OK, let's get right into it here: Patty, Ellie, Denise and I left Seattle on Wednesday shortly before 6:00 pm. We flew for many, many hours until we got to London shortly before noon on Thursday. There, we walked several miles through Heathrow airport, and then we caught another flight to the airport near Geneva. We took a cab into town. We met up with Alf and Annie, who had preceded us in arriving at the Hotel d'Angleterre. We chatted, we walked, we had fondue at a very nice nearby restaurant. When we were finished, Annie scraped the scabs of burned, hardened cheese off the bottom of the pot while Ellie watched.
Tomorrow, Cindy, Robin and Sian will join us. (The first two are just heading out as I type this.) Then we'll meet Mike and aim ourselves westward to Chateau d'Oex. Once we're settled in there, everything will slow down a tad, and details of our adventure will be a bit less breathless.
This was a rather nasty day in history:
One bright spot, however:
(Unfortunately, this enlightened measure was vetoed by Mayor George B. McClellan Jr.)
The International Herald Tribune has had some interesting January 21 stories to tell in years gone by:
SAN FRANCISCO: Just as soldiers become mentally deranged by the vibrations of explosives, so may dancers be affected by jazz music. This will be the defense of Dorothy Ellingson when she goes on trial for having killed her mother. The crime admitted by the girl, who described how she donned a gown and stepped over her mother's body to go to a dance, was the result of "Jazzmentia," a new but very real disease, according to the attorneys. Their contention is that syncopated rythms can be like the incessant tapping on the forehead used to torture people in barbarous countries.
LONDON: The Archbishop of Canterbury declared that judges have "not the slightest idea" of how to rule on whether a marriage has been consummated. The archbishop said he is going to set a committee to investigate the question. He said the commission would have a "very sticky time" because "it is quite possible for a marriage to be consummated and non-consummated at the same time." He did not elaborate on that point.
This morning, Cindy, Sian and Robin joined our merry band. In that order. For some reason, even though Cindy and Robin were on the same flights, Cindy arrived at the Angleterre quite some time before Robin did. Although they were seated practically right next to each other on the plane, they ignored each other for the entire trip and then ran in opposite directions upon landing in Geneva. Or perhaps they really weren't on the same flight. Cindy says that hers was very crowded, while Robin says that his was almost empty. It's a mystery, that's for sure, and perhaps one that we will not get to the bottom of (uh ... to the bottom of which we will not get) during our short stay here.
In any event, once we were all assembled, we headed back to the same restaurant we visited last night, and we had lunch. Pizza for Robin, Denise and me; chicken cutlets for most of the others. I am saving myself, cutlet-wise, for the Wiener schnitzel of l'Ermitage in Chateau d'Oex tonight!
After lunch, our convoy of three Previa vans and the big Mercedes luggage freight truck headed west along Lake Geneva, then we hung a left at some secret intersection known only to Mike and we ascended to Chateau d'Oex. We have now checked into our eight fabulous rooms. Herman is here, too, apparently, as his car is outside in the parking lot. He will be ballooning with us ... and, even sooner, probably joining us for dinner.
Dinner, with its promise of the awaited Wiener schnitzel, is just under an hour away at this point. I must make an effort to at least partially resist the temptations of the kitchen here at l'Ermitage, because my Y2K preparedness strategy consisted primarily of storing an extra 20 pounds on my person so I could last through the chaos. Now that we passed that threat unscathed, I need to return to a more normal state. Or perhaps I can wait until after this trip for that ...
The rooms here at l'Ermitage are wonderful and extremely comfortable in a very cozy way. This location is also ideal, being directly across the street from the balloon launch field. Although other ballooning passengers are staying at some fancy schmancy hotel in Gstaad, they're 20 minutes away ... and cozy is better than opulent by a long shot in this little Swiss valley. Tomorrow it will all be extremely hectic as the festival gets underway. Tonight, though, it's very tranquil and supremely gemütlich.
One strange thing: Out of curiosity, I turned on the television in my room, and there seem to be only a few channels available (not including CNN, if that's possible). The strange part of this, though, is that TWO of these few channels are simultaneously broadcasting the TeleTubbies. I have never actually seen the TeleTubbies before, except in clips on the news programs when Jerry Falwell was worried some months ago that they were surreptitiously recruiting four-year-olds to become homosexual. Perhaps the Swiss are not yet aware of this danger.
