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Hot air ballooning in Holland

Hot air ballooning in Holland
Weary from a crowded Ryanair flight to Weeze that put one in mind of a budget bus ride to a cheap casino in Vegas, we finally arrived at our friend’s hostel ready for a day of rest and relaxation in the countryside far away from any city or traffic noise. But to our incredible surprise our host greeted us with a smile, a handshake, a local beer and an unbelievable offer. We didn’t realise it at first, but we were in for the ride of our lives. While we were planning a day by a roaring fire and perhaps an afternoon bike ride on terra firma, our host had organised a balloon ride above the farms, canals and manor houses of Holland.
We dropped off our bags, drank a brew or two to calm our nerves and to limit our cowardice and before we knew it we were already on the road to our launch pad. We were greeted by Hans van Hoesel, a veteran hot air balloon pilot of 25 years, whose reassuring smile lingered beneath his bushy white moustache, and his charming wife Inese, who immediately took to our 8-year-old daughter offering her Dutch candies and kind words. After exchanging introductions and other pleasantries we quickly attended to the task at hand. We put our work gloves on and began the process of unfurling the enormous balloon out on the grass. Hans set up the basket and then began filling the red fabric of the vehicle that would suspend us above the earth with hot air. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones eager to take to the sky. Other balloon enthusiasts were also setting up their crafts in the park and a few even helped us hold on to the balloon while we got ready to take off – a process that depends on wind conditions and some other factors. After a few failed attempts that jostled the five us to and fro, we were up, up and away!
As Hans continued to periodically release fire and hot air into the balloon, a loud roar that feels and sounds like a dragon is breathing just above your head, we were amazed how fast we had gained altitude. The lush park below revealed its true origins from this great height. It’s actually an ancient star-shaped fortification whose symmetrical genius can only be appreciated from high above. As we drifted with the wind we were also surprised by the indescribable quiet we experienced. Contrary to what we imagined, we didn’t hear the wind at all as we were travelling with it and not against it as an airplane might. It was so peaceful that you could hear your own heart beating. Although we’re usually terrified of heights, the calm that surrounded us was better than any anxiety drug. The only disruption to this feeling was the occasional release of gas and flame from the gas tank or a seemingly unintelligible message over the walkie-talkie.
As we gently soared over farms, lakes, football fields and even the odd castle our wives were tracking our movements in their jeep below wondering where we would finally hit the ground. After achieving a maximum altitude of 400m and a flight time of roughly 40 minutes, Hans informed us that it was time to land. Unable to steer a balloon, we were fast approaching Eindhoven airport whose airspace we definitely couldn’t enter. Hans spotted an empty field and we began to descend. Unfortunately, the wind conditions weren’t in our favour and our experienced pilot decided to try what is actually a quite common tactic to slow the balloon down: flying into the tops of trees!
Yes, this sounds like madness, and that’s certainly what we thought as the basket slowly soared past branches that rustled and creaked under our weight. Naturally, we had no idea that this was actually planned and we began to plead with the man upstairs to save our pitiful souls, but thankfully we were already high above any perceived danger before we had promised God to donate money to the church or to quit drinking. Hans hit the gas again and we were cruising above the trees again looking for the next possible landing zone. Soon enough we began our descent into a field and before we knew it we were already on the ground enjoying the feel of the dirt beneath our feet. We hardly cared that the field smelled of manure, but needless to say the local farmer wasn’t very pleased with us until Hans offered him a traditional gift of a bottle of Dutch jenever. Inese and our wife Signe arrived in the jeep and we packed up all the gear.
It seemed that our adventure was over, but the van Hoesels had more in store for us. They opened a bottle of good Champagne to celebrate and we all raised our flutes to the wonderful sport of ballooning. After chatting with the owners of the farm and inspecting their beautiful livestock we adjourned to a local brown bar where we were each presented with a commemorative pin and a document that certified that we had been brave enough to take to the skies in nothing more than a basket suspended by hot air. The beer began to flow as well as our shared thoughts and experiences of the day’s unexpected undertaking.
We had somehow managed to survive our flight without soiling ourselves and now had a certificate that enshrined our bravery. Not a bad result by any standard. Later on, we told a friend about our amazing adventure and he asked us if we would ever try it again. The answer was simple: hell yes! The answer was simple: hell yes! To take a balloon ride visit www.balloonteam.nl.

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