Day One - Friday, October 11, 1996
Finally, after days and weeks of waiting, the day has arrived! Off to France! I had my bags packed - well pretty much - and was ready and waiting to go.... After working the morning shift at the gym, my friends Christine and Chris came over to my house for a farewell Sushi lunch before Alf and Cindy came to pick me up in a Big, Black, Long Stretch Limo. Yes indeed ... riding to Miami in luxurious comfort.
The inside of this fabulous marvel of transportation there were all kinds of fun gadgets to keep one entertained and I hardly noticed the South Florida landscape passing by outside. The inside of this car was all black, comfy leather and beautiful wood teak, we cracked open a bottle of champagne and when that one was finished we opened the second one, by the time we arrived in Miami, the champagne was no where to be found. There was this clever other feature I feel I must tell you about, the most strategically placed garbage can I have ever seen.. placed so one would not even have to move to dispose of whatever, and of course the stereo controls as well as the little chauffeur window button (so popular in movies you know the funny window in the middle of the car).
Unfortunately for some unknown reason, I developed some type of ailment on the plane and proceeded to revisit my lunch as it tried to rejoin the world from where it once came all over the airplane bathroom and in several air sick bags - we still do not know the cause of that scene, but I can tell you for one I am very glad that it's over! Eight hours of being ill in a plane isn't something I would wish on my worst enemy. But finally we got to London and the British Airways stewards and stewardesses were the most polite and friendly people, they arranged to get me a little airport truck (you have seen them, although usually loaded up with folks a little bit older than myself) they took us to the waiting lounge and while we waited to catch our transfer to Paris I napped in the quiet room. That nap is what saved me, after that I managed to keep everything intact for the flight to Paris - although I didn't even touch my in flight meal ...
Day Two - Saturday, October 12, 1996
Today we checked in to our hotel, the Westin Le Parc, and took a short cat nap to recover from flying all night, after the nap we all went out exploring Paris. Everything you have heard about Paris is true and more, it is a beautiful city and we were there on a beautiful day. We walked down by the Arc de Triomphe and watched the cars go around and around and around and then made our way over to Champs-Élysées - there is no shortage of a good gene pool in Paris - the street was so awesome and as we walked down the street I could look back and still see the Arc de Triomphe - which now that the sun had begun to go down had been lit up with bright lights. People were swarming about the street - everyone going this way or that way - we decided to sit in a pub and have a beer.
At this point Alf's son David and his wife Adriana had joined myself, Alf and Cindy. We sat in the pub chatting and people watching for a while and then ordered omelets for a snack. Later that evening Cindy, David, Adriana and myself decided to go to Montmartre for Moules and Frites (mussels and French fries - good stuff!) There are all kinds of sidewalk cafes and artists set up at Montmartre. It looks like a town square (kind of) and in the middle are all of these artists set up doing portraits and oil paintings and whatever - a lot of the artists stroll around trying to convince you that You are the single most beautiful person that they have ever seen and that they MUST draw your portrait and that they will give you a huge discount a bargain for only 70 Francs ($35 bucks) you can have a hand drawn portrait of your mug ... thanks but no thanks ... they are rather friendly little boogers though and the cute little French accent helps out some too ... but not that much.
We had dinner at one of these restaurants and Cindy (my roommate) broke the heart of our cute little waiter, and we had the best cappuccino ever! I tell you there must be something in the water in Paris ... the don't call it the city of love or whatever for no reason. I have never seen people behaving in such a manner, everybody it seemed was holding hands and quietly strolling, every once and a while you would catch a glimpse of a couple making out in the shadows or right there in the middle of the street. Some type of love drug is in the air there. After Montmartre rode the Metro back to our side of town and went to sleep. While we were on the metro we saw this really drunk fellow who ended up falling onto the floor of the Metro - I don't care what anybody says - I think the French people are really nice, I only ran into 2 rude French people the whole time I was in France and I assure you that if this guy had passed out somewhere in South Florida someone would have probably taken his wallet instead of helping him back up into his chair like these people did.
