Published on November 1st, 2013 | by growwny0
Feature Friday: Up, Up and Away
BY KRISTEN KASZUBOWSKI, GROWWNY TEAM
I’m a firm believer that the gift of a memory is better than anything money can buy. Sharing an experience with someone is special because it can never be taken away from them. Recently, I was very lucky to receive such a gift: a hot air balloon ride over the countryside of East Aurora. My mother gave me a gift certificate to share this experience with her. Our breathtaking experience is a memory that I’ll cherish for years to come. It was also a new way to go outside and enjoy our region, making it a great Feature Friday!
We arrived at the East Aurora Balloon Company on Route 16 in between Holland and East Aurora just a couple hours before dusk. As the balloon team was preparing for our flight, we were able to walk around the wide-open field where we took off. The first chill of fall was starting to set in, making me nervous that I didn’t bring a heavier jacket. Surely it would be even colder the higher up we got.
It was amazing how quickly the balloon was full of hot air, and even more amazing is how we fit six people in the basket. Before I knew it, we were hundreds of feet in the air. The tops of trees that I had been gazing up at just moments before were now eye-level and even more gorgeous. Our ascent was smooth and seamless, and the colorful details of the countryside were soon below us.
One of the most surprising parts of my ride was the flame of the balloon. It was louder than I expected, and its echo could be heard bouncing around below us. It actually caught the attention of bystanders, some dogs and a few donkeys. Our captain actually turned it off for a brief moment to let us enjoy the sound of silence. In this moment, everything seemed so stunningly still. While I wasn’t necessarily taking a step back (more like a step up) the balloon ride really allowed me to reflect on all the natural wonders we are privy to here in Western New York.
After an hour, we prepared for our descent and it dawned on me that you can’t really control where a hot air balloon stops. The entire balloon ride we were being followed by a chase team, which was also our ride for getting back to the launch site. Our chase team had to go and knock on someone’s door and ask permission to land in their yard! The lovely staff of the East Aurora Balloon Company brings a gift with them to thank the property owner for letting them land and pack up in their yard.
Once we were back at the launch site and celebrating with the traditional champagne toast, the owners told us the story behind this gift. When hot air balloons were first invented, farmers would think witches were operating them. Hot air balloon pilots had to fly equipped with fine wines to give the farmers they met when landing. Whether you consider it a bribe or a gift, it became a tradition for hot air balloon rides.
This is a truly unique experience, which is why this seemed to fit so well in our Feature Friday series. There are tons of amazing opportunities all throughout WNY to go outside and enjoy all the wonders that surround us. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride, or perhaps buy a gift certificate for someone that you love. It’s one of the more expensive experiences that I’ve come across while writing for GrowWNY, but I think it’s worth every penny.