Frankfurt: A frankly surprising city

For our final stop in Germany, my friend and I visited Frankfurt. There were many potential places to visit but we chose this city because it was closer to our next destination and we were interested in exploring more of Central Germany. Below are some things to do and see in Frankfurt.

What to Do:

Walking tour. This is the best way to see the highlights of the city and learn about its history for the lowest price. There are a few companies to choose from, but I decided to go with the one that had the most reviews, Frankfurt on Foot. This four hour tour included stops at the Romer, Frankfurt Cathedral, Jewish district and monument, Goethe house, and many other gems. Four hours may sound like a long time, but this does include a break to grab lunch. The tour has a lot of stops to learn about the history so the walking is broken up and not too strenuous. My tour guide for the day was the woman who started the company, an expat from the USA who has been living in Frankfurt for several decades. Her knowledge of the city was extensive. The tour was a great way to get a feel for where things are located and to get advice on where to eat and what to do from a local.

Staedal Museum. This museum has an extensive collection of European art spanning seven hundred years. The permanent collection includes works from well known artists, such as Rembrandt and Degas. The museum also has some interesting temporary exhibitions. I was lucky to be there for the Matisse-Bonnard exhibition that compared the two painters and was very well curated. This museum is a great activity for art lovers. Plan to spend about two hours here.

Jewish Memorial. When in Germany, thoughts of WWII are never too far behind. Visitors should spend at least a little time in remembrance of this tragic war. In Frankfurt, there are several reminders left throughout the city, but the one to visit for those short on time or those visitors who have already paid respects in other cities, is the remembrance wall that has the names of all the Jews from Frankfurt killed in WWII. On this wall, can be found the names of Anne Frank and her family who are considered to be from here. This wall surround an old Jewish cemetery that visitors can enter as well. For those visitors taking a walking tour, this will likely be a stop on the tour. For those not taking a tour, plan to go here separately. Plan to spend 15-30 minutes here.

Old Town. Frankfurt has reconstructed its Old Town following its bombing of WWII. The reconstruction is very authentic, and the buildings look amazing, especially the Romer. Visitors will definitely want to walk around this area and take pictures. There are also a lot of shops and restaurants in this area for visitors to stop at. Plan to spend a few hours here walking around, shopping, and grabbing some food or drink.

Shopping:

Frankfurt has a lot of handicrafts for sell and is really known for its woodwork, which can be found at many of the souvenir shops. I recommend stopping by Handwerkskunst am Römer. This traditional shop has a great collection of handicrafts, including Christmas ornaments, smokers, cuckoo clocks, and Christmas pyramids. Any of these items would make a great Christmas gift or a decoration for back home. Another item that can be found in many of the shops is bembel. This blue and grey stoneware jug is found in many of the restaurants and is what apple wine is served in. This could also serve as a cute reminder of Frankfurt for visitors who think they would actually use this at home. I personally decided I would get more use out of ornaments so I did not buy any bembel.

What to Eat:

Like many of the cities in Germany, Frankfurt has some good street food. And this is the place we really took advantage of that. One place visitors should try is Kleinmarkthalle. This indoor market has a lot of food stalls along with raw ingredients to cook a meal for those lucky enough to have a kitchen during their stay. There are also several food stalls outside near the market. I recommend trying the sausages, which come in a variety of flavors, and the potato pancakes, which come with different dipping sauces. The other must try food in Frankfurt is the Frankfurt Schnitzel. This is traditional schnitzel but it is served with a delicious green sauce that is local to Frankfurt. This sauce is so popular that the city has a big competition each year to find the best one. A good restaurant to try this dish at is Restaurant Klosterhof. This restaurant is very favored by locals and tourists so it does get crowded. Be prepared to get in line and wait. While not a must try food, apple wine is a must try drink here. This popular beverage is pretty tasty. It has an almost tart taste but not overly so. As mentioned above, it comes served in bembel with ribbed glasses to pour into. Frankfurt even has a yearly apple wine festival in August that we just missed by a couple of weeks during our trip here. Apple wine can be found at most restaurants and bars here.

