Stephani's France Journal

July 1997

July 12, 1997 Saturday

It’s 5:00 p.m., time to leave for the Miami Airport. I still have not fully realized that I actually am going to France! As usual, I have packed way too much but fear that I have forgotten a lot. I still have not mastered the fine art of packing. I fear that I am far too right-brained. Best to concede and focus on a more achievable goal.

After hugging and good-bye kissing our sons, Beau and Shane, and my niece and mother-in-law, Anna, the official person in charge, my husband, Robin, and I were off . We were going to take part in another chapter in our lives’ storybook adventures - destination France!

At the airport, we met up with Alf Erickson and Jean Marks. Alf escorted us to the Air France lounge where we waited for our flight. It is always a definite pleasure traveling with Alf. He pays attention to comfort. We sat in the luxury of the lounge until about 8:00 p.m., when we went to board the plane.

Robin and I were amused after we were seated on the plane as we watched people who, I am certain, have never seen one of those "If your bag doesn’t fit in this box, it’s not carry-on" locales at the airports. Bags comparable to my overstuffed checked luggage were being dragged on board by some. The show began when the person attempted to stuff it into the overhead container, or where ever. This helped pass the time till take-off.

Our flight was uneventful, which is always he best kind.

July 13, 1997 Sunday

Arc de Triomphe (15402 bytes)Some love Paris in the springtime, some love Paris in the fall, but I love Paris in the summer best of all!

We have arrived. It’s 11:30 a.m. and we are now in the Charles De Gaulle Airport. The taxi ride from to the hotel was quick. Our driver had somewhat of a lead foot. I was thrilled as we passed the Arc de Triomphe. It was actually awesome to view the Arc for the first time. Until now, it had been a picture in a book. Then, I looked to the right and saw the Eiffel Tower standing tall against the warm, summer blue sky. We were indeed in Paris.

Our hotel, the Marigan-Elysees, was right in the heart of Paris. Alf made a great choice in locations. We were right off of the Avenue Des Champs Elysees and we could see the Eiffel Tower from our balcony. Here I sit, beginning to log what will be a two week expedition with the Eiffel Tower nearly peeking over my shoulder! Is this Paris or what?

After getting situated in our rooms, Alf, Robin and I went out to explore the Avenue Des Champs Elysees, leaving Jean behind, napping in her room. It was a truly excellent walk from our hotel to the Arc de Triomphe. The weather was warm and sunny. Perfect for walking along the generously wide sidewalks of the Champs Elysees. Along the way we saw people a variety of faces and dress. If the common woman is any indication of the Parisian fashions, anything goes. Shoes were platform, low and anything in between. Shirt lengths were pretty much mini or maxi. The lime green color seemed in but honestly didn’t look good on anyone who was wearing it.

Robin (7507 bytes)The warm weather did encourage us to stop our walk on the way back to the hotel for a refreshment break. We all had a beer. When the waiter brought the beers he also brought the ice cream menu! What possessed him to do this? I secretly believe that Alf, using his best French, prearranged for this menu to be delivered before me. For the next hour, Robin and Alf continued with additional beers as I switched to, you guessed it, chocolate ice cream. Possibly the weight gain contest is on, once again. Wonder how the calorie content in beer compares with ice cream? Well, back to the hotel. After a short nap, we all headed out to dinner. We went to Leon de Bruxelles for a delicious meal of moules and frites (mussels and french fries). What a treat. Alf, Jean, Robin and I then walked the Champs Elysees. The weather was made to order perfect. People from throughout the world joined us for our walk along the avenue. At nearly midnight, crowds of people were still out and about. It was about this time when we ventured back to our hotel. We could see the Eiffel Tower from our balcony lit brightly against the sky.

A perfect end to a perfect day.

July 14, 1997 Monday

The four musketeers met at 9:00 a.m. today to begin our agenda for Bastille Day. Paris was kind enough to arrange a massive military parade for our viewing pleasure. As we walked to the street, we saw hundreds of troops standing at attention along the Champs Elysees. It was quite impressive. This sight was outdone only by the red clad soldiers riding by on horseback. Some were even playing musical instruments while riding which, of course, included French horns. The troops were being inspected by the President of France, himself. He rode by standing in a vehicle. I found this a little surprising since he had no obvious protection from assassins, although police littered the streets of Paris, in all directions.

