Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Flight

We just got back from our trip to Turkey and I am excited to tell you all about it. It was our first time in the country (not counting the 2-hour transit time in Istanbul last year), and we are still in awe of this beautiful part of the world, the kind people, and this positive experience as a whole.

I’m really a morning person and I prefer sunrise over sunset. Well, at least I thought I liked the sunrise, but this trip had set the bar so high – no sunrise will ever compare to what we have seen here.

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The town of Göreme gives its visitors this one of a kind experience where every morning at sunrise, the sky is painted with a playful display of colorful balloons, floating over the lunar-like landscape – a true gift of nature.

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At first, I did not think it necessary to join the hot air balloon tour myself because I thought just watching it every morning was enough. Once we got there, though, I understood why it’s important: It’s just give-and-take. On one morning you’re on the hot air balloon, and on the other mornings, you’re watching other tourists on their balloons from a hill. Your taking part in the flight is necessary for others to see this display and vice-versa. As a bonus, you will have the most spectacular view of the whole region from above.

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Many hotels in Göreme offer cave rooms to complete the Cappadocia experience. Our hotel of choice was Chelebi Cave House because I wanted to opt for something sincere and authentic. It’s run by a family native to this town and they serve an exquisite breakfast every morning on their terrace. They arranged the hot air balloon tour for us, which we chose to do on our first morning, and it all went smoothly. Our tour operator of choice was Turkiye Balloons.

We were picked up at 04:55 AM from the hotel and we were taken to the headquarters of the balloon tour operators for a small buffet breakfast. This is also the time they collect payments from those who hadn’t paid for it in advance and they divide people into groups for their respective balloons. The balloons are scattered all over town so they have to make sure everyone gets into the right van because each one drives directly to the take-off site.

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What I liked most about our tour operator was that they were about the last ones to take off. When we got to the site, it was still a little dark but about 60% of the balloons have already taken off. We weren’t up and floating until the sun was really about to come out and by that time only a handful were still on the ground. Also, the whole flight lasted more than just the one hour that was promised on their website.

The first thing I noticed once we were hundreds of meters up in the sky was how awfully quiet it was up there. Nothing but the sound of  20 speechless tourists’ oohs and aahs and the occasional blow of fire. I don’t know about people with a fear of heights but I felt incredibly safe inside the basket. It goes up to my chest so falling is not an issue and the flight was just really smooth and slowly and you barely notice any pull of gravity. At some point, our pilot told us we were 900 meters above ground and the view was just surreal. From time to time we would come really close to the rocks and chimneys and our pilot likes to show off his skills by maneuvering our balloon with perfect timing so we don’t hit them.

Pretty soon we were close to other balloons and hills from which other tourists watch us and we are just part of their backdrop for their Instagram posts.

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Sadly, our flight had to end at some point but we were all rewarded at the end with champagne, sweets, and a certificate for our participation. They also printed out the photos they took at the beginning of the flight as a remembrance, which they sold for 3,-€, and they drove us back to our hotel just in time for our second breakfast. 🙂

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I had been asked many times since we got back if the flight was worth it and I always tell them it’s something they really need to experience for themselves. I really can’t recommend this place enough. The number of hot air balloons simultaneously flying over the region every morning has risen in the last couple of years. Nowadays, there are about 3,500 tourists up on those balloons a day, that makes up about 150 balloons all at once. It’s good for the local community since each balloon requires a certified pilot and staff that helps in preparing it for flight. Not to mention, it’s quite a unique experience for everybody.

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For the rest of our stay, we found ourselves waking up early to watch the balloons from our hotel’s terrace or from some viewpoints in the valleys. We were in luck because not only did we have perfect weather conditions on the day of our flight, but we were also able to watch the balloons every day because the weather remained stable. I must say, though, that on the day of our flight the sky was really clear unlike on the other days where it was quite cloudy after it had rained all night.

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Tips for your hot air balloon flight:

  • Have your hotel arrange the booking. I believe they have better deals. I checked the price on the website of the tour operator itself and the hotel gave a better price (as in 20,-€ better for each) but you may want to check again yourself.
  • Book in advance. The hotel gave me a few choices for a tour operator and the first two I asked for were already fully booked when I made the request a month prior to the flight. Luckily, there are many tour operators to choose from but if you have a specific preference then you might want to ask even earlier — especially if you’re in a group because you don’t want to be placed in separate balloon companies.
  • Book your flight for the first day of your stay in Cappadocia. This is important! Flights can get canceled due to unideal weather conditions. Your safety is important and that’s why on some days, it’s just not possible to push through with it and often you won’t find out your flight is canceled until the time it was supposed to start. In other words, waking up early for nothing. Your tour operator will try to get you on a tour the next day and that’s why it’s important you make time for a few trials and errors.
  • Wear warm and comfortable clothing. Getting into the basket required only some basic climbing skills but you might want to be dressed properly for this. Also, don’t underestimate the temperatures in the morning – it will be cold and it doesn’t help that you are suspended in the air 900 meters above the ground. Closed shoes, warm socks, pants, jacket, scarf, maybe even a hat. We were there mid-October and the temperature rose during the day so a t-shirt was fine most of the time but the mornings are just really chilly.

