“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”-Leonardo da Vinci
Under normal circumstances, I do not wake up at 3:30AM on a Tuesday with a smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach. However, on that fateful day, I knew I was going to go on my first hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey, so I eagerly jumped out of my hostel bunk bed, ready to go.
I quickly threw on some clothes and brushed my teeth as I waited for the van to pick up my hostel buddy and I for our flight with Air Kapadokya. At 4:15AM, we were greeted by a representative of the company and escorted, by mini-van, to the company headquarters just a few minutes down the road. Once there, we ate a small breakfast of simit and tea as our balloon was being prepared for flight.
When we arrived at the take-off site, there were already a few balloons that were ready to leave. I stood there, nervously chatting with my hostel friends about our upcoming flight. It had barely registered that we were there when our pilot, Mustafa, called us into the balloon basket.
Mustafa went over safety information, we practiced landing position (squatting and landing on our backs!), and prepared ourselves for the experience of a lifetime.
Moments later, we were floating up into the sky.
I felt weightless as we drifted over Cappadocia’s beautiful landscape of “fairy chimneys” (no, I did not make up that name), valleys, and cave dwellings.
Surprisingly, my fear of heights did not affect me at all as we climbed to 2,000 ft!
While the people around me in the basket struggled to get the perfect “selfie,” I leaned my head over the side to contemplate the breathtaking sunrise views. Pink stone valleys appeared to be chiseled into the ground. Pencil thin “fairy chimneys” popped out of the soil while thicker ones rested in the valleys. Roads, devoid of cars in the early morning, looked like veins running through the landscape. Balloons of various colors, with stripes, checkers and even the Turkish flag, floated at different heights in the sky. I had never seen anything like it.
Before I knew it, our hour was coming to a close and Mustafa was bracing us for a possible rough landing. The whole experience had felt surreal-almost like a dream. And then, I came back to the real world as we landed with a soft thud on the balloon trailer, thankfully not having to utilize the horizontal landing position.
The pilot and crew helped us climb out of the basket and we watched as they began to deflate the balloon. Once it was almost completely flat, they let us walk on the balloon and take pictures.
We celebrated the end of our flight with a quick toast and a glass of champagne mixed with sour cherry nectar. It was a sweet ending to a beautiful morning.
After the champagne, we were awarded our flight certificates and taken back to our hostels via mini-van. The whole morning, one of the best experiences I’ve had traveling thus far, lasted about 4 hours total.
If you have the chance to travel to Turkey for a week or longer, I highly recommend visiting the Cappadocia region. Although the hot air balloon ride is one of the most popular attractions, there are many other things that make this region worth visiting (its unique landscape, cave dwellings, underground cities, etc.-more on those later!).
When booking your hot air balloon ride, be sure to research several companies beforehand. Depending on the time of year when you go, it might be hard to find a flight with the company of your choice, so have back-ups. I chose to fly with Air Kapadokya because it has positive reviews, the pilots have years of experience, the company has been around for many years, and my hostel recommended it. I had a wonderful experience with Air Kapadokya and I would recommend them to anyone due to their service, quality and-by Cappadocia hot air balloon standards-affordability.
Even if you can’t make it all the way to Cappadocia, I think everyone needs to experience a hot air balloon flight at some point in their life. It is an incredibly relaxing way to take in the world from above. And, like me, you may even been able to conquer your fear of heights!