Day Three - Sunday, October 13, 1996
This morning we woke up early and walked down to the Eiffel tower - conveniently located five walking minutes from our hotel ... we were the first ones there so we had the whole park to ourselves pretty much, we didn't go up into the Eiffel tower, but we did stop for some Kodak moments and to soak up the sight. We were there so early that the sun was just beginning to come up and the sunlight was that really red new sun color that you get early in the mornings, the weather was a little bit cold at first, but once we got walking it was perfect. As we were walking back to the hotel, right in front of the Eiffel tower they were setting up for some type of Rollerblading expo or something - talk about a good place to rollerblade!
We went back to the hotel and got ready for our transfer to Dijon and then eventually Beaune. At 10am Michael (our balloon pilot) and Euan (one of our balloon crew) came to meet us at the hotel and take us to the train station. We rode on the TGV (like on Mission Impossible) train and rode at a quick 180mph to Dijon. (If you ever get the chance, ride the TGV - it's all kinds of fun) At the train station there the rest of the crew met us - Mark, Jamie, Grant, John, Stewart and Matthew as well as Buddy Bombard to help with our luggage and make sure everything went smoothly. How nice it was to see my friends again that I had met in Italy earlier in the summer! We all piled into the luxury Previa vans and made our way to Beaune. When we arrived we checked into our hotel the Hotel De La Poste - a very nice hotel.
After we got settled in we all got back into the vans and made our way out to the countryside to try to go ballooning in Corkscrew 2 for the first time!!! It ended up being too windy for us to go, but we did get to at least pull it out of the bag and look at it - It is gorgeous! The corkscrews that they airbrushed on it came out with amazing clarity and detail. For dinner we went to a lovely castle where they had dinner set up for us in a very comfortable candle lit room complete with fireplace - Chris made the most delicious Pumpkin soup (which I will rave about forever - I could live on that alone for quite a while!) as well as many other treats for us.
After dinner we got introduced to a wonderful place - Pickwicks - if you are ever in Beaune go to this place - its the best! Gus, the bartender is a very agreeable fellow and quite fun to talk to! The whole bunch of us spent quite a while in there drinking beer and playing darts - and to our surprise we ran into an old friend Kathryn Hayes of Butterfield & Robinson - whom I had met in Italy earlier in the year and who is one of Alf's favorite people! How nice it was to see her - she had just finished working and was quite tired but as always one of the funniest and most pleasant people I have ever had the honor of meeting and so we arranged to get together later on in the week (Although for the record she did stay and have a beer with us). Eventually we stumbled home and went to bed.
Day Four - Monday, October 14, 1996
This morning we got to fly! We woke up early for a an early morning flight - and boy there isn't enough I can say about this. In Burgundy at that time all of the leaves were changing colors on the vineyards and so there were a million colors of reds and yellows and orange. Since Alf's balloon is so enormous, we had enough room to bring three of the crew along with us on our flight and that is always fun - Mark, Stewart and Grant joined us. After flying we went to lunch at Le Montrachet - where I tried escargot for the first time (and boy are they addictive! Mmmmm Mmmmm Good!) In the afternoon we had some free time and spent it hanging around the hotel. For dinner we got to go to Chateau Sur Laborde - Buddy Bombard's private residence and the crew's quarters - which by the way I was denied a tour of - they have top secret stuff in there ... . Chris had prepared another marvelous meal. Again the room was lit by candlelight and warmed by a fire - always a good time.
Day Five - Tuesday, October 15, 1996
This morning we had a wine tasting at Patriarche wine cellars - they have millions of bottles all stacked up and organized by year and type - Buddy guided us through the cellars and amazed us with his wealth of information about wines and the taste and how they judge a good wine - complete with visual aides! After sampling, we continued on our "Wine Education Day" to the Contesse M De Loisy's house there we got to tour part of her winery and cellars as well as have lunch in her home. The Contesse is a charming lady, quick witted and full of many interesting and entertaining stories about many different things, quite a beautiful lady as well.