Where to Stay:

We did not know the best area to stay in Frankfurt so we chose an Airbnb that was close to public transportation and not too far away from Old Town. We ended up staying near the Glaugburgstrabe stop. This was a nice area with lots of restaurants and grocery stores nearby. It was only a couple of km away from Old Town so very easy and fast to get there. I would recommend staying anywhere near the Old Town area.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Frankfurt by bus from Munich, which takes from 6-8 hours. We chose to travel by bus because it was the cheapest option. The Frankfurt central bus station is located near the center of the city and next to public transport. We were able to get on the subway to go to our Airbnb. While in Frankfurt, we either walked or took the public transport system. Public transportation is definitely the better way to go because taxis are expensive in Germany, and there is no Uber. Public transport got us everywhere we wanted to visit and go, and it was easy to navigate because it is linked to Google maps. Tickets for the subway can be bought at subway stations. While some do accept cards, some require cash so have some small bills and coins just in case. When we departed Frankfurt, we again left by bus to go to Tilbury and took public transport to the bus station.

Overall:

Frankfurt is a nice city. I did not know too much about it before visiting, but I learned a lot about its history through the walking tour. This city offers visitors a peek into its past with the reconstructed Old Town and a taste of its culture with its food and festivals. We visited in September and had pretty good weather. It was cooler but not too cold yet. And it definitely was not overcrowded with tourists. We stayed for three days, and I think that is plenty of time to see the highlights. Travelers who like exploring cities will enjoy Frankfurt.

 

Munich at Oktoberfest

While in Germany, my friend and I could not resist popping over to Munich for Oktoberfest. This large festival always looks like so much fun, and we did not want to miss the chance to experience it even for just a couple of nights. Since we were only there for the festival, the description below is really just for Munich at Oktoberfest and not in general:

What to Do:

Oktoberfest. Since we were here specifically for the festival, this is really the only activity that we did. The festival is held in a large park area, where there are multiple large beer tents, smaller food and drink stalls, and several amusement park rides. Entry into the grounds is free. The tents are nicely decorated, and there is plenty of beer and food for purchase. The atmosphere is lively. Everyone squeezes together on long benches or around tables so there is a chance to get to meet other people. Everyone working the festival is dressed up in traditional Bavarian garb, and many of the visitors are dressed up also. The large tents have bands playing, and large groups will often break out in song. Travelers wanting to be more immersed in the experience should join the fun and dress up as well. I recommend getting there a little earlier (early afternoon) to have a chance to visit more than one tent because once it gets really crowded (in the late afternoon) moving around and trying to find a seat may not be as appealing as staying put. It is fun just being there and people watching. But it is really fun drinking from the humongous steins and having a giant pretzel as well as some of the other traditional food. Plan to spend the full day here.

Shopping:

We did not go to Munich to shop and did not spend much time outside of the beer halls and festival ground. But visitors do not have to leave the festival to buy a souvenir. For those who want a reminder of their time at Oktoberfest, purchase a beer stein. Tents sell commemorative ones for their brand and for the festival. And these can definitely be used back home.

What to Eat:

Most of our time was spent at the festival so we ate traditional food there, including a giant soft pretzel, pork chops and cabbage, and lots of beer. But we also visited a popular beer hall, Hofbräuhaus, on our first night there, which was very fun. This large hall is three stories so do not be intimidated by the size and noise when walking in. Just find an open seat and sit down. Servers will come by the table so need to chase one down. The restaurant seating includes long tables so just join another group. There is a live traditional band playing and lots of drinking, singing, and cheers. This place has good beer and a good food selection of typical German food.

