Destination Guides, Travel Information & Health Advice for Travellers 55+ in Asia
My flight with Kapadokya Balloons started with a pick-up from where I was staying in Göreme. After a quick cup of coffee and some biscuits at Kapadokya Balloons' office, we set off for the launch site.As we were driving up out of the valley, we could see the Coca-Cola balloon (also owned by Kapadokya Balloons, and the largest balloon in the region) taking off in the distance.
I had chosen to take the longer flight in their smaller balloon which carries 10-12 passengers.(The Coca-Cola balloon carries 20).On arrival at the launch site, the ground crew chose a sheltered spot to prepare the balloon for launch.
First job was to get the basket off the trailer.The person in the jacket with his back to the camera is our pilot, Lars-Eric Möre, and the person on the right is his partner, Kaili Kidner. Kapadokya Balloons is owned and operated by Lars and Kaili, and they are reputed to be two of the most experienced pilots in the region.
The ground crew then make the necessary preparations to the basket. Note the gas cylinders in the compartment nearest the camera.That is where the pilot stands. The other two compartments are for the passengers.
Some of the passengers lend a hand to push the basket on its side.
Next step is to attach the balloon envelope to the basket.
Once the balloon envelope is attached to the basket, a large fan is wheeled into place to start inflating the balloon with cold air.
Kaili watches me as I snap away as the balloon gradually inflates.
When the balloon is half inflated, Kaili invites me to take a walk inside.I am worried about walking on the fabric of the balloon for fear of tearing it, but she assures me it is very strong.
Lars checks out part of the balloon that appears snagged on a tree, but all is okay.
Kaili then shelters behind the small tree as Lars fires the burners up to start pumping hot air into the balloon. It's an interesting experience being inside a balloon as the burners are fired towards you!
After a while the balloon fabric starts billowing around me and I am nearly engulfed in it.So Kaili calls to me that it is time to get out.
Lars kindly turned the burners off whilst we got out of the balloon (otherwise we would have been roasted!) and then he continued to pump more hot air into the balloon.
After a few minutes the balloon envelope started lifting away from the ground.
I asked Kaili whether the fabric could catch fire from all the flames, but she assured me the fabric was completely fire-proof.Just as well!
Soon the balloon was almost upright, and the passengers then climbed into the basket.
Once everyone was one board, Lars gave the burners a real good blast.
And before we knew it we were up, up and away, floating over the early morning Cappadocia landscape.
Looking in the other direction, I could see four other balloons being launched almost simultaneously from other valleys around Göreme.
Of course, balloon pilots cannot control the direction of their balloons -- you go wherever the wind takes you -- and soon we found ourselves on the outskirts of Orthisar.The roads were still empty because it was still not yet .
Lars had taken us up a thousand feet or so for the first ten minutes of our flight, but we were now floating through Orthisar at roof top level. A few early risers stop on the street to watch us go by.
As we float past some trees, Lars tugs on a rope that opens and closes a vent in the balloon that enables him to rotate it.This is the only control that a pilot has apart from using the burners to gain height and control the rate of descent.
As we floated over the roof tops, I was amazed at the accuracy with which Lars could use the burners to control the height of the balloon. This is not as easy as it looks because there is a 10-12 second delay between when the burners are fired and when the balloon responds.
There is no sound at all in flight, except when the burners are fired to maintain height.This woman probably heard the sound of the burners and pulled back her curtains to see what it was.
As we floated silently through backyards at window level, I wondered whether some people might think they were still dreaming if they awoke to see a basket of people floating past their window!
At one stage we were even flying below the level of the houses when we dropped down into a gully.
As we came up out of the gully, we had a magnificent view of Orthisar's old town, which is dominated by a large kale which was once used as a fortress.
As we drifted closer to the kale, we had a good view of the many caves at the top and old abandoned homes around its base. Lars then told us that he was going to try to fly the balloon through one of the gullies leading to the base of the kale, so that he could say hello to a friend that was living on the right hand side of the kale.
The gully enabled Lars to take advantage of a slightly different direction in airflow which enabled the balloon to take a course that was to the right of its previous track, and head towards his friend's house.You may be able to pick out his friend in a red shirt standing on the balcony of her house just to the upper right of the centre of this picture.
As we got closer to Lars' friend's house, we realised that not only was he going to get close to the house, it looked like he was going to fly right over the top of it.Quite an achievement given that balloon pilots have only the air currents to determine the direction of the balloon!It illustrated both Lars' skill as a balloon pilot as well as his local knowledge of the air currents in the gullies around Orthisar.
In fact, we got so close that Lars was able to have a conversation with his friend as we floated up from the gully and over her house.Some of the passengers took snapshots of the 'close encounter'.
As we passed overhead, Lars' friend ran around to the back of her house to watch us disappear over the adjacent rooftops.
Flying low over the rooftops of Orthisar, we could see many apricots being dried on the flat roofs.
As we flew around the back of the kale, I was able to get a shot of it against a blue sky.My previous shots were all shooting against the early morning sun which tended to wash out the colour in the sky.
As we continued to drift through the empty streets of Orthisar, we noticed that the ground crew had caught up with us and were watching us from the two four-wheel drive vehicles below.
