It was around 05.00 o'clock in the morning when we kept our appointment made the day before with the Cappadocia Balloons company in Göreme. The Swedish owners of the company, the Kidners, are a husband and wife team who are both experienced balloon pilots. They speak a little Turkish and greeted as with a cheerful Günaydın. We sat down to chat over hot cups of coffee as we waited for our fellow passengers from France, Germany and America who were to share our exciting flight through the skies of Cappadocia. Altogether with the two pilots we were 17 people, which meant that two balloons would set sail that morning.
Soon Mr. Kidner fetched a small black balloon filled with helium gas from the office and released it. Without taking his eyes off it, he watched to see the direction of the wind, then told us that we would take off from the Zelve Valley and fly from there to Ortahisar.
Fifteen minutes after setting out from Göreme we arrived at our take-off point, a broad grassy area on a small hill at Paşabağı in Zelve. The ground handling team unloaded the equipment from the trailers, took the balloons out of their large bags, and laid them out lengthways on the ground. The time was now 05.45.
The weather was calm and clear. The rims of the balloons, attached by steel cords to hooks on the baskets, began to open as large fans blew air inside. One of the baskets was large enough for 12 people, and the other took five. While we were waiting Mrs. Kidner briefed us on our route and landing procedures.
When the balloons began to inflate propane gas burners were turned on to heat the air. Finally both balloons rose vertically into the air above their baskets, which were each moored to jeeps. On Mr. Kidner's instructions we began to climb into the baskets. Ours was the smaller balloon under Mrs. Kidner's command. The cords were untied by the helpers on the ground, and propane gas fed into the burners from bottles in the basket. As the flames heated the air we slowly began to rise. The time was exactly 06.25.
A few minutes later the magical landscape of Cappadocia was spread beneath our feet. The conical pinnacles of volcanic tuff, some with caps of harder rock perched on top, looked like a line of toy soldiers, and the red rays from the newly risen sun played on the strange rock formations. The scene was so beautiful that our index fingers hardly left the shutter release of our cameras. Everyone was trying to capture the wonderful images to be seen in every direction below, and to photograph the other balloon sailing two or three hundred metres away from us. These were scenes which just ate up film. As we sailed along Mrs. Kidner identified the towns and villages passing beneath, and pointed out the Kızılırmak river snaking along in the distance.
Absorbed by the bewildering choice of views below, we at first did not realise how high we had risen. When our pilot told us that we were now 850 m above the ground we came to ourselves, and looking eastwards saw that there were now white clumps of cloud at a lower altitude. Far in the distance 80 km to the southeast could be seen the summit of Mount Erciyes, the highest peak in central Anatolia, wreathed in cloud. Then the other balloon sailed into view with the peak behind, and we seized our cameras to capture this magnificent image.
At 07.15 we began to slowly descend towards the high ground on the other side of the Zelve valley overlooking Ortahisar. The shadow of our balloon followed us over the white tuff cliffs beside us. We found ourselves in one of the long winding valleys of Cappadocia. Soon the second balloon caught up with us, and together we floated over the chickpea fields and apricot trees growing in pockets of soil amidst the rocky landscape. We descended until our basket almost caressed the sunflowers beneath us, a manoeuvre which demonstrated Mrs. Kidner's skill. But she was outdone by Mr. Kidner. As we turned our heads at shouts coming from the second balloon we were amazed to see him picking apricots from a tree as they floated past!
At 07.40 we were heading for the flat area between Ortahisar and Ürgüp where we were to land. Walkie-talkie in hand our pilot informed the ground team who had been following us in four-wheel drive vehicles of the spot where we were going to land. Villagers working in the fields below dropped their spades to wave to us, and we warmly returned their greeting.
The ground team ran out to grasp the balloon. As we climbed down from the basket the other balloon arrived and after brushing along the ground stopped 30 metres away. It was now 07.50, and our flight had lasted exactly 80 minutes. Intoxicated by our experience of sailing through the skies of Cappadocia we applauded our pilots.One of the ground team set up a portable table then and there in the fields and spread a tablecloth over it. Another produced two bottles of sparkling wine from a bag and arranged champagne glasses on the table.
Our 80 minute tour of Cappadocia was as exciting as going round the world in 80 days. After Mr. and Mrs. Kidner had opened the fizzing bottles and filled the glasses we lifted them to our unforgettable adventure in Cappadocia and to Jules Verne. What more is there to say? Armfuls of greetings from Cappadocia to Verne's imaginative spirit.