Where to Stay:

Prices for accommodations will go up during Oktoberfest because the demand will be higher so try to book early to get the best priced accommodations. We chose to book an Airbnb, which was cheaper than the hotels. We did not know the best area to stay in so we chose one near a subway stop that was supposed to be close to the festival grounds. We stayed near the Wettersteinplatz stop, and it was easy to get to the festival from here although it was not a direct line. The area was safe, and the commute was not long.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Munich from Berlin by bus, which takes between 7-9 hours. We chose to travel by bus because it was the cheapest option. The central bus station in Munich is located next to a subway stop so we were able to take the subway to our Airbnb. The public transport is linked to Google maps. However, there are several tracks near the bus stop, and then trams a short distance away so it was a little confusing finding the right way out of the bus station at first (for our route), but after that we had no problems getting around with public transportation. Tickets can be purchased at the subway and tram stops. We did not go many places, but it did take us everywhere we needed to go. There is a subway stop located next to the festival grounds. When we left Munich, we departed by bus again at the same station so it was easy for us to use the same route to get back to the station and to find our bus within the station.

Overall:

We had a great time at Oktoberfest. We only stayed a couple of days, but that was plenty of time to sample a lot of beer and that allowed us to visit other parts of Germany at a lower cost. Huge beer and festival fans, however, may want to stay longer. Those who want to see more of Munich besides the beer halls may also want to stay longer. We went during the week rather than a weekend and found that timing to be less crowded. We did not have to get to the grounds in the morning to find a table, and we were able to move around to different tents. Oktoberfest is at the beginning of fall so the weather is starting to turn cooler, but it was not too cold when were there and it was sunny. Travelers who enjoy drinking beer will have a fun time at Oktoberfest.

 

Berlin: Germany’s capital where the past is gone but not forgotten

After our short overnight stop in Cologne, my friend and I were ready to begin our German adventure in the capital of Berlin. While my friend had to been to Berlin before, this was my first time, and I was excited to be in this edgy city with its fashion and political history. Below are the things that I did while I was there.

 

What to Do:

Walking tour. Berlin offers a variety of walking tours, and there are several large companies running tours. There is definitely some overlap between the tours and the companies, and the prices are comparable so choosing one over the other may not make too big of a difference. In the end, though, I chose to go with the Discover Berlin tour through Original Berlin Walks because of its high rated reviews and its comprehensive itinerary. I chose to do this four hour tour on my first morning in Berlin to get an introduction the city and its history. My tour guide was very knowledgeable. He was a history student studying in Berlin, which I think is typical for many of the guides. And he was able to provide my group with helpful tips and suggestions for the rest of our time in the city. Through this tour I was able to see many of the major landmarks of the city and to get a better idea of the city’s layout. While four hours may sound like a long time for walking, the tour is not overly strenuous. The tour goes at an even pace, and there is a lot of stops to look at sites and hear stories. There is also a break in the middle of the tour to grab a drink and snack and to use the restroom. While on this tour I was able to see the Jewish Quarter, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (also known as the Holocaust Memorial), Reichstag building, Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, part of the Berlin Wall, and much more. The price for this tour was reasonable, and I felt like I got to see a little bit of everything and was able to better plan what I wanted to go back and see on my own.

Museum Island. This island is located near central Berlin on Spree river. It is named for the five museums that it houses. Visitors can buy a single pass into any of the museums or combination tickets that will allow entry into more than one museum. There are several combinations offered so visitors will have to choose the one that best suits their needs. For visitors planning to visit more than one museum, a combination ticket will definitely save money. I opted to visit two of the museums while I was here. I went to the Pergamon Museum, which is famous for housing the Pergamon Altar. However, this museum is undergoing renovations and has been partially closed since 2014 with renovations not expected to be completed until 2023. The Pergamon Altar is currently not open to visitors, and I was unable to view it. I was still able to see the Ishtar Gate, the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, and many other antiquities and art from the Middle East making a trip to this museum worthwhile despite the partial closure. I also went to the Neues Museum, which is located next door to the Pergamon, and is famous for housing the bust of Nefertiti. This museum contains a lot of Egyptian and prehistoric artifacts. And the building itself is a piece of history having survived and been rebuilt after WWII. Visitors can still see areas that were damaged during the war. When I visited these museums, it was not tourist season so the lines were not too bad but there are large queuing areas for visitors that can be a couple of hours. Plan to spend 2 hours at each museum and longer if there is a large wait time.

