Ballooning in Prague,
Thursday, August 20, 1998
(DON:) This morning I am sitting in my office at home in Virginia. I turned away from my computer, to stare at the lake and what a sight I saw! A beautiful red, white, and blue balloon was hovering over the lake just 50 yards from my dock. Awesome! And soon Ill be in one myself.
In September of 1995, Alf Erickson, Joe Paradi, and I assembled at my home (then Connecticut) for the "Great Corkscrew Game." We had purchased the collection of Bob Nugent of Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Alf came up from Florida and rented a truck to pick up the hoard. The 3700 corkscrews with storage furniture nearly filled the truck. Alf arrived on a Thursday afternoon and Joe on Thursday evening. We then spent 18 hours on Friday and 18 hours on Saturday, dividing up the collection. Sunday was spent sorting and packing.
Before Alf departed, he invited Bonnie and me to an even greater Corkscrew Adventure - soaring in his Corkscrew Balloon. With business and other travel commitments, it was difficult to find a time to join the free-spirited Alf. The hunger for the trip was ever present. In the summer of 1997, I retired to devote more time to corkscrews, writing about corkscrews, and finding time for greater pleasures in life. At last, we were able to accept Alfs invitation and now we are looking forward to our departure for Prague on the evening of August 27. We will arrive on the 28th to join Alf and the other adventurers.
The balloon outside my window has now drifted off toward the mountains. Just one more week and we, too, will be drifting carefree through the air over Prague - in a Corkscrew Balloon!
(DON:) We're packing our bags! Thursday we'll take the short drive to Roanoke. Then we take a puddle jumper plane to Dulles International, a monster plane to Frankfurt, and then a little jet to Prague. That is, if Hurricane Bonnie (not Bonnie Bull), doesn't disrupt our schedule. She's a mean storm in the Atlantic looking for a direct hit on the Carolinas and then heading up the coast. Glad we're not ballooning there.
In order to plan clothes for the trip, I asked Alf "How cold does it get up in the balloon? Windbreaker OK?" His response: "...expect 60 to 80. As the balloon moves at the same speed as the wind there is no wind chill." Now why didn't I think of that???
Can Alf and I mix real corkscrews with corkscrew balloons? For several years a Czech waiter supplied me with corkscrews through the mails. The supply dried up and we were out of touch for a year or so. Then in anticipation of this trip, I wrote him a hopeful note. The cryptic reply came from Vecerik detailing a meeting place on Saturday afternoon. He said he has a great supply of corkscrews to show to Alf and me. I guess we should bring along our black trench coats for this clandestine meeting. Perhaps we will be rewarded with enough treasures for a "Ballooning for Corkscrews" supplement!
(ALF:) After a couple of days fretting about where hurricane Bonnie was going to strike I awoke to the comforting news from CNN that this Texas size bitch had her eye aimed at the Carolinas and not South Florida. Hey, I used to live in California: back then and there we knew that earthquakes were always on the menu, but no one really knew when the major course would be delivered, or how many calories you should expect to chuck down. Now I live in Florida where the "chef" gives you a pretty good indication of when the dish will be placed on your mat and how many grams of fat youll have to swallow. But, I am not sure which restaurant I fear the most.
Whatever, I am now out of there and here (or, here and there) for a month. Thank God!
For starters BA flight 292 from Miami to London is the prince of flights: each seat is a cocoon (at least in First Class). You have your own chamber into which the only intrusion are hands that offer dishes and pour wines.
We had some tail winds tonight; the 4400 mile flight only took a little over seven and a half hours.
(ALF:) Breakfast on BA 292 was served as we crossed over Ireland. It was a real Brit meal: eggs, rashers, tomatoes, mushrooms ... the only thing missing was a pile of kidney. But this was made up for with some really good bubbly.