Oh, here's another strange thing: Robin is staying in Room 21, where I was two years ago. As you may recall (yeah, right!) I had a little problem with that room back then because the clock was set wrong and I couldn't get it set right. I almost missed dinner one night because of it, before I figured out how to mentally add an increment to the time it displayed. Well, anyway, two years have passed, and the clock is STILL about an hour slow! This is bemusing, in a land renowned for its sophisticated clockmaking. I have faith, however, that Robin will get to the bottom of this and fix it for future generations of guests.
The countdown clock is rapidly approaching the maiden flight of Corkscrew Balloon III. If you've been following along live, you'll see how close we are. Noon tomorrow, and the world will see Denise and Christen soaring through the skies bearing 210,000 cubic feet of hot air, with a basket of people underneath. But that's tomorrow. Now it's time for schnitzel.
Actually, the schnitzel will have to wait, as the sea bass won out. This was a popular selection tonight among our group, as was spaghetti bolognese. Herman joined us for dinner, and it was great to see him again. He has predicted good weather tomorrow. The regular weather forecasters are ambivalent, but Mike believes that Herman is far more accurate than any of them.
Herman brought a beautiful gift for Alf: It's a hand-made, one-of-a-kind balloon corkscrew. This will go well with Alf's corkscrew balloons! After dinner, Mike stopped by with the new lapel pins that match the design of Corkscrew Balloon III.
Robin was able to figure out how to reset the clock after examining it for about 2 minutes. (The repair he effected did, however, require a special tool. Who'd have guessed?)
Today was scheduled to bring the maiden launch of the Screwmaid Balloon, and it looked like that was what would actually happen. Sadly, though, it didn't, although we came very close. Several balloons did go up. One of Buddy Bombard's balloons was laden with passengers and starting to leave the ground. Corkscrew Balloon II was fully inflated. CB3 was even beginning to fill with air.
But then the weather turned, and suddenly it became very windy. Indeed, the fully-inflated Corkscrew Balloon II wanted very much to blow away. Unlike the Bombard tulip balloon, which had a basket full of passengers, only Pilot Bill was providing ballast for CB2. (This is because we passengers were all milling around taking photos and making chitchat.) Several crew members had to quickly hurl themselves into the CB2 basket to prevent it from flying away back to Kansas with Bill. When their combined weight proved insufficient to hold it down, they roped it to a pickup truck, the rear of which slowly began to ascend at the pull of the balloon. Ultimately, a horde of crew members succeeded in pulling the truck and the balloon across launch field to where the envelope could be safely inflated.
By this time, we were pretty exhausted from watching the crew's struggles, so we ambled back to the Ermitage for a large lunch. It was finally schnitzel time for most of us.
In the afternoon we went to Gstaad for some shopping. You can get lots of things in Gstaad, and if you find your wallet is too heavy, you're definitely in the right place for a cure. Alf picked up a couple pouches of instant coffee, a couple pints of milk and a smallbox of bran flakes, all for a mere $30. I wavered between buying a $1000 pen and a $600 four-ounce tin of caviar, but I couldn't make up my mind, and so I left with nothing.
In the evening, we had dinner upstairs at the Richemont. While waiting for our pizzas to arrive, we created a new game called Whose Tattoos? After dinner, then we descended (in more ways than one) to the bar downstairs, where we stayed for several additional hours. We had plenty of new CB3 stickers on hand. Herman thoughtfully ordered prodigious amounts of champagne and kept the glasses full for several of us who had a hard time saying "No." Between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., one by one and two by two, we wandered back to our various cozy rooms to retire and consider the possibility of a balloon flight tomorrow ... although we already knew that the weather forecast made that possibility an unlikely one.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Dates by Cyril Leslie Beeching (my answer to Alf's Newnes book, and you've got to love that author's name!), on this date in ...
The weather in Chateau d'Oex has gone the way of William Pitt. Billions of snowflakes have been hurling themselves at us and everything around us. As soon as we got up in the morning, it was pretty clear that there would be no flights today. We lounged around a bit; Denise and Robin and I headed down to the Coop (the local supermarket) to do a little shopping, although we knew that they were probably closed on Sunday. They were. Still, it was good to get out and see the town.