East Side Gallery. While pieces of the Berlin Wall remain preserved in several locations throughout the city, this gallery is the part of the Wall that has been painted in murals to celebrate the fall of the Wall and the end of the iron curtain. This is the part of the Wall that travelers have likely seen in pictures. This outdoor gallery features cool artwork on a significant piece of history. Visitors can stroll down the long gallery and take pictures. Plan to spend about 30-60 minutes walking around.

Holocaust Memorial. Visitors to Germany will not be able to and should not ignore the country’s dark past. When visiting Berlin, the one WWII memorial visitors should go to is this one. For those taking a walking tour of the city, this stop will likely be included. For those not taking a tour, go visit this separately. This memorial is dedicated to all of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust not just the ones from Berlin. For those passing by who are not familiar with this work, it may just look like a bunch of different size blocks in the middle of a city square. The meaning of these blocks are open to interpretation, but visitors should remain respectful. I visited this memorial as part of a guided tour. And according to our tour guide, he has seen people standing on the blocks and running around through them. Luckily, this did not happen during my visit. Although this memorial can mean different things to different people, visitors should respect the solemnity that some people will associate with this place and act accordingly. Plan to spend 30 minutes here.

Reichstag Building. This German parliament building has a huge glass dome that visitors can walk up as part of an audio guided tour. Visitors must register in advance to do this and must have an ID for a quick security check. Unfortunately, I did not take the tour. I waited until my last day and did not register in time. My friend had done this tour on a previous visit and really enjoyed it. This tour was also recommended by several locals. The dome is supposed to provide an impressive view of the city. And there is also a rooftop restaurant. I would definitely recommend for visitors to plan ahead and register to do this.

Shopping:

Berlin definitely offers a lot of shopping and a lot of cool fashion. During my limited time here, I did not specifically seek out shopping areas, but I did pop into cute boutiques that I saw while walking around to see the other sights. Serious shoppers can definitely find everything from cool streetwear to high end fashion. One store I would recommend stopping in is Falke. This brand is for people who like unique tights, and its flagship store is located in Berlin. For those travelers, who are not looking for fashion, Berlin is also the place to buy some cool kitsch, including fun graphic prints, tees, and other items that will remind visitors of Berlin’s cool vibe.

What to Eat:

Berlin has a lot of fare that is similar to other Central European countries, including schnitzel and wurst, but it does have a couple of dishes that are really prominent for Berlin. One is the currywurst, which is fast food dish of pork sausage covered in curry ketchup and served with fries. We did not opt to try this one as both of us really dislike ketchup, but travelers who love ketchup will want to try this dish. The other one is doner kebab, which is another fast food dish of seasoned meat stuffed into a sandwich with vegetables and spices. As this dish is originally from Turkey, and I had just left Turkey before coming to Germany, I had my fill already and chose not to eat this dish here either. For travelers who have not been to Turkey recently, this dish is a good bet. Instead, my friend and I really took advantage of all of the international cuisine Berlin had to offer. Normally, when traveling I always recommend sticking to local food to better immerse in the culture. But we had been eating a lot of Mediterranean and Central European food for the past few months so we were craving something different. In particular, we were really craving some Asian food because we had both moved from Korea three months earlier before beginning our travels through Europe. We ended up eating at a couple of good Vietnamese places, Miss Saigon and Co Co Banh Mi Deli, and a good Ramen shop, Cocolo Ramen X-berg, that were located in the area we were staying. We did not feel as bad trying these non local cuisines since we knew would be eating more German food the rest of our time in the country.

Where to Stay:

We stayed in an Airbnb near the U Kottbusser Tor subway station. We really were not sure where to say so we looked at places based on price and convenience to a public transport stop. This area turned out to be a good one. It is located near two subway lines and nearby a lot of foreign food restaurants. As I mentioned above, by the time we arrived in Berlin, we were really missing Asian food. So this area really worked out well for us but may not be the place for those wanting to be near local cuisine.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Berlin by train from Cologne. We originally planned to take a bus but missed our ride and so had to go with a train instead as there were no more buses for that day. The train takes about 4.5 hours whereas the bus takes about 8-10 hours. So in the end we paid more but got there faster. The train station is located in a central location and next to a subway stop so it was easy to hop on the subway and get to where we were staying, which was also located about a 5 minute walk from a subway stop. Berlin public transport is easy to navigated because it is linked to Google maps. Tickets can be purchased at the subway stations, and most machines take credit cards. Berlin is also a very walk-able city. When we left Berlin, we took a bus to Munich, and we took public transport to the bus station. There are two main bus stations in the city (one in the airport and one closer to the center of the city) so make sure to go to the right one. As stated in a previous post, the taxis in Germany are expensive so try to avoid them, if possible. Also, there is no Uber so public transportation is really the best way to get around.