About an hour later we landed at Heathrows Terminal 4. Hey, it is convenient to fly in and out of this big 4 by itself ... but, transferring from 4 to either 1, 2 or 3 is a real bother. It is sort of like tracing a long strand of clear noodle in a bowl of red sauced spaghetti ... will it ever end? It does, sort of. But, only to point you onto another journey past a seemingly never ending series of airport exit gates. I swear to God, the gate to Prague must have been at the limit of BAs territorial rights to Heathrow.
After a mercifully short (85 minutes) flight we landed at the near perfect Prague airport. Well, I thought it was near perfect until I spent an hour waiting for my luggage at the oval carrousel. Hey, it is amazing to look at the stuff that people actually trust to the bowels of airplanes: pet fish, awkward children and bundles of loose cash ... not to mention embarrassingly ugly luggage. And no one blinks.
But, what a super hotel that I breezed into less than an hour later! The Inter Continental Prague plays in its own private league. There is no real competition.
What do Joseph Stalin and Michael Jackson have in common? Or, maybe it is Lenin and Jackson that have something in common. Whatever, both (via statues) used to stare at the Inter-Conti from across the river. Dont get me wrong: the Michael Jackson one was very ephemeral ... it was an inflatable likeness while the Russian one was crafted out of steel or bronze. Michaels was timed to last just as long as his Prague concert. The other one was supposed to last forever; but, it didnt.
I have one more day here by myself before everyone else arrives. Tomorrow I hope to scope out the antique shops before Don Bulls corkscrew antennae gets a grip on what we both covet.
(ALF:) This morning I visited my friend Milo, who owns an antique shop just off the square. If you remember, he is the fellow who thoughtfully provided us with home made restoratives last year. Restoratives that allowed the male members of our band to keep up with our women.
Restoratives were not needed on this pass through as I was alone and shopping was not on my horizon. However, tomorrow three of my daughters will join me so there is a grand chance that a return to Milos shop will be a welcome respite from the other shops.
Tonight was my last night alone ... well, sans family that is.
(DON:) Hurricane Bonnie decided to stall over the North Carolina coast and we were able to fly without delay. The United Express flight from Roanoke to Washington is normally a small plane with 20 seats. Bonnie and I usually get the exit row so I have room to take my legs with me. The other alternative is Row 7 where the passenger is in charge of the fire extinguisher. United must have heard about all the luggage we were taking for we flew instead on a Jetstream 41 which had enough room to half unfold a newspaper. In 47 minutes we arrived in Dulles.
From Frankfurt we took a Lufthansa A300 for an on time arrival in Prague. As we were watching the baggage go around on the carousel, we spotted several bags with Buddy Bombard Balloon Adventures tags. It wasnt until we were outside the area, that we found that two of Alfs daughters were on the same flight. AND ... they had been on the same flight from Washington. We were all greeted by Bombard personnel who whisked us off in their herd of four Previas to the Intercontinental Hotel. There we were pleasantly greeted by Alf.
Tonight is the reception/dinner at the restaurant atop the hotel. Tomorrow ... The Great Corkscrew Balloon adventure begins!
NOTE: Send boxes filled with corkscrews for Alf and me at the Intercontinental Hotel to arrive before Monday.
(ALF:) This morning the first avalanche of family and friends arrived: Annie Fannie with Chris and Cam, Patty Rat with Sam and Ellie (if that is still her name), Christie (or Christy) Creature with Bernie, Don (journal writer) and Bonnie (Go-With). They all arrived on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. Some of them started their crossing in Portland ... others worked their way into the flights via Seattle ... a couple of others joined in at Dulles.
Four hours later Rosemary and Richard arrived ... albeit in a nearly fractured state. Because of deaths and dismemberments on the incoming flight from London to Miami the turn around time took the BA Pakistani born staff a bit of time to sop up the blood in the aisles and refresh the vomit bags. Of course this meant that the chance of meeting their connection to Prague was now minimal. But, ever clever Rosemary rebooked on American Airlines, after arranging to have two paraplegic kids bumped off that flight so that they would have sufficient space and could arrive on time in Prague.