Airshow (6193 bytes)After standing for sometime, watching the parade, as well as the parade watchers, we all decided it was time to move out and see Paris. We began walking in the direction of the Louve when we were treated to an air show, complete with military planes and helicopters flying in formation. As we continued on, we stopped once again along the way to see approximately twenty-five tanks of varying sizes. They seemed to be "going home" after the parade. With the police and military all gathered in Paris, I imagine the rest of France was virtually unguarded. A prime day outside of the city for the criminal element. Spoken like a true South Floridian.

After walking what seemed like ten miles, we came upon the Louve. Its magnificence was showcased by its glass pyramid entrance. Beginning to experience shopping withdrawal, Jean and I were so pleased to discover a multitude of shops within. Forget the Mona Lisa - we were browsing!

We left the Louve to wander back to our hotel, looking forward to whatever adventure we might encounter along the way. We didn’t have to wait long and soon found ourselves atop a ferris wheel, as Alf conducted a ground level safety inspection.

Continuing on from there, we found many, and I do mean many, shops along the way - some with 50% off sales! A shoppers paradise. Unfortunately, it being Bastille Day, all of these shops were closed. I now have a much better understanding of what Dickens meant when he said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".

Being guided by our stomachs, we stopped at Le Presidente Brassierre for an uplifting lunch. Finally, with one or two minor stops along the way, we made it back to our hotel.

I must say that we are finding the idea of rude Parisians a total myth. All who we have encountered have been most kind, either speaking excellent English or attempting to do so.

At about 10:00 p.m., Robin and I joined Alf and Jean on their balcony for dinner. It was here that we were treated to a superb show of fireworks bursting over the Eiffel Tower. The sight was spectacular and the company most pleasant. I feel like Alice who walked through the looking glass only I am finding my new location to be a totally and truly wonderful land.

July 15, 1997 Tuesday

There are some constants in one’s life - the sun rising and setting, paying taxes, and Michael Lincicome, our balloon pilot, showing up on time. At 10:00 a.m. we met Michael in the lobby, cloaked in the Bombard pilot’s uniform of a white shirt, navy jacket, khaki pants and a balloon decorated tie - wearing a smile and a mischievous twinkle in his eye, quite unlike Santa’s. We were then introduced to two new crew members, Daniel and Ollie. After all of the hellos, we were off to the TGV, which is the bullet train to Tours.

The train ride was very comfortable. It traveled at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. It was a smooth ride. We made it to Tours in less than an hour. Once at the train station in Tours, we were met by two handsome and familiar faces, Tim and Paul. Tim had been on the crew of all of my previous ballooning adventures and we had met Paul in Chateau d’Oex and Ireland. They drove us to our next home away from home, Domaine de Beauvois in Luynes, about 20 minutes outside of Tours. An elegant location, sitting on the top of the hill with a swimming pool at the bottom. Here we were greeted by Buddy Bombard who presented us with his usual warm welcome. We then anxiously took a peek at our rooms which, as usual, were superb, offering spectacular views. If reincarnation is to be believed, I must have been a queen or at the very least a princess sometime in one of my former lives because I truly enjoy these lush accommodations and exquisite treatment that Alf surrounds me with. (For all who wonder, I fully realize that ending the previous sentence with a preposition was improper.)

After a short rest, we regrouped for lunch. Let the real weight gain begin! To my surprise, the appetizer was served with a little lobster like creature sitting atop of it staring at me with its black, baked eyes! I had previously prepared myself for the possibility of escargot but this little fellow was completely unexpected. I found the meal to be beyond delicious, all served with fine French wine.

We then had a couple of hours to settle in before Robin and my first balloon flight in France. Alf, Jean, Buddy, Robin and I, along with our most excellent pilot, Michael, began our flight in the famous and fabulous Corkscrew Balloon at about 8:00 p.m. Since it is light and bright here until about 10:30 p.m., there was more than enough sunshine to light up the vineyards and sunflower fields below. The countryside of the Loire Valley is magnificent. What looks like forests and fields from the ground is seen a neatly patterned quiltwork from the balloon. We floated for awhile along the Loire River. How peacefully beautiful it all was.

