Geneva, Switzerland 14th August 2007
In the morning I got to thinking I ought to move early in case anyone complained about my parking in the car park so I moved early. In retrospect I can't see there was any possibility of a problem but then it's easy to be wise after the event.
I drove a few miles and stopped by a wayside chapel to finish the morning stuff. Comb hair, brush teeth, wash, both self and last nights pans and eating utensils. I can't abide plastic knives and forks although I don't mind disposable plates.
The later views were superb. There's nowhere really to rival Switzerland for stupendous views.
It gets better.
You can see the road dropping in and out of tunnels.
I had crossed the Susten pass, 2500 metres, now I'm down again
I reached Chateau d'Oex. I came to about the first 8 or 10 meetings here, and made some superb flights over the mountains. Then it became more commercialised, all about entertaining the public and sponsored balloons, and the long distance flights were limited to only one during the 9 days of the meeting, so I continued my Alpine flying at other venues. I once won the David Niven trophy here, for making the longest flight during the week.
When not making long distance flights you make local flights, the winds are light and in different directions at different heights, you can fly round and round the valley. This is not the sort of flying we are used to, and at first is absolutely fascinating. After a while though it becomes boring, round and round the same patch, all the while working hard to make sure you do not get stuck out over the tree line and finish with nowhere in the valley to land maybe needing a helicopter retrieve. I never needed one of those, but after making about 50 flights like this I used to give my balloon to my crew, so that they could enjoy the new experience, while I sat on the balcony of the apartment and watched, beer in hand!
On the way into Chateau d'Oex this year I called in at the Steigenberger hotel in Gstaad. I made my last flights in the Alps in 1993, winning the Steigenberger Trophy on the way. They owe me a free week at the hotel for 2 people, my prize for winning, but I never took them up on it. It was Hans who organised this meeting and as I mentioned earlier, I had been planning to call and see him on my tour. As this was not to be, I hoped to see his daughter Dani, who had been with us in Israel in 1982 when we did not get to make our free flight. I didn't realise, although she has a chalet in Chateau d'Oex, she is back in the Cayman Islands, where she manages a hotel. 1982 is a long time ago!
So I looked in at the Tourist Office in Chateau d'Oex. By chance, Claude Jelk was there, he had helped with the organisation of the first meeting, we talked about that first meeting and the people who had been there. It was Hans who organised that first meeting. Next year is the 30th anniversary and as I was at the first one they would like me to go to the 30th. I suspect it would be especially interesting for them as I am still flying the balloon I took to the very first meeting almost 30 years ago. Carousel 2 is still in exactly the same configuration as 30 years ago, all original fabric in the balloon, same basket burner and tanks as 30 years ago.
But for why should I go? So that I can be bored flying round and round the valley, being a performing monkey to entertain the crowds, all while I am picking up the tab myself? No way! Or maybe I would get 10 seconds of notoriety. Ha!
I visited the balloon museum and was intrigued to notice a few photographs of Carousel 2 taken in the first year, and a few photos of Bert, whom I used for some valley flights, taken in subsequent years. I didn't see photos of Big Red, who I used for my long distance flights from Chateaud'Oex. Probably because in most flights we launched, climbed out of the valley, and were gone. In the local Co-op supermarket there were some big cut-outs of balloons, Bert was amongst them. It must have been up there for 20 years!
The valley is possibly even more beautiful in the summer than it is in the winter.
I headed over towards the upper Rhone Valley.
I passed by Lake Geneva.
And reached Geneva, with it's fountain.
This fountain is 140 metres high, the water leaps into the air at 200 kph, at any one time it has 7 tons of water in the air.
Tim Chilvers - whom I had first met at that first ever Chateau d'Oex meeting - had again given me impeccable directions to find his apartment in Geneva, and we went out to dinner.
Actually, almost home now
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