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Take to the Skies: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey

hot air balloon cappadocia

Cappadocia, Turkey blew my mind. In the best way possible.

Now one of my favorite places in the world, it’s hard to believe that 6 months ago, I had never heard of it. Bad travel blogger, I know.

Squished in the back row of an overcrowded hotel conference room in Porto, Portugal for TBU, my first travel blogging conference, I was furiously typing away on my laptop everything Adventurous Kate was saying about how to build your own press trip. Eventually she started talking about hot air balloons in Cappadocia, something she had done the year before, eliciting a load of responses from the audience.

Where the hell is Cappadocia? I thought to myself, nervously watching my fellow attendees nodding and imputing their opinions. It seemed like everyone knew but me! Not wanting to look like a complete fool, quickly I opened a new tab and bowed down to the gods at Google: “where is Kapadokia” I searched, completely butchering the name.

hot air balloon cappadocia

Holy crap!

The image results were astonishing. I had never seen a landscape like that anywhere before. It looked like something on the moon or out of Star Wars or some perverted version of the Grand Canyon. Making a mental note, and a physical note on my phone because I can’t remember anything, I decided, yup, one day soon I would be going there.

Fast forward 6 months.

That magical day arrived. Groggily waking up at 5:30 in a cave (yes you read that right, details forthcoming) in Göreme, Turkey, I padded on the layers in preparation for the hot air balloon ride of my dreams with Royal Balloon. I barely slept the night before because I was so excited! Arriving at the balloon headquarters, flustered and windswept, we had to wait to see if the wind would die down and allow us to fly. While we loitered around, they offered us a big, hot free breakfast, my favorite kind of breakfast. Moderately more awake after two cups of coffee and several pieces of toast, we were herded together in the lobby and informed that it was too windy to fly that day. Bummer!

Grumbling about getting up at the crack of dawn for nothing, I was really happy that I scheduled in a few days in Cappadocia in case of bad weather. Talking with the friendly crew and pilots, it turns out the next day was supposed to be perfect. Excellent.

hot air balloon cappadocia

Round two.

The weather gods heard my prayers and it was perfect the next morning. Snowing the day before, the early morning world was crisp and clear, white and new. Under a windless blue sky, we piled in the hot air balloon basket under the watchful gaze of our captain-pilot-balloonist (the proper terminology alludes me) Nigel as the sun started to peak over the pillar-like rock formations. It was chilly and I forgot a hat, and by forgot I mean the hat I packed didn’t match my outfit.

Luckily for me, Royal Balloon thought ahead and offered fleecy hats to us that matched my outdoor winter parka splendidly. Well done.

hot air balloon cappadocia

Under the sage and knowledgable direction of Nigel, we took to the skies, ooh-ing and ah-ing over the dramatic landscape. With bug eyes and my mouth wide open, I forgot to take photos for a few minutes, just trying to absorb it all in. It was magical. Then I quickly remembered I’m a blogger on a mission, and I started to take photos and videos like a fiend.

Luckily we were in a small balloon, I think 13 total people, so we could move around a bit. Everyone was really wonderful, even the annoyingly charming dad from India who kept asking questions like how much does it cost to manufacture a hot air balloon and at what rate does the gas burn. Lordy. Though he was actually really nice and took lots of pictures of me and let me wear his sunnies when it got too bright. All’s forgiven.

To see the dramatic landscape of Cappadocia from the ground is unforgettable. But to see it from above, soaring among the colored valleys, over the tip tops of the stone pillars, peeking into the pigeon holes and caves with snowy mountains in the distance, and seeing the sky cloaked with hot air balloons is nothing short of spectacular. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Turkey, and I recommend it to anyone.

I’ll let my photos and video do the talking. Ok, this is my first video I’ve ever made (sober), so don’t judge me.

hot air balloon cappadocia

The Specifics

I wasn’t planning to write this for a while, but with the fatal hot air balloon accident in Luxor, Egypt last week, I decided the time was right for this post. Also, balloons make me happy, and I knew this would be one of my favorite posts to write about Turkey.

