Ballooning in Burgundy

October 1997

Continuing from Paris with Annie

Tuesday, October 14, 1997

This is the start of the Burgundian Balloon adventure.

01s.jpg (9955 bytes)At noon, Michael (my pilot) and Julian (one of the chase crew) arrived at our hotel, the Plaza Athenee, in one of the Toyota Previas. We drove west out of the city past the Louvre and Notre Dame until we reached the Autoroute. From there it was south.

After about two hours of clipping along at 140KPH we stopped at an Autoroute restaurant that on the outside looked like any Turnpike or Interstate diner in America. However, the buffet was surprisingly good, as was the wine. I was expecting less and got more. But, that is something that is so wonderful about France; even fast food is taken seriously.

By four in the afternoon we were at Beaune and in our suite at the Hotel de la Poste. This is the third time that I have stayed in this hotel in the last few months. This is one of my favorite small hotels in France. My favorite hotel, of course, is Elisabeth’s place in Vault de Lugny. Maybe, I should buy a place in Beaune; but, then I wouldn’t have a reason to stay at the Hotel de la Poste, would I. So, there!

We were going to attempt a flight at 5:30 this evening, but the wind was not kind and the crew and I, instead, spent an hour in the hotel bar. Not a bad spot to be as this is a classic "Belle-Epoque 1930s lounge with a player piano. OK, the player piano is not one powered by scrolling paper; rather it is gassed by something like CD discs. Pity, P J Harvey won’t fit into the slot..

A little after 8 O’clock we all went to La Garaudiere for a proper dinner. It is a restaurant-grill just outside of Beaune ... in Levernois. The grilled fish is to be had. Two of my crew were more interested in the napkins than the food.

Wednesday, October 15, 1997

I looked out of the window at 6:00AM. Yuk! Windy! Rainy !Absolutely no chance of flying this morning. What is happening to France? Has she offended the weather Gods? Or, maybe I am being punished for my evil profligate ways.

Lisa (11900 bytes)This afternoon Annie and I started off the day with a visit to my favorite oyster palace ... just around the corner from our hotel. Yes, we indulged ourselves on that and some pate fois gras. The two go very well together ... along with Montrachet. Shopping followed. Annie bought some corkscrews and some wine paraphernalia.

My daughter Lisa and her boy friend, Bryan, arrived this afternoon. 05s.jpg (10585 bytes)They will be with us until the 21st. Annie took them on a quick tour of Beaune. Lisa graduated from the Cordon Bleu in London about ten years ago. After that she lived in Dijon for a while ... so she knows the area fairly well. However, this is Bryan’s first trip out of the country ... so, Lisa is guiding him by the hand.

Again, the evening was gloomy and rainy. Will this ever end.

At about 8:30PM we went over to Laborde for dinner. Shamane again exceeded par. This candle lit dinner is what she does so well. I really want her to come to Chateau d’Oex in January/February. I pushed Buddy and Mike to bring her. Maybe I am too pushy for my own good. Anyway, she is such a sweet girl and such a wonderful chef so I could not resist demanding that she be a part of the 1998 crew.

Thursday, October 16, 1997

Ugly morning ... weather wise. Annie and I toyed with the idea of staying in bed all day. But, we got up. Annie, Lisa and Bryan went off to a wine tasting; followed by a lunch at the Countess’s chateau. I did some ministerial things before going to Les Marinieres for lunch. The moules Diable are a special treat. This restaurant is just a few doors down from the Piqu' Boeuf Grill, a favorite dining spot for my crew.

At 3:30PM we are supposed to go ballooning.

We’ll see if the weather Gods have forgiven me.

Over Vineyards (10436 bytes)Hours later ...

We had a wonderful flight! We took off from a soccer field located about 25 miles from Beaune: in a little place named Cheilly-les-Maranges. The wind was fairly steady (about 4-5 knots) and it took us directly over some of the most valuable vineyards in the world, including Le Montrachet, Chassagne Montrachet, Puligny Montrachet and Pommard.

Our balloon of choice for this flight was my newest balloon: the Cameron 250. Incidentally, it had first flown in Burgundy at about this time last year; as had my first balloon two years ago. In order to make sure that we were not flying too light we took on two of the chase crew as additional ballast. So, there were seven of us on this first flight. That left just two crew on the ground to pack up all the launch gear, drive the two chase vehicles ... all the while keeping us in sight while trying to find roads that would allow them to be near us when we landed.

