Up, up and away - a day trip with a difference By Luc Jones
Long term Expats like to think that they’ve ‘done’ everything Russian, from having dug vegetables at the dacha to being beaten with a venik at the banya. Swimming in a hole in the ice in winter is for the truly hardcore only so one alternative is to see Russia from up above in the fresh air; yes, take a hot air balloon ride.
Normally associated with dawn (or dusk) flights in touristy destinations such as Luxor or Bagan, balloon rides are notorious tourist traps which can set you back a fortune, although just outside of Moscow you can have an hour long ride for as little as 5,000Rbl per session. Granted the view below might be quite on par but this is great way to pop your cherry without breaking the bank.
Dmitrov is worth a visit in its own right and if you’ve come out this way then you might as well check out the place. The town was founded in 1554 by Yury Dolgoruky, no less and whilst nothing actually dates back to this time there are several sights worth a visit. Slap bang in the middle of town, as you might expect is the Dmitrov Kremlin, complete with surrounding ramparts and Orthodox churches dating back centuries, with the Cathedral of Sts Boris and Gleb only a few minutes’ walk away. Then talk a walk over the bridge across the Yakhroma river to the ballooning centre to meet your instructor and be driven out to a nearby field for lift off.
The weather is the key to success here, and flights are cancelled when its deemed to be too windy or if there’s the threat of rain. When making a booking, you will be informed that someone will call you 24 hours in advance and let you know whether to make the trip out to Dmitrov, or not. Even then there’s still no guarantee; as the organizers won’t risk it if the wind suddenly blows stronger than they are comfortable with.
Choose from just one or two people plus your pilot in a smaller balloon, to up to around eight in a larger one. You’ll watch and wait while the instructors set up the equipment and fire up the engine, which is a sight in itself. Once they’re ready to go, you clamber into the basket and before you know it you’re over 100 metres up, flying across the countryside. It’s perfectly safe but not advisable for those who suffer from heights as once you’re up, you’re stuck up there for the entire ride, which lasts around an hour.
Views are amazing, as is the experience of drifting along with the wind blowing in your face, and even the landing was pretty smooth. The balloons are then packed up and you all drive back to camp, where you will be given a glass of champagne and a certificate to celebrate your achievement. All in all, a great day out, so long as the elements are kind to you.
Dmitrov is around an hour and a half away on the elektrichka from Moscow’s Savyolovsky vokzal with trains departing once or twice an hour. Expect to pay approximately 200Rbl for a single ticket. The hot air balloon reception is a 15-20 minute walk from Dmitrov train station but there are cabs waiting if you’re feeling lazy (or if it’s raining). There are several bars, restaurants & cafes where you can continue to celebrate your achievement before catching your train south back to Moscow.
For more information on getting airborne, contact: www.aerowalt