Lars then gave the burners a good blast, and we started to climb up into the sky to give us another good bird's eye view of Orthisar.
We were soon up a thousand feet or so and flying over the valleys.We could see the small town of Ibrahim Pasa in the distance.
As we approached Ibrahim Pasa, Lars held back on the burners to let balloon descend over the town. We could see that the town was surrounded on three sides by deep gullies.
It is so exhilarating seeing places from this height in a balloon -- you get a completely different perspective than what you can from the ground.
As we flew low over the town, we could see the erosion under some of the houses, making them look as if they were sitting very precariously along the tops of the gullies.
As the air currents carrying us over the town changed direction slightly, and we had the sun behind us, we could see the shadow of the balloon on the houses below.
After a flight over the town, we come down again into one of the gullies.
Lars keeps his hand on the controls for the gas burners, giving them a gentle burst once in a while to maintain our height as we fly down the gully.
A girl in her pyjamas comes out onto the roof of her house to watch us drift past.
As we approach the end of the gully, Lars gives the burners a long blast and we quickly rise up above the bridge on the outside of the town.At this point Lars tells us hat as we have been in the air for an hour and a half, so we must start looking for a landing site (the propane gas tanks carry enough fuel for a little over two hours flying).
Just outside of town, we spot the ground crew below us. Kaili throws some dirt into the air to show Lars the wind direction on the ground.
As we start looking for a landing site, we are drifting so quietly that these farmers tilling their land don't even notice the large balloon 50 feet or so above their heads.
As we approach our landing site, we are reminded of how large the balloon is when we see its shadow on the ground below.
Lars has already selected a field, in which there are no crops growing, to land.He has radioed the ground crew ahead, and now they race to get themselves into position for the landing.
A rope is thrown down from the basket and the ground crew hang onto it to help guide the balloon into position.
About five feet from the ground, Kaili grabs hold of the rope handles on the side of the balloon as one of the other ground crew runs forward to help her.At this stage some of the passengers start joking that it looks like Lars is going to land the balloon right on the trailer.
And land it on the trailer is exactly what Lars does, as Kaili helps to guide it into position.Lars told us afterwards that they usually manage to land the basket on the trailer about 60 per cent of the time.
The balloon envelope then starts to collapse as the air inside it cools.
Once the balloon envelope has been untethered from the basket, the ground crew assist the passengers to climb out.
For a while the balloon envelope sits like a giant mushroom in the field as it gradually reduces in size.
Eventually the crew have to move in to squeeze the rest of the air out of the balloon envelope.
And finally the job is almost done.All that is left to do is to roll up the balloon envelope into its bag to carry it back to base.
Once the balloon envelope in it its bag, some of the passengers pose for souvenir photos with the ground crew.
Before heading back to base, there is the traditional champagne toast (or in Turkey, champagne and cherry juice) to celebrate a most exhilarating and enjoyable flight.
The next day I decided to get some shots of the balloons from the ground.I headed out first to watch the Coca-Cola balloon being launched from a spot alongside the road out to the Göreme Open-Air Museum.
The Coca-Cola balloon is the largest balloon operated by Kapadokya Balloons and carries about twice the number of passengers as the smaller balloon that I flew in the previous day.An enormous amount of hot air has to be pumped into the balloon before it will start to lift.
Eventually it slowly lifts away from the ground.The Coca-Cola balloon flight takes only about an hour, whilst the smaller balloons operated by Kapadokya Balloons fly for an hour and a half or more.
After watching the Cocoa-Cola balloon being launched, I headed up onto a ridge on the west side of Goreme to see if I could see from where Lars was launching the smaller balloon.Just as the sun was rising, I could see four other balloons being launched in the distance (you may just be able to pick them out in the top left hand corner of the picture), but I couldn't see Lars' balloon.
After waiting a while, I spotted Lars' balloon across the other side of the valley, and took this shot a with a telephoto lens.
Whilst I was waiting for Lars' balloon to fly closer, I took the opportunity to take a few shots of Göreme from the top of the ridge.Göreme is a very 'photogenic' town with all its strange rock formations and limestone caves.
About half an hour later, I was so engrossed in taking shots of Göreme, that I didn't realise that Lars' balloon was already overhead, until I heard the sound of a gas burner.
Kaili had already radioed Lars to tell him I was on the ridge, waiting to take photos as he flew by, so he brought the balloon down for some close-ups.
As Lars flies the balloon across the ridge, just a few metres from the ground, he gives me a wave from the basket.
Then as he flies away in the other direction, Lars gives the burners a blast to gain some height.
Soon the balloon is a thousand feet or so in the air.
I jumped in my car and headed off along the track along the top of the ridge in the direction of the balloon, hoping to catch up with it so I could take shots of the landing. However, the road came to an abrupt end, and I could go no further.
Just as well the car had good brakes, because the track suddenly plunged into a gully. From this point on I think it was meant only for goats, not cars!
All I could do now was take photos with my telephoto lenses as the balloon disappeared into the distance towards another ridge.
Eventually the balloon disappeared behind ridge in the far distance, and that was the last I saw of them for the day.