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.

Having too much of Venice

It was my wife’s birthday last weekend and we had another last-minute change of plans. We were supposed to stay in Germany and go on a road trip but decided against it when we realised that the country was about to reach the peak of winter. Going on a road trip while it’s cold and slippery just didn’t seem appealing, not to mention, safe. Joan had always wanted to go to Venice but somehow the idea never materialised because, well, other trips and places got in the way. But, hey, we finally made it!

So let me just get this out of the way: Venice is stunning. Gorgeous. A masterpiece, really. But please forgive me if I don’t seem too excited about it as I go on on this entry. The trip just got frustrating at some point, somehow, and the weather is to blame for most of it. You won’t believe how much I miss the sun and not having to wrap myself up in layers and layers of clothing!

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Gloomy Grand Canal

 

Venice is famous for its canals and bridges. It’s made up of islands and, instead of by car, you get around by boat – or you walk. We have been warned about 430+ bridges of this city and we were worried about rolling our luggage around and having to carry them when crossing the bridges so we looked for a better alternative:

So this is a backpack that measures like the maximum size allowed on most European airlines for cabin bags and it opens up just like your favourite hard shell carry-on luggage! Minus the wheels and the handle, it is much lighter so it allows you to pack a little more and it’s perfect for walking around. It can take up 44 Litres which was just right for six days worth of thick winter clothing. Buy yours here.

Where to stay in Venice

Finding budget-friendly accommodation in this city is challenging especially if you choose to stay on the main island. For the first three nights we stayed in a litte boutique hotel in Murano. It’s a short boat ride away from the city centre and it has its own charm. It’s awfully quiet especially at night so it might not be the best option if you prefer a place that is more alive. During the day, you may want to visit one of the many glass factories.

For the remaining two nights, we moved to a different hotel right before our 72h public transportation ticket expired. Since we were staying in the city, we did not need to ride the boats anymore to get around. There is a clear difference between staying in the city and staying on another island. For one, you pay more for one night and get less (smaller room, no window, no breakfast). But on the bright side, you’re closer to all of this:

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Burano is another island right off a postcard. Its colourful houses by the canals are attracting tourists, and for good reason. The sun came out when we went there and the light hit the brightly coloured houses beautifully.

More on Venice

It was rainy when we arrived and the first couple of days had been really windy. It was hard to endure walking around in -12°C temperature and it got frustrating. Other than just walking around and sight-seeing (or visiting some museums, galleries), there is not much else to do. I must admit, six days is a really long time to be staying in this city. Maybe a whole weekend would have been enough to keep the excitement going. It can also burn a huge hole in your pocket because eating out is just so expensive. But I’m glad to be finally home after consuming an uncomfortable amount of carbs and I’m sure I won’t be touching any pizza or pasta again for the next couple of weeks!

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Venice Faves