Later that evening we had dinner at the same castle as a couple nights previous - although tonight we got to tour the place a little bit. The owner used to race motorcycles and now he collects them so in a room upstairs, he has at least 500 motorcycles in a great big hall. Motorcycles from all over the world. And better yet, outside he had a military plane museum, yep probably 100 military planes from all over the world as well. Pretty Impressive if you ask me, I guess if you are going to collect something you may as well go all out.
After dinner we went to my favorite place in Beaune - Pickwicks - for another fun evening of beer and darts. Again we ran into Kathryn Hayes and also got to meet a few other very nice people from Butterfield & Robinson. Tonight was the night that John and I beat Mark and Jamie at darts! And I don't even really know how to play - call it beginners luck. Before we left we had the most wonderful shot - although I don't know what it is called, I think I know what's in it: Kahlua, Tequila and Gin ... and then you set it on fire and drink it with a straw ... it's great, it gives you a great buzz - what more could you ask for? Tasty and Buzz effective.
Day Six - Wednesday, October 16, 1996
Today we toured the Hospice De Beaune - the hospital was built in 1443 and the roof on it is quite extraordinary it had glazed colored tiles set up in geometric patterns - inside there is a painting representing the last judgment that is really worth seeing. Buddy was eloquent in his explanation, and after seeing some of those tools they used to cure you, I'm sure I would have been miraculously healed.
Afterward we had some free time to look around in Beaune - Cindy and I walked around and looked in some of the shops, Cindy was looking for a certain wine pouring accessory to bring as a souvenirs to some of her friends in the states and this woman working in the wine store was so rude that I thought she was just hysterically funny. When we asked her if she had this certain accessory she was appalled and proceeded to explain to us that "we must learn to properly serve wine that you must pour the bottle and turn ... " She gets the big W - Whatever!
After that we walked back to the hotel and got ready to go to lunch at Hostellerie de Levernois - this restaurant had the best food! One really outstanding thing they served us was this escargot, mussels and vegetables in a white sauce soup type of thing with a huge big bread poof on the top of it - quite the amazing display. After lunch we went for an afternoon flight - wow, nature and ballooning will always knock your socks off. That night we decided to go casual and head over to the Pig & Beouf - the local steak place - and then over to Pickwicks to continue the drinking and fun!
Day Seven - Thursday, October 17, 1996
This morning was a comedy of errors. We all woke up early to try to get in a balloon flight and we were supposed to call Kathryn to see if she would like to join us for a balloon ride, but when we tried to call her the number wouldn't work. So when Michael arrived he said he would go into the hotel and try to figure out what the problem was - we all loaded into the vans and took off. About 10 minutes down the road we stopped to see what direction the wind was going and Buddy was looking for Michael to see where he thought we should take off from ... Michael? Michael? Where are you - We had left him at the hotel! Good grief ! So Buddy sent a couple of guys back to pick him up and while we waited we sucked the helium out of balloons and sang stupid songs (tiptoe through the tulips, and the Beverly Hillbillies theme) in munchkin voices.
Eventually Michael showed up with Kathryn and we were off. By the time we got to the field for takeoff, the rain that was coming was here. So that morning we didn't go ballooning, but we did get to tour the Butterfield & Robinson offices (an office anyone would love to work in) and we got to see a sneak peak at the catalog in which Alf and Jean as well as myself and LeeAnna from the Italy trip are in. Wow - we are like celebrities! No autographs please!
Afterward we went to grab some Moules and Frites for lunch and then packed into the van for the transfer to our next hotel. Let me just tell you about this hotel - Chateau De Vault-De-Lugny. WOW. Alf stayed in the room called the King's room and it was just that - a huge fur rug on the floor in from of the fireplace and a bathtub the size of a swimming pool! If you have the right person with you there is no reason you should have to leave the room! Our room was also quite lovely - we had the girls room - complete with pink wallpaper ... and very comfortable beds. The hostess and owner Elizabeth is especially nice. That night we had dinner at our hotel & more escargots!