10 months ago I flew in a hot air balloon for the first time in Luxor, Egypt, and I loved it. I had some sort of traveler’s food poisoning and it took all my self control not to vom over the side of the basket, and it was STILL my favorite part of Egypt. I’m a balloon convert. Hot air ballooning is now one of my favorite adventures while traveling and I look forward to more opportunities, but with my second balloon ride under my belt and after reading about the accident in Luxor, I have learned a few key things about this budding activity.

hot air balloon cappadocia

Almost 20 tourists died on Tuesday as their hot air balloon exploded when the gas hose ripped (video). That could have been me. Getting burnt to a crisp 1000 feet above ground is quite possibly number 1 on my list of ways I do not way to snuff it. I’m not going to lie; I was really happy this happened exactly a week AFTER I flew in Cappadocia, though I doubt it would have swayed me or kept me from flying in Turkey. Though I probably would have had a panic attack every time the flame was on and bugged the crap out of Nigel to check all the tank pipes during takeoff, the main flight, and landing.

When M and I flew in Luxor, we didn’t research any companies in advance, we just went with the one recommended to us by our hotel, which in retrospect was extraordinarily STUPID. Ballooning at dawn over the Valley of the Kings is one of the most popular activities in Luxor, with over 50 companies to chose from, you will definitely get your chance to fly. Of course with the rampant tourism business, hotels usually partner with specific companies, so of course they will recommend their choice, which is not necessarily the best or safest.

IMG_0662

hot air balloon cappadocia

I learned a lot about hot air balloons over the past year.

With 50 companies to chose from in Egpyt, it’s REALLY important to chose your research. You are not in Kansas anymore (pun intended), and especially after the Revolution, the government in Egypt was really unstable, and obviously the balloon companies weren’t being monitored as the should have been. The same goes for Turkey.

There are far more balloon companies in Cappadocia since it is voted one of the best places to fly a hot air balloon in the world. It’s an extraordinarily popular tourist activity, and in the high season there can be up to 120 balloons in the sky each morning. For some perspective, there were only 60 in the air the day I flew. That means the range of service and safety you will get varies widely, and it’s important to research who to fly with before you go since safety regulations are in the hands of the operators. Because of the huge demand, many pilots are inexperienced and the companies unregulated.

hot air balloon cappadocia

For me, safety is number 1.

I love my life, and I am not ready to die just yet. So I would rather have a company, like Royal Balloon, that choses not to fly on a day when it’s windy or uncertain and get a second chance the following day. Some companies will fly in unsafe conditions for profit. But for me, I was much happier to wait for a perfect, safe day, than to fly in potentially dangerous conditions.

You can’t control the weather so it’s important to pack in a few days if you are planning to fly in Turkey. Besides, Cappadocia is awesome and deserves at least 3 full days. The good companies don’t charge you if it’s bad weather, and if they can’t fly, they’ll let you try again for free, so it’s no loss to you. The weather in Cappadocia is great for ballooning and they usually fly 300 days of the year.

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

Is flying in a hot air balloon scary? Not at all! The balloon moves with the wind, so it doesn’t shake or move around that you can feel, it’s really interesting; it almost feels like you are still on the ground. I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to heights, and I get major motion sick, but the balloons don’t bother me at all, unless I have food poisoning.

