Earlier this morning I watched how an enormous hot air balloon was being prepared for taking off. The sun was still behind the mountain, the air crispy, the sky had cleared up after a light snowfall late last night. The dog got all excited about the activities just in front of our windows, ran in circles in the snow and kept barking at something he could not understand. Within 10-15 minutes the yellowish balloon took off and moved up, up and away to conquer the blue sky above the forested mountains and beyond, off to Lake Hallstatt and who knows where else.
Watching the “Königin unter den Biergen” (a clever wordplay – ‘the queen under/among the beer/mountains’ – just one letter ‘i’ added to the ‘mountains’ / Bergen and here we go, an original slogan for Warsteiner Beer advertising campaign; only this Königin flies above the mountains) I was thinking, how little I know about ballooning. Naturally I referred to my Encyclopaedia Britannica of more information.
It turns out that the experiments with balloon-like craft began in early 18th century by a Brazilian priest and inventor Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão. The first unmanned balloon was launched on June 4 of 1783 by Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier in France. Another balloon was sent off into the air later that year. The passengers on board were a sheep, a rooster and a duck. The first manned flight happened on November 21, 1783 – two pilots sailed over Paris covering almost 9 km in about 23 minutes. Wool and straw were used to keep the air in the balloon hot.
Over 240 years later hot air balloons sail over mountains and rivers, valleys and deserts, cities and countryside all over the globe. Ballooning as a recreational or competitive activity became popular in the 1960s. Before that it occupied mainly the military and the scientific minds. Introduction of new materials and the propane burner made it more popular and accessible. Local clubs mushroomed. Festivals were founded. Associations were formed. There are hundreds, thousands of ride offers in various fascinating destinations - Cappadocia, Serengeti (Tanzania), Sossusvlei (Namibia), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Luxor (Egypt) are some of the most popular ones among others according to thrillophillia.com. See also 20 Best Hot Air Balloon Rides in the World if you feel like seeing the world from above in this particular fashion.
Austrian Alps are no less magnificent than the African and North American landscapes for ballooning. As for hot air balloons festivals, January and early February is a popular time to visit those in Salzkammergut, Salzburg land, and other locations. Besides the hot air balloons week in Gosau, similar events take place in Mauterndorf and Filzmoos, in Zell-am-See-Kaprun region and Kaiserwinkl in Tirol.
The week of hot air balloons in Gosau has just started, and the balloonists say that the conditions are perfect: arctic temperatures, clear sky, light haze. 20 teams are reported to be taking part in the 31st week of hot air balloons in Gosau this year. We are looking forward to the highlight event of the week - the Night of the Hot Air Balloons which takes place tomorrow January 17, 2024 near the Hornspitz cable-car station in Mittertal Gosau. Stay tuned!