By Nooraini Mydin
I have always wanted to experience a hot air balloon ride and one of the best places in the world to do this is in Cappadocia, Turkey. When were told Universal Balloon would collect us at 4.30 a.m. for a dawn liftoff, I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to get ready in time that I slept with all my clothes on.
We had a little breakfast at the company’s headquarters near Göreme National Park before being driven to the site. Like little children we were all speechless with excitement to see our balloon all fired-up and ready to go.
There were 12 of us in the balloon, distributed in the four corners of the basket with the pilot, Furkan Yazgi in the middle. Furkan was very friendly and accommodating, turning the balloon around so we could all get to see the sunrise. I was worried I might be told off for tethering my little baby Samsung camera to the balloon rope with a gorilla pod but thankfully I wasn’t and now I have lots of short videos of the ride.
We flew for an hour, reaching heights of up to 900 meters and at times dipping down so we were almost scraping the tops of the fairy chimneys. The incredible moonscape of the Göreme National Park makes for a magical experience. I don’t think there can be a better place to have your first hot air balloon experience than Cappadocia.
Furkan expertly landed the balloon close to the truck, as we hang on to the ropes, crouching as Furkan had taught us. Immediately the crew lifted the basket with us in it while Furkan gave it a small blast to help lift us onto the truck. Then the crew busied themselves laying the table with glasses (great husband material), non-alcoholic champagne and medals for all of us. That was a lovely surprise for me (obviously I didn’t read the itinerary properly). Why should I, all I wanted was to ride on the balloon. The rest were extra and a welcome treat indeed.
Universal Balloon has four balloons with a capacity of between 8 and 20. Personally, I think the smaller capacity balloons are better. I’d hate to have to jostle for photographs with too many people. All their pilots are fully licensed and their crew are friendly and super-efficient.
Cappadocia’s landscape is like fantasyland, from the fairy chimneys to the underground dwellings, the churches and cathedrals inside caves, 5-star hotels like the wonderful Gamirasu Cave Hotel in the village of Ayvali, built in the cavernous caves and luxuriously furnished. It’s a family-run hotel and its owner, Ibrahim Bastutan was born in this village and makes a point of getting to know his guests.
All the staff are warm and friendly. The food at Gamirasu was excellent, whether you order was local or Western cuisine. The breakfast buffet was amazing with unexpected extras like halva tahini, a sesame-based sweet that you can spread on your bread and honeycomb. The bread was soft and delicious. What a shame we had to leave so swiftly.
Turkey – a great country
Turkey is a great country to visit. It offers so much to holiday-makers: sun and sea, culture, arts, history, archaeology, cuisine; you name it, there’s something for you wherever you decide to stick the pin on the Turkish map. Istanbul is fantastic for first timers to Turkey; it gives great value for a short city break in terms of the amount you can do and the food is also fabulous and cheap as well.
Is Turkey safe?
Forget the rumours about Turkey being unsafe. I lived through the IRA bomb threats in Central London in the 1990s and we all went about our lives as normal; the same with the Turkish people today. Life goes on and we should NEVER let our lives be dictated by cowardly terrorists anywhere.
The Turkish people are warm and welcoming. Even those who cannot speak English would at least smile at you or point you in the right direction. Visiting the beautiful mosques doesn’t cost you anything (unlike the temples in South-east Asia and Japan that will take a hefty chunk out of your budget). And the shopping is heavenly.
For information on travel to Turkey, Go to Turkey, the Turkish Culture and Information Service is best.