May 22 Balloons (Day 238)

We woke at dawn and climbed the stairs to the rooftop terrace to see the hot air balloons rising over the village in the morning light!

Breakfast isn’t served until 8:30am to accommodate those guests who rose before dawn to take a balloon ride. It is worth the wait!

The many salads and sweet and savory pastries (made by the matriarch of the family) the olives and cheeses, are complimented with a small omelet, juices and coffee or tea, and fruits! Enough to last until dinner time!

We finished breakfast and prepared for our first outing. Our host suggested we attempt the closest hike, Zemi Valley, a short walk around the ridge behind the hotel.

Once on the trail we diverted on a short hike to a church carved into a rock ‘fairy chimney’.

Inside, the tiny church was decorated with frescoes that the attendant guide claimed we’re 1300 years old, which would put the date of this church’s construction at about 725 AD which is very plausible.

Continuing up the valley we discovered this rock house with a ladder to the entrance attesting to the theory that many of the houses carved into the rock were shelters from marauding invaders.

We enjoyed our walk in the Zemi Valley which was shaded by large trees and still used by locals for small scale orchards and gardens. We retraced our steps to the valley entrance then continued up the road to the Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is known for the many churches carved into the rocks and decorated with biblical frescoes dating to the 10th to 12th centuries. No photography is allowed inside the churches tho.

One of the smaller churches entrance.

A panel showing the many frescoes you can’t take pictures of!

The largest and most elaborate of the churches.

Photos are allowed in the ‘dining halls’ and adjacent kitchens that are associated with the churches. This dining room with low table surrounded by benches at the same level, carved from the rock, is lit up with electric lights. Back in the day candles must have been used for light and the kitchens are sooty from the wood or coal fuel used to cook meals for the monks, priests and parishioners.

It seemed like a long walk back to our Airbnb, we were bushed from the walking, the heat and our symptoms of the cold virus we picked up in Thailand! We had an easy evening, dinner at a local restaurant, and an early bedtime!

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