Just prior to our landing, we were nearly saluted with a French mooning. But, after the occupants of the balloon pulled out our cameras and binoculars, much to our disappointment, the young men had a change of heart.

We were gently guided by our trusty crew to our landing on to the balloon trailer for a perfect touch down. After the traditional champagne, we were off to dinner. It was now about 10:30 p.m. Usually I, along with my stomach, am asleep by this time. Luckily I did get my second wind when we pulled up to the Chateau Cinq-Mars-la-Pile, which was the remains of a feudal fortress. Dinner was served in the keep, which was an 11th century tower. My stomach woke with a start when I saw the feast that was prepared for us by our chef for the next four evenings, Shamane who was a beautiful young lady from Colorado.

The food was superb and the unique atmosphere of the keep added to the storybook effect of it all. Lighting was provided from candles in bottles which were placed in champagne bottles on the floor and tables of this circular room. The walls were decorated with spears and such and a suit of armor stood at attention off to the side. A photo of Henry, the castle’s original owner, hung on the wall along with a copy of the final letter written by him to his mother just prior to his beheading.

The fire from the fireplace warmed the room where we all enjoyed the meal, the ambiance and the company.

July 16, 1997 Wednesday

This morning we all gathered for our trip to Chateau Chenonceau. We were joined by Rosemary, our guide. Chateau Chenonceau is a 16th century castle built partly on and over the River Cher. The unique architectural design and rich furnishings were extremely interesting.

We then lunched at Le Choiseul. One of the restaurant walls was glassed and overlooked the river below. Lunch consisted of an appetizer, main meal, cheese selection with bread and, of course, dessert. I am happy that I packed bigger jeans.

We then went on a short, one hour shopping trip to Tours and returned to our hotel at 5:30 p.m. to rest before our evening flight. Unfortunately the winds were not cooperating. Although the weather was sunny, it was decided by the experts, Buddy and Mike, to remain grounded. So Plan B - dinner!

Bring out those big jeans. We returned to the Chateau Cinq-Mar. It was about 8:30 p.m. and, since we still had daylight, Buddy and Mike gave us a tour through the chateau grounds and moat. As we walked through the grassy moat, by the two standing towers (one 11th century and the other 12th), Michael called to the tower people to provide food for the weary travelers. Some of the crew then lowered a basket of bread, cheese and red, luscious strawberries down from atop the tower to us below in the moat. It was an unexpected treat. Just what we needed to have the energy to go on to dinner. We then climbed to the top of one of the towers to look out over the lush, green countryside below. After our climb, we were served wine and water. We then climbed down to another of Shamane’s fantastic dinners. At about midnight, we were in for the evening.

Looking forward to ballooning tomorrow, winds permitting.

July 17, 1997 Thursday

We gathered today for a guided tour through the exquisite grounds of the Chateau Villandry, which was designed in the French Renaissance period. The chateau had an asymmetrical entry way. Looked like the architect was a little off but our guide said that was the intention. The gardens at Château Villandry were spectacular, especially the perfectly manicured ornamental gardens. These are renowned for being the most magnificent gardens in all of France. I could easily see why.

We lunched at Chateau D’Artigny. The food was indeed fabulous but what impressed me the most was the ballroom. The owner at the time had painted what looked to be a three dimensional party scene on the domed ceiling. What was most interesting was that the characters in the scene were painted with the faces of his friends. Imagine going to the ball and looking up only to have yourself staring down at you. Hum ... We then went to tour the elegant Chateau Azay le Rideau.

The winds seemed uncooperative and Michael was told by the weather station that there was nowhere in France that was good to fly. We drove to Chinon and parked along the river to test the winds. We sat directly below Chateau Chinon, a fortress built on the cliff above the river.

Much to everyone’s delight the winds turned kind and we flew! As we were getting into the basket a man asked if he and his hedgehog could join us. I believe that the Bombard Society has a no hedgehog policy so the little fellow and the big fellow remained earthbound. An interesting request none the less.

After witnessing the beauty of the French countryside, we landed in a hayfield. We were warmly greeted by the field owner and his neighbors. One man even brought his own bottles of wine to share.

Then, back to the castle tower for another of Shamane’s delicious feasts.

