Travelling, without a doubt, is one of the most enriching and enlightening experiences that one can have. Be it to exotic locales or even to tiny village hamlets, the pleasure you derive from the experience is unexplainable, most of the times. Travelling is a stress buster for some, meditation for others, or even a medication for a few. For me, travelling is just bliss! In this blog I have tried to capture the thrilling experience that I had during a balloon flight in Prague.
The past few years I had been so caught up in my life and in the lives of people around me that I wanted to just get out and feel the wind in my hair! So, this trip to some of the most beautiful countries in Central Europe was the culmination of my unquenchable thirst for some adventure and freedom. This was going to be my first ‘nearly-solo’ trip sans my family, as I was to be accompanied by my sister-in-law, settled in the US. She would join me in Frankfurt, Germany from where our round trip would commence.
Prague – the City of Hundred Spires
Among the list of destinations that we had planned, Prague was one of the most amazing cities – historic with wonderful architecture, and full-of-life with its vibrant culture and cuisine. The present day capital of Czech Republic, Prague was also the historic capital of the erstwhile Bohemian kingdom. Prague castle, the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic, is one of the major tourist attractions here, with its various palaces and churches in Romanesque and Gothic style architecture. The spires of the St. Vitus Cathedral rising above the castle buildings is a fascinating sight to behold, especially in the night sky.
The Old Town Square with its baroque buildings and historic monuments such as the astronomical clock is an interesting place, bustling with people and touristy activities. Charles bridge across the Vltava river, another checklist item, is one of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe. Built in 1357, this bridge is famous for its numerous old statues on either side. The Wenceslas Square, with the National Museum and numerous other architectural treasures is one of the main public spaces in the new town area in Prague. It is used for demonstrations and celebrations alike. Vysehrad castle, Petrin Hill etc. are some of the other notable attractions around.
Public Transport in Prague
To our delightful surprise, the public transport system in the city seemed very robust, and easy on the pocket as well. Places are well connected by buses, trams, and underground metros. Prague is a relatively small city, and you can even travel by foot if you stay in one of the central locations. But, if you prefer the comforts of a vehicle rather than walking, trams are the next best alternative. The extensive tram network consisting of a large number of daytime routes, and many night routes too, passes through most of the historic areas.
The Balloon Flight
A balloon ride was something that I wanted to do in one of the cities that we were visiting. Prague seemed a good choice, as the family-operated company Balloon Adventures there had an option to take you out into the countryside for the flight. You can opt for a sunrise or a sunset flight based on your interest. We had booked the balloon ride for the evening we arrived in Prague. But, due to unfavorable weather conditions the trip had to be moved to the next morning.
Morning was not our preferred option, as we would need to get up very early. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an option there, as we were in Prague only for two days. So, there we were, ready for our balloon ride at 5 o’ clock in the morning. A minivan from the agency Balloon Adventures picked us up from our Airbnb accommodation. There were already a few people in the van, and we set out to the launch site in the countryside. The company has a couple of pre-designated places, from which they will finalize the launch site based on the wind directions that particular morning or evening. On reaching the location we were greeted by the owner of Balloon Adventures, Jan, who would also be our pilot for the day. They had arranged some snacks and coffee for us, which we delightfully accepted, after the 40 minute early morning drive. The balloon was just arriving, all folded in a trailer, as we reached the location.
We started with an introduction of the fellow travelers, followed by Jan’s briefing about the flight. After the introductions they started blowing up the balloon, which was laid flat on the ground initially. Two huge fans on either sides of the balloon blew cold air into the balloon. After it filled up to about 50-60 percent they used the flame torch to blow hot air inside. We were all excitedly clicking pictures walking around the expanding balloon. After about 15 minutes the balloon was ready for takeoff, and we all clambered into the basket.
Everyone gets a window seat here, as the basket is huge with multiple partitions! The balloon was tethered on to the trailer, and the ground staff waited for the signal from the pilot to release the hook and set us free, up into the clear blue skies. Being slightly acrophobic, we both were a little anxious about the flight, though our excitement overshadowed our worries. But, things went so smooth that we didn’t realize it till we saw the trailer getting smaller and smaller down below. It felt amazing floating up in the sky and really feeling the wind in my hair! It was a lovely morning, slightly foggy, but beautiful as the sun emerged from behind the hills faraway. We were above some unbelievably picturesque countryside dotted with lakes, castles and surrounded by green hills.
Jan guided us to some wildlife too in the forests below, and we could also spot a couple of other balloons in the distance. The silence of the skies was occasionally broken by the loud flame torch blowing hot air into the balloon. All of sudden there was a scream of surprise from a lady at the other end of the basket. Her boyfriend just proposed to her mid-air, during the flight. What a romantic way of wooing your sweetheart!
We were floating in the air for about an hour, soaking in the silence and the beauty, when the pilot announced the start of our descent. All things good must come to an end, and we hesitantly got ready for the ‘ground’ reality! As we took off, the pilot had connected with the ground staff below over wireless, and had given them directions about the approximate landing location. The ground staff in the trailer followed the balloon to the landing site. They were waiting for us to assist with the landing. The agency had agreements with some farm owners around the area to allow them to land the balloon on their premises.
We assumed our landing positions, slightly bending our knees and holding on to the handles on the sides of the basket. The landing could get a bit bumpy sometimes, depending on wind speed. The landing site, a cleared farmland, that Jan pointed out from above, was adjacent to a lake. We were all praying not to experience an early morning swim as well! But, Jan cleverly managed to land our balloon right in the middle of the farm plot. He had been accompanying his father on the flights since age five. The ground staff assisted in pulling the inflated balloon down a bit. Only then we were allowed to get off the basket.
A celebratory champagne toasting marks the end of a successful balloon ride! Jan opened up a new bottle of champagne and we all toasted to the blossoming relationship of the new couple. He also handed over our individual Aviator certificates with the balloonist’s prayer and our names written on it. We were transferred back to our hotels in the same van. That ended one of the most memorable experiences that we had during the entire trip!
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About the author: Sreevidya is an IT professional working in Bangalore, Karnataka. She loves travelling and exploring places.