08cs.jpg (8487 bytes)We flew for almost two hours. As the sun was setting it didn’t look like we’d ever find a suitable field in which to land. As our track took us directly over some of the most precious agricultural land in the world there was very little unutilized ground below us: we were passing over vineyard after vineyard. It made no difference that the grapes had been harvested weeks before. Had we been forced to make a landing on one of these plots we probably would have been shot ... and rightfully so.

The sky was inhabited by a lot of dark clouds but there was no rain. Most of our flight was within a range of a dozen to several hundred feet from the ground, though at one point we topped out at about 1500 feet.

After Dinner (11181 bytes)As it was getting dark, Mike decided on a grassy field near Monthelie for our landing even though it was not evident that that there was a an access road that could reach us. As we touched down the radio informed Mike that our chase truck had a tire blow out. Thanks to the navigation skill of Tim we were on the ground for only a few minutes before we saw the headlights of Previa coming across the field.

Leaving the crew behind to do the packing up and the tire change, we took the Previa to the other side of  Beaune for dinner at that chateau that is ringed, but not defended by, 70 jet fighter planes. Dear Reader, check out Stephani’s journal for a full description of Savigny les Beaune. After dinner we retired to the Hotel Lounge.

Friday, October 17, 1997

The day started inauspiciously! There was a murky sky outside of our window and the wind was being nasty again. Should we just stay in bed or should we do something fun, if not constructive? Yes, the latter. My daughters and Bryan dived into the shops while I took a hike around the passages of Beaune.

The four of us met back at the hotel a few hours later and immediately repaired to the "house of oysters" for lunch. Though, I was the only one to actually order them. It’s a pity because this is the height of the oyster season in France. Whatever, the other three in our little group dished into escargot and salad vertes.

Laborde (11633 bytes)After a longish lunch we boarded the Previa and set sail for the mountain with three crosses. It was about a 45 minute drive to the east. When we got there the wind became frisky again, confounding predictions of 2 or 3 knot breezes. A cell phone call to Laborde convinced us to do a U Turn and head for the shelter of the valley. We did.

Tonight’s flight was a Michael classic. Since the winds were variable, depending upon our height, Mike was able to fly the balloon directly over the old part of Beaune ... in fact, we passed directly over our hotel. Again, our landing proved to be a bit dicey due to the abundance of vineyards in the area. Just after dusk Mike spotted a field of semi-mud ... better that than on a crop! Since we were moving briskly and as we were carrying eons of weight my ground crew almost got dragged into the vines. As it was they got dragged through the mud. Oh well, that is why we have laundries.

After landing we went back to Laborde, where Shamane had planned for us to have a sit down dinner. This was the first time that this was tried at Laborde. And, it worked very well. Until the food fight began. I am not sure how it actually started. Look, there were a dozen adults sitting around the table. We had pretty much finished eating. I think Annie started it.

Saturday, October 18, 1997

It took us about an hour and ten minutes to drive to Vault de Lugny. A bottle of 1992 Chablis greeted us on the hotel lawn. 11cs.jpg (11554 bytes)After the pre-prandial welcome we were met with another surprise: Shamane had created an outdoor picnic just by the stream that flows by the hotel. Of particular note was the cold salmon and also the chilled chicken.

After lunch we sat by the river and played with Diva and Camel (the two resident dogs of Elisabeth’s chateau).

13bs.jpg (10704 bytes)Eventually I went up to my residence (the Queen’s room). I didn’t have time to unpack as the balloon was already being inflated on the hotel front lawn. It was lucky that I didn’t unpack.

Shortly after 5:30 we took off into a perfectly blue sky. Again, we were five passengers, a pilot and one ground crew. This time the ground crew member who flew with us was Tim. This will be one of Tim’s last flights here as he is determined to go to the colonies to learn how to pilot these wonderful machines.

After 15 or 20 minutes of drifting over tiny towns and farms we gradually climbed to 10,500 feet. From here we could just see Mt. Blanc; that wonderful mountain named after the pen ... or, was it the other way around? Mt. Blanc is almost on the French/Swiss/Italian border. It is a far pace from where we were.

