10 best destinations to take a hot air balloon ride

hot air balloon When traveling, it’s always fun to explore a city from a new perspective. And, what better point of view than from the sky? These ten air balloon destinations will not only immerse you in beautiful scenery, but will also give you access to hidden treasures you may not have seen from the ground.

The Pyrenees, Spain

The Pyrenees is a mountain range that forms a divider between Spain and France. Crossing the Pyrenees in general is an unforgettable experience, and making this journey by hot air balloon will make it that more memorable. Watch as Catalonian buildings begin to resemble a Monopoloy game board. Lush greenery fills your view as you get the chance to see Santa Margarita, an enormous, well-preserved volcano crater, from an aerial point of view. In the winter, the snow capped mountains give the relaxing ride a magical ambiance.

One great tour group to go through for this ride is Vol de Coloms, especially since they serve Cava, a Spanish sparkling-wine, and sweet bread during the flight.Gatineau, Quebec

While the scenery in the region is picturesque, with 51 skyscrapers over 246 feet, serene rivers like the Ottawa River and the Gattineay River, and bountiful flora, the real reason to visit Gatineau is to ride a hot air balloon during the annual Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival. Not only are there several dozen hot air balloons marking up the sky, but they come in an array of shapes, sizes, and characters, adding a fun element to the scene. Climb into a space shuttle, a giant birthday cake, or a sad-faced court jester as the thousands of attendees, amusement park rides, craft stalls, and car show automobiles become ants in the landscape. Click here for more information.

turkey hot air balloons Cappadocia, Turkey

If you want to ride a hot air balloon in a place with truly unique landscape, then Cappadocia in Turkey is the perfect spot. As you float high up into the clouds you will be looking down upon sandy desert and pointy limestone rock mountains that almost look like something out of a surreal fairytale. A natural brown landscape textured with steep valleys and red canyons and dotted with green olive groves will make you feel like you’ve left planet Earth (which, I guess, you have). Click here for more information.

Temecula Valley, California

Where better to vacation that wine country? Immersed in ripening grape vines and neatly plotted fields, the feeling is a mixture of rural living and luxury, especially since you know you will be tasting flavorful reds and whites during your trip. Exploring a wine region from the air is just as fun, if not more, as the you get to see the vineyards and fields from a bird’s-eye view. In Temecula Valley, your view of rolling hills will also be complemented by the beautiful Lake Skinner and a backdrop of mountains. Moreover, the annual Balloon and Wine Festival is held in this region, which mixes the joy of wine with the adventure of flying. Click here for more information.

colorado air ballooning Rocky Mountains, Colorado

The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range that stretches for over 3,000 miles in western North America. With dramatic peaks and valleys that have been sculpted into the mountains, this is a destination favorite for travelers. But while many people explore the Rockies by foot, why not traverse them in a unique way, like hot air ballooning? Watch as Mount Elbert in Colorado, the highest peak in the mountain range, gets smaller and smaller, until it fades into a scene that looks like a real life Bob Ross masterpiece. If you’re in the mood for an event, Colorado Springs hosts their Colorado Balloon Classic every Labor Day weekend. Concession stands, entertainment, contests, and, best of all, dozens of colorful hot air balloons, are all part of the fun. Click here for more informaton.

The Outback, Australia

Your sense of nature will really be ignited with a hot air balloon ride through the Outback of Australia. Flying in the sky you will look down on remote desert featuring only a few bush paths. Famous rock formation landmarks such as Ayers Rock and Mount Olga can be seen from one vantage point along with sparkling springs, waterholes, and rock caves. It is a very organic and undisturbed landscape to take in, and a must-see for hot air balloon enthusiasts. Click here for more information.

angkor wat Angkor War, Cambodia

Located less than a mile west of Angkor Wat, there is the chance to go up in a hot air balloon that will allow you to see the many religious landmarks of Cambodia, such as the famous Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, and the myriad temples surrounding the areas of Siem Reap and the Barays. The basket is in the shape of a donut, giving access to convenient 360 degree views. While floating 656 feet in the air, try to pick out the different temples by name, thinking to yourself how lucky you are to not have to fight off the hourdes of tourists to get a cultural lesson in local religion. No need to be nervous, either, as this is one of the less frightening rides due to the fact that the balloon is always tied down to the ground below, and it only lasts about fifteen minutes.

San Carlos, Costa Rica

Costa Rica has quite a diverse landscape, and taking a hot air balloon ride over the country while floating over rainforests, volcanos, and mountain villages can help you take it all in. Riders will also interact with nature, skimming the monkey-inhabited treetops and dipping down into flowing rivers. When there is a break in the clouds, a clear view of Arenal Volcano, which is still active, can be seen. Click here for more information.

swiss alpsChâteau d’Oex, Switzerland

The Swiss Alps is one of those places that cannot be described with words or even understood through pictures, but must be experienced first hand to really understand its beauty. Float through the air while admiring the picturesque mountains, some bright with green, some sparkling and snow capped, as well as views of Mont-Blanc, the Matterhorn, and Lake Geneva. The best time to visit is the last week in January, when the town holds their annual International Hot Air Balloon Week. Click here for more information.

