When Joseph and Etienne Montgolfiers first ascended into the sky in a hot air balloon in 1782, they could have probably not imagined that their invention would gain the popularity it sees in 2006. Every day the sky of Vilnius blooms with colorful hot air balloons and the average person on the ground is held captivated by their view as they disappear into the horizon.
Despite the fact that the price for a tour of Vilnius and its surroundings "as the crow flies" costs 400 's 450 litas per person (115 's 129 euros), just a little less than the monthly minimum wage of a Lithuanian citizen, the business of hot air balloons is flourishing. While for many Lithuanians the cost of a hot air balloon ride is sky high, it seems that many are willing to pay the price to see Vilnius at their feet.
"When we introduced the service, we hoped that because of the price we would have more tourist and foreign customers, but our idea proved to be wrong," says Saulius Jakutavicius, the head of Laisvalaikio pramogos, a company offering hot air balloon rides above Vilnius. He says that the main customers for this exclusive form of entertainment are Lithuanians. Many see this as a memorable gift option for co-workers, friends, or family members and companies are starting to use hot air balloon rides as a motivation for employees. Actually, hot air balloon rides have gotten so popular that you need to register a week in advance if you hope to soar above the city.
Tourists are getting into the act as well. "The rides are becoming popular among foreigners, as this is one of the best ways to see the old town and the city from above," says a representative from Oreivystes centras - another hot air balloon company in the city.
The preparations for a flight take up to 30 minutes. The passengers are given safety instructions, the balloon envelope is inflated, and the flight begins. Usually during spring, summer, and autumn hot air balloons hover in the sky 2 hours after dawn or before sunset, while in winter one can take a ride at any time during the day. In Vilnius, take off usually occurs in Vingio or Kalnu Parks or on the outskirts of the city.
The flights last an hour to an hour and a half. Because of changing winds, it is difficult to predict the exact course, but hot air balloons can often be seen above the city centre. It is a truly good way to explore the city from an angle you have never seen before. However, be sure not to wear high heels for the occasion and remember that consumption of alcoholic drinks before or during the flight is not permitted. But console yourself with the fact that you will no doubt be too busy to worry - if you happen to have a photo or video camera in your pocket you will be busy capturing wonderful views from as high as 1000 - 2000 meters above the ground.
Laisvalaikio pramogos, Savanoria pr. 180-54
tel. +370 8 5 2137245
fax. + 370 8 5 2137245