After longish naps everyone shuttled to the roof top for drinks and food.
(DON:) I now thoroughly understand Alf's disappointment when he does not fly. Tonight we spent three hours in the fields of Prague waiting to fly. It would have been our first balloon flight. But, we didn't fly. At first there was too much wind. Then there was too little wind.
Send us boxes of corkscrews to help alleviate our misery.
(ALF:) I think that this is the fourth or fifth time that I have done this walking tour of the Prague Palace and its sundry appendages. Had I been here alone, today I would have surely passed on these historical pleasures. But, I wasnt, so I made the obligatory trudge. Predictably, on this grind, my eyes started to glaze over rather early into the walk: Maria Theresa, the Hapsburgs, Rudolph and Charles IV just didnt carry the mind-riveting voltage that they did in years past. However, Dear Reader, if you really feel the want to linger in this part of Prague for awhile please ask Paul to link you to last years bits and pieces. He is very good about building links.
By the way, I skipped lunch at todays Bombard venue food choice. A Gallup-Time-Warner-CNN exit poll suggested in a (plus/minus 3% margin of error) sampling that I had made the correct decision. The Soviet style pre-cooked and flattened chicken carcass apparently was bad enough even without the Soviet style pre-cooked "sauce".
Though we did not fly tonight it was not because our pilots did not make Herculean efforts to do so. Mother Nature was just being bitchy. We arrived at a perfect take off spot shortly after 4PM. The northerly winds were running at about 14 knots ... a bit higher than the 9 knots that we wanted. Everyone thought that the air would start puffing with less gusto ... it did, but too late. Had we taken off at this late hour we would have still been over the city of Prague when night settled in.
(ALF:) This morning at breakfast I discovered that I had made a major geographical mistake yesterday afternoon ... one that will shock the corkscrew world. Yes, I have verbalized a major "mea culpa" to Don ... but, I think that my amends will not be enough. I truly expect and deserve a vitriolic and acerbic attack in his journal entry for yesterday ... and today ... and tomorrow. Dear Reader, I shall not confess the details of my malfeasance here ... I must allow Don to rub the salt into my wounds at his discretion.
This afternoon, after the obligatory tour of places where they bury the dead and the near dead, we ate, drank and napped.
(DON:) 2:30PM, Intercontinental Hotel, Prague
The bad news is: We havent been able to fly yet.
The good news is: The weather and wind look great for a flight late this afternoon.
Yesterday, I gave Alf some verbal notes to put up on this page - I havent read yesterdays journal so will assume he got it right. The most important thing was the reminder about corkscrews - If you havent boxes full yet, get busy. Time is running short. We will now be here until Thursday so call FEDEX today.
Weve done some touring of the city. I am not going to give you a blow by blow account. You can read all about the sites on last years Prague Journal. I would rather give some bits and pieces of our trip that you may find of interest including, above all, the impressions of ballooning.
Unfortunately, the winds were too great Saturday morning for ballooning. But by Saturday afternoon there was hope. At 4:30 a gaggle of five pick-up trucks laden with trailered balloon baskets showed up at the hotel with the herd of Previas. We all piled in the Previas and caravanned to a park near the Castle.
At the launching pad, the trucks were lined up with reasonable space between them. The pilots then began the wait for the calmer wind (looking for 5-8 knots). The direction of the wind was perfect for a flight over the main city square and Southwesterly to the fields on the outskirts. After launching a few test balloons (little ones filled with helium) to test the wind, the baskets were removed from the trailers and the balloons (the big ones) from the trucks. Then we waited. And waited. We waited for 2 ½ hours and the wind (over 10 knots) would not die down. Finally, it calmed. But, alas, it was too late to cross the city before Sundown. The mission was scrubbed! I now fully understood Alfs disappointment at not flying so often expressed in his trip journals. We had the appetizer (balloons unloaded) but not the main course.