Overall:

This city has so much history, and a lot of it is the darker history of WWII and Stasi. But this city offers much more than its dark history and has actively built over much of it in order to not forget it but to move past it. Today this city is a leading cultural and political center in the area and is home to many international residents. When we visited in September, the weather was starting to turn cooler, and it was overcast and drizzly much of the time. It was not overly crowded though at the tourist sites, which was nice. We stayed here for three days and this was enough time to be able to see the highlights. Visitors wanting a more thorough exploration of Berlin should plan to stay longer. Travelers looking to spend time in a modern cultural center will enjoy Berlin.

Additional Tip:

After visiting Berlin, I wanted to learn more about the city’s past during the time the Wall was up. A lot of books and movies exist about Germany during WWII but not as many exist about Germany’s time as a divided country. One popular book about this period is Anna Funder’s Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. This book recounts stories the author gathered and heard from former Stasi men and victims of Stasi policing. The book provides an interesting look at the effects of the Wall on the lives of several East Germans, but it is not written in the style of a social researcher or journalist. Unfortunately, the author does not have a lot of information to pull from and her research was slightly inept. Her writing style was a little difficult to overlook (it was more appropriate for a novel than a nonfiction account), but this book has received acclaim and it did make me interested in learning more.

Cologne: The city not the fragrance

Following my trip in Turkey, my next stop was in Germany to meet back up with a friend and to be there around Oktoberfest. I was really excited to visit this country because several of my friends had indicated that this was one of their favorite European countries. When I arrived in Germany, I went to Cologne first. I might not have picked Cologne to visit if it were not for my friend, but this quaint city in Germany turned out to have some beautiful Gothic architecture. Below is a short review of some of things I saw during my brief visit.

What to Do:

Cologne Cathedral. This large Gothic cathedral is located in the center of town and hard to miss. It is part of the city’s iconic landscape. Take some beautiful pictures of the outside and a tour of the inside. Entry into the main part of the church is free. Visitors can take guided tours for a fee. They can also pay to visit the treasury and to climb the tower (both separate fees). At this point in my trip, I had already seen quite a few churches so I did not opt to take a tour or pay to go the treasury or tower. Instead, I chose to walk around the interior on my own admiring the architecture, the altars, and the shrines. It is definitely worth a peek inside. Plan to spend about 30-45 minutes if just strolling through.

Museum Ludwig. This modern art museum includes works from artists such as Picasso, Warhol, and Lichtenstein. This museum is a good size and well laid out so it is easy to see everything in one trip. There is also a lovely cafe located right outside that has nice views of the area. When I visited I was short on time, and it was a little chilly so I opted not to eat here. I cannot recommend, but it looked like a cute spot to at least grab a drink and a short rest after walking through the museum. The museum itself is a great activity for art lovers. Plan to spend 90-120 mins here looking around.

Hohenzollern Bridge. This bridge is another piece of the city’s iconic landscape. Visitors can walk across the bridge, which allows for some great pictures of the historic city center and of the Rhine river. The bridge is also a place for visiting couples to fix a ‘love lock’ as a sign of their commitment. The bridge is not very long and will only take about 10 minutes to cross, going slowly to take in the view and stopping to take a few pictures.

Chocolate Museum. This museum is located on the harbor and offers a history of chocolate as well selling chocolate. I did not go here because I am not a huge fan of chocolate, but my friend, who loves chocolate, did go here and really enjoyed it. According to him, this museum is worth a visit for chocolate lovers.