When I started researching companies in Cappadocia, I was astonished by how many there were to chose from. It’s definitely intimidating. Beginning with TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, I narrowed the list down and eventually chose Royal Balloon after speaking with several companies. I can’t begin to stress how important it is to do your research first. For example, the company in Egypt, Sky Cruise, that had the accident last week, has had a history of accidents before. With 50 companies to chose from, why the hell would you fly with a one that has crashed a balloon before?

hot air balloon cappadocia

Why I chose Royal Balloon

  • They have the most reviews on TripAdvisor, and we all know how I feel about opinions and comments! I love them!
  • They have decades of experience, and their pilots have flown all over the world
  • They have the highest insurance policy in Cappadocia (you’re welcome, mom!)
  • They are the only Turkish members of a bunch of fancy international hot air ballooning federations
  • They’re the only British-manufactured balloons in Cappadocia (a very state of the art material- one of their balloon engineers was on my flight!) And let me tell you, thanks to nosy dad from India I learned that those balloons are NOT cheap, and I can tell you how they are made, but I don’t want to bore you even more than I already have
  • They don’t take any chances with safety. They even wedding-style carried me out of the basket upon landing. Someone must have warned them what I klutz I am
  • They give you a full hour up in the skies (some companies shaft you on that)
  • They have even flown Martha Stewart, and we all know Martha is never wrong
  • You get a really yummy breakfast, a nice wooly hat, and a medal and champagne upon landing. Flying in style, just how I like it!
  • Suat (the pilot-in-chief) is amazing, and Nigel and the crews are just overall really friendly and helpful. They know so much and have traveled and flown around the world. When you are 1,000ft in the air, it’s important that you feel like you are in safe hands

Many thanks to Royal Balloon having me as their guest. Don’t worry, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

hot air balloon cappadocia

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45 Responses to Take to the Skies: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey

  1. jill March 4, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    Beautiful shots! Sharing this with the inlaws who are visiting Turkey this Fall – I’m trying to convince them that hot air ballooning over Cappadocia is worth thinking about.

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

      It is seriously worth thinking about. It was the highlight if my trip to Turkey and I can’t say enough good things about it! I promise it will be their favorite experience! It’s really comfortable too, not scary or anything :)

  2. amelie88 March 4, 2013 at 4:32 am #

    These pictures are just astounding. Never really had a desire to fly in a hot air balloon (I’m afraid of heights though I did go paragliding once) but this post makes me want to go specifically to Cappadocia just to do this (still not sold on Istanbul). The landscape sort of reminds me of Bryce Canyon (in Utah) and Death Valley in the US–so strange and alien looking!

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      Ballooning feels so much safer than paragliding. Since you move with the wind, the basket doesn’t move at all so it feels very solid. It’s strange! Seriously if you do it anywhere in the world, it should be in Cappadocia :)

    • atil ulas March 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

      it is like bryce canyon but in bigger scale.. you should come and visit cappadocia..

  3. Danica Martin March 4, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Looks amazing! Even before reading about the horrible accident I wouldn’t have stepped foot in one, I’d spend most of the trip sitting in the bottom of the basket panicking!!! Glad to hear you did your research, that’s always important. How in the world can you afford to do so much travelling, if you have sponsors please let me know, ha-ha!!! :) Danica

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

      Lol travel is my number 1 priority so I save most of my money towards that. This trip was sponsored mostly but it took me 3 years to get to this point :)hard work pays off eventually!

  4. Alex @ ifs ands & butts March 4, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Anddddd kicking myself hard for not going to Cappadocia while in Turkey, particularly because I’ve never been hot air ballooning and REALLY want to!

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Go back girl! Flights to Cappadocia from Istanbul are like $30 and it’s less than an hour. Best part of my trip :)

  5. Natalie March 4, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Would you believe that I have been to Cappadocia twice and each time bottled out of a hot air balloon trip?

    Going back in summer and determined to do it the third time!

    I also read about that accident in Egypt. Never been there so have no idea as to how professional the balloon companies are but you are correct with what you said about Royal Balloons. They do have the best reputation.

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

      No way! You must try it next time, it’s really not bad at all! Not scary and the pilots know what they’re doing, really important to chose a good company with this kind of stuff. Egypt had its own problems bc of the revolution things aren’t monitored well so it’s up to the business to maintain safety standards. I think it’s the same in Cappadocia. With 120 balloons flying daily, you really have to make sure you chose someone good!