Day Eight - Friday, October 18, 1996
This morning we got up and went to the most brilliant place: Vezelay. It gets a 10 on the WOW meter! On the top of a hill is the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene., a huge Romanesque style church. I could have sat in there all day, and walked around to look at all of the intricate carvings of biblical scenes. While we were there, a large choir of people came in and were singing hymns, they sounded like angels. But wait it gets better, outside behind the church is this outlook. I cannot possibly ever describe to you with a million words how breathtakingly beautiful this view was. I couldn't look for long enough, I wanted to make a permanent imprint on my mind forever, because this is it. Vezelay - if you ever get the chance go there!!!
Afterward we went and had the most awesome picnic - very relaxing by a river and great weather and company. Throughout the day we kept hoping that the wind would die down enough to fly, but it didn't, we managed to entertain ourselves and had a great day. After the picnic, we went to the hotel where the boys were staying in town and had a few beers there at the pub before going back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner Buddy was kind enough to bring me back into town with the hopes of finding a pub that was still open but it's no New York City, everything was quiet and locked up - no pubs that evening.
Day Nine - Saturday, October 19, 1996
Today we transferred to the Loire Valley, it's quite a drive (about 4 hours or so) but we had a good time in the van. Mark and I chatted most of the way, while everyone else either slept (mostly slept) and listened to some of David's CD's (since we stole the CD player from the balloon) When we arrived in Loire Valley we immediately set up to go flying. As we took off, we attracted quite a large, friendly audience and as we flew over we saw a lot of enthusiastic wavers on the ground. When it got near the time to land, we could see about 20 cars following us and the chase crew to the landing site. When we finally landed everyone who had followed us stayed around and had some champagne. What a nice welcome! That night we had dinner at our hotel.
Day Ten - Sunday, October 20, 1996
Today we went for the most amazing flight and set a record - we flew for 2 ½ hours - the longest flight that Michael has ever done in the Loire Valley - it was like a nature walk today - we saw a fox, wild boar, a buck with huge antlers and all kinds of rabbits. Hundreds and Hundreds of trees all different colors! I love the season of Autumn ! We took off from a site just outside of the castle walls where the author who wrote Sleeping Beauty was inspired to do so. When we lifted off it was kind off cloudy so we went above the clouds and above them there was the big blue sky and clouds for as far as you could see, it looked as if you could just walk out onto them, I suppose similar to the view from an airplane but much better because you are out in it. Amazing! Jamie was the crew member that got to come with us on the flight that day - so he lucked out and got a 2 for 1 special.
That night we had dinner at Cinq-Mar castle. Again Chris and the crew put out a wonderful display of fabulous foods and we ate to the sounds of Mozart and by candlelight and the warmth of the fire (I could get very used to this) we ate in the bottom floor of one of the towers, above us were two floors, one was the person whom lived there's old bedroom (apparently he was beheaded in there as well - I went looking for the ghost, but I didn't see anything ... )and then above that there was another floor this room the roof was gone (or maybe never there) but in any event I'm sure during the day you could have seen the entire countryside from there, however this was at night so all I could see was lights and stars. Another WOW evening for you there.
Day Eleven - Monday, October 21, 1996
Today we went to see the Chenonceau castle. It's built over a river and the people who built it had silly money, if you could see the inside of this place ... oh my goodness! Buddy again amazed us with a wealth of information on the castle and the history of it. Afterward we had lunch at Amboise En Touraine - overlooking the Loire river. A very nice lunch indeed.After lunch we went for a flight, this time we saw the most outstanding sunset, just as the sun was going down we were passing over a river and you could see the reflections of all the colors on the still water. Mark was the lucky fellow who got to join us for that ride.
After floating around in the sky for a while we returned to Cinq-Mars the castle we had eaten at the previous night for another dinner. These dinners are so wonderful - as a matter of fact I think I liked them better than the restaurants we ate in, because it was just us, our group and the crew in a much more relaxed atmosphere - please don't get me wrong these restaurants are the best of the best and I respect them for what they are, but to me they couldn't compare to a nice evening with my friends, eating in a castle. You know its the simple pleasures in life ...
