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Posted by Jessica on Dec 7, 2005

During the summers when I was young I remember walking outside of my house in the early evenings and seeing hot-air balloons in the sky. I would never know what days they would be there or why they would appear, but I remember running into the house on several occasions to tell me parents that there were hot-air balloons and that they should come outside to see them too.

There’s something very peaceful looking about a hot-air balloon, just floating along the skyline. And there’s something very surreal about a hot-air balloon moving gently over the houses of the suburbs. I used to dream of being able to fly in one of those balloons, to glide over my neighborhood and see what they could see. I never imagined when I dreamt those thoughts that I would ride in a hot-air balloon one day, only it wouldn’t be over my childhood neighborhood. It would be over the most gorgeous landscape in all of Turkey.

When I last wrote, I told you about a book my Mom bought for me the Christmas after I shared my plans for traveling around-the-world with Tim. It was called 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and it contained some fantastic places and experiences all around the world. One such experience was staying in a “fairy chimney” hotel in a place called Cappadocia, located almost in the center of Turkey. The book went on to describe how fairy chimneys are rock formations that were created by the environment millions of years ago and how, around 1,500 years ago, early Christians hallowed out several of them to create churches and places to live. In fact, the book went on to tell us how there were entire underground cities in the area, some with the capacity to have over 20,000 people live in them.

I remember the exact moment I read about the fairy chimneys in that book. Tim and I were still in the very early planning stages, still daydreaming about which countries to visit and what sites to see, and anything and everything seemed a possibility. But, for whatever reason, Turkey had never crossed either of our minds. But after I read the description of the fairy chimneys to Tim, there was little doubt in either of our minds that we would be visiting Turkey.

Over the next several days we did a lot of research on places to visit in Turkey, and specifically on Cappadocia; the region of Turkey that the book said that the fairy chimneys are located in. Almost immediately we came across a website called the TurkeyTravelPlanner.com, and it was there that we saw some of the first pictures of the gorgeous landscape created by the fairy chimneys. And it was there that we learned that we could take a hot-air balloon ride over that same landscape.

When we first read about taking a balloon ride in Turkey, there was only one company we wanted to fly with: Kapadokya Balloons. Aside from reading rave reviews on-line for their perfect safety records and exemplary customer service, they have by far the most experience of any hot-air balloon company in all of Turkey. In fact, they started the ballooning industry in the country. And so it goes without saying that when we arrived in Göreme, a little town in the Cappadocia region where Kapadokya Balloons is located and the town we planned to stay in during our visit to the area, their office was our first stop. And our fingers were crossed that there would be room for two more people to fly that week.

In a trip of this nature, it’s often a good idea to come up with your list of “must do” things. There’s just too much to see in the world, too much to experience, and it’s virtually impossible to do it all. And so a wish list of sorts helps to keep you on track, and it reminds you (often when you’re experiencing delusions of grandeur and think you can see it all) of those things that are most important to you.

Tim and I have four main things on our wish list for this trip. Two of those wishes, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru and sailing to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, were granted in South America. A third wish, exploring Angkor Wat in Cambodia, will (hopefully) be granted sometime early next year during the Southeast Asia portion of our trip. And the forth one? Well, let’s just say that almost a year and a half after first reading about it, Tim and I took our magical hot-air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, Turkey.

The day of our balloon ride started out early, the van from Kapadokya Balloons was due to pick us up at 6:05pm. Sleepy but very excited, we waited in the dark outside of our pension for our ride. And at 6:05pm on the dot, a jeep pulled up in front of us and we climbed inside. Our adventure had begun.

The next hour or so passed fairly quickly. We checked in at the office (where the co-owner Kaili recalled having emailed with us the week before, impressing us to no end), and mingled with the other people waiting for their balloon rides too. There were a sizeable number of people gathered, many of whom had opted for the shorter balloon ride. (The shorter balloon ride is cheaper but, as the name implies, it’s also shorter: 45 minutes instead of the 75-90 minute longer balloon ride. Thinking this might be a once in a lifetime experience, Tim and I had opted for the longer balloon ride.) And so we were excited to discover that, as promised, only 10 people would be flying in our balloon.

