HOT AIR BALLOONING IN CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY

Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia was one of the most incredible mornings of my life.

This surreal experience last September was bucket list material; the type of experience where you find yourself wondering, “did that really just happen?” – but you’re holding your camera with a digital summation of an hour you’ll never be able to articulate into words…so it must have. You’ll say to friends, “You just have to go there just to get this. You have to do it too”.

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Cappadocia in Turkey is in the middle of nowhere. More officially, it’s in the Nevsehir Provence of the Central Anatolia region. You land at the tiny airport, hop in a shuttle bus and drive another ninety minutes, with almost no sign of civilisation and captivating landscapes unlike anything you’ve ever sighted before. So much so, that you find yourself wondering if you’ve mistakenly flown onto the moon. It’s other-worldly.

Most tourists venture here for the exact purpose of hot air ballooning; and that was my mission too. The morning started with a 5am pickup from my hotel, greeted in the bus by the hushed and excited chatter of fellow balloon riders already collected. Arriving at Universal Balloon HQ in darkness, we were offered coffee and a breakfast spread while we waited for the wind to drop to a safe level. The attendants warned us there may be no flights that day – it’s always unpredictable.

Away off in the field, one hundred balloons lay like sleeping giants, or flickering light bulbs. Suddenly, we were given the go-ahead, and all hurriedly piled back into the shuttle bus to be driven over to our balloon. We stood around the balloon watching it be inflated – with a skyshow of fierce flames.

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Then ushered over to the balloon, twenty of us all clambered in to our allocated basket compartments. The balloon quickly inflated to its full, round sphere, and then before I realised it, we had taken flight. We lifted off the grass and rose up, and up. In that moment, I was so excited that I felt paralysed with awe. Our air balloon pilot Ersoy (yes, they’re really considered a pilot of aviation!) chuckled and explained that we’d have fun up in the air, because there is no way to control speed or direction once in flight – only height.

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When you ride a hot air balloon, you’re really at the mercy of the air, making the experience utterly exhilarating, slightly terrifying… eyes vivid with wonder; hands clutching onto the basket tightly. Flying up in the air is eerie and peaceful. We floated by pigeon houses and eroded mushroom-like fairy chimneys; bobbing around us were a hundred other balloons in splashes of colours; a kaleidoscope illuminating the dawn.

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After an hour, our basket lowered back to earth gently and strategically landed onto the back of a Ute. A card table was propped up before us, with congratulatory medals and champagne glasses filled. Drinking sparkling at 7.30am is okay when it’s tradition.

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After the shuttle bus dropped me back to my cave hotel, I crawled back under the covers, to lay very still and fully absorb what I’d just experienced. I drifted off to that space between sleep and wake, feeling vividly that somehow, I had just lived a dream while wide awake.

I flew with Universal Balloons, as recommended by my hotel in Göreme, and found them to be wonderful. I chose the ‘standard’ flight (sharing with 20 others) however for higher prices, you can opt for deluxe flights with smaller groups, longer air time or even a private balloon ride.