17hs.jpg (7503 bytes)Our landing site was very quickly populated by little people ... kids. Though, two parents and one owner of the field where we landed also made a show. The kids all piled into the balloon basket and were served American Champagne (Coke) by our steward (Mike wears two hats on these trips). Though the boys quickly tired of our company and departed to other adventures, the girls hung around until we were packed up and ready to roll off the field.

When I got back to the hotel I discovered that my luggage had been moved to the King’s room. That was quite fine with me as this room comes with a built in swimming pool ... well, almost. It has a bath tub in which you can do training laps. It seems that the woman who had booked the King’s room assumed that this place had Otis elevators. It does not! Anyway, the spiral staircases to the King’s room sent her to a ground floor room.

Dinner at 9PM.

Bed at 1AM

Sunday, October 19, 1997

At about noon my girls and their "friends" went off to a Shamane picnic ... 19ds.jpg (10670 bytes)to be followed by some touring of the area.

I stayed back at the chateau today as I have been where they were going to visit several times before. Fortunately, my friend Elisabeth suggested that the two of us take a couple of her bicycles and bike over to Voutenay for lunch. She knows the owners of  Auberge le Voutenay and she vouched heavily for the quality of the kitchen.

Elisabeth (8997 bytes)Elisabeth had just purchased two Outback bikes from one of the travel companies that uses her hotel, so we used them on our outing. This bike ride was supposed to last about an hour ... on very under traveled roads ... well, the first half of it went pleasantly. But, during the second half we had to cut our way through a jungle ... the path had been neglected for the better part of a year ... so the overgrowth was very dense.

Finally we made it to the restaurant ... owned by Valerie and Laurent Poirier. Antique Autos (14182 bytes)When we arrived, there was an ongoing party of antique automobiles in progress: ranging from the house of Bugatti to the factory of MG. All very colorful.

The restaurant, a family style of atmosphere, served excellent food. I had a curry mussel soup and a green salad. Elisabeth had a cod fish done in crispy garlic.

After lunch we called a taxi to take us and our bikes back to Chateau de Vault de Lugny. The reverse ride through the jungle was certainly not an inviting prospect at this point in our day.

An hour later, at 4:30PM, the Previa picked Elisabeth and me up for the short ride to our take off spot. My daughters and their "friends" had been there for hours ... wining and dining.

Unfortunately, this flight today was "eventful". We were on a course that would have taken us right over and into Vault de Lugny. But, after about 40 minutes (and at about 1000 feet in the air) Elisabeth fainted. Mike made a very rapid descent and Elisabeth and I quickly disembarked and were rushed back to the hotel. Elisabeth is fine, but she must rest in bed. The doctor says that she has been working too much.

The balance of our basket of passengers carried on and landed very near our hotel.

By the way, this was the first time that I saw my balloon from the ground. I took a few photos.

Dinner without Elisabeth was sad.

Monday, October 20, 1997

I took a hike today. I bloody well needed it after all these meals. I skipped lunch as well. Not that this will do me much good.

20ds.jpg (11182 bytes)This afternoon we again inflated the balloon near the front of our hotel. Today’s flight took toward the spot from which we made our departure yesterday; retracing our steps, so to speak. Unlike the day before, the sky was overcast. Thus, there were no shadows, and this really gave the Burgundian landscape a patina effect. Not that I necessarily prefer one to the other: a bright sky makes the relief below very striking. It is nice to have a mix of weather days.

Annie Rides Off (10472 bytes)Our landing was a calorie burner for the crew. We wanted to land directly on our trailer.  Mike has done this hundreds of times before, and if the wind is benign a good chase crew can pull it off (or on). Well, this evening the wind became puffy due to the time of the day and also because our landing spot was either on OR not on the cusp of a hill. I can never get that straight about "cusps". I think it is the former.

Whatever, Mike dropped two lines and the three chase crew did their best to position us over the trailer. The crew’s major difficulty was not arresting our forward motion. The problem lay in the effect the wind had on the balloon’s vertical stability. As the top of the balloon is curved, the wind when passing over this surface creates a "false lift". This made it very difficult to control the ups and downs. Finally, Tim said, "It’s not going to work, Mike".

We landed in the field adjacent to the road.

A few minutes after breaking open the Champagne we heard a terrible screech. A lot of blue tire smoke steamed off the road just yards behind our Previa. All of this came from a car that realized that it was not going to make it by our machine without crashing into oncoming traffic. Obviously, he or she was driving way too fast for conditions (a typical French habit).

We went home, had dinner and went to bed.

