Paul's Chateau d'Oex Journal

The 1998 Swiss Alpine Hot Air Balloon Festival

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Saturday, January 24, 1998

Saturday was another beautiful day for ballooning, although the temperature was a bit crisper than what we had been having. Of course, it had never really been warm, but today was noticeably more nippy.

We switched balloons again, so Linda and I were in the smaller balloon with Rosemary and Richard. By now, seeing the valley from the air was becoming comfortably familiar. We felt like old hands. Of course, as I said, we also felt cold hands and, more especially, cold feet. Although the flight was beautiful, some of the passengers were more than ready to return to the warmth of earth.

When we did decide to land, we were down the valley toward Gstaad. It took us quite a while before we found a suitable landing spot. We had a field picked out, but the wind decided we should not go in that direction. We drifted on.

Ultimately, we landed in a field just beyond a parking lot. After we touched down, the crew had to pull us back into the lot for deflation, which was a very exhausting chore for them since the wind was trying to send us in the opposite direction. Once the balloon was properly situated, the deflation had to be accomplished with care so the envelope did not hit any sharp objects. Open fields seem to work much better.

By the time we landed, everyone’s feet were getting very cold indeed. Being back on the ground helped quite a bit, however, as we had the opportunity to move around and jump start our lower circulation. Still, it was almost too cold for post-flight champagne. Well, only almost. ... A bit after we landed, Alf and his Corkscrew Balloon II fellows passed over us; they landed just a bit farther down the valley.

When we got back to the Ermitage, Linda and I decided to take a walk into town. We stopped into a few shops and looked for Johnny Walker, but he did not seem to sit on the shelves of Chateau d’Oex. Of course, we did have those little bottles in the mini-bars of our rooms, but it seemed more appropriate to purchase a regularly-sized package. They probably did have Johnny at the Coop, but the Coop closed early on Saturday.

We also tried to find some stockings for Linda. Tonight, with the trip almost over, we were going to have our major formal dinner, at the Chalet Chesery in Gstaad, and Linda needed to make a quick wardrobe adjustment. This too proved to be more complex than one might have expected in the little town of Chateau d’Oex. We were eventually directed to a very small shop that was just about to close.

This shop was run by a little old lady who had plainly handled the operation by herself for many, many years: The place definitely bore the idiosyncratic design of a one-person operation. We had walked past her shop many times over the past week. Like some of the other shops in town, she placed racks of her wares out on the sidewalk during business hours. She had more racks than most, however, especially in relation to the limited amount of sidewalk space fronting her small store.

Inside the shop, we now discovered, there was practically no room to navigate. Her little place was packed with items of all sorts, and it had the appearance of total disorder. We could not enter more than three feet into the store, for it was completely filled with piles of clothing, fabric and other miscellany. The shopkeeper did seem to know where everything was, despite the evident disarray, but she spoke absolutely no English. There thus ensued an amusing episode where Linda and I tried to describe, using primarily gestures augmented by my extremely limited knowledge of French, exactly what Linda wanted in undergarments. The shopkeeper would listen and watch for a bit, then thinking that she understood us, she would dive into one pile or another and extract something that would alternately please or befuddle us. She was so friendly, despite our communication problems and the timing of our arrival just as she was trying to close up, that we truly wanted her to succeed for her own sake even more than our own. Eventually, Linda found something close to what she had sought. We thanked the woman and bid her good night.

Back again at the Ermitage, we had a couple of hours before we were scheduled to leave for Gstaad. Since this was to be a dress-up special dinner, we all prepared ourselves accordingly. Baths were taken, faces were shaved, hair was arranged. In the midst of these preparations, I checked various Internet sites, just to keep up with what was happening outside our little community.

We had a nice little ride in our Previas to Gstaad, and to the Chalet Chesery. Linda and I rode in the back of one van, with Elisabeth, Alf, and Michael in the seats ahead of us. Crew member Eddy drove. About halfway to Gstaad, Michael’s cell phone rang; it proved to be a call from Alf, who was sitting right behind him. Alf just wanted to make sure that everything was set for the evening, and tapping Mike on the shoulder to inquire would have been somewhat coarse.

The restaurant was totally deluxe, and they managed to seat us all around a table in an alcove off the main dining room. The menu was set, so we had no need to make complicated decisions, and the courses that were selected for the evening were spectacular indeed.

Over the course of the past week, we had all gotten to know each other well, and we had a marvelous time dressing up and savoring the fabulous cuisine of Chalet Chesery. The only real choice that anyone needed to make was over the wines, and here Michael and Elisabeth dueled with each other over who could select the finest burgundies. I kept two glasses in front of me, so I could evaluate whatever selections were made by either of them. I had absolutely no idea which were better – they were all indescribably delicious – but I felt that someone should sample all of the competition.

Buddy Bombard was at a nearby table with some of his ballooning clients; he stopped by briefly for a chat.

It was a simply magnificent evening, and everyone was in high spirits. I personally felt stratospheric, helped in no small measure by by informal judging of the Burgundy competition, but also by the wonderful company of our assembled festival participants and the glow of a most amazing week.

After dinner, we rode back to the Ermitage in the Previas. We did some van re-assignment choreography; Annie and I were in the back seat on the return trip. The cell phones remained silent.

We went to the Richemont for our obligatory late-night revelry, although it was a pretty short night. Rosemary tore up the dance floor with crew member Graham; Linda had a long heart-to-heart talk with crew member Eddy; Hermann bought lots of champagne. Back at the Ermitage, after the Richemont festivities, I once again got caught up with the Herald Tribune before drifting off to sleep.

Friday, January 23 || Sunday, January 25

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