummy.

The day after Thanksgiving, affectionately called Black Friday, is really the first official day of the Christmas season, and while everyone takes the day off to pick up their christmas tree and enjoy time with the family, this day is famous for being the biggest shopping day of the year. And not only is it big, its dangerous, and chaotic. One Wal-Mart security guard was trampled to death after the opening of the store’s door, probably because of the 50 inch TV that had been reduced by $600 or $700 to only $300. I braved the masses with my friend Mike, and he walked away with a 40-inch flat screen tv for a few hundred dollars, and I finally got myself a mini netbook that is much more travel friendly than my 10 lb, 1 hr of battery life, 5 year old, outdated, 15-inch laptop for only $180. Cheap products and consumerism really take on a whole new meaning in the American christmas shopping season, and I’m just glad I didn’t get injured benefiting from the sales.