Friday, April 9, 2010

Ballooning over Barcelona

Weather: Partly cloudy, 55 degrees

There are a ton of photos here because I simply couldn't cut them down any further - just too many cool things to share. Hope you enjoy the view!

This certainly ranks up there with the most awesome things I've had the opportunity to do in the sky. As you may have gathered from my long-winded post about our trip, Gina and I spent five days in Europe to mark a rather special occasion. We've been talking about going on a balloon ride for some time now and I decided that it made no sense to fly over familiar ground when we could have our first hot air balloon experience in Spain!

In the interest of technicality I should point out that we didn't really fly over Barcelona. That's where we were staying and visiting but we took off near the town of Cardedeu, which is about 40 kilometers to the North. Balloons and densely populated cities don't tend to go hand-in-hand as you might imagine. It also means that we got to fly over the foothills of the Pyrenees and we had an absolutely spectacular view.

We met the pilot and other passengers (three women from Delaware and a Spanish couple on their first date) in the cafeteria of a hotel in Cardedeu around 8:00 am. After relaxing for a little while and enjoying a coffee, they drove us out to the field. Nicholas was our flying pilot and Benjamin (also a pilot) would be ground support. They checked the winds and then parked the trailer in an open field.

Our transportation to the field trailering our transportation through the sky

I'd call this the smart and resourceful way to unpack a balloon

A couple people helped pull the basket off the trailer and then Nicholas and Benjamin assembled the supports and attached the burners and propane tanks. The balloon was then unfurled and a large gas-powered fan was used to inflate it. Once enough air was inside, the basket was tipped on its side, the balloon was attached, and the burners were used to heat the air inside. We all climbed inside and Nicholas held the burners on for about 30 seconds and we slowly lifted away. The ascent was so smooth that I wouldn't have known we were climbing if not for seeing the ground shrink away below.

First step is to inflate the balloon with the fan

Looking forward to our first-ever balloon ride

Looks like she's excited for the upcoming flight!

And now heating up all the air the fan blew in there

Just a little more heat and we'll be on our way

Lifting away from the launch site

The balloon rose into the cool morning air and you could quickly see the mountains, towns below, and the Catalonia countryside. Although it was only 55 degrees the heat from the burners kept us surprisingly warm in the basket. Nicholas allowed the balloon to sink really low and we skimmed above the trees and houses for a couple minutes. You could hear dogs barking and the occasional sound of a car as it passed below as we floated in near-silence.

Later, he put the burners to work and brought us up to an altitude of roughly 4,000 feet agl. Up here the wind slowly carried us West. One neat feature of the balloon was a side vent that could be opened to rotate us around and allow for great photos of all the surrounding scenery. Nicholas did this a couple times and I was able to savor the mountain views and see the Mediterranean off in the distance.

Looking towards the mountains shortly after liftoff

Skimming over the trees and houses

Another view of the mountains

Nicholas (our pilot) peering at the ground to monitor our movement

It's supposed to look like she's pushing me out of the basket

You can see snow-covered peaks in the Pyrenees off in the distance

Barcelona is the big city at the edge of the horizon

Fields and streams below

Early morning sunlight reflecting off the Mediterranean Sea

I could look at this every single day and be happy

Happily floating a few thousand feet above terra firma

I was thoroughly enjoying myself as well

Those mountains off in the distance were a spectacular sight

Some of many fields we saw below

Slowly passing over the town of Granollers as we prepare to land

I had almost no perception of time while we were aloft. However, we had slowly tracked almost four miles and it was about time to land. It had been a little over an hour when Nicholas brought the balloon down in an open field near an industrial park in Granollers. We skimmed over a warehouse and between the light poles before touching down softly on the grass.

Descending over an industrial park

Guiding us down to a safe landing

Do they still call it short final?

He threaded us right in between the light posts!

Our entire route of flight - about four miles in total

After we landed, we helped pack the balloon back up. A vent in the top quickly released most of the air but we had to put our weight on the fabric as we rolled the sides up to force the rest of the air out. Four of us helped hold the large bag (it's still hard to believe an entire hot air balloon fits in a bag) as Nicholas and Benjamin filled it with the balloon.

Just about to pull the cord to deflate the balloon

Opening the top to let the hot air out

The balloon quickly deflated and fell to the ground

Gina helping put the balloon away after landing

Doing my part (no, I didn't just take photos all day)

Packing the balloon up - hard to believe it all fits in a bag!

Well, it's one way to deflate the balloon...

Once everything was packed it was time to relax with a snack and a drink. Benjamin went to work on our ham and cheese sandwiches and toasted them in the most awesome way possible. Nicholas poured us all some cava (Spanish sparkling wine - it's quite sweet) and the entire group enjoyed an impromptu meal together.

By this point the sun was rising fast and it was comfortably warm out. We all talked for a bit while eating and then had some fun taking pictures. In the basket, in front of the balloon, jumping on each other - you name it. Eventually it was time to head back to the launch site so we all packed into the SUV and bounced our way back along the dusty, rural Spanish roads.

Loading the pie irons with our soon-to-be lunch

Best. Panini Maker. Ever.

Our pilot pouring us all a glass of cava (Spanish sparkling wine)

Gina seems to be enjoying her sandwich and cava

Proof that we flew in a balloon (in case the photos weren't enough)

Just goofing around at this point...

Simply put, an incredible time with a great group of people!

Back at the launch site we each received a certificate for the flight. Then we said our goodbyes to half the group and the pilots. We rode back into town with the Spanish couple in their nice new BMW and were quite thankful for the kind gesture. It really was an amazing experience in every possible way - the flight, the sights, and the people - and I hope you get a chance to fly in a hot air balloon too some day!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File


  1. Very very cool. I especially like the grill method. :)

  2. Still can't believe we did that! It was amazing and a great way to top the icing on teh cake :-)

  3. Hi both of You!

    I think you should go for journalism!
    We fly often but some flights with some passengers are funnier than others and this was one of them for sure!

    don't forget to get the licence!

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Benjamin - we both had a blast!

    I'd love to get my balloon rating. Some day... :)

  5. Hello Steve!

    It´s a very nice blog you have here .... I have read it all!!! And i really like it!!

    Well, we were happy to be part of your "proposal tour" and hope we offered you a great experience ;)

    Hope to see you again,