Day Twelve - Tuesday, October 22, 1996
Today was Crew Day. Today I decided to stay on the ground with the chase so I could get pictures of the balloon for Alf (and besides the chase is Fun!) you know Alf still has not seen his balloons from anywhere other than the basket! Grant was the lucky crew member that go to go flying that day. The sun was shining and the balloon looked great in the sun, the gold color really stands out when the sun is shining bright. I took a whole roll (36 Exp.) of the balloon that day but I couldn't even compare with the number of still photos Buddy must have taken, not to mention the Camcorder!
I rode around in the Luxury Previa with Mark and John for a while and then I hopped in the Mercedes with Jamie for a bit. We went to visit Villandry - a fabulous French garden before going out again for an afternoon flight. This was different from all of the other flights we had taken because Chris the chef came up with us and we had dinner in the balloon - complete with wine, silverware, plates and everything (although one needs to be careful not to drink too much liquid during the beginning of the flight or one could end up being very uncomfortable - if you know what I mean.)
It was like a total sensory explosion, good food in my mouth, beautiful scenery, and good music, along with good company - I tell you I am living good!
Oh, I almost forgot! While visiting Villandry, Buddy bought me a pumpkin to throw out of the balloon - Michael had been teasing me about my choice in music (one of my favorite bands are the Smashing Pumpkins) and so in honor of one of the greatest bands, I got to hurl the pumpkin out of the balloon and the crew captured it on film for me! I believe that Buddy even has it on the Camcorder, although it is questionable as to if I will ever see that tape ...
Day Thirteen - Wednesday, October 23, 1996
THE GREAT DAY OF DRINKING Today was our last day waking up in the Loire Valley - what a sad day. In the morning we had a tour of a castle scheduled but David, Adriana and Alf has other ideas so Cindy and I had Jamie drive us into town to do some shopping, if I remember correctly Michael suggested going to Longais to do some shopping - Don't EVER go to Longais to do any shopping unless you are looking for plastic plates made in Taiwan that are cheesy!
As soon as Jamie dropped us off we knew we had made a mistake and began looking for him, at first we though that maybe we had missed the town, but after walking around the whole thing in about 5 minutes we were desperate, eventually we found him and we got outta there! We ended up going to the Sport bar where the "Century Club" had taken place about 10 years back. (10 people, 100 hundred beers - you do the math) We decided to pay tribute to the Century Club and drink 5 beers each (you see, there were only two of us and 1 hour in which to do this) So as we got more intoxicated, Jamie was kind enough to be the voice of sobriety and time us so that we could indeed reach our goal.
Now that we were inebriated at noon, we were ready to go back to the hotel for lunch, of course with lunch we had several glasses of wine (woo hoo!) and then we proceeded upstairs to pack up our stuff for the trip back to Paris. While we were waiting for the boys to come get our luggage we had another beer. Finally, we all got into the vans and the boys drove us to the train station - it's always such a bummer to have to say goodbye to your friends (but it makes it a whole lot easier when you know you are going to see them at the party of parties Chateau d'Oex in January!!!) We kissed the boys goodbye (we had to kiss them you see, they are all from England or Scotland and have a reputation to maintain - that's Ok with me though!) and we were off again on the TGV to Paris. The train ride went quickly and we managed to have a beer on the train (1664 beer is pretty good stuff!)
When we got to the hotel, Cindy and I kept the party going by drinking a couple bottles (mini-bottles) of champagne - and then we met up with Alf, David and Adriana to go walk around Paris on our last evening on vacation together in France in 1996. We ended up eating Moules and Frites for dinner, along with a couple of beers and then went home and passed out. I think we were all in bed by 10pm tops. Always a fun time!
Day Fourteen - Thursday, October 24, 1996
October 24, 1996 - Day 14 - Going Home - Today I go home, Alf and Cindy decided to stay for a couple more days and play in Paris and London - but I return to the land of South Florida. After the plane flight, I walked off of the plane in sunny South Florida and immediately felt right at home in the hot humidity that I had not missed. My friend Chris picked me up at the airport, thus ending the great France Adventure of 1996!