There was hope for early Sunday morning. Pilots would meet around 5AM, check weather, checks, and decide. Foiled again! The wind was too brisk. I will let you know tomorrow what the afternoon brings!
So what about corkscrews? The plan was to meet the Czech waiter in Wenceslas Square between 3 and 4 PM. The waiter would be near the statue holding a corkscrew. Shortly before three, I met Alf in the lobby of the hotel. I told him I would get directions from the Concierge. He said "I know where it is." It would be just a short walk. Our brains were spinning anticipating the finds of a lifetime. Within five minutes we were in the square. We did several turns clockwise and counterclockwise around the statue. He wasnt there. RATS! We went back to the hotel to get ready for ballooning. There was still time to spare so I went back to the square. Still no luck.
This morning Alf said to me "Do you remember when I told you I know where it is?"
"I took you to the wrong square!"
Was this a plot? Did he send someone else to the other square so he could get all of the corkscrews? Will we ever know? Lets keep an eye on his future "Six Bests!"
Today we returned to the same square on a walking tour. We learned that 27 Noblemen had been beheaded in that very square. Learning this, Alfs son-in-law Sam said to me "Those guys went to the wrong square too!"
Important notice: VIVERTKA. That is the Czech word for corkscrew. Please send boxes filled with VIVERTKA.
Another observation: Moravian wine is very good. And the more glasses you have the better it gets.
Steve and Michael will be piloting Alfs balloons (if we fly). Talk to them enough and you will learn what goes on behind the scenes. Michael tells us "I am more of a lush than my father." Thats encouraging! - I had just watched Michaels father polish off several glasses of that Moravian wine. Michael says the balloon launch is easy. We asked about the landing. He referred the comment of fellow pilot, Frenchman Michel: "Never worry about zee landing, zer is always a landing!" Theres more food for thought?
Do you know that Alfs balloons carry enough fuel for 2 ½ hour of flying? Steve was assigned the task of locating propane for the trip. He stopped at several possible stations and asked for "propane" with no luck. He finally found a station where the attendant spoke English. He explained his plight and he learned that his mistake was in asking for propane. He asked for the Czech translation, and the attendant nonchalantly responded with "LPG." Im willing to bet that that will work on the Salzburg leg of our trip too!
Did you know that the balloon carries two 35 gallon cylinders of propane?
You dont learn a lot about Alf on his site. You dont learn a lot in person either! Perhaps I can help you in the next few days. Lets talk about his guest list: In addition to Buddys touring group, Alf has been joined on this adventure by Bonnie and me, Rosemary (she is his interior decorator) and Richard, daughter Annie and her boys Cam and Chris, daughter Christie and her husband Bernie (hey, you corkscrew collectors know Bernie, dont you?), and daughter Patty with her husband Sam and daughter Elle (such an Angel). The three daughters live in Washington and Oregon. Another daughter, Lisa, also lives in the Northwest but couldnt make this trip. They are a wonderful family - and, like Alf, they are collectors. Annie collects photos (you have seen her fine photo journals on this website). Patty collects plates with fish on them (I forgot to ask if they were real or painted). Christie collects pottery and Lisa favors lions. And, from the sound of it, they are all busy on EBAY.
I mentioned Rosemary, Alfs interior decorator. Would you believe she has been working on his place for 12 years and shes not done yet? (Alf, are you indecisive?).
OK, Ive rambled and now Im off to get on that balloon - WE SHALL NOT be disappointed this afternoon.
(DON:) Yesterday afternoon we returned to the previous days "launching pad". The balloons were unloaded and readied for inflation. The crowds began to gather around us. Then the pilots gave the order to inflate the balloons. Alfs Corkscrew I and II were on the ends with Buddys three flower directed balloons in the middle. Bonnie and I were in Corkscrew I with Alf, Rosemary, Richard, Michaels parents, and Mike as pilot. Then the rain came. Hard at times. The minutes ticked off rapidly. Then the storm suddenly passed and Buddy gave the order to launch. We were up first and the other four quickly followed (except Steve who was dragging a Mercedes which was attached to Corkscrew II).