Shopping:

Many of the souvenirs here are religious in nature and related to the Cologne Cathedral, which is the heart of this city. They offer many items branded with the cathedral image or with the three crowns representing the Three Kings. These are branded on everything from postcards to key chains to shirts and bags. For those looking for something less religious, the art museums also offer a variety of prints on sale depicting the art displayed in these museums. I ended up buying a souvenir that was kind of a combination of both. I found some great Warhol prints of the Cologne Cathedral in one of the museum gift shops that I had to purchase. An alternate gift or souvenir idea is Kolsch beer, which is brewed in this city. However, I am not sure how well the beer will travel. This purchase would probably best for short trips and when it can be drank sooner.

What to Eat:

Cologne local cuisine offers many dishes that are popular throughout Central Europe, including a lot of meat and potato, sauerkraut, or apple dishes. I was only here a short time so I only had a couple of meals in the city. They were good but nothing overly memorable. I cannot recommend one dish or restaurant over the others. I can recommend finding a nice beer garden and ordering a Kolsch beer or two while enjoying the outdoor views.

Where to Stay:

For visitors who only have one night in the city, stay at a hotel in the historic city center. All of the major sights will be in walking distance and there are a lot of restaurants and shops in the area as well as nice views of the river. The hotels can range in price but there are a few mid priced rooms that offer no real amenities but whose location cannot be beat. For visitors staying longer, try to get an Airbnb in one of the adjacent neighborhoods for a cheaper rate.

Getting Around:

I arrived to Cologne by plane from Istanbul. The public transport system, which includes light rail, buses, and trams, is connected to the airport. I was able to take the rail to the city center. Tickets can be purchased at the rail and tram stations but have small bills on hand as some of them accept cash only. Once in the historic center, most places are within walking distance of each other. Try to avoid taking taxis as they are expensive here (for example, getting from the airport to downtown will cost around 40 euros for a 25 minute ride), and there is no Uber. The public transportation is reliable and is linked to Google maps. However, double check the routes. Some of the routes have more than one name/train that goes there, and it can be confusing. We missed our ride out of Cologne because we did not realize that the light rail we were looking for had multiple names other than the one given on Google maps. When we departed Cologne for Berlin, we took a train. We originally had booked a bus for cheaper, but as I mentioned we missed that bus. The only options left to leave that day were flights and trains, which were fairly close in price but more expensive than buses.

Overall:

I did not know what to expect for Cologne, but I found the city to be charming. We only spent one night there, which I think is plenty for travelers who do not have a lot of time in Germany. The historic city center can be viewed in a day. For travelers with more time, staying an extra day will allow them to visit more than one museum. When I visited in September, it was already starting to turn cooler, especially compared to the warmth in Turkey but it was not overly crowded this time of year. Travelers who appreciate Gothic architecture and cathedrals will enjoy Cologne.

 

Cappadocia: Hot air balloon bliss

While visiting Turkey, I also took a short trip with a couple of friends to Cappadocia. I had first heard of this town and seen pictures of its beautiful scenery when researching the best places to take a hot air balloon ride, which has been one of my bucket list items. And I could not wait to see the natural wonders of this semi-arid region in person. Following are some of the things to do and see in this town:

What to Do:

Hot air ballooning. Goreme is rated as one of the top places in the world to take a hot air balloon ride because the views are amazing, and the wind pattern is steady. This was my first time taking a balloon ride, and I loved it! The balloon operators in Cappadocia have been doing tours here for a while, and there are a number of companies to choose from. Visitors will not go wrong choosing any of them. The easiest way to book is probably through the hotel, which will have a company they work with. The companies all have experienced pilots, and a similar price structure. The main difference in prices is based on how many people are in the basket, with the lower price having more people. We opted for the mid-range price, which had about 16 people in the basket, and found this to be a good number. We were not overly crowded, and everyone was able to get great shots. The basket was divided into four sections so we had five people in our section since we were a party of three. The price of these balloon rides are definitely worth the splurge and are some of the cheapest prices I have seen. I have looked into balloon rides in other countries, but the deals here were unbeatable. And the lower prices are not a reflection of the quality of the balloons, which were in great condition, or the experience of the pilots, who were professional and skilled. The only thing to worry about are the wind speeds because they will not fly if the winds are above a certain speed. We signed up to go on a ride our first morning in town, but our flight was canceled due to winds. The operators immediately offered to roll our flight over to the next morning or to give us a refund. Luckily, we were able to try again the next day and had a successful flight. This was a once in a lifetime experience that I am so glad I did not miss. Balloon rides last about 60 minutes in the air, but the whole experience with pick up, set up, and drop off will be longer. Operators start picking up people from their hotels around 5:00 AM. Everyone is taken in vans to a hotel near the take off site where they will sign in, get a free coffee and breakfast pastry (neither of which is anything special, although the coffee is definitely welcome that early). Then everyone waits until their group is called to be loaded in another van and dropped off by their balloon. Travelers will get a chance to see the balloons in the final stages of set up and being blown up. They will then enjoy a ride over the valleys of Goreme, taking amazing pictures and viewing the sunrise. After the balloon lands, visitors will enjoy a glass of sparkling wine and receive a certificate. Then they will be loaded into another van to be dropped off at their hotel. Drop offs start about an hour after sunrise.

ATV tour. This is a fun way to see some of the sights in Goreme, including the fairy chimneys and rose valley. Operators will provide everyone with a helmet and face mask (as dust will get everywhere). They will also provide a short tutorial on how to operate the vehicles. Visitors can ride their own or share a vehicle with one other person. The price for the tour is per vehicle so sharing is a cost effective option, and people can switch off driving. The tours are 1-4 hours depending on the package. And each tour has a group leader who ensures that people stay on the path and do not go too fast. For those travelers looking for a thrill ride, a tour is probably not the best option. Instead, try renting an ATV separately. The tours, however, are a great way to see some of the natural highlights of the area, and they stop at the major sites to allow people to get off and take pictures. We chose to do the two hour tour, which in my opinion was plenty of time on the ATV, and we chose to go on the tour right before sunset so that we were able to see the sun set over rose valley. When we went, a storm was coming so we did have some wind and rain but that just added to the fun experience.

Color tours. This area offers travelers three main tours to see the region, the red tour, green tour, and blue tour, since travelers are unlikely to have their own vehicles. The red tour includes some of the highlights of Goreme, the Goreme open air museum, and a pottery demonstration. The green tour includes a tour of Derinkuyu (an underground village), a light hike through Ilhara valley, stops for several panorama views (including Pigeon Valley and Damsa Dam), and a tour of Selime Monastery. The blue tour includes a similar itinerary to the green tour but in a different section of the region so different city, different valley, and different monastery. We chose to do the green tour, which is one of the more popular ones, because we wanted to see the underground city and we had seen several of the sights from the red tour on our ATV tour. I would definitely recommend the green one. We were picked up from our hotel and taken to a larger air conditioned bus where we met our tour guide and the rest of the tour group. Our tour guide was great. He was a local who was very knowledgeable about the region and who spoke English well. During the tour we had lunch at a restaurant set next to a stream in Ilhara valley that was picturesque and served good food. The last stop of the tour was the obligatory stop at a jewelry store, which seems to be part of every overseas tour, but there was no pressure to buy anything. The larger bus dropped everyone back off at their hotels at the end of the tour. This tour was a full day, and it was worth the money given how much ground we covered. These tours start late enough in the day that travelers will be able to do one after a balloon ride if they are super ambitious but that will make for a very long day. We ended up taking our tour on the day our ride was cancelled. We still had to get up for the ride and hang out for about an hour before they officially canceled, but we were able to catch a short nap before doing the tour.

Wine tasting. This area is supposed to have some of the best wines for Turkey. Although Turkey is not known for wine, the wines from here are supposed to be decent. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted from waking up early both days of our visit for the balloon ride that we did not have the energy to go to one of the wineries for a wine tasting so I cannot recommend one over the other. However, if I were to come back to this region, I would definitely go to one because I do love wine. For travelers who have the time and energy, I think this would be a worthwhile activity.