July 18, 1997 Friday

Today we were once again joined by Rosemary, our guide for a trip to explore Chateau Chambard. This most uniquely designed castle is the largest in the Loire Valley with 440 rooms and 365 chimneys, spires and bell turrets. Much of the castle was designed by Leonardo di Vinci. The most amazing aspect was the double spiral staircase inside from the 1st to the 3rd floors. This is my favorite castle so far.

Shamane (7517 bytes)We ate lunch at the Domaine des Hauts. The usual - delicious. From there we made a most interesting visit to the home, vineyards and wine cellars of Prince Phillipe, third in line for the throne of Poland, if there was one. The Prince graciously showed us his vineyards, explaining the process of fine wine making. We toured his cellars seeing stacks and stacks of bottles of wine.

That evening, we doubted that the weather would permit us to balloon, but there was a change and we did take off from the grounds of our hotel. Claudine, who owns the local Café des Sports joined us for her first flight. It was a great flight with a bit of a bumpy landing, which added to the fun. We had another of Shamane’s castle feasts. My body seems to be getting used to their 11:00 p.m. to midnight dinners.

July 19, 1997 Saturday

Today is travel day from Luynes to a twelve-bedroom chateau outside of Vezelay. Pilots, crew and passengers gathered and soon were off. A short way into the trip we stopped for lunch at a pizzeria, La Farigoulette. We each ordered personal pizzas. Vault de Lugny (12492 bytes)Mine was so good that I thought that I could have been in Italy. Each pizza was cooked to perfection with a thin crust and delicious toppings. With our stomachs filled, we were now ready for the five-hour trip to our new "home" for the next three nights, Chateau de Vault de Lugny.

The trip was uneventful, which, as you may recall, is a good thing. We stopped for a couple of pit stops- one being for about twenty minutes in Vezelay. It was Alf's suggestion to stop to expose me to the shops here. He is quickly learning that the fine art of travel always includes some shopping. The guys stopped at a café while Jean and I checked out the shopping potential of the area. Hope to return.

Lugny Artwork (12314 bytes)We arrived at Chateau de Vault de Lugny at about 7:00 p.m. It was magnificent and welcoming. The perfect place to come right before the nervous breakdown. Looks like spending a couple of days here will help anything that ails you. The grounds just inside gates were manicured with large trees scattered about the lawn along with tables and lounge chairs. We were greeted by the owner of this grand chateau, Elizabeth. She was a beautiful young woman with a quick smile and a wit to match. We then had the pleasure of being shown to our rooms, viewing a variety of artwork along the way. Robin and I were in La Reine, the Queen's Room. One look and it was immediately my favorite home away from home for this trip. It was decorated with a partially canopied queenly bed, marbled fireplace and real shower and a fully functioning hairdryer!

Lugny Sculpture (7656 bytes)We followed Alf and Jean into Le Roy, the King's Room. It had a fur rug on the parquet floor, decorated fireplace and a full canopy over the bed. The bathroom had a bathtub in which one could swim laps! A fitting room for the King of the Corkscrew Balloons. I could tell that we were all going to be very comfortable here.

After 10 minutes of taking in our surroundings, we walked out onto the chateau's expansive lawn to take off on a fantastic flight. Before getting into the balloon's basket, we were stopped by the waiter and asked to look at the menu and select our choice for dinner. Dinner would be ready for us whenever we returned. Not too shabby.

We slowly rose over the roof of the chateau, waving to the onlookers who stood on the ground below or leaned out of their windows. Michael kept us at rooftop level as we glided over the nearby town of Pontaubert. This is my favorite height because you can see the surprise and delight on the faces of people as they wave exuberantly at the inhabitants of the massive nine story, brightly decorated Corkscrew Balloon floating above them.

Through expert piloting, we flew over a large, lovely chateau, which happened to be someone's private home. It seems like a fantasy to live in such a place, but I hear that it is also very expensive. We continued to drift over a patchwork of farmland. We also spotted a farmhouse, where the farmer, his wife and friends were enjoying their dinner. A little later, in looking for a place to land, we ended up back at that very farmhouse. We landed in the front yard, much to the delight of the homeowners. Although the farm looked to be removed from civilization, about 25 people were there to greet us as we disembarked from the balloon's basket. Guess the appearance of the balloon and its landing was the happening thing for this neighborhood. The neighbors seemed to literally emerge from the surrounding forest.

