I recently excited my 20’s and in the celebration of that, Waffle went a little cuckoo in the way of presents. Now I can enjoy complete silence in the train with some noise cancelling headphones and swoosh by traffic jams with an e-scooter. I also received a balloon flight!
I had mentioned about wanting to go flying with a balloon sometime, years ago in a side sentence, and this goofball of mine remembers it and buys me a flight. Love him to the moon and back!
We had been searching for the perfect weekend to go and take our flight and ended up picking a day in mid-September. The departure was scheduled early in the Saturday morning. We were in luck. The sky was clear and the cold night had left some mist lying around here and there, as we drove to the small city of Sint-Niklaas in Flanders. We would be taking off from an industrial area where there was an open plot of land.
As we arrived, there was one huge red-black balloon being stretched out. All the preparations to get it up were in full swing. It was quite interesting to see, how it all comes together. Massive fans do the first inflation. Only after the balloon is partially inflated, do they shoot some flames into it to get it hot and floating. Once it is reaching for the sky, all the people climb to the basket and wait for the balloon to be strong enough to lift them.
After the red balloon was on its way, they started to inflate the one we would be flying in. It was considerably smaller than the one before us. It had the capacity to carry nine people – we would be eight – in total. The process s we had just seen started around our balloon and soon our blue bubble was ready to take off.
Slowly the basket we were in, hopped off the ground, sliding a little in the wind. The balloon was not quite hot enough to pull us to the sky. To let it get hotter, there were two men hanging from the basket, keeping it from sliding away in too low an altitude. It was bit of a comical situation.
Soon the lift of the balloon was strong enough, and we bounced off to the sky. I was surprised by the speed with which we gained altitude, just a few seconds and we were hanging well above the rooftops and floating towards the city center
Sint-Niklaas is famous for organizing a Balloon festival every autumn, and it sometimes happens that a balloon hits the bell tower of the town hall. There was a nervous anticipation in our basket, as we flew over the market square, towards the very same tower. Luckily we were high enough and floated safely above it.
It was amazing to see the familiar streets and buildings from above, sliding by, in the light of the rising sun. Slowly we passed the city. The huge gas burners were roaring as we rose up higher and higher. Our pilot stated that this time we would reach the altitude of 800 – 1000 meters.
There was a lot of moist in the air that morning, so even from that altitude we could not see too much further than 20 km. That was far enough though, to see our old hometown Rupelmonde and the cooling towers of the Doel nuclear power plant. And the see, or at least the delta of the Skelt. The pilot gave us plenty of time to admire the view from up there as we were slowly drifting westward.
What surprised me up there was the silence. Whenever the burners weren’t roaring, it was completely still. We were drifting in the wind, so we couldn’t hear it blowing. We were also way too high for the noise of the traffic to reach us, the silence was perfect. Every now and then, we broke the silence, noting something about the landscape or asking things from our pilot. We learned he was holding the Belgian record of longest balloon flight, reaching all the way to the Jura mountains in France. And that the small balloon we were flying was just a toy, costing merely 70 000 euros to buy. If anyone happens to be interested.
We were far from Sint-Niklaas already and the pilot had allowed the balloon to sink, searching for new wind directions. All of a sudden, we were just above tree tops and still descending. I was wondering if we were going to land somewhere there, although I could see nothing but cornfields around us. Surely, we would not land on some poor farmers crops?
We were still descending and it did seem as we were going to hit the ground. The bottom of the basket was sweeping the tops of the corn plants, still wet from mildew; we could feel the vibration from them to our feet. Then, all of a sudden, the pilot pulled both of the burners to full blast and in a blink of an eye, we were dozens of meter above the ground! It was quite surprising how fast the climb happened, just by hot air!
The balloon floated back up to the skies and further to west. Before long, we started to see some more familiar sights. Approaching from the distance, we saw the church of Puivelde. Puivelde is the town where my dear Waffle went to ground school as a kid. It is a small town, nothing more than a crossing of two streets, but it has a huge church. Right about there, our pilot dug out his phone, and called his parents to come out of their house to look to the sky. He had grown up in that tiny spec of a village too. He was a couple of years older than Waffle, so they didn’t quite know each other, but did have some common friends. Such a small world.
We flew by the village of Puivelde and caught a sight of another familiar place. We were passing the yellow house of Waffle’s parents! We passed the town of Sinaai, Waffle’s old hometown slightly from the north. Then we set off to higher altitude again and floated away from the familiar landscapes. It took still about 20 minutes before we actually started landing.
Getting us out of the air wasn’t a simple task. First, the pilot had to find a field, which wasn’t cultivated and was accessible to the cars that were driving behind us. Then he needed to find a wind layer that would take us there while dropping our altitude.
The ground was sweeping past fast and getting closer by the second. We had been guided through landing positions, and now we embraced them as the basket was about to hit the ground with quite some speed.
All of a sudden, there was a thud and a bounce and the basket ended up lying on its side with us packed inside it. Some of us were commanded out, the basket was tilted back up and the team that had followed us by car started dragging the basket to a better position, so the deflating balloon would have space to fall down safely.
The hot air was seeping out of the balloon and the rest of the weight could climb out from the basket. The pilot jumped out and attacked the deflating balloon. He started pulling the fabric to the ground to hasten the outflow of the hot air. When it was empty enough, he asked some of the passengers to come and help him. The empty balloon was rotated into a long roll. That roll was then packed into a large bag and swayed into the trailer the team had driven to the field. The bag and basket were quickly hauled into the trailer and all the evidence of our adventure in the sky was out of sight.
We got a ride back to the cars and left all in our separate ways. It was truly a unique experience. I would never say no, if the opportunity pops up again. To enjoy all of the pictures, clickety click to here!
The compqny we were flying with was Up Ballooning.