After the people who had opted for the shorter balloon ride had been dispatched in vans to their take-off location, we piled into a van with the group of people who had opted for the longer balloon ride. And after a quick ten minute ride past some of the landscape we would soon be flying over (and past the take-off location for the shorter balloon ride), we arrived at the place which the winds had determined would be our launching area.

As we piled out of the van, excitement rippled through the air. We watched as the crew from Kapadokya Balloons unloaded three balloon baskets and their matching balloons (there were to be two large balloons taking off for the longer balloon ride, as well as a two-person privately manned balloon that was being rented from Kapadokya Balloons that week). And as the sun began marching over the crest of the summit we were on top of, the giant balloons began filling with air.

The owners and founders of Kapadokya Balloons, Kaili and Lars, were the pilots for the two large balloons that morning. (In fact, they always pilot the longer balloon rides.) And after Kaili gave us safety instructions and separated all of us between her balloon and Lars’s balloon, all that was left to do was wait while the preparations for the flights were completed. In the valley before us we could see several hot-air balloons in the distance and it was a gorgeous sight. I think part of me still couldn’t believe that I too would soon be in a hot-air balloon.

It was only a matter of minutes before Lars’s and Kaili’s balloons were ready. (It’s actually an amazingly quick process: we learned that a good ground crew should be able to unpack and inflate a balloon in 15 minutes). And so Tim and I climbed in, up and over the side of our basket, and stood in the spot where we would be for the next 90 minutes. With only ten people in our basket, there was going to be no problem looking over the edge and seeing all the sights that would soon lie below our feet.

One of the strangest things about flying in a hot-air balloon is that there is no sense of motion and no sense of vertigo (that funny feeling you might get in your stomach when you look down from a height above). And so even though we could see the people on the ground getting smaller, even though we heard them yell out “have a good flight and we’ll see you at the landing zone!,” and even though we were suddenly afforded a view we could never have imagined, it didn’t quite register we were actually in the air. It didn’t quite register that we were actually flying in a hot-air balloon. In fact, the entire time we were in the air it never felt quite real, it’s just that unique of an experience.

I know after nine months of traveling and writing on HedgehogsWithoutBorders that Tim and I have said time and again that this experience or that experience is the best one we’ve had thus far on the trip. In fact, we might have said it so often that those words are losing any meaning. But trust me when I say that it will take a very special thing to beat riding in a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey. Riding in a hot-air balloon is already something that’s fairly special…but doing so over Cappadocia? It just leaves you breathless.

There is no doubt that the scenery was outstanding, but it was our pilot Lars (and his banter by radio with Kaili in the other balloon) that made the trip that much better. While floating gently over the landscape he patiently answered all of our questions about the area’s landscape and about ballooning. And he entertained us to no end with his piloting skills: not only did we float over those gorgeous rock formations, we floated right between them too. At times it would appear to our novice eyes that we were about to crash right into the top of a fair chimney, only to find our basket floating over it effortlessly. And while there are a few other balloon companies that have since started-up in the Cappadocia region, there is no other company in the area that has the kind of experience to pilot a balloon with that kind of precision and care.

And so for the next 90 minutes Lars flew us over and in-between sights that were indescribable. There are few places in the world, I imagine, that look quite like the landscape of Cappadocia. Towering rock formations with fingers pointing to the sky, ripples of rock flowing like water along valleys, and all of it surrounded by miles and miles of flat farmland which give no hint as to how or why these wondrous rock sculptures came to be. From the ground these formations are beautiful, from the air they are mesmerizing.