Maasai Mara, Kenya

Riding a hot air balloon over the Maasai Mara is not only a unique experience because of the landscape, which encompasses woodlands, grasslands, rivers, open plains, rivers, and a dramatic plateau, but also because of the game viewing. The Maasai Mara National Reserve located in southwestern Kenya, is home to one of the greatest events in the world, the Great Migration. From July through October, millions of gazelles, zebras, and wildebeests travel through Maasai Mara, making this a prime time to take a hot air balloon ride in the region. Think of the ride as a hot air balloon safari. Click here for more information.

5 train trips everyone should experience

the blue train in south africa While some train routes can seem long and boring, there are many that allow for great views of unique landscape or luxury service. Still, there are some train rides that go above and beyond your wildest imagination. Check out these five train trips that everyone should experience in their lifetime.

The Blue Train
South Africa

The Blue Train travels approximately 1,000 miles between Pretoria and Cape Town and is one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world. Some of the amenities include butler service, two lounge cars (one smoking, one non-smoking), an observation car, and sound-proofed carriages with gold-tinted picture windows, full-carpeting, an en-suite bathrooms (many of which include a full bathtub). Both kings and presidents have made this journey, as the train is marketed as a “magnificent, moving 5-star hotel”. Along with luxury, the Blue Train also takes passengers through unique countryside scenery. Rolling vineyards, pristine coastline, and jagged mountain faces are all right outside your luxurious, gold-tinted view.the west highland lineThe West Highland Line
Britain

The West Highland Line links the ports of Mallaig and Oban and is thought to be one of the most scenic train routes in Britain. In fact, in 2009 the West Highland Line was voted the Top Rail Journey in the World by Wanderlust Magazine, just beating out the Trans-Siberian and Cuzco to Machu-Picchu lines. The West Highline Line not only accesses the remote west coast of Scotland, but also views of numerous sea loches including Gareloch, Loch Long, Loch Lomond, and Glen Falloch. See Rannoch Moore, a National Heritage site, Loch Treig, a steep, freshwater lake, and the narrow Monessie Gorge.

the glacier expressThe Glacier Express
The Swiss Alps

This express train links the two major mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. For the main portion of the journey, the Glacier Express passes through the Rhaetian Railway, a World Heritage Site in the Albula/Bernina regions. Passengers will also get to see untouched mountain landscapes, lush meadows, seductive vineyards, deep gorges, refreshing lakes, quaint hamlets, and impressive valleys while traveling through 91 tunnels and across 291 beautiful bridges. Some specific Swiss Alps mounains travelers will encounter include the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Swiss Alps, and the Dom, the tallest mountain to sit entirely on Switerland soil.

machu picchu PeruRail
Peru

The scenic PeruRail lines make trips from Cuzco to Machu Picchu with three choices of train for passengers to choose from. If you’re looking for a sensory experience there is the Vistadome, surrounded entirely by glass and giant panaramic windows for a closer connection with nature as well as opportunities for amazing photographs. For the luxury traveler there is the Hiram Bingham, with cozy intertiors, elegant upholstry, two dining cars, an observation wagon, a bar, and a kitchen. The service includes brunch, dinner, entrance to Machu Picchu, afternoon tea at Machu Picchu, and a guided tour in the citadel. For adventure travelers, there is the Expedition, with backpack racks, seating designed for interaction and mingling, and Andean music to fill the car with cheer. For travelers wanting to visit Lake Titicana from Cuzco, there is the Andean Explorer, a luxurious train ride featuring an observatory car to see mountainous and rolling plain landscapes and Andean entertainment on board as musicians and dancers create a lively atmosphere.

southwest chief trainThe Southwest Chief
The United States

Ever wonder what it must have felt like to live in the Old West? The Southwest Chief can give you a taste of what you’ve seen in classic films. Running daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, passengers will traverse through the mighty Mississippi, take in the Grand Canyon, pass by wheat fields and ranches, ride over dessert landscape, photograph mountains, and see pueblos right outside the train window. Lounges, sleeper cars, and sightseeing decks enhance the journey just that much more.

Snowboarder Twitters For Rescue

The “micro-blogging” phenomenon known as Twitter has captured the attention of many, while confounding others. In a nutshell, the service allows users to send out brief messages to friends, known as “Followers” in twitter-speak, sharing news and information or simply the minutia of your day.

The service came in especially handy for Jason Tavaria recently when he and a companion were snowboarding in the Swiss Alps and became lost in a snow storm. Despite being stranded in a blizzard, Tavaria’s iPhone still had reception, and he simply used his Twitter app to “tweet” his location, which he determined using the phone’s built in GPS. Rescue teams were able to locate Tavaria, who was unharmed and in good condition.

Tavaria’s companion, Rob Williams, was not so lucky. It is believed that while lost, and blinded by the snow, he fell of a 60 foot cliff and died. His body was later recovered from a stream at the foot of the cliff he went over.

The entire search and rescue operation played out over Twitter as well, with friends of the duo sending out messages and updates from the lodge while they waited for word on their rescue. At one point they sent out a request for Williams’ phone number in an attempt to call the young entrepreneur, who had founded the online music equipment site Dolphin Music.