After the traditional champagne and Coca-Cola, we drove back to the chateau for dinner. We were welcomed back by Elisabeth, who, I noticed, works very long days. We ate in a room decorated with a long table, pottery, pewter and accents of the times. The food was taste tempting and the service was excellent. The place settings were elegantly different. We were intrigued by the knife rests, which were a variety of elongated pewter animals.

July 20, 1997 - Sunday

I awoke this morning in La Reine - you remember the Queen's Room. I do believe that royal blood runs through my veins. I am certainly enjoying the royal treatment that I have been receiving throughout this trip. Michael and Julian, (who I believe sounds exactly like John Lennon), met Alf, Jean, Robin and I downstairs at 10:00 a.m. for a trip to tour Le Chateau de Bazoches-du-Morvan. We found this medieval chateau located about half way on a wooded hill. The grounds were scenic and lush. Richard, the Lionhearted himself stayed at this castle on his way to the Holy Land during the crusades. The inside of the castle was lavishly decorated. It was a tour worth taking.

Then, where else, but off to lunch. We ate lunch at Les Fleurs in Pontaubert. Tim and Daniel, from our trusty crew, joined us. The menu was in French so I had to solicit much assistance before deciding just what to order. For my main course, I requested shrimp in a light sauce. I was picturing scampi but was served 8, three-inch, whole, lobster-like creatures. The waitress gave me a bib. I had no idea how or what part of this creature was even edible. After being instructed on how to eat these "shrimpie" lobsters, I was glad that I had the bib. Seems that I had to tear the tail off and cut its underside with a strange, two-pronged utensil, throwing the rest of the creature away. Each one yielded about an inch of meat. Quite the battle. Well, I was complaining about eating too much ...

Peacocks (9681 bytes)Alf, Jean, Robin and I walked the near mile "home". After the walk and working so hard for my lunch, I was tired and soon settled in for a nap. We had all decided to pass on touring this afternoon and simply took the time to enjoy the beauty of our chateau's surroundings. As I sat at the secretary making entries in this journal, the beauty and sounds below interrupted me. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the peacocks, brightly colored chickens and geese were moving about the lawns below my. All was well at the chateau.

For this evening's balloon flight, we were once again took off from the chateau's grounds at about 8:00 p.m. The sun shined brightly here until about 10:00 p.m. so we were looking forward to a great trip. As we were waiting for the balloon to be inflated, Alf appeared carrying two gift bags. He presented one to Jean and the other to me. What a most thoughtful surprise. The gift was a set of eight pewter knife rests. The very ones that we had admired at dinner last evening. How kind -it touched my heart.

Elizabeth joined our ballooning adventure this evening. We saw an occasional deer, rabbit and fox as we slowly drifted over fields of grain and hay. The design of the view below looked like an artist planned the layout of each field and forest for his painting. It was a wonderful flight. No matter when or where we fly, there are always new sights to see. It was an indescribably, peaceful experience.

Our landing was in a remote field about 25 miles from our take-off sight. A gathering of curious French folk was present to welcome us. The farmer had to be awakened to open his gates to admit the chase crew vehicles. He was actually pleased to do so and was most receptive.

Dinner was at our home chateau. Perfectly served, gratefully eaten.

July 21, 1997 - Monday

Abbey (9297 bytes)I was enjoying these 10 a.m. starts. It provides me with leisurely time to get ready while enjoying these beautiful surroundings as I do so. We have had made to order weather this entire trip thus far, and today was no exception. Today we went to Vezelay to sightsee and do a little shopping. We visited the abbey on top of the hill where Saint Bernard was supposed to have encouraged the second crusade. All of the church's glory was carved in its stone. Relic bones of Mary Magdalene are said to be located here.

Jean and I, not full achieving our shopping fix, went to Avallon to shop for two more hours. The irony of this venture was that it was Monday and on Mondays in Avallon most of the shops were closed! We were undaunted and found places to browse for two hours which included a shop where Jean found corkscrews for Alf.

As we have been doing for the last two evenings, we once again began our ballooning from the grounds of Chateau do Vault de Lugny. It was certainly convenient to look out our bedroom window to see when it was time to board the basket, then scamper down the stairs and out onto the lawn, give our dinner order and climb in the basket. No muss, no fuss. Although we took of from the same sight three times, the direction we traveled was always different, thanks to the winds and Michael's piloting. We were treated to the scenery of all of the area surrounding us.