  6. Wakas March 4, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Hey Liz, I must say I have experienced hot air ballooning in Kapadokia and it was the most beautiful experience as I got to see nature at such a close hand. Those 60 minutes in that balloon, seemed the world was nothaing more than that peace I had up their in the air.

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      Couldn’t have out it better myself :)

  7. Dan March 4, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Stunning shots! We went on a hot air balloon ride in New Mexico and it was one of our favorite things we have done. We’ll have to add ballooning in Cappadocia to the bucket list now :-)

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      Do it Dan! Coolest landscape ever!

  8. Mike March 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Wow! I have never been hot air ballooning, but this immediately went on my list on things I have to do, as I’m sure it did for many others as well. I will be sure to do my research though like you recommended. I have loved all your Turkey posts and photos so far. It looks like such a diverse and engaging country!

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

      Agreed!

  9. Suat ULUSOY March 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Dear Liz,

    Thank you very much for the stunning article. It was a pleasure for us to fly with you. Hope to see you on an another Royal flight in the future.

    Warmest Regards

    Suat ULUSOY

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Suat! Thanks for the amazing flight. It was the highlight of my trip and I loved writing this! I already miss Cappadocia so much, I can’t wait to go back! Maybe this summer!

  10. Cassandra March 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    After seeing your hot air balloon shots from Egypt, I was eager to see your take on Cappadocia. The views looks amazing–you had an incredible experience!

    It was interesting to read all of your notes about how you narrowed down your balloon-company search. Sounds like you chose the right company, indeed.

    Also, kudos on your first video!! It really added depth and perspective to this unique experience. Your PR skills are working because I so want to go to Cappadocia now…

    • Liz March 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

      Haha yes! Thanks Casey!

      The balloon in egpyt was amazing but Cappadocia blew my mind! It’s such a cool landscape :)

      I’m glad the video is getting a good response. I’ve never made them before but I want to try something new. I definitely learned a lot! Can’t wait to try more of them!

  11. Polly March 5, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    Gorgeous, gorgeous pictures!

    I found your site about a week ago while researching an upcoming trip to Egypt. A hot air balloon flight in Luxor was definitely on our list, and now, obviously isn’t (since the government has stopped rides for the time being so we didn’t even have to make the decision for ourselves). Thanks for the positive yet pragmatic look at hot air ballooning!

  12. Casey March 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Great post Liz! I ballooned with Royal Balloons just the day after you. It looks like the weather gods blessed you that day!! Great post :)

  13. Anja March 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Wow, these photos are stunning! And I definitely appreciate all the info you gave us – even though I am kind of scared of heights, all these pics might be worth it! =)

  14. Dayna B. March 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    I CANNOT wait to try this! I had my first hot air balloon experience locally last year, but the view was nothing like that of Cappadocia. I will be there this summer and this will be at the top of my to-do list! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Dan March 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I’ve never done anything like this but I can imagine it being quite empowering. These photos are fantastic.

  16. Veronica March 10, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Wow stunning landscape!! I bet it was breathtaking..You’ve captured it beautifully. I’d love to do this, thanks for the tips!

  17. Katherina March 10, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    WOW. Flying in a hot air balloon is already on my to-do list, but doing it in Cappadocia would make it even better. The scenery is amazing!

  18. Adventurous Kate March 10, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    Absolutely GORGEOUS photos! I love the lens flare shots! :-)

    So glad you made it to Cappadocia and got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise by balloon. It’s a special place. :-)

  19. Jennifer March 11, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    I’m infatuated with hot air balloons. Someday hubby and I will finally get our first hot air balloon ride together. We were married in one, but the weather was far too windy to fly that day. So we ended up getting married in a grounded hot air balloon. 11 years later and we’re still waiting on that first flight together!