We had both lunch and dinner at the Ermitage restaurant. Robin and I tried to have the lamb that Herman had for lunch yesterday, but we wound up with some other lamb instead. At night, steak was the most popular choice.
After dinner, we went up the hill to a small park. Its main draw is a "zip line" that lets gravity give you a ride. While sitting on a swing seat, you can zip down a cable from one end of the park to the other. The slope is enough that by the time you reach the end, you're moving along at a pretty good clip ... enough that your momentum keeps you going up into the air, and then you whip backwards a third of the way back up the hill.
Hmmm, it's a pretty simple concept, but I'm not sure that last paragraph explained it very well.
There was also some competitive snowball tossing at the park. Robin was the best in terms of accuracy, although some other hurlers possessed of lesser sportsmanship scored a few hits, too.
Anyway, today's bottom line is this: Without any ballooning to report, things are a bit slow. We are having a pretty good time lounging about the Ermitage, although cabin fever is beginning to close in on us. Hence our resort to the playground ... and after the playground, to bed.
Today proved to be another flightless day. It was touch and go, with the time of decision postponed a couple of times. Ultimately, however, there remained too much wind and too many clouds to allow a flight that would leave survivors.
We got closer to flying, however: Baskets were set up on the launch field, and we had lunch there. Cynthia, the new Bombard chef, prepared numerous edibles with lamb, polenta, cheese, bread, roasted peppers and fluids of various sorts. We stood around and nibbled while a snowman took form and daredevils sledded down a slippery slope.
After lunch, a second expedition to Gstaad was launched. Explorers Patty, Ellie and Denise scouted out the shopping possibilities there. Meanwhile, most of the rest of us decided to investigate the beer and champagne at the Hotel de Ville, which is the pilots' temporary home in Chateau d'Oex. The "champagne" aspect of our visit happened through the courtesy of Herman, who is always ready to share his passion for festivity with those around him.
Another of Herman's passions involves the collection of elephants (none of the live ones, as far as I know, but items depicting or otherwise relating to pachydermal matters). As it happened, there was a lovely beer advertisement on the wall at the Hotel de Ville bar ... one that included a very nice rendition of a happy elephant. This item called out for inclusion in Herman's collection, and it was quite insistent in its calling. Requests were made through waitress, telephonic negotiations ensued, and ultimately the management gave permission for us to unbolt the prize from the wall. It was a fair deal all around: Throughout the negotiation process, the management sold a number of bottles of very nicer champagne; the waitress who mediated the deal between customers and owner was amply rewarded for her skills ... and our party was thrilled to see Herman acquire this new trophy.
Meanwhile, back at the launch field, Pilot Mike determined that it was possible to at least inflate the new Corkscrew Balloon, even if it couldn't take a flight. We learned this, up at the Hotel de Ville, from Pilot Bill, who was trying to find Alf. (We later discovered that finding Alf was not difficult in the least: He was in his room. At the time, however, it appeared uncertain whether he was available, and so we awaited further word. Ultimately, the further word came ... and it was that we had missed the inflation.)
Alone on the launch field, Corkscrew Balloon III and its ScrewmaidsTM saw the waning light of a Swiss Monday. Many photos were snapped; from Pilot Steve's digital photos that found their way up to the Hotel de Ville (where we continued to pass the late afternoon hours), the balloon appeared even more impressive than anyone expected ... and those expectations were pretty high.
Monday dinner was at the Restaurant Croix d'Or in nearby Les Moulins. This is a marvelous pizza joint and a favorite stop every year. This time, however, there had been some recent remodeling, and a bit of its uniqueness was gone. I'm sure it will nurture a new uniqueness soon ... and, in any event, the pizza there is still quite good. Robin and I went with some sort of combination that had ingredients that I can't remember. (Mike explained one of them to our blank looks, but it was his comment "It's really good!" that won us over despite our skepticism.) Pilot Steve had the chef's special pizza, which included finely ground escargot that had apparently been choked to death with garlic. As he ate, he grew increasingly concerned about the next day's passengers (which would not include us).