When we landed, children were everywhere. It seemed like they emerged from the plowed field. The inquisitive bunch was excitedly climbing into the basket almost before its passengers were able to disembark. They were all very polite but full of energy. Children are always the best welcomers to have at a landing. You don't have to speak their language to understand the wonderment in their eyes.

July 22, 1997 Tuesday

On the road again…

Today we left Vault de Lugny. Even though I was traveling into new chapters of this fairytale, I couldn't help but feel a little regret in leaving this peaceful and lovely place. It is such a perfect escape from the world.

We arrived at the Hotel de la Poste, in Beaune, at about noon. Today we were joined by seven additional ballooning enthusiasts for our time in Beaune. We all lunched together at Le Montrachet. The food was delicious and the company delightful. It was here that we were introduced to the additional seven: Seymour, Nancy, Larry, Katherine, Scot, Carl Peter, and Ranada. Seymour guessed my age to be 33, so he immediately made points with me.

Robin (7168 bytes)We then had about 2 hours to explore the town of Beaune. Alf, Jean, Robin and I "parked and shopped". It is a practice that we have all perfected where, after shopping for about ½ hour Jean and I "park" Robin and Alf at a café while we continue to shop. Works quite well for all concerned: a win/win situation.

The caravan of two balloons, baskets, eleven passengers, two pilots and six crewmembers drove to our take off sight. This was the first flight for all of the passengers in the flowered Bombard balloon. The two balloons ascended together. Flight (6554 bytes)We flew over a nearby town waving to all that witnessed our presence in the sky above them. We drifted over vineyards, which is easy to do in this area. The winds separated the two balloons as the Corkscrew One floated over the ruins of a castle fortress to an area outside of the town below.

As the chase crew came to assist with our landing, their truck got stuck in what seemed to be a large amount of packed mud. Much to the dismay of the crew, what looked like mud was actually manure! This was the beginning of a very interesting landing. We were floating just above the grounds of a vineyard when the crew came sprinting toward us. Michael threw down the blue lines and we were towed, still hovering above the vines, to our landing sight located on the other side of the stuck truck. Dan was the guy who had the unpopular job of climbing into the truck while Tim and Julian pulled him out of the muck. This is not the stuff of which fine French perfumes are made.

That done, the balloon, for the second night in a row, became surrounded by a flock of children. There were about of eight of them ranging in height from thigh to waist high. Their eyes were as big as saucers as they starred at the gigantic balloon and its passengers who just descended from the sky. Alf and Robin climbed out of the basket as the eight munchkins were loaded in, much to their amazed delight. The crew held the tow lined while Michael took the basket up about 15 feet. The children were thrilled as their little heads bobbed about Jean and me.

Savigny (12184 bytes)On the way to dinner at Chateau Savigny, Mike drove us by the chateau owner's extremely unique collection of full sized military fighter planes, located on the chateau grounds. It was a bit spooky as we slowly drove down the darkened road past the massive display. Alf's corkscrew collection seems so
much more sensible.

Dinner was at the 14th century Chateau Savigny-Les-Beaune, served by the most excellent Chef Shamane. You may remember her from the 11th century tower in the Loire Valley. It was a candle lit buffet in the castle chambers, complete with a warm fireplace.

July 23, 1997 Wednesday

Robin & Stephani (8378 bytes)Today we explored the remarkable wine cellars of the Patriarch, where nine million bottles of wine are stored. Our wine expert, Buddy Bombard (a man of many talents), gave us a clear and concise overview of the fine art of wine appreciation. We were provided with hands on experience, as we tasted a number of burgundy wines. It was here that I experienced first hand the technique of sniffing, swirling and spitting. I could sniff and swirl with the best of them but it was difficult to bring myself to spit - so I swallowed. I don't think that I have what it takes to be an expert wine taster.