  20. Lauren March 17, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    Hi Liz!
    I really enjoy reading all of your blogs. I’m currently working as an auxiliar in Zaragoza and frequently refer to your blog for travel advice! I will be going to Turkey with my dad for semana santa and we want to do a balloon ride with Royal Balloons. We were wondering if you have recommendations as to whether we should do the 60 minute flight or the 90 minute flight? Do you think it would be worth the extra money to do 30 more minutes or do you think we will be content with 60 minutes? Thanks!
    Lauren

    • Liz March 18, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      That’s a toughie, I enjoyed the 60 minute ride but I can imagine it might get crowded during a holiday so maybe the 90 minute one would be more comfortable since it’s less people I think. The landscape is insane so I think the more time the better, but even if you chose the 60 minute, you’ll see a ton :D

    • Liz March 18, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      Also, be sure to tell them hi from me :D

  21. Namah April 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Last year i was be in cappadocia and fly with kaya balloon raly is great time. Amazing atmosphere and great place. Thanks Liz for this page.

    Cheers Namah from India

  22. Robert April 29, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    Amazing Photos! I would love to make this trip someday.

  23. Nigel Pogmore May 23, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Commercial Balloon pilot and former balloon safety officer, speaks out on Turkish balloon accident.

    An all too common phenomena in the balloon rides industry
    An accident waiting to happen.

    What you read below (extract) was published by myself on 4th March 2013 This was in response to the Egyptian balloon disaster. What you may find interesting is that whilst I make no claim for any psychic ability, this is the second balloon accident that I’ve correctly predicted. Not only was the prediction spot-on, the precise nature of the accident was impeccably precise in that it was a midair collision between two balloons, with a top of one passenger balloon colliding with the bottom of another, resulting in rapid deflation and ultimate carnage.

    Surely questions must be raised as to why nobody else is sounding the alarm bells? I think that I can tell you why, insatiable appetite for commercial interest at the cost of balloon passengers been placed in body bags.

    In May 2010 I forewarned the public to expect a disaster coming out of the Serengeti, sadly we didn’t have to wait long to see news of unnecessary deaths taking place in that area. Strikingly similar to my that prediction, as you read below you will witness indisputable evidence of yet another prediction coming true. Pleasingly the death toll is far lower than I had expected, however with such insane congestion, coupled to questionable aviation standards, I feel that unless both the balloon operators and the Turkish Civil Aviation authority take immediate action, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that as the season progresses further disasters will take place in this region.

    What the public and the media may find worryingly curious is that my stance on passenger safety has not been supported by the protective multimillion dollar balloon rides industry. Unfortunately with that in mind I would say that it would not be long before the World Wide Web and TV news channels will be graced with news of 20 to 30 deaths taking place in one single balloon accident. Taking that further, in my professional view, for reasons already outlined, Turkey remains in prime position to deliver this devastating news at the same time do keep an eye on East Africa.
    Nigel Pogmore
    Hot Air Balloon Safety

    Turkey 2009: UK scientist killed, other passengers paraplegic:

     If you’d asked me prior to the Egyptian accident as to where I would have expected the next accident was going to come from,  I would draw your attention to the fact that I have  for  a long time predicted that Turkey  with an estimated 60 balloons in the sky at any one time, (some reports out today say 127) is in every sense of the term, an accident waiting to happen. There you have some well-respected professional pilots intermingled with what appear to be cowboys.  Having visited Turkey’s flying area of Cappadocia  I came away less than impressed  after witnessing foolish antics that are bound to end in tragedy sooner or later.

      Although it was  a bright yet cold winter’s morning of December, with only 17 balloons in the sky, I was to be taken on a flight with a pilot that I trusted.  That said it seemed  that some very young pilots as well some not so young, felt that the distinct need to impress everybody else around them. In attempting to do so it appeared the rules regarding minimum aircraft separation let alone common sense, had gone out of the window.

