Burgundy, July 1996

After Denise's Italy Journal

Alf's Non-Journal

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This is not a journal. Rather, it is a ramble, in no particular order, about what I did after we finished ballooning in Italy.

After our last flight over Siena, the crew was in the process of wrapping the balloon up for the final time. I knew that we would all fly back to America the next day. I was feeling a little morose so I decided to take the balloon over to France for some additional days of flying. Jean, Allyn, Lara, Lee Anna and Denise had to return home for one reason or another, so I made it a solo adventure. Doing those super impulse things make life the best!

The next morning we all left the hotel at 5 in the morning. The other five boarded a bus for the Florence airport while my pilot and I drove up the Italian coast to France. That evening we arrived in Beaune, 13 hours after we left Siena, with a stop for a spot of lunch.

Beaune is in the heart of Burgundy; and, it is one of my favorite cities in France for very good reasons. Fortunately, when I arrived, the huitres de Bretagne (lovely French oysters) were at the height of the season ... and, the little bistro where I love to dine when I am alone was awash with them. But, it is always a tough choice dining in Beaune as we humans only have one appetite at a time ... and, it must be always satisfied in the best possible way: for sure; tolerate no lesser foods ... every meal is treated as a death row last request.

Beaune is also the European home of one of my favorite travel companies: Butterfield and Robinson. Their specialty is luxury biking and hiking trips in Europe ... however, they now do lots of stuff all over the world ... from Chile to New Zealand to China. Though I have been hanging out on their itinerary for more than a dozen years, I've never in the past ever visited their French Mecca. However, one afternoon, during a down balloon day, I walked over to their headquarters and browsed . Hey, you have to appreciate that the company is known for the coolness of their T-shirt designs AND the quality of their guides. And, sigh, what at awesome display of bikes.

Anyone who has read this far must know that I am nuts about corkscrews. So, I'd be really bonkers if I didn't search for corkscrews in this wine making area. Sure enough, I found a shop that stocked the little engines that I love so much ... at a place not far from the ring road that is also pretty close to the town center. When I told the owner that I collected corkscrews she immediately invited me to her home for lunch ... JUST LIKE THAT. I mean she locked up the shop and drove me to her home. It seems that her late husband also collected corkscrews. Anyway, we (with her son, Pierre and his wife) had a wonderful lunch along with a bottle of wine that she had bottled from the year of Pierre's birth (1971). I hope to see them again when we return to Beaune in a few days.

So much for non-ballooning things for awhile ... on to the bits and piece about floating in the air with hot air.

Before every flight there is the usual "grunt" work ... what with the crew hauling the bagged balloon out of the Jeep ... the petrol powered fans quickly following ... the gradual extraction of the balloon from the bag ... the fanning of the balloon on the ground ... the final inflation by flame ... and then the ascent.

I have yet to see my balloon from the ground ... and I won't until I bring both of my balloons to Chateau d'Oex in Switzerland in January. I know that it looks great from the ground ... my chase crew tells me that all the time. By the way, these guys have the chase down to an art form. One guy drives while the other reads the map and talks on the radio. This is their cockpit.

While they are doing their best to keep track of us, we are floating over gardens, chateaux, and rivers. One day when the wind was so still ... we took the balloon up to 11,000 feet. We were but a dot in the sky. We could see the Swiss Alps far off on the horizon. It was pretty spectacular.

These French country hotels are far from shabby. One of my favorites is the Domaine de Beauvois which is located just outside of the town of Luynes. This town is in the Loire Valley, just east of Tours. I've stayed in this hotel several times over the years: my friend Cindy and I once ran up a huge bar bill there ... Butterfield & Robinson deemed it to be a record. Hey, in fact, we'll eat, drink and sleep there again for several nights on this upcoming trip.

Speaking of the amenities of Luynes, each afternoon on this last trip, I walked into Luynes to visit one of my favorite little French sports bars. I go there for a little sanguine solace during the late part of the day. It is the Café des Sports and it is owned by Claudine and Rodolphe. I never learned their surname ... or, if I did I forgot it. She speaks excellent English and serves a good snack and brews. I hope to see both of them again. Also, I promised Claudine a balloon ride for her daughter ... a ride which I was not able to give her last time ... as she asked me on the last day I was in the Loire and there was just no time.

But, back to ballooning. On our last day we took off from a field by some trees under which a few locals gathered to watch our doings. As usual, we were carrying an in flight picnic loaded with restoratives. There is a very clever provision for attaching to the side of the balloon basket a rectangular box ... sort of shaped like a small child's coffin. This box has a sliding lid that when slid open reveals a fantastic assortment of foods and drinks chosen by the chef. Normally it is stocked with a wide variety of cold goodies: chicken, salami, ham, pate, cheeses, salads, fruits and wines (water for the pilot). We flew and ate and drank for more than 2 1/2 hours on that last day ... before almost landing in some French farmer's crop. It is never a good thing to land in a growing crop. For starters the farmer does not enjoy the experience ... and, it makes for a very messy pack up. I don't know whether I have mentioned this before but if there is more than a five knot wind blowing it is one hell of a job for the crew to rope the balloon in ... or even bring it to a controlled crash. Being dragged through a field really ups the laundry bill. As it is, about half of our landings are controlled crashes ... actually, "crashes" are quite fun. It really stimulates the part in your mind that produces adrenaline.

Whatever, this ground hit was followed by a traditional Champagne swig at the landing site ... and, yet another meal just a few hours later at a place with a lot of Michelin stars. God, no wonder I spend so many hours at the fitness center when I'm home.

Hey, on the 11th of October we are going ballooning again. Back to France: this time with my son and his wife Adriana, my travel agent Cindy and Denise ... the same Denise whom you may remember authored "Twenty One Reasons Why Denise Quit Her Job." By the way, Denise has a new job. She is the receptionist and "almost everything else" at a fitness club not far from the fitness club to which she gave them 21 reasons why she quit. Fortunately, her new employer thinks Denise should keep up her journal duties. So do I. So, watch for her words.

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