Shopping:

The shops here sell much of the same stuff as can be found in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. They have a lot of the typical Turkish ceramics and pottery. However, they have a smaller selection because there are less vendors. This may be a plus for those wanting to shop in a place less intimidating than the bazaars in Istanbul, but may not be as appealing for those looking for the best deals. One thing that I would recommend buying here is the ceramic hot air balloons. These beautiful pieces can be found in almost all the shops in this area and are a great reminder of the hot air balloon trip, for those who take one. They come in different sizes and colors and make a pretty decorative piece for the home. Another item that I would recommend is some of the painted pottery. There are a few artists in the area that do some beautiful artwork on ceramics, including scenes of the area and Turkish script.

What to Eat:

Cappadocia has the typical Turkish dishes that can be found throughout the country, but this region is known for testi kebabs. This dish is slow cooked in a sealed clay pot that is broken open with a knife at the table. Testi kebabs can be found in other parts of the country, but it is traditional in the Anatolian region and a must try here. Restaurants in this area cook it with lamb, beef, chicken, or just vegetables and serve it with bread. It is very tasty. Several restaurants in the area serve this dish so get a recommendation from the hotel, which is what we did, to find one with a good reputation within walking distance of the hotel.

Where to Stay:

Cappadocia is a large area, but I recommend staying in Goreme in a cave hotel, which is what we did. These hotels are an interesting experience. They are built into the caves, much like the homes in that area, which makes the whole stay seem a little more authentic. Plus, it is unlikely that many travelers have stayed in a cave before. This town is really a tourist town now. Many of the locals have left so there really is not much of a choice but stay in a hotel. Luckily, the prices on these are very affordable. We split a room with three people, and it was a steal. However, even solo travelers or parties of two will find the prices to be reasonable. Goreme is a safe area and is also an area with restaurants, shops, and natural sights all within walking distance.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Cappadocia from Istanbul by plane. Travelers can also get here from Istanbul by bus. We chose to fly, however, because of our limited time and because the tickets through Pegasus and Turkish airlines were very reasonable. We waited to book two days before our trip so while they still had tickets available, the cheapest ones were sold out. For those who plan better, they should be able to get a really good price on plane tickets. We flew into Kayseri airport, which is about an hour away from Goreme. We had our hotel arrange for an airport pick up. Many of the hotels in the area use the same shuttle service so that a person will be waiting at the airport exit with a sign with multiple party names on it. That person will walk travelers over to a waiting area to wait for their van. Names will be called when the van has arrived. Beware that these vans do not have working air conditioning, and it will get hot on the hour long ride but there is not much that can be done. My best advice is bring a cold bottle of water. Once in Goreme, most necessary things should be within walking distance. The hotel will also likely offer guests a ride into town, if needed. And all booked tours should include a pick up and drop off at the hotel. When we departed Goreme, we took another plane back to Istanbul. Again, we arranged for a ride to the airport through our hotel that used that same shuttle service. The Kayseri airport is small so very easy to navigate once inside.

Overall:

Cappadocia was not only the highlight of my trip to Turkey, it was one of the highlights of my travels through the Mediterranean region. The natural beauty here really is breathtaking. We went in September, and it was still hot, which is not surprising considering how arid it is here. We were only able to stay two nights here, but I would recommend staying longer. Travelers should definitely stay a minimum of two nights, though, to increase the odds that they can take a balloon ride. They should also book the ride for their first morning there just in case it gets canceled and they need to book again for the next day. After our first attempt, there were several people lamenting the fact that they had only booked one night in the region and were going to have to miss out on the balloon ride completely. This is something travelers will not want to miss! Because the balloon rides are so early in the morning travelers will likely be tired the day of the ride and may not be up to seeing a lot that day so having an extra day is crucial to see some more of the sights from the ground. We had to get up super early three days in a row (the morning of our flight there and then the next two mornings for the balloon ride) so we were exhausted and did not get a chance to do much exploring and hiking on our own, which is a shame because the hiking and exploring of the chimney rocks (including the houses and churches hidden in them) is supposed to be amazing. I would definitely come back to this area again to do some more exploring on my own. This place is for travelers who enjoy hiking and the outdoors and for those who have always wanted to take a hot air balloon ride.