We then visited the largest wine barrel cellars of the Cote de Nuits. Our tour guide was the Countess de Loisy, a most charming and gracious lady. After her informative tour, we were all escorted into her private gardens where we were introduced to Zizette, the Countess' more than 100-year-old turtle. The Countess told us wonderfully interesting stories about the life and times of the turtle. She, the Countess not Zizette, has a gift for sharing stories. Clay Cat (5614 bytes)As we sat in the garden, the Countess pointed to a black, clay cat on the roof above then told its tale, which involved the Nazi occupation of France. The Countess invited us for lunch in her dining room. It was a delight. As we ate, we also questioned the Countess about the wines, her life and earlier times. She shared grand tales. She was a warm and wonderful lady. Truly deserving of her title in every way.

We enjoyed an evening balloon flight, which was unfortunately cut short due to uncooperative weather. We kidnapped Michael and went to dinner on our own at a steak place in town. Fine food, fine wine.

July 24, 1997 Thursday

This morning, our travels took us to the Hospices de Beaune, an extraordinary 15th century hospital built for the poor who suffered famine in the wake of the 100 Years War. It is a site worth visiting, with its remarkable architecture, superb tapestries, reconstructed wards (with two to a bed) and interesting history. Medicine and health care have come a long way. The order of sisters that took care of the sick here was specifically created for this Hospice. Poverty was not one of their required vows and they arrived complete with servants.

We then continued our tour, led by Buddy, through Beaune's wine museum. A learning experience. After which, the four musketeers went off on our own through town for our usual fare of "park and shop". We lunched at the Grand Café where we all enjoyed omelets.

Blue Man (9154 bytes)The weather decided that we wouldn't be ballooning this evening. Before the final decision was made, the Bombard caravan drove to two possible take-off sites, hopeful for kind winds. We ended up at the top of a hill, beneath a statue of Mary and baby Jesus. The view from this hilltop was balloon-like. As we waited on the weather, we used small helium-filled balloons to alter our voices for an Alf Erickson movie shoot. We were also entertained by the antics of Paul's "Blue Man", a foam wanna-be crewmember.

We didn't fly but did enjoy a dinner of moules and frites (mussels and fries), something Alf had been looking forward to doing, and something we all enjoyed.

July 25, 1997 Friday

Alf, Jean, Robin and I spent the morning walking through the town of Beaune. Alf, who is not known for his shopping prowess, came away carrying most of the packages. We had a light lunch in town. At Alf's suggestion, Jean and I went on to continue our shopping as Robin and Alf went another way. Seems that Alf had a plan and he went back to purchase a surprise for Jean. He is becoming quite the romantic.

The perfect weather that we had been experiencing earlier in the week has changed and there was no flying today. Dinner tonight was at the home of Buddy Bombard, Michael and the crew - Chateau de Laborde. We were treated to a candlelight buffet in the orangerie (a place where chateau's stored their orange trees during the winter months). The tables and decorations were most attractive. After the last of Shamane's feasts, Buddy held graduation ceremonies by the light of a glowing fireplace. I sadly realize that I am approaching the last few pages of my French fairytale.

July 26, 1997 Saturday

Robin and I walked through the Saturday market in Beaune. We were surrounded by fresh fruits and flowers being sold to basket carrying patrons. We went back to the Hotel de la Poste to finish packing and say our final good-byes to Buddy. At about 11:30 a.m., all of the now experienced balloonists loaded into the Previas for lunch at the Chateau de Gilly. We ate in the refurbished abbey, then departed full of expertly prepared and, of course, very delicious food. We were taken to the TGV (high-speed) train in Dijon - mustard city - and arrived at the Gare de Lyon, in Paris at approximately 4:30 p.m. We four departed from the rest of the travelers as we squeezed ourselves, along with our luggage, into two cabs. Alf, Jean and I had a very attractive female cab driver who seemed to have the right attitude for the job. Robin rode in the other cab accompanied by the majority of our luggage. We were now back at the Hotel Marignan-Elysees, coming full circle.

That evening Alf asked Tim, Alex and Shamane to join us for dinner. We had a most enjoyable evening and Shamane didn't have to do any cooking.

July 27, 1997 Sunday

We finished packing this morning and Robin and I took a final walk on the Avenue Des Champs Elysees. We said our final good-byes to Alf as we checked out. Robin and I then went to the airport and boarded the plane home. This is the last page of my fantastique, and fabulous French fairytale.


I now turn the job of journalist over to he who has the laptop. Alf will be reporting on his London antics. Good luck to him at the corkscrew auction.

On to Alf's London Extension

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