Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bumps and Bouchons!

And so it was dear friends, that on Monday 25th July my aviator husband had his first hot air balloon flight, accompanied by his less than confident wife, our competent brother-in-law, and the balloon pilot. 8.15pm on a breezy Chambley airfield near Metz, the balloon took off along with about two hundred others to fly a distance of around 6km in 55 minutes over the countryside and villages north of the airfield. When you buy a commercial balloon flight (as I did once in another life) you are invariably the only balloon in the sky, so to share the space with hundreds of others is a unique experience, only achieved at festivals. During our flight there were times I could understand why my sister and her husband have become addicted to this pastime, but there were other moments when I wished I had stayed on the ground! About thirty minutes in, I was quietly taking a small video of the multi-coloured mass of balloons ahead of us, when a draft of cold air pressed down on the balloon (so I had it explained to me later), which meant that as we passed low over a hedge and into a field, we suddenly descended, fast, and bumped on the ground, just for a moment, but enough to send me to the bottom of the basket, clutching my glasses and spraining an ankle, with Victor losing his favourite Mercedes cap overboard! The funny thing was I did not stop filming, and so the very end of this minute long piece is a very black screen with me whelping (I refuse to use the word ‘screaming’) in the background!

The balloon quickly got up again with the use of the very noisy gas jets, and from then on I was sort of okay again, watching all the other balloons skimming along around us, and gazing down at the little villages and waving at the people who came out of their houses to wave at us. Then the pilot decided it was time to land and up ahead was a huge ploughed field with the stumpy remains of the crop and, as we discovered later, a layer of cow’s muck, recently applied! Two other balloons had already landed in the huge field, conveniently next to a road so my sister and her colleague in the retrieval vehicle could get to us, and this was our destiny. Once again I feared the bump, so crouched low in the basket while everyone else stayed on their feet (the correct way to do it). This was fine apart from during the landing I was hit on the head by a couple of metal links which fell down as the basket tipped. Ouch! I crawled out into the smelly field feeling very sorry for myself. Certainly an unforgettable experience all round, and we were grateful to Pilot David for the opportunity to be part of the team just for a few hours. Those things take a lot of putting up and taking down, we had to admire the commitment of everyone concerned, as they get up at 4.30 every day for the morning flights, snatch a few hours sleep in the day, and are out again at 4.30 for the evening flight, not getting back to bed until after 11.00. Three days later we had a text to say that the team had taken part in the world record breaking attempt of the most balloons to take off together from a line-up (349) and that my sister had been a part of that flight! Congratulations to all concerned! See incredible photo at

The following morning we packed up the final bits and left that rather overcrowded, noisy and muddy camp behind and set off slightly south-west in search of some sun for our final week in France. Our chosen destination was the historic city of Troyes (pronounced ‘tois’ as in ‘three’ in French), the furthest south of the Champagne cities. We had not visited there before and as there seemed to be a promising campsite just outside Troyes, it seemed a good choice. Well, we have been here for five nights now, and although the sun has only shone a few times, it is a small, pretty and peaceful camp, with friendly fellow campers, plenty of space between pitches and a lively clubhouse for a drink in the evenings and with free internet connection. We have been entertained by a lovely Flemish family with three little girls of 2, 4 and 6. Their antics have made us laugh out loud many times!

Our France guidebook describes Troyes as ‘a delight’ and so it has proved. We have visited twice, the final time this afternoon and each time was gob smacked by the ancient houses with colourful wooden beams and original wattle and daub walls. They have a number of fascinating churches and we visited the Cathedral of St Pierre and St Paul yesterday with its stone vaulting and breathtaking stained glass windows. Troyes has its own local delicacies and I tried one for lunch earlier this week. The andouillette de Troyes (little sausage) is a very old recipe for using up tripe and other unmentionables from the pig, not that this worried me, but although the taste was okay, it was the consistency that put me off! Yesterday was preferable when we tried some Bouchons de Champagne (liqueur chocolates shaped like champagne corks). Now, they were worth a taste!

The sun has now come out and today, our very last day here, could be hot, which is typical as we have to clear up ready for early departure on Monday. We might squeeze in a little sunbathing! So, my next blog will hopefully be sent from the comfort of our own home in Norwich, and will cover our two day trek back, our channel crossing and maybe an overview of our adventures! I am expecting you all to arrange good weather for our return to Norwich! Take care everyone!

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