At last, Bonnie and I were on our first flight.
What a spectacular view and such a wonderful warm feeling. We were just gently floating over the roof tops and squares of the city of Prague. Seeing that and the other balloons in flight was like being in a dream. And that dream lasted an hour taking us 8 miles over the city and into the country.
We came down for our landing to the sound of barking dogs. And the view of chickens and rabbits racing to get out of the way of this creature descent from the sky.
Dan and the other two members of the chase team were on the ground waiting for us. And then something truly incredible happened ... Michael landed the balloon basket perfectly on the trailer. We didnt feel even the slightest bump.
The delighted inhabitants streamed into the field to greet us. The bright eyes of the children so excited by the awesome stature of the balloon were a marvel to witness. The ground crew set up a table, spread a tablecloth, lit a candle and unpacked glasses, Champagne and Coca Cola for the flyers and the greeters. Michael poured and everyone celebrated.
An observation: A tree fell in the woods when we flew over but we didnt hear it.
Do you know?: Corkscrew I lifts a basket that will carry 8 passengers and the pilot. Corkscrew II will accommodate 10 passengers.
After this historic flight (for Bonnie and me), I rode back to the hotel in the chase truck. Dans crew was anxious to get back to their hotel for their own celebration (I mean they often cannot book the same hotel in the following year. Hmmmm. Steve had said something about "you know those 21 year olds!). I asked Dan if they ever miss the chased balloon. He said, "Yes, when we have the map upside down!"
Oh, yes, we did tour some of Prague on foot. Again, go read last years journal! I want to tell you about corkscrews and balloons.
Its time to leave for another evening flight (hopefully).
(ALF:) Dons journal entry under this date was a reflection on what happened yesterday. I wont add to it; rather Ill prattle on what we did today.
Since today is Pattys 31st birthday we (the Erickson family) decided to take a break from the scheduled activities. This was also prompted by the need to give Ellie a break from difficult adult activities. And what would best do this? How about a visit to the Prague Zoo! Last week, on a day off from crew duties, Dan the Dent Man made a stamp of approval for this visit. After this learning experience Dan gave us a two and a half tour of Pragues finest captives. It was loads of fun for almost everyone ... but, my grandson, Cam, met a very nasty bee/wasp while about to bite into a zoo hot dog. Right in the back of the neck he was stung. Luckily for Rosemary, she was not on this excursion ... otherwise she would have taken the brunt of the blame. You ask why? Well, you see, whenever Rosemary has ever visited a zoo so too has some black cloud made the same visit ... uncoincidentally, she and Richard have either fallen asleep in their car at Metro Zoo during a near hurricane or their car has been stolen from the parking lot at Metro Zoo while they have been more active outside their parked car. Probably more nasty things have happened to them in zoos that I am not aware of.
(DON again .this time true time, the 31st:)
Happy Birthday Patty!
Today Bonnie and I went on a private walking tour with Richard and Rosemary and guide Ludmilla. We visited the Mucha Museum (beautiful) and the Charles Bridge (awesome). We also stopped in several antique shops with no luck finding corkscrews. I asked in every shop and every shopkeeper looked at me incredulously. Was there something wrong with me? When we reached the far side of the Charles Bridge we came upon a very likely shop for corkscrews. Ludmilla went in with us. She heard my query "VITERKA?". Aha! There is the problem. That is a squirrel. I needed to ask for "VIVERTKA"? Dumb! They also had none and their response was that whenever they got one it sells quickly because "there are many corkscrew collectors in Prague." I think I should switch to collecting squirrels.
The weather looks great for flight number two. The flock of pick-ups and Previas is picking us up at 5PM.
