Originally we weren't planning to do a balloon ride (yeah, just like we weren't planning to buy a carpet), mainly because it's expensive--about $175 per person for a one-hour ride. But then we had a little piece of luck, thanks to the bad luck of niece and nephew Ann and Andres. They traveled to Turkey in July and DID want to go up in a balloon, so they forked over the big bucks, got up at 5 in the morning, were transported to the launch site, and were about to clamber into their balloon when someone noticed that Ann was pregnant (6 months). Or so the story goes--did I get it right guys? Turns out you're not allowed to balloon if you're pregnant (and someone notices), so they were unceremoniously dumped from the trip. They had paid in advance, of course, but the company (Urgup Balloons) refused to refund their money. Following increasingly loud and weepy protests from Ann (or was it Andres?), the company relented and not only refunded their money but gave them vouchers for 2 free rides in the future. Which they generously passed on to us, since we were next up for a trip to Turkey. Yay!
|Trying to find our balloon--where will it land?|
We were not really sure that Urgup Balloons would honor the voucher since it was made out to Ann and Andres, but our hotel took care of that. We explained the situation to Arda at Esbelli Evi and he contacted the company for us. It took 3 days for us to get on a balloon (windy conditions kept most companies from flying), but on our last morning in the area the weather magically cleared and it was up, up, and away.
We were picked up at the hotel by the balloon company van as promised at 6:40 a.m. and driven to the office. This was about an hour later than we had thought it would be, and it turned out that we were going to be on the second flight of the morning--a no-no according to the Lonely Planet (because wind conditions deteriorate later in the morning, making it harder to fly over the most beautiful areas). There were about 30 people milling around near the office, with no information provided on where to go. We headed into the "Breakfast" room and poured ourselves a cup of instant coffee and grabbed a couple of packaged cookies (breakfast?), then went outside to watch the 35-40 balloons peppered across the valley. Beautiful!
The balloon we were supposed to get into soon landed and we exchanged places with the people who had just finished their flight. The staff made sure that the basket was well balanced, and John and I ended up being separated--he was on one end of the basket and I was on the other. Oh well, after almost 2 months together a little separation wasn't too much of a problem.
|I THINK this will be fun|
We waved goodbye to the people on the ground as our pilot, Derya, turned on the heat jets and sent our balloon slowly up into the sky. We hovered near the ground for a bit (thought we might just land in the vineyard below, abruptly ending the flight) and then got away for our hour-long flight. The sun had risen and the light on the balloons was gorgeous, casting dollops of balloon shadows on the landscape below.
|Warmed by the fire|
We didn't get a great ride over the rock formations owing to the wind direction--we hovered near them and then headed off across the plain toward the town of Avanos. Still, the view was gorgeous, particularly of the many other balloons silently floating nearby.
|Not that pretty when flat|
After about an hour it became clear that our pilot was looking for a landing area--the chase car and trailer circling below us was the first clue.
|Some balloons actually land on the trailer (ours didn't)|
As we headed down toward the ground in an empty field, the car followed nearby. Nearing the ground, the pilot yelled out "Landing positions!" (These were the first words she said on the whole flight!). Everybody looked blankly at each other--we hadn't the first clue what the "landing position" was supposed to be (remember, no safety briefing!). The ground came up fast and Derya yelled again, almost angrily, "Landing positions!!!," as we bounced hard on the ground.
The ground crew grabbed on to our trailing rope and there was a brief tug-of-war, balloon vs. handlers. The handlers won, tying the rope to the trailer, as Derya turned off the hot-air jets and the balloon started to deflate. We scrambled out of the basket (which I momentarily thought was going to tip over sideways as we landed), glad to be safely on the ground.
|Man vs. balloon|
|Letting the hot air out|
|Thank goodness for the evil eye protecting our balloon|
|Our pilotopening the champagne|