Canceling a trip

We’re early-bird bookers. We like to plan our trips months ahead to make sure we book the cheapest flights and get the best deals on accommodation. It keeps us excited for the trip itself and we do our research about the place while we wait for the lucky day.

This one time, though, we impulsively booked a flight to Marrakech. I had been telling Joan for years that I want to see Morocco because I’m just lured by its postcard-ready beauty, the markets, and the cuisine.

When Ryanair offered direct flights from Berlin to Marrakech, we immediately gave in. I have been waiting for this moment for God knows how long, and we have been brainstorming about places to go to in autumn anyway because I already filed for vacation leave. November is one of those months that doesn’t seem to go well with most places. I know Germany is pretty awful this time of the year, when all the leaves have fallen and become mushy from all the rain and the days are just wet and cold, but not cold enough for snowfall, just cold enough for three layers of clothing. Morocco, on the other hand, is supposed to be really nice in November. And everything just seemed to have fallen into place…

Joan browsed some travel forums about Marrakech, adding a very important keyword: women.

We already knew about the men offering to help you find your way when you get lost in the maze of the souks and insisting for some cash in return. Or the snake-charmers that demand money if they catch you taking a photo of them. These aren’t things that could scare us, really, we know that in most cases it’s smarter to just ignore strangers that try to intimidate us.

Still, something did not seem right. My aunt and uncle had been to Morocco twice and they can only say positive things about the experience. A newly married woman wrote in a forum about how romantic the city is and that she will convince her husband to visit yearly. A solo male traveler talked about the fun he had haggling with the vendors and about how he could just walk around the souk all day and forget about the rest of the world. All of these experiences are tempting, to say the least. But what about…

Us?

What about the women that travel alone or with other women? With their sisters? Their girl friends? Their experiences had been so much different.

Catcalling. MARRIAGE PROPOSALS. groped. Harassment.

Although they all said that the overall experience in the city was really good, it still felt like walking into a trap. But we already prepared ourselves for the worst and just accepted the fact that we had to be more open and understanding and decided to just think about all the good memories we could get off this trip. And the things mentioned above? They said you’ll get used to it after a few days.

But as you must have already taken off the title of this post, we still canceled this trip. Sure, we were already dreading all the things I’ve mentioned above but these alone would not have stopped us from experiencing a new place. I am sure of it that we will be traveling to Morocco some other time, maybe with even more preparation and perhaps in a larger group, too. No, what really stopped us from taking this trip is the fact that we were given the opportunity to get a full refund on our flights, and we’re glad to not have to throw 250 € away had we really decided on not going just because we were born female.

It was when Ryanair decided to implement their new baggage policy. Everyone who made a booking before September 1st for a flight from November 1st onwards has the right to get a full refund on their booking should they not be in favor of this new policy (but only until September 14th, which is in the past by the time I publish this post). Yes, so they found yet another way to make life harder for their passengers. Starting November, everyone who wants to bring a small cabin luggage will have to pay extra for it and stand in line on the check-in counter and drop that bag off. You may only bring your handbag on board (thank God, whew), and it has to fit under the seat in front of you otherwise you will be charged 25 € at the gate. Of course, there is still priority booking but you pay more for that as well and the slots are limited.

So I guess I’ve finally come to a point in my life where I say I’m never flying Ryanair ever (again). I’m that person now. It’s too bad because they offer direct flights to really cool destinations and the convenient SXF-CGN line that brought me to Mum a couple of times but this is just not something I can tolerate. They gave us a full refund without much hassle and we also decided on another destination already and booked our flights with other airlines.

Good thing before all this rubbish started, we were able to visit some really great countries like Croatia and Romania, which we otherwise wouldn’t have reached if not for their direct flights from our city and for a really good deal, too.

Kraków & Auschwitz

After our week in Spain, I still had the whole weekend off so Joan and I were thinking about going out of town. My friend, Jannah, was on her way to Kraków at the time to spend a few nights so we thought, why not go there? I really like Poland and we’ve been to a few major cities like Poznan, Wroclaw, and of course, Warsaw, so we were due to go to Kraków anyway. Also, we had been meaning to go to Auschwitz for quite a while but this never materialised until now.

Believe me when I say I absolutely loved the city of Kraków. It’s probably even my favourite among the polish cities we’d been to so far. But for whatever reason, I forgot to take photos of the place… But it’s definitely worth visiting! The city has been through a lot, historically, but there’s something about the place that just gives you hope and can make you believe that you can rise again. While you’re there, have dinner at one of the restaurants in the old town, walk around the Jewish quarter (you’ll also find great places there to dine at too), and visit the museum in Oskar Schindler’s Factory.

I did take a few photos when we were at the concentration camps in Auschwitz, though. They are about an hour outside of Kraków so we took a day tour. Entrance was free of charge but you may have to wait for a time slot if you hadn’t booked a ticket online.

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It was eerie to walk around the place that was the venue for such horror. Every now and again we’d found some people stopping to silently pray, some even getting emotional.

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