Cappadocia by balloon

A Cappadocia landscape with balloons floating overhead may be beautiful, but being high above the world inside that balloon means even more.

It's about four-thirty in the morning at Uçhisar; everything is still, the sun's rays have not yet fallen on the fairy chimneys. But waking up this early morning is as easy as pie, because in about half an hour's time we are going to gaze down on Cappadocia from above and view the sunrise from a balloon. Spread out over the ground, the colorful fabrics begin to swell with air as we eat our breakfast. A powerful fan is used to inflate the balloons with air, which is then heated. Still on the ground, its basket attached to a car, the balloon begins to take shape. At a sign from the pilot, the ground crew set up the basket, which remains attached to the car until the passengers can take their places. As we watch the balloons being inflated, I also get an answer to my question as to why we've had to come out here at the crack of dawn. For this too is a show all its own. Clearly a professional team is required so that these procedures be carried out correctly and in a sound way. Within the short space of fifteen minutes we are finally in our basket. As we rise slowly, I try on the one hand to understand how we are flying and on the other to savor the taste of the landscape and this incredible feeling of lightness. But I postpone my questions temporarily to watch the sunrise, the vast expanse down below, the horses sleeping on their feet, the fairy chimneys that always awaken a sense of awe in me, and the other balloons that are flying so low as to almost touch them. The only thing that disturbs the peace and quiet of the scene is the roar of the hot air continuing to fill the balloon…

Continuing his carefully controlled movements, our pilot explains to us how the flight works: “The principle of flight of a balloon lies in a fundamental law of physics: hot air rises. Filled up with hot air, the balloon acquires the ability to rise in the cooler air outside it. We heat the air in the balloon with a powerful flame. We ascend higher as the air gets hotter and descend as it cools.” This also explains why we have come out here in the cool of the morning. Our pilot determines our direction by following changes in the air as we go along, now higher, now lower… As I start wondering how we are able to go backwards and forwards, the pilot resumes his explanation: “The wind blows in different directions at different altitudes. We go forward and backward by taking advantage of the velocity and direction of the wind at those different elevations as we are ascending and descending.” The pilot's job appears to require him to improvise, to be keenly attuned to changes in the wind and in absolute control every minute.

The balloon, which consists of three parts -dome, basket and fuel system- 
is one of the most important inventions of man, who over time tried everything in his attempts to fly. The first successful flight was made by the Montgolfier brothers over Paris in 1783 with a duck, a sheep and a rooster as passengers. Although a number of methods were eventually tried by different people, the balloon originally fashioned by the brothers out of paper and cloth remains the basis of today's hot air balloons. Balloons made of far more durable materials have also been used in our day for communications and transportation in time of war.
I think to myself that it would have been an interesting vessel for going around the world. And I immediately remember Jules Verne's 'Five Weeks in a Balloon', whose protagonist circumnavigates Africa in five weeks. But the experts don't believe that balloons are very practical for long journeys, although they are eminently suitable for short reconnaissance missions. Verne in any case penned his novel without ever having been in a balloon.
All this time our pilot is in constant communication with the ground crew. The route we are following is near, or rather directly above, the road. And the ground crew follows closely in the car in case of an emergency.

After flying over the valley for more than half an hour, our adventure is finally coming to an end. We seek a suitably level place for the landing and circle one last time. As the pilot coordinates his movements with the ground crew by wireless, we descend gradually, our balloon little different from a parachute. On an almost collision course with a bird's nest, we get past the tree and, with the help of the ground crew, the basket is held steady over the car as we continue to sit tight in place until it is clear that the landing is safe. After we've landed safely, the crew comes to empty the air out of the balloon. As the fabric is carefully folded up, a bottle of champagne is uncorked in a tradition honored round the world. Our pilot explains that this tradition got its start with the very first successful flight and has continued ever since. I can't help but notice the happiness on everyone's face as we celebrate our flight. Everybody in the right place at the right time…