Tuesday, October 21, 1997

Lisa and Bryan left for home (Seattle) early this morning.

Anne and her friend spent the afternoon site seeing.

I had lunch with Elisabeth and her mother. All the vegetables came from the garden of the chateau. This is probably one of the few healthy things that I have done on this trip. The meal, that is. Vezelay (11426 bytes)Jesus, when I get home I need a major change of life styles. No kidding about that.

Anyway, late this afternoon we lifted off from the lawn in front of our hotel. The only thing different this time aloft was that sweet Shamane packed an inflight meal. As she knows my love for French sausage, she had boarded a generous amount of it.

The flight was largely a glide over Burgundian forests. However, the highlight was a spectacular pass directly over Vezelay: the Romanesque town that was the starting point for many crusades.

Tonight I had the best room service ever; it included a bottle of ’78 Bonne Mares.

Wednesday, October 22, 1997

I was in bed when I heard the burners kick in. I didn’t realize that we were going to fly this early.

23s.jpg (8362 bytes)I think that the farmer who saw us land this evening thought that we had crash landed. After being in the air for about 80 minutes the ground wind picked up speed. Thus, we were slightly ahead of the chase crew when we approached a field that was being tilled by the owner. I guess that we moving at about the speed of a fast run ... so, when we touched down, the basket immediately turned on its side as the balloon dragged us across the field. At the moment we hit the ground Mike popped the parachute and, due to the speed of the wind, the balloon deflated quickly. For someone who has not seen this before it must have looked like we had crashed and overturned. The farmer got off his tractor and ran over to see what had happened. Packing Up (9586 bytes)He was accompanied by a barking dog: the dog figured that he had to earn his keep by making all this noise. We bought the dog off with some of Shamane’s salami that was left over from our inflight treat. The farmer was rewarded with a glass of Champagne.

Back at the chateau we were rewarded with freshly boiled lobster that Elisabeth’s mother prepared.

I am coming down with a cold. Just what I need! I thought I was immune from these things, what with all the vitamins that I take. Guess not. So, early to bed.

Thursday, October 23, 1997

I am going to stay in France for a couple more days. I don’t feel like coming home. 24s.jpg (8519 bytes)Originally, I was booked to come home on Friday ... now, I shall make my exit on Sunday. Anyway, it is easier to drive to CDG on a Sunday ... there is a minimum of traffic then.

We had another "eventful" balloon landing today ... my poor crew got dragged several hundred feet though the mud. They are great guys ... they enjoyed seeing THEIR landing on video.


Friday, October 24, 1997

This morning brought us some frost. The temperature was just couple degrees below freezing, but it was a gentle harbinger that winter is close to our horizon. Tomorrow the forecast in Paris is for snow. And, to think, a month ago we were in boiling hot weather in Avignon. France is certainly a far scream from Florida.

Annie & I and Elisabeth & her mother, Simone, had a quiet lunch by ourselves in the little dining room near the stove. We had pasta with a tomato sauce that was a special Chateau de Vault de Lugny creation. I love everything that comes out of this kitchen. Most of the recipes that are dished from here come from the mind and hand of Elisabeth’s mother. She is so clever with a spoon.

Back to the weather: the wind developed a nasty temper this afternoon. It told us not to fly. We didn’t.

Shamane (7907 bytes)Today is Shamane’s 26th birthday. To celebrate she will be our guest for dinner at the Chateau. I have ordered a cake with 30 candles ... that way she can experience the big 30 while still twenty something. A thoughtful gift, don’t you think? Tomorrow she leaves us ... we won’t see her again until Chateau d’Oex at the end of January 1998.

More later ...

The birthday party was a success. She made it into the second quarter century of life sans tears.

Saturday, October 25, 1997

Late this morning my pilot, Mike, and I got together to discuss balloon trips for the next nine months So, Erickson children pay attention to the following:

Crew (9793 bytes)This evening’s flight took off into a cold but crystal clear sky. Annie and I took along, as passengers, two very charming employees of our hotel: Veronique and Micheline. Both of them have worked for Elisabeth for some years and they are a true pleasure. It was their first balloon flight ... and I think that they enjoyed it very much. It was nice to have them aboard.

Tonight we will have a quiet dinner in our room.

Tomorrow we leave for home.

Sunday, October 26, 1997

I assume that I flew home from Paris.

Assorted crew photos

Search WWW Search