I always imagined that when I got to tick off hot air ballooning from my bucket list, it would be over some (lovely) rolling green hills somewhere in the UK, on a random Saturday, and would be for some very special occasion that needed celebrating in a different kind of way.
But if there was just one place in the world to go hot air ballooning, it would be Cappadocia in Turkey. No arguments. The area is famous for its sunrise balloon flights, when hundreds of balloons take off to show thousands of people the sunrise from the sky each morning. You’ll have seen photographs of it I’m sure (even before you followed my instagram account!); all the travel companies and magazines use photographs of this bucket list view. It’s one of those images, like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, that everyone has seen but most people haven’t been to.
As I was in Cappadocia on my TopDeck tour of Turkey (are you reading my diary posts?) I had the perfect opportunity to make this particular bucket list tick very special. I wasn’t going to do it because it’s the sort of thing I wanted to do with LincsGeek, but after thinking about it (and speaking to LincsGeek who basically said don’t be silly get on with it) I was “persuaded” to take the plunge because, let’s face it, it would probably be my once-in-a-lifetime chance. It wasn’t a TopDeck excursion but our tour leader arranged it for us with a local company he knew was decent and good value.
I’ll explain more about it in a moment, but first I’d love it if you would watch the video…
The experience started VERY early in the morning with a pick up from our hotel at 4.45am – that’s right… before 5am! Well this was a sunrise flight 🙂 We jumped into a couple of mini buses and were taken to Kaya Balloons just outside Goreme, where they served breakfast (well, bread and biscuits) and hot drinks while they got things sorted for us. At a random point just after 5am we piled back in the mini buses and were taken to a field about five minutes away where there were a whole load of hot air balloons being inflated.
There were balloons all around us. It was very dark, no light pollution here, and we could see stars and shapes of balloons and baskets, but not a lot else other than when the fire was bright. It was noisy, the sound of the balloons being inflated was loud. One by one the balloons were lifted from their sleeping position to their upright position and groups of tourists clambered into the basket for their flight. Each basket takes around 30 people in four different sections, and while it was a bit cosy, there as actually plenty of room for us without feeling like we were in each other’s personal space.
Take off was a lot smoother than I had imagined. Actually the whole thing was incredibly gentle and floaty. Once we were all in and settled, and our pilot (we had two) had given us a few instructions, the ropes holding us to the ground were untied and we were on our way up. Within a few minutes we were above the trees and high into the sky, enjoying the sky and scenery as everything got lighter and lighter.
Cappadocia is completely stunning and the scenery is like nothing else I’ve seen. Formed thanks to volcanic activity over thousands of years, there are mountains and valleys, fairy chimneys and caves, it’s so unique. As we gently soared through the sky so did what seemed like hundreds of other balloons, and I really felt like I was doing something very special. I took so many photographs, as did everyone in the basket, and kept my eyes wide to make sure I took in as much of it as possible. As the sun rose from behind the mountain in the distance the light changed from blue to orange and everything looked different. I’m finding it so hard to describe what I saw and experienced in words that do it justice; it’s one of those things that is a feeling deep inside rather than just a view. The photographs look great and might provide something to replace words, but they can’t replace the emotion you feel when it’s you stood there in the middle. A truly individual bucket list experience.
We sailed around the sky for about an hour before our pilot started looking for a suitable landing site. With so many balloons, and being in an area where there were houses and farms, that wasn’t as easy as it would have been if it was just us in the sky. We watched as other balloons slowly lowered themselves onto the ground, a dance that involved a number of people on the ground for each balloon as well as the skill of the guys flying the balloon. To make things easier for pack-down the guys like to land on their trailer, which is amazing to see – the truck drove along and we simply set down on the back as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Impressive! By the time we got out of the basket the sun was definitely out and we had the most beautiful morning ahead of us, we’d been flying for about an hour and 20 minutes.
A second breakfast was provided – cake and alcohol free champagne (which tasted like sherbet!) while the team packed down the balloon and showed us the video and photos they’d been taking during the flight (trying to make some extra money, of course). We jumped back in the mini bus and were taken straight back to the hotel where we all chatted about our experience over a third (proper) breakfast.
Not a bad way to spend the hours before 8am.
We had our experience with Kaya Balloons, and they were brilliant. There are loads of companies operating from the Goreme area (as you might imagine!), and I can’t comment on any others but if you are not sure who to pick then I’m very happy to recommend this one. It cost me EURO140 for the experience which is definitely not cheap but I would say not extortionate and on a par with what LincsGeek and I spent on our helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon last summer. Looking back I say it was worth every single penny (or cent!), a must do.
If hot air ballooning is on your bucket list, then I would add “in Cappadocia” to it… seriously, one of the best experiences of my life.
I’ve been very lucky and blessed with my bucket list experiences recently, being able to tick off some biggies as well as lots of little smaller things. The list is always growing so please give me a shout if you’ve got a suggestion for me, or if you know a way I can tick off something that’s already on there. And if you need help with something on your list, let me know.