Floating sky-high above it all

  • 2008-09-03
  • By Adam Mullett

UP AND AWAY: Not for those with vertigo.

VILNIUS - Hot-air ballooning lets you see life from a different angle. I went for a trip that took me sky-high over the capital, floating above my office, my local park, the city center and all the noise and hassle of life at street level.

The trip isn't cheap, but it is a special experience that you will remember for a long time. The peace and quiet up there in the sky just doesn't exist down here on terra firma. At 800 meters above sea level, all I could hear was my breath. I wish I'd taken a hot thermos of tea and a nice book!
We started off from Vingis Park, where the crew unpacked and inflated the balloon. This part is actually really simple 's we held open the mouth of the balloon, where they had positioned a large fan. Once the balloon was more or less inflated, they started using the burner to heat the air, blowing fiery gusts into the belly of the balloon.

Within minutes we had floated away from Vingis Park, which offered a lovely view of the amphitheater, stadium and TV tower, among numerous other monuments. I was amazed at how much control the balloon's operators have over it 's they were able to take it right down to just a few meters above the rooftops of the buildings.
While navigating the streets of the city we chatted with the pilot about hot-air balloons. He added a humorous element to the explanations, which made it fun. Unfortunately, because of security concerns, balloons cannot fly directly over the Old Town, but we did get close enough for pictures.

Soon we'd drifted out of town and over the lovely Lithuanian countryside. Strangely, floating over the farmhouses, all you can hear is the barking of hundreds of dogs, provoked by the balloon and the sound of the burner.
We ended up landing in someone's front yard, packing up the balloon under suspicious stares from the front porch. For someone living in a small town, it's probably quite a spectacle for a huge hot-air balloon to touch down meters from their front door.

Packing up the balloon was relatively simple 's we jumped on top of it as much as we could and pushed all the air out of it. When it was rolled up and deflated, the staff asked us to give them a hand putting it away 's and it's a good thing we had 6 people, because it weighed close to 200 kilograms.
This is the sort of thing that you could do for a birthday present or for a celebration, but be aware that sometimes the weather can turn and you might be left with no balloon ride for that day. When I went up, it was six days after my original booking. Take a good camera and just relax.

There are various balloon companies in Vilnius that do trips year round, but do your homework, because it isn't cheap and some offer better services than others. Most balloon trips take off at dawn or about two hours before sunset.