(DON:) Today we had a wake up call from Vecerik Zdenek, my Czech waiter corkscrew supplier. He apologized for not being in Wenceslas Square on Saturday. His car had broken down. (OK, Alf, you have absolution). He said he would come to the hotel today "between twelve." "What does that mean, Vecerik?" Again, "between twelve." "Do you mean between 11 and 12?" "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" replied Vecerik. "Zwischen elf und twelf Heute?" I said. Vecerik: "Yes, yes, yes, bye".
Bonnie went off and I went to the lobby at 11AM.
Five minutes later a likely suspect came in, picked up the house phone, listened and hung up. I stared at him. He stared at me. I pointed to the corkscrews and the balloons on the shirt that Alf had given me. The suspect nodded, came over and sat down. I called Alf, who came down immediately. We chatted for a while and finally I impatiently asked to see the corkscrews. He said "corkscrews?" "Yes, Vecerik, the corkscrews." He responded: "I am not Vecerik, I am Wassilly."
Great Scott, Alf weve got the wrong guy!
It is now quite obvious that Alf and I are not good at this!
We looked around the lobby and there were no suspects. We waited. And waited. No one carrying a box of corkscrews. At noon we moved to the bar where we had a view of the lobby. Alf suggested that perhaps "between 12 meant between noon and midnight". Or, maybe "between 1 and 2 ... the digits on the clock".
At 12:45 Bonnie showed up and we sat there waiting. Our thoughts were in comic strip balloon captions over our heads:
Alf: Its pay back for going to the wrong square.
Don: It is a practical joke by Mike.
Bonnie: These guys are really nuts!
BACKING UP A BIT:
Ballooning ... Yesterdays evening was flight number two. We were driven to the same launching site and we launched quickly. Alf and his family were celebrating Pattys birthday on Corkscrew Balloon II. We were in Corkscrew Balloon I piloted by Steve. We rose and brushed the tree tops. We descended to the Charles River and Steve brought the basket down to touch the water ... leaving a wake. We rose again for a bright sunny flight over the city. By now we were able to spot the chase crew, racing through the city to meet the five balloons in the fields to the south.
When we arrived in an area of a huge power grid, darkness was coming and Steve was searching for a landing field. We were too high to catch the first base of a baseball diamond. The parking lot of the power plant looked too hard. So, Steve, why not scare the hell out of us by picking a field surrounded by power lines and those iron giants holding them up? He did it! And maybe in the process he flew under a wire.
We had several gleeful greeters and the table was quickly set up to serve Champagne. Then a sudden shower halted the party. We returned to the hotel for dinner and sleep.
(DON: ) Yesterday evenings flight was yet another wonder. This time we were aboard Corkscrew Balloon II giving us an excellent opportunity to see the beauty of Corkscrew Balloon I in flight. We were herded to a field south of Prague for a flight over the countryside.
We took off ... WAIT ... I just had a call from Vecerik. He is in the lobby with a box of corkscrews. Gotta go ... more on Tuesdays flight later.
(ALF:) My room is on the 5th floor of the Inter-Continental Hotel; Don and Bonnie are situated on the 3rd floor. By the time that Don was signing off with a "Chou" in the preceding paragraph I had completely forgotten about Vecerik and his corkscrews. Well, imagine my surprise when I met Don on the down elevator where he told me that Vecerik was just yards away in the lobby. When we got off the elevator we saw a nervous Czech with a black bag. Eye contact was made and we knew we had our man. But, our man didnt have very much to offer. Don bought three pieces while I chose just two.
(DON:) 5:25 PM: We are not flying today due to a change in the weather so I have a bit of a chance to catch up.
CAUTION: I was about to go into a bank to change $100 and I was approached by a street money changer offering a better rate (3500 vs 3100) so I said why not. He said to wait and went dashing off. He returned with money in hand and counted off 3500 tightly cupped in his hands. I demanded to hold it and count it. He cautiously gave it to me, took it back and asked for the hundred. As I pulled out the hundred, I saw the scam. He switched to a different wad of money in his other hand. Obviously, the amount would be less. I clutched my $100, told him I saw what he did, and he scampered off. Remember to change money in banks or the hotel.