I could have spent a lifetime in the balloon basket, time didn’t seem to touch us up there in the sky…but balloons can only go so far, and so 90 minutes after we began, we touched down in a field several miles away. And with our feet on the ground again, we were electrified by the experience we had just shared. The quiet group that had set-off together early that morning was now laughing and joking with ease, enjoying the traditional celebratory post-balloon ride champagne toast. And there is absolutely nothing I would change from that morning’s experience, absolutely nothing that could have made it better. That morning and that balloon ride over the landscape of Cappadocia will forever be etched in my mind as something perfect.

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December 7, 2005 at 4:27pm
NUMBER 1! I am back Baby! love and miss you guys!
December 7, 2005 at 4:44pm
Awwwwwww… Wow. This is one of my dreams as well (a balloon ride, that is – can't say that I've ever heard of Cappadocia!)…

I only wish the web could handle more imagery – because I'd love to see more (and larger!) photos… Guess that's yet another reason to go visit you when you come back!

December 7, 2005 at 5:01pm
God dam you loofa
December 7, 2005 at 5:03pm
Oh Philse and Timmy are in the random snapshot…man that day sucked
December 7, 2005 at 5:08pm
Jess you know more people die in Balloon rides every year than people die from car crashes
December 7, 2005 at 5:09pm
Jess you know Balloon rides are like the most dangerous things you can do
December 7, 2005 at 5:19pm
Philsie, Philsie, Philsie… just because you are #3 doesnt mean you have to be so Bitter! :) And at least they did not go bungee jumping from the Balloon!
December 8, 2005 at 2:11am
so beautiful and special… *soul prickles*
Tim the hedgehog
December 8, 2005 at 5:00am

Jess you know Balloon rides are like the most dangerous things you can do blah blah blah blah blah blah ;)

Silly Philsie, have a look at this [URL=http://www.kapadokyaballoons.com/index.php?main=6&sub=6]link[/URL]. Two decades, over 20,000 passengers, perfect safety record. :)

December 8, 2005 at 9:50am
Sounds sooo dreammmmy! I just love the name fairy chimneys. Definitely something to get *stoked* about! Tee hee.
Amie a.k.a. Koreen's sister
December 8, 2005 at 11:57am
Just so Philsie knows being number three, four, five and six..still doesnt make you number one.

I took Joe up in a hot air balloon at a county fair…and all though we were tethered to the ground, and all we could see were carnies, rides (and a guy puking by the tilt-a-whirl)..and all we could smell was porta-johns and funnelcakes…it was still pretty exciting. Of course now I realize it sucked.

It sounds so amazing guys, I am so excited to read a new post. And you guys look so cute poking out in that balloon picture. I can wait for you to update your photo section.

Poetic Furry
December 8, 2005 at 2:18pm
Interesting… I thought fairy chimnies were those things that stuck out of the houses belonging to actual faires… Anyway, glad to hear that you enjoyed your ballon ride despite the horrors that Phil thought you would experince. I'll see what I can do abut making your third wish come ture, but considering my financial state at the moment it may take a bit of a Christmas miracle to make it actually happen. In the meantime take care and if you do go bungee jumping please be safe and send the photos to Phil since he SO deserves it! ;) *tee-hee*
December 9, 2005 at 10:06am
Timmy I'm just joking you know what Jess is like..
Tim the hedgehog
December 9, 2005 at 10:22am
Philsie, you smell like pea soup. ;)
December 9, 2005 at 1:59pm
That balloon ride soudns absolute amazing! You two are truely great writers and such wonderful photographers too. May your adventures be more memorable with eath place you visit.
December 10, 2005 at 10:41am
Timmy you're like the guy who stands to close to people and eats candy bars really loud…and says things like "Excuse me Miss even when its a dude" I dont know what that means …you still smell like Pea Soup
December 10, 2005 at 1:30pm
Great shots! The scenery is truly amazing. And the shot of the balloons filling up looks like two enormous breasts.

Hey – that's what it looked like to me. :)

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