Let’s play a time machine! It is the middle of the fourth century AD. We stand in a town square of about 60 thousand inhabitants in Asia Minor, in part of present-day Anatolia, a province in (again present-day) eastern Turkey.

It is morning, the beginning of the working week. The central part of the city, which had just fallen asleep, turned into an anthill in a few minutes. At first, the traffic of passersby seems chaotic to us, yet each of them unmistakably rushes towards his goal.

Children run into a nearby school, producing a tremendous amount of noise. Artisans, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and potters hastily open their shops in the square and surrounding streets. You can smell the food from the tavern on the corner. Women carry water from wells in camel skin sacks.

The lame elderly man hurries to the doctor. The priest enters the church in the square. You can hear the bleating of sheep, and a few chickens are uninterestedly pecking at the sand. A funeral will take place in the afternoon at the city cemetery. And yesterday, on a feast day, Christ was celebrated in crowded, vividly painted churches. They sang, ate, and drank carefreely.

Two young people in God’s temple vowed eternal fidelity to each other. The city is so rich and supplied with everything that it can survive for months without outside supplies. A city of peace and abundance!

We almost forgot the most essential thing amidst the story – the city we traveled to through time is not on the Earth’s surface! It took us back 17 centuries and is home to about 60,000 inhabitants who reside underground for two to three months on 20 or more floors.

Strangely, at the same time, not a single inhabitant emerged from the underworld. This time travel is not a work of fiction, like Harry Potter or Indiana Jones; it is true! During these early centuries, Arabs forced Christians to hide from their invasions.

They did this in such a way that entire cities with their associated logistics would move underground (closing the entrances from the inside with large millstones weighing several hundred kilograms) into perfectly ventilated underground labyrinths, some of which have stood since the time of the mysterious Hittites.

The underground cities of the Turkish province of Kapadokya (Cappadocia) are one of the world’s greatest wonders. After all, that whole zone does not look like it is on Earth. We would rather say we found ourselves on the Moon. Let’s take a look around! Is there a more lovely (and quieter) way to explore the surface of the Earth than flying a balloon? 

After exploring the underground city, which had a warning at the entrance that heart patients should not enter, we felt a little dazed. We walked through squares, steep claustrophobic streets, and stairs, sometimes on our knees, and only made it to the fifth floor as we were not allowed to go deeper.

At the down, we boarded a spacious balloon gondola at dawn and rose above Kapadokya, over that Moon on Earth, almost perfectly silent. Twelve of us were sharing the sky with about 40 more colorful balloons filled with tourists. It was like hovering over the Moon on Earth. The warm air from huge gas burners lifted us all simultaneously, making the experience even more magical.

Killie sovereignly pilots the balloon, a charming Englishwoman who is among the first to start commercial balloon flights in Kapadokya. And she dropped us relentlessly on the trailer behind the SUV and took us to a farewell glass of champagne and a slice of cake. Unforgettable!

Unlike Croatia, Turkey is a tourist country par excellence. People have a vision, a concept, a strategy, a realization, and who knows what else. They have, imagine, even a smile on their face! And they make very much money from all that.

None of us are sorry to pay for something worthwhile, especially if you remember what you paid for your whole life. And you definitely will remember Cappadocia and your underground and above-ground breathtaking experiences.

Every step through this province is a new story. Even when you are resting, you are in an ambiance that you will not find almost anywhere in the world – an underground hotel. Ours was in a town of the unusual name Ürgüp. It is a pity to fall asleep amid such beauty.

We had lunch, of course, Turkish specialties (it reminded us of the famous Dalmatian cevapcici) in a huge and, you guessed it, an underground restaurant. Behind the large wooden door on the slope of a sandy hill are hidden magnificent spaces where a couple of hundred guests are having lunch. No one would assume that.

The following story is a fascinating example of how much Turks are involved in business. In a world-renowned carpet factory, which has been awarded the title of the most beautiful carpet for two consecutive years by the prestigious Architectural Digest magazine, vendors covered the floor with about 40 exquisite rugs in the grand presentation hall.

Next to us was a carpet worth 20,000 euros (estimated by the weaving quality and density). One of the vendors surprised us by starting a conversation with a group of Japanese tourists in fluent Japanese, not just a few words. We thought it was an exception until we visited a pottery and jug workshop, which is also famous in the province.

The master, while demonstrating the traditional way of modeling jars and moving a large stone pulley-flywheel with his feet, chatted with the same Japanese tourists in Japanese as if they had been to school together in Osaka.

It turns out that such professional customer service usually results in a sale, and the item is sent by express mail to the customer’s home, waiting for them when they return from their trip. We also learned that one Tokyo travel agency alone brings about 80,000 Japanese tourists to Kapadokya a year. Kapadokya is a fascinating and enchanting destination, considered one of the most attractive tourist spots in the world.

Lastly, we hope to experience a beautiful and peaceful morning flying in a balloon over Motovun, Plitvice Lakes, or Trakoscan soon. Let’s learn from those who know and do it the right way, just like the Turks in Kapadokya learned from the English.

TEXT & PHOTO – Voljen Grbac