... to continue the Czech waiter with corkscrews saga ... After his call, I called Alf. No answer in his room. Bonnie and I went to the elevator, pushed the button, the door opened, and there was Alf. When I told him the corkscrew connection was in the lobby, he didnt believe it. When we got to the lobby, he did. No, Vecerik did not have a box full. But he had a pack with about 17 corkscrews. Mostly junk. There was a rusty Tyr, a couple of Czech corkscrews, an interesting East German frame with spring, a cellar key from Moscow, and a wood handle T with stars of David carved in one side and initials with heart in the other. This last piece had all the indications of having been worked on in a concentration camp. We negotiated and finally agreed on a cash sum plus the promise that I would ship him some Nazi patches, hats, and badges from the United States. Vecerik had made his wish list using a catalog from a firm in Boston. We dont want to even try to guess what he is planning to do. So, at last, Alf and I got corkscrews in Prague!
Important notice: When the traffic signals show a red man here, there is an annoying clacking sound that slowly plays ... wait ... wait ... wait ... wait. When the man turns green, the clacking rapidly increases telling us to runrunrunrunrunrun. Car engines are racing in anticipation of their own green in hopes that we will not make it! So far we outran them every time.
Back to ballooning. Yesterday evenings flight was absolutely spectacular. After we took off from the small field an hour South of Prague, we hovered over a castle which dominated the hills surrounding it. With our Corkscrew I leading the pack, we had a marvelous view of the four trailing balloons with the castle and country landscape backdrop. We continued over fields, streams, and forest. Each pilot would come over a group of trees, touch down momentarily in a field, and then lift over the next bunch of trees just skimming the treetops. It was indescribably incredible - you had to be there!
As darkness approached, we crossed over several small farming villages where the villagers ran out of their homes to wave enthusiastically at the angels in the sky. In the distance we saw our chase crew trying to work out a landing site with Mike. We came down near one to see many deer scampering about with dislike of the sounds of the balloon. Mike asked the ground crew if the field was thistle as it was nearly half the height of the running deer. They rushed in to check and we aborted a landing there. Up we went over the treetops and to the next field. The crew took several lefts and rights on the road and managed to get to it. Mike dropped the ropes and the crew latched on, dragged through the field. We bumped the ground once, twice, three times. We nearly came to a stop and Alf said "Smells bad here, Mike, see the cow pies?" There was a road in between that field and the next, we lifted up with the crew in tow, running and pulling. The ground crew scaled a bank on one side of the road while holding the rope. They tumbled down the other side and, again, held the ropes. We touched down with a slight bump. Mike just shook his head muttering something like "I just dont know how I could land so poorly."
The farmer field owner came onto the field with his three dogs that looked like leaping ferrets in the tall grass. He was followed by what may have been all of his relatives. The champagne, beer, and Coca Cola was quickly set out on the table to the delight of all. Then Mike invited the whole village to pass some time in their local pub (the only one). We drove 100 yards down the road and we were in the village of Horetice (try to find that on your map). A lonely drinker sat in front of a blinking television in the pub named Hostinec (I think that is the beer brand served). We entered and filled up one side of the room. The villagers arrived and filled the other side. The rounds of beer were brought out to most of us while Alf and Mike decided to try the local favorite - hot water, hot dark rum, and sugar. Everyone toasted everyone. Mike got our driver translator to get the scoop on the town. The farmer, who was now proudly sporting a balloon pin gifted by Alf, said his family had lived in the village forever. But during the war (No. 2), the Germans came and used his town for training SS Anti-Aircraft units. When the war was over, the Russians occupied his town and all of his produce was harvested for the good of the people. With the 1979 Velvet Revolution, he and his family were once again free to enjoy their land for their own use. (I sure hope Vecerik the Waiter doesnt have any grand scheme that will change things again!).
