Hot air balloon flight over Lithuania's Trakai Island Castle

A Lithuanian Baptism

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The pilot placed his palms together and raised his hands to the side of his cheek, mimicking a sleeping motion like you might to a child. He pointed to me and then to the basket lying on its side on the ground. The language barrier was getting the best of us.

Perplexed, I looked around at my friends in case one of them had an idea about what exactly was going on. The pilot could not possibly be telling me to climb into the basket to “sleep.”

The inside of a hot air balloon lifting off over Lithuania's Trakai Island Castle
Lifting off

Quicker on the uptake than I was, one of my companions glanced from the pilot to me and back to the basket. “I think he wants us in the basket on the ground,” she said. Without missing a beat, she crouched down to maneuver herself into the space not much wider than a grade school locker.

I had been on hot air balloon rides twice before, but this was a first. Dutifully, my companions and I climbed sideways into the basket, separated from the morning dew by the layer of wicker.

Slowly, the balloon began to right itself and we were tilted slightly upward. We laughed — at the odd situation, at our growing weightlessness, and with anticipation for the ride we were about to take.

Beginning to climb over the countryside and Lithuania's Trakai Island Castle
Beginning to climb over the countryside

In less than a minute, the rest of our group and the pilot jumped in the now rising balloon and we began to inch upward over the foggy Lithuanian countryside.

Unlike previous flights I had been on in Egypt – and particularly in Cappadocia, Turkey, where the sky was packed with fellow adventurers – we were almost alone as we sailed over the misty fields and lakes of Lithuania. Our only company on this bright morning was one other balloon.

Within a few minutes of liftoff, we passed over the star of our flight. Trakai Island Castle in Lake Galve, which was once home to Grand Dukes of Lithuania, is now one of the country’s primary tourist attractions. Nearly 700 years old, the castle’s red roof shone in the early morning sun as we floated above.

View of Trakai Island Castle from a hot air balloon
Floating over Trakai Island Castle

For over an hour, we flew across the landscape of southern Lithuania. We passed seemingly endless lakes and forests, as the fog clung to the treetops, making the morning even more dramatic. We flew over homes and farms, waking up sleeping dogs in yards along the way. We watched the morning traffic mount on the roadways below as we sailed breezily above.

Hot air balloon ride over the Lithuanian countryside
Dramatic mist in the countryside

After a while, we saw the other balloon land beyond some trees and knew our time was coming. Following an easy touch-down in an open field, we waited to be collected by the crew. After a few minutes, the balloon deflated, and we found ourselves ending the ride as we’d started – lying on our sides, laughing in the horizontal wicker basket.

Houses in Lithuania, as seen from a hot air balloon
Such beautiful views from above

As we waited for the occupants of the other balloon to arrive with the crew, our thoughts turned toward breakfast and returning to our hotels for a late-morning nap (we had had a 4:30am wake up, after all). But first, the traditional champagne toast to celebrate a successful flight.

Our companions arrived, and we dutifully gathered around for the celebration. The pilot pulled the champagne bottles and flutes from a nearby vehicle and began his congratulatory speech while we waited for the bubbles to flow. On the periphery, an assistant bent down to grab a handful of dirt from the field. A few feet away, a tiny flame seemed to flicker from the hand of another crew member. Mildly confused, we continued to listen to the compliments of the pilot.

“Today, we are here not only to celebrate a successful flight. We are here to baptize you with earth, fire, and wine.”

A further explanation followed, but the words swirled in my ears as I tried to understand their meaning. Surely they were not saying they were going to set our hair on fire.

Suddenly, one of my companions was kneeling by the pilot, a tiny amount of hair in his hand and the fire starter outstretched. The smell of singed hair hanging in the morning air was quickly replaced by the mildly acidic whiff of champagne as it dripped down. Then there was dirt on her forehead. We were sure this was a one-time example. We were wrong.

Being
My own baptism

One-by-one, each of us made our way to the spot at the front of the group for the unusual ritual. A couple of centimeters of hair lightly torched. A drizzle of champagne. A dot of dirt, followed by a glass of bubbly. We were all in this together, laughing, baptized in Lithuania.

Champagne in the country
Cheers to a great adventure

We explored the Baltics as guests of JayWay Travel. As always, opinions of the picturesque and adventurous are our own.

14 thoughts on “A Lithuanian Baptism”

  1. Carmen | Carmen's Luxury Travel

    What a view from above of the landscape and castle. I’ve never been brave enough to go up on an air balloon ride. My fear of heights doesn’t help. Maybe, one day I will overcome my fear and try it.

    1. Lance and my sister both have a fear of heights, so we were reluctant to do our first balloon ride (in Egypt in 2011). Surprisingly enough, they were both fine. You go pretty slowly and with the wind, so you don’t really feel the wind blowing, which I think helps.

  2. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels)

    Gorgeous photos! My husband is of Lithuanian descent so Lithuania is one place we dream of visiting. Don’t know if I could get him to do a balloon ride, though 🙂

    1. Thanks, Francesca. Lithuania is the most affordable ride I’ve seen, so if you think you might be interested, this would be a good place to try. Plus, I really enjoyed Vilnius and Kaunas, so I would recommend a visit either way.

    1. Thanks, Velysia. Some of the best views I’ve ever seen have been from a small basket floating above the earth.

  3. Wow, this seems like a fantastically unique experience – especially the unusual ritual! The photo of Trakai Island Castle looks like a beautiful, mystical land; really amazing photos!

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