This story is just another example of how connected we’ve all become and how technology is changing the way we communicate.

Amazing Race 14: Recap 1, Swiss cheese is heavy

When the teams took off for Switzerland from the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California after the Marine helicopter ride that took them there, you could feel the buoyancy and hear their glee. No matter the season, every team has a real can-do attitude at the beginning of the Amazing Race. Amazing Race 14 was no different. And just like every other season, some teams began to fall apart not long after they landed.

Jennifer and Preston missed their connecting train. She got crabby and he crabbed back. Later in the episode, Steve chastised Linda for being slow as they hoofed it to the Church of San Antonio in Locarno to meet up with a monk. Her slowness put them behind most of the other teams. Steve only made her weepier. As Linda pointed out, she would have gone faster if she could have. “I can’t run and I feel bad about it,” she sniffled. Good point. Who goes on the Amazing Race trying to be pokey?

When people are crabby and chastising when they travel, they miss the details. In Switzerland, one detail comes in snow-capped mountains, so gorgeous they can make you cry. Brad, choked up, for example, as he and Victoria sped through them on the train. It might of been the mountains, or maybe he was tired. Other details of Swiss travel had to do with bungee jumping and cheese.

First the bungee jumping. After a night of camping, fending off mosquitos, the teams headed a short distance from Locarno to Contra Verzasca Dam where James Bond made his bungee jumping leap in the movie Goldeneye. In nerves of steel daring, one team member from each team made the Bond jump, minus the music, in order to receive their next clue.

This is not just an Amazing Race opportunity. You can make the 220 meter, 70-story, jump yourself through the company Trekking Outdoor Team. It seriously looks like a blast for a person not afraid of heights. Interestingly, the person most afraid of heights was Jodi, one of the flight attendants. As we knew all along, even a person afraid of heights would be able to make the leap for the chance for a million dollars.

When the jumping was over, it was off via train to Interlaken and Kleine Rugen Wiese, a place with a slippery, grass covered hill and wheels of cheese at the top of it. Teams had to grab antique cheese racks, trudge to the top of the hill, one rack per member, to carry cheese–great big wheels of it that can bound and roll down a hill like nobody’s business when dropped–to the bottom using the racks in some way. What a hoot.

The antique racks looked rigged since almost everyone of them snapped like kindling wood. Making the task more difficult was avoiding getting bowled over by the escaped flying cheese, and the people chasing after it. To get a 50-pound cheese wheel down a hill, you can hold it in front of you in both arms, sit with it on your lap and scoot, put one wheel on each shoulder, or do a combination of all three. If you’re really smart, you’ll stack three cheese wheels on the rack and drag it down the hill like Steve did.

While the teams acted out this Abott and Costello-like scene, Swiss men stood at the bottom of the hill swigging some sort of beverage and laughing. Eventually, all cheese was stacked properly, and the teams were off once more to find yodelers at the pit stop in the town of Stechelberg. For a little while I thought that Steve and Linda, who call themselves endearments like “dumb asses” when frustrated, wouldn’t find the yoderlers, but eventually they came out of the woods where they had headed to land a 9th place finish.

The first place finishers were mother and son team, Margie and Luke. Both of them started to cry. So did 2nd place finishers, Tammy and Victor–even Phil looked teary. Tammy and Victor weren’t feeling emotional because they came in second by a hair–thus missed out on that swell trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I think it was because the finish was so awesome indeed. Luke is deaf.

As Luke said, “A lot of people think deaf people can’t do things, but the deaf can do it. I just want to show people that deaf people can do it.” I’d say Victor and Tammy will get their share of first place prizes.

In a neck and neck finish, Christie and Jodi reached the Pit Stop mat before Jennifer and Preston. Although they were thrilled to stay in the race, the flight attendants did give the loosing team hugs, proving that flight attendants are indeed friendly. Preston promised Jennifer she did not let him down. Hey, they get to hang out for a couple weeks at some swank villa somewhere at the Elimination Station if this season is like the others. That’s not a bad deal.

The moral of this episode is, before you go on the Amazing Race, go to a train station. Jennifer had never been to one before. I think traveling at a break neck speed in unfamiliar territory is not the best place for a first time.

Where everyone has ended up so far:

  • 1st -Margie and Luke
  • 2nd -Tammy and Victor
  • 3rd – Mark and Michael
  • 4th – Mel and Mike
  • 5th – Amanda and Kris
  • 6th – Brad and Victoria
  • 7th – Cara and Jaime
  • 8th – Kisha and Jen
  • 9th – Linda and Steve
  • 10th – Christie and Jodi
  • 11th – Preston and Jennifer (Eliminated)

For a more detailed recap, check out the Amazing Race 14 website.

Body-skating in the Swiss Alps

This should wake you up on this Sunday morning. Check out this incredible daredevil, who’s just invented a new sport by doning a rolling bodysuit and then skating down a mountain road in the Swiss Alps.

I think it speaks to the craziness of this stunt that it’s managed to upstage the Swiss Alp backdrop, which is stunning eh? Oh, and notice the zooming bikes and vehicular traffic.