Please call me Valentina Tereshkova, because after my recent trip to Turkey I feel like the first woman to travel to space.
Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia is like gliding over the surface of the moon. The jagged rocks – known as fairy chimneys – jut out at sharp angles, casting long shadows as the sun rises over the horizon.
Beautiful as it may be, no photo can do this scene justice. So instead of just inundating you with images I’d like to describe the whole experience and prepare you for when you get a chance to visit.
Ugh, snooze. Why the hell is my alarm ringing this early? How dare it drag me out of bed at this ungodly hour? Oh waiiit! I’m going hot air ballooning today ???
Time to put on a pretty dress for extra Instagram points. “What are you doing?” my boyfriend says as I start heading out the door. “It’s -5 °C (23 Fahrenheit), crazy lady.” I angrily stomp back inside and put on thermals.
I run downstairs where the bus driver is already waiting. The heating is on which I’m grateful for, because it’s late November and my toes are starting to freeze. To think I almost wore a dress…
We drive for about 20 minutes and get dropped off at a small restaurant. Inside is a large breakfast buffet, tea and coffee. I dutifully load up my plate only to realise I have no appetite as soon as I sit down. I push my plate toward my boyfriend who grimaces and refuses to be a human bin.
Indignant I wolf down five slices of watermelon, a bowl of lentil soup, a bread roll, two hardboiled eggs and some kind of cake. As people start getting up to leave I cross my fingers, clutch my stomach and follow them out the door.
We’re divided into several groups – there are ten people in mine. As we approach the balloons I realise just how gigantic they are. I always imagined them as little tent-like contraptions with a dainty basket for two attached to the bottom.
But apparently there’s enough room for twenty people in each balloon. Ours is divided into six sections, which means you can’t just walk around as you please. I’m disappointed at first but only until I imagine what might happen if all of us simultaneously rushed toward one corner, manically trying to snap a good photo as bloggers tend to.
No, thank you. I’m willing to do a lot of silly things for the perfect Instagram but plunging to my death from a wicker basket is not one of them.
…aaand we’re off. Ehm, have I mentioned that I’m not exactly a fan of heights? Is anybody aware that I just consumed a large amount of soup, watermelon and eggs for breakfast? I brace myself, expecting a wave of anxiety to crash over my body. It never arrives – the takeoff is so gentle I barely notice we’re no longer touching the ground.
Instead I am met with the most magical, otherworldly view I can imagine. We glide seamlessly through the air, surrounded by dozens of colourful balloons and tall rock formations. Have a look at this video of my incredible experience…
Our pilot Suat is stood in the centre of the balloon, occasionally releasing the propane valve to send us upward, elegantly weaving through this forest of natural columns. He is the chief pilot of Royal Balloon and was one of the first to start flying in Cappadocia.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine Cappadocia without its balloons now. They’ve definitely made the destination more attractive to travellers many of whom first learn about it on Instagram. In these uncertain times for Turkey, that can only be a good thing.
My fingers are frozen and are getting tired from constantly pressing the camera shutter. Suat tells me that a photographer once shot nine thousand images during his flight. And here I was, feeling overzealous for a measly three hundred.
The top of my head is warm, absorbing heat from the burner. The rest of me not so much.
We are starting to descend and a pickup truck is circling below. As we get closer I realise what’s happening. We’ll be landing directly in the truck!
Before I have time to fully process this information, I’m already being helped off the balloon. Mine is not an elegant exit – you have to climb over the basket’s high brim and then jump down. Because I’m little miss independent, I don’t grab the pilot’s hand and land with an ungraceful thud.
“Good job, Sabina,” I think. “What a way to end this romantic experience.”
Luckily that was not the end. Oh, no. A fold up table and chairs were swiftly set up on the vast plain and I am delighted to see two things I love – chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne!
The first untethered manned hot air balloon flight took place in Paris on November 21, 1783. Perhaps because of this, a glass of bubbly at the end of a flight has become something of a tradition. Who am I not to obey custom, even if it means sipping on champers after breakfast? #quellehorreur ?
Before being driven back to the hotel each of us receives a medal. I feel a little ridiculous as Suat hands it to me – why on earth am I being rewarded for letting somebody whisk me off on a magical hot air balloon flight?
But much like a glass of champagne at 7am, there are some things you simply don’t need a reason for. So I just smile, nod and wish life was always this easy.
Disclaimer: My hot air balloon flight was arranged for me as part of the Inflow travel summit. As always, all opinions and questionable breakfast decisions are my own.