      With multiple  high capacity passenger balloons operating  within talking distance of each other, several balloons conducted  high speed ascents & descents, worryingly all at the same time, apparently oblivious to the close proximity of others  using the same airspace. Even for a seasoned pilot well accustomed to flying in demanding surroundings,  I was pleased to get back on the ground.  The rule is that the upper balloon gives way to the balloon below.

    My concern here is that there will be a collision with the balloon positioned lower ascends & one descends from above,  in doing so crashing into each other,   resulting in a top to bottom impact  just as happened in Australia  in 1989 killing all 13 passengers, (it’s already happened in Turkey)

     This activity is well supported in today’s report (3rd March 2013) in the Independent on Sunday edition where it  states that some British pilots are refusing to work in Turkey/Egypt owing to the dangers, of”been bumped into by young  inexperienced pilots”

    In 2009 this is exactly what happened when the UK scientist 53 year old Dr Kevin Beurle was killed. All other passengers I understand suffered back injuries. I have been contacted by a relative of one of the survivors of that accident, who informed me that her father was now quadriplegic.  I find it very strange that in this instance both balloons were from the same company of Kapadokya Balloons , I can only imagine that   Inter-balloon communication was non-existent.

      Deceiving the public of the real risk:

     I was to later learn that Kapadokya Balloons had  plans to set themselves up with a different company name, thereafter running this new identity alongside the original company. The new balloon operation is called Atmosphere Balloons.  Interestingly despite the company having so recently suffered previous fatalities that also injured a reported nine passengers, ironically a senior official   of the two companies, claimed that it was this web site that was ruining the good image of hot air ballooning,  something I very much  doubt that  the general public will find easy to swallow.

    Turkey questionable  pilot licence procedure:

     Prior to visiting Turkey,  respected UK pilot Mike Green forwarded me his concerns surrounding the way in which the local pilots procure their licenses.  According to Mike email, a quick trip over the border to Russia only to return just two weeks later was all it took to go from student to commercially licensed pilot, soon after placed in command of balloons carrying up to 32 passengers at a time. With such novices intermingled amongst a few professionals, I feel that it’s only a matter of time before we see another catastrophe.

    Whilst we all rightfully gasp at  high death toll in Egypt, I would not be surprised to see  shocking headlines any time soon,  telling the world of carnage  with  jaw dropping death totals way above 20, possibly into the 30s. For the above reasons, in my view this area is without doubt an accident waiting to happen.

     Having just read the report by Matthew Bell in the  UK Independent on Sunday, where both myself and British Balloon & Arship club  chairman Phil Dunnington mentioned above, offer contributions, I was shocked to learn that I’m not the only balloon pilot to be  subjected to threats with the use of a revolver. Whilst the threatening of pilots by some air operators is rampant throughout the whole of the aviation industry, and certainly not just commercial ballooning, it appears that the balloon rides industry has a confident liking for firearms in order to assert their dastardly deeds.

  24. Jennifer March 28, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    Hi Liz, beautiful pictures! i spent thanksgiving in turkey and i loved that it was less crowded in November. we had the same situation too where it was too windy on the first day. the second day was fine to do the hot air balloon but it was foggy! and a lot of people opted out to do it. i must say i was disappointed that i didn’t get to experience the same ‘sunny’ and clear views advertised on all the travel brochures but i was so glad we still did it even though it was foggy — the mood is completely different, really melancholy and surreal and painfully beautiful. we were able to get much closer and lower to the grounds. the clouds and fogs just made an already amazing place even beyond breathtaking. it was definitely a peaceful and transcendent mood. i spent at least 3 days in cappadocia and even that was not enough. i will definitely go back to turkey. the people are so lovely… turkish coffee rocks..

  25. Lavi July 9, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Great post – thanks for the Royal Balloon recommendation, Liz! I’m headed to Turkey in a few weeks and had NO idea where to start with planning for heavy duty adventures like hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. This is so helpful. Good lookin’ out!

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