I COULD have seen most of Cappadocia in a day, as many tourists do, from the window of a van. But to truly see Cappadocia, ground level wouldn't do. Cappadocia is best viewed from high above, and from deep within.
To get above, I rose before sunrise and climbed into the basket of a hot-air balloon. Eight hundred feet up, a spectacular landscape unfurled beneath me. Twenty million years ago volcanic eruptions blanketed this 20,000-square-mile region of central Turkey with ash that hardened into porous rock known as tuff. The eruptions then laid down chunks of basalt, a harder rock, over the ash. Millions of years of wind beating the tuff and of water cutting away the land below have carved a bewitching tableau of what Cappadocians call "fairy chimneys": tuff spikes forming like God's traffic cones, as high as buildings, to points that often miraculously balance a rectangular basalt capstone the size of a Buick. From above, it might as well be some other planet, with some other law of gravity.
The afternoon was time to venture inside Cappadocia, by exploring one of the dozens of underground cities cut into the tuff between the second and ninth centuries by persecuted Christians. "Everything you have in New York City," joked Ibrahim, my guide, "we have in here." Indeed, there are kitchens, bedrooms, churches and even wineries.
At the end of the day I headed back to the aptly named Museum Hotel, whose halls are adorned by antique artifacts, fine Turkish rugs and ebru paintings, for which the artist dabbed color on the surface of water and then laid paper down on top of it. The 30 rooms were carved into the tuff of the surrounding hillside, and each has a distinct identity. Mine had an illuminated marble fountain filled with goldfish.
The next morning I awoke to the sun beaming through the room's eight windows and saw pigeons angling up to the clouds, doing playful flips in the air. Funny, I'd never seen them do that in New York.