In November 2019 Greg and I visited Turkey to film our video, ‘Turkey – Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities’. In a place called Cappadocia you will find the Goreme National Park, which is famous for its ‘Fairy Chimneys’.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Fairy Chimneys, a brief explanation might be necessary. Millions of years ago there was a long series of volcanic eruptions. The volcanic ash which fell as a result hardened into multiple layers of rock, geologically known as tuff. Over a long period of time, wind, water and ice whittled away at the tuff, but in areas where a harder rock layer rested atop the softer layer of tuff, the erosion couldn’t reach the tuff beneath – and so the fairy chimneys or ‘castles’ as the locals refer to them were created.
There are numerous valleys in the area, each with distinctive rock formations of different shapes, sizes and colours. We wanted to see all of these valleys, and so my aim was to view them and their famous Fairy Chimneys from above, from a hot air balloon.
Cappadocia is also world famous for flying hot air balloons. The amazing, otherworldly landscape combined with good weather conditions makes it the perfect place for people to fly in a balloon and also makes the hot air balloon the best way to see the landscape.
Our arrival in Cappadocia was actually after dark after a full day of aeroplanes and we had arranged the hot air balloon ride for our first morning in Turkey, just in case our flight was cancelled- we wanted time to try again on another morning if necessary, meaning that before our flight we hadn’t seen anything of the landscape yet.
We had booked our flight in advance, with Butterfly Balloons, and their van collected us from our hotel at 5:50am. We enjoyed a small buffet breakfast at their office to start and then still in darkness we were driven to the balloon inflation site.
A row of about five massive balloons, each in varying stages of inflation, their blasts of fire providing the only illumination. I must admit, the sight was both impressive and a little intimidating. While I’m not really afraid of heights, I have a healthy fear of landing unexpectedly from a great height. In other words, going splat!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a ride in a hot air balloon aside from the gorgeous view. It didn’t exactly help matters when, upon climbing up and into the balloon’s basket, the first thing they do is demonstrate the ‘brace position’ we all had to master before taking off, just in case we landed badly!
I didn’t really expect a rough ride and yet I was still surprised by how smoothly we just drifted up into the air, the earth dropping effortlessly away beneath us. Flying in a hot air balloon isn’t so much flying as it is floating. That’s certainly how it felt to me at least.
The wind didn’t even so much as ruffle my hair. I imagine that if I could have felt the wind, that would class as too strong for the balloons to fly. This is why all balloons fly so early in the morning, calmer weather before the sun rises and starts to heat things up.
The small towns below, such as Göreme, fit into the natural shape of the land. Little pockets of light nestled into the valleys in an otherwise dark landscape.
As the sunrise approached and the sky started to turn a more agreeable blue, the view opened up around us!
It was so surreal and peaceful up there, gazing at the incredible valleys below, it was actually a bit of a shock each time our pilot ignited the flames and with a noisy gust of fire our balloon rose higher.
As well as admiring the fairy chimneys and the beauty of the land below, the spectacle of all the other balloons, about 130 of them, rising into the skies all around us was fantastic, with our flight lasting an hour and twenty minutes and reaching a maximum height of 6,800 feet.
At one point, a lady in the basket next to ours asked where our landing area was. Our pilot waved his arm vaguely encompassing all the land below and said ‘’there.’’ He went on to explain ‘’I control how high we go but the wind controls where we land’’.
An incredible way to travel, but the harder job belonged to the driver below who had to chase us with his car and trailer bed. They are well practised in this, however, and as our balloon gently descended, the driver arranged his trailer perfectly, our basket gracefully landed upon it with barely a discernible bump.
Our flight had finished but the fun wasn’t quite over yet- the Butterfly Balloons team pulled our balloon down to the ground with ropes while the passengers clambered out of the baskets. We then all proceeded to shuffle along our partially deflated balloon, releasing the warm air from within and drawing it completely down to the ground. It felt almost ceremonious. Especially when the champagne corks popped and we were all sprinkled with bubbly, before enjoying a glass and a slice of cake before being driven back to our hotel – just in time for breakfast!
What an incredible way to start the first day of our newest adventure!