After an hour or so and possibly exhausting the local beer supply, we left. No doubt, the beer delivery schedule for that pub will be thrown off for weeks to come. By 10:30 we were back in Prague, exhausted, and ready for a quick room service meal.
This evening Bonnie and I will have a farewell to Prague dinner with Alf, his family, and Rosemary and Richard. Buddys group had their farewell luncheon today and a number of that crowd are already winging their way home.
Tomorrow we leave late enough to arrive for lunch at a Czech brewery on the way to our overnight Czech stop. There is some possibility of a flight tomorrow evening (we hope). Then on Friday (I think - Im losing track of the days!), we go on to our hotel on the lake near Salzburg. Again check out last years journal to read all about the hotel.
We are having the time of our lives - we love those balloons.
See you soon.
(ALF:) Skip down a a couple of stairs where Don picks up the trail.
(ALF:) One more step to go.
(DON:) Where am I? Where was I? I have some catching up to do. Did I tell you about the third balloon trip yet? Yes, I think so ... it was a blast. We passed up the fourth balloon trip. There was no wind early in the morning but Buddy took his floral balloons up just to give his group one last thrill. Up and down, taking off and landing in the same spot. Were glad Alf let us sleep.
Yesterday we said farewell to Rosemary and Richard. Then the pride of Previas pursued Paul piloting the Mercedes chase truck to Hluboka. This was the first leg of our trip to Salzburg. I think Paul was testing the drivers of the three Previas ... or, hey, maybe he just drives like a nut case. After all, he did learn to drive in a country that operates on the wrong side of the road. "Exit here ...oops, I changed my mind (or was that like navigating?) OK, guy, change lanes, and again, and again. Now lets pass everybody then slow down." Hmmmm. We were at the tail end riding with Franta and getting the most whip lash at the end of the chain. Hey, they gotta have fun!
Remember the name Franta Junger (our driver). He is a 19 year old Czech who spent a year in Missouri as an exchange student. And there he showed the American High School basketball team how to really play the game. He is hoping to get a U.S. university scholarship and he dreams of playing in the NBA. Again, remember his name ... maybe youll hear it on ESPN sports.
At a lunch stop we heard some fascinating tales from pilot Steve about his past adventures. He has parachuted from balloons and planes over 300 times, not knowing whether he is brave or dumb. Several years ago he built a balloon and spent nine days flying across the U.S. with a friend (they had to be friends to spend so much time in a balloon together!). They flew 250 - 350 miles per day at heights up to 27,000 feet. Thats high in a balloon! Bring on the oxygen! Wanna be on that chase team?
Steve also told us that he hasnt had a shower in his Arizona home in 9 months. We hear the strangest little stories! Glad we didnt meet Steve at home.
A couple of days ago I told you that Corkscrew I is 180,000 cubic feet and Corkscrew II is 250,000 cubic feet. Would you believe the Goodyear blimp you see at sporting events is only 205,000 cubic feet? These balloons are really enormous.
Our destination for the Thursday journey was the Hotel Stekl. This is a delightful, recently renovated building below the huge castle Hluboka nad Vitavou. Our suite was filled with period furnishings, a bed with double pods to sandwich yourself in, original oil paintings and dueling televisions so one can watch CNN in stereo.
Once we were settled in we went to the lobby to relax before dinner with the drivers, Alf and family. Dan and Shamane arrived. They were staying "down the hill" according to Don. The description of their rooms led us to believe they were staying in the dwarf quarters for the castle. It seems the Czechs were into dwarf tossing games after polishing off their jugs of Becherovka (you gotta try it).
Colorado based Shamane chefs on Buddys trips in France. She also crews and was one of the four bouncing across the road on our landing the other night. A rose among the thorns.
On Friday we were off for an early start at 8:30AM. Our first stop would be Alfs "Mecca" ... the Budvar Brewery in Budejovice. This is the home of the original "Budweiser" beer. We arrived at 9:30AM. The brewery opens at 10AM.
Well save it for another day ... on to Salzburg.
Next Stop: Salzburg