Back home, 19th August 2007

The trouble with instant mail is that it is, well, instant.

I meant to say that ballooning over the mountains is the most beautiful form of flying that I have found. It's wonderful. I used to say, and still think, that a mountain flight was as great an increase in an experience over a normal balloon flight, as was a normal balloon flight compared to standing on the ground.

So when I reached the Chateau d'Oex area I was quite moved. I remembered those superb glorious flights I had made over the mountains, pulling at the heart strings. Those few photos I saw of my balloons, all those years ago, in the museum, and on the wall of the Co-op, reminded me more of those flights, as did my drive around the valley, and as I drove the approaches in and out of the valley, I remembered the places I had seen from the air. There was mist in the upper Rhone valley, so many times we had launched from Chateau d'Oex and seen mist there, and the upper Rhone valley is the first reasonable landing valley going in that direction from Chateau d'Oex, about 30 Km distance. I remembered seeing that, and hoping the valleys further on were clear.

I meant to write something like this, to try to give some idea of my feelings on my revisit. But I forgot. I just forgot!

I stopped by Hans's chalet - Balloon Haven Hans Buker - and remembered again some of the amazing ballooning experiences we had shared, some of the emotional experiences we had shared. Very soon after his Son Christian died in a balloon accident, in 1994, Hans called at my house in England, we talked far into the night, there were other times and reasons.

I also forgot to mention. While driving through the Black Forest I pulled into a side road climbing steeply out of the valley, to stop for lunch, then realised I had just driven past a suitable spot, and reversed back, looking at the pull off. But oops! While looking the wrong way I reversed off the road. It was a steep drop down, and the back wheel of the van, which was off the road, was spinning on the wet grass when I tried to drive forwards, up the slope. So I pulled to full lock, and reversed slowly, very slowly, hoping to turn back onto the road. The bank dropped away steeply, so I stopped every few inches to check on progress - I was quite close to a tip over situation as I moved further back.

Then a car pulled off the main road, stopped just behind me, 3 guys got out, sized up the situation, and signified they were going to push me back up. They did not approve of my idea of reversing back on full lock. They were of rugby player build but had little effect on the pushing back up. They scouted round, and loaded stones in front of the wheel. We moved a bit. They got more stones, and reinforcements arrived, in the form of their wives, or girl friends. With everyone's efforts we got back on the road. They just waved and headed back to their car. I ran after them and managed to give them a bottle of champagne. I took out my wallet but they said no no no. So I gave them my website address. If you read this guys, thank you. I was lucky that you were driving past.

Where was I? Oh yes. I'd just arrived at Tim's in Geneva and we'd gone out to dinner. Years ago Tim made one of the most beautiful coffee table books ever, the Romance of Ballooning, and he'd later commissioned me, to write a light hearted popular book on how you learned to fly a balloon. I wrote a synopsis, with chapter headings such as "Blow it up First", the idea being to sell the idea to publishers, then to go ahead and make it. But somewhere along the line it got marketed as a serious instructional book for balloon pilots which gave it a potential sale of about 12. Amazingly they got an order from a UK publisher for 2,000 copies, but a minimum of 10,000 were needed, so the project was marked as a nogo.

We had a good, and pleasant, dinner, around the corner. Tim insisted on paying. I couldn't make any impression. Last time we had gone 50/50 on the bill, he must be getting generous in his old age.

In the morning I went to the Red Cross Museum, just round the corner from Tim's. I was not impressed. It was an oldish museum, created 20 years ago, but they had tried to be too clever by half. It was one of these places giving ideas and impressions but little of really substantial interest. Well, there were storage racks holding 7 million cards in a card index, created during the last war, to trace prisoners of war, perhaps I should not dismiss that so lightly.

I had a little trouble getting out of Geneva in the way I wanted to go, but eventually I found the pretty route.

I'm now back in France. Heading towards Aix le Bains.

I reached Daniel's house about 5.30 to meet a surprised Nany, his wife. Daniel had left the previous evening to go mountain walking with a bunch of his family and friends so had not seen my email to say I was on the way. Nany had been reading at the back of the house and hadn't heard when I tried to phone.

Daniel got back a little later and extended Nany's welcome. It was good to see them all again. All includes daughter Caroline, her boyfriend, also Daniel's brother in law Bob who brought me a bottle of his home made firewater. We had a super meal and, probably, a little too much champagne and Slovenian firewater as we talked late into the night.

I wasn't allowed to leave until after lunch next day and even then Nany packed me another picnic lunch!

Ooops. I've lost a photo. Climbing up from the River Rhone towards Annonay. Yes, the famous Annonay where the Montgolfiere brothers first flew hot air balloons way back in 1783.

Ah, found it. Rewind to the last photo, with the river, just above. That's the photo of the River Rhone I'm looking for. It's in the wrong place. Just imagine it follows on from here, not there.

After Annonay there was more beautiful stuff.

This is the run down into Le Puy.

After Le Puy there are more super views.

And then I reached the end. I'm home. I had barely been in the house for seconds before Pica, Eleanor's cat, arrived from her sleeping spot in the garden, and rubbed up to me, purring. My last cat, the one I recently lost on the road, after I had been away, didn't do nice stuff like that. That one recognised me when I got back, but pretended not to, stuck her nose in the air, and walked straight past, piqued because I had left her for so long!

I immediately dismantled the camper part of the van. The four chests of drawers and the two cupboards screwed into the van are part of my house furniture, I need them in the house.

Pica settled down on the folded down passenger seat, in the spot normally reserved for my computer. If I was going away again soon, she was coming...........

She soon settled back into her normal routine, checking out the drawers in my desk.

After Dresden I have the feeling I came back fairly quickly. 2 weeks to get back from there is not that fast but I didn't stop at every museum or point of interest, as I generally do. I was not so relaxed as on my US trips and was keener to be home. Lots of small things caused this. I was a touch worried about Pica, although I got regular messages to say she was fine. But she's not my cat, and she's not a wild cat, like my black cat before, so she's not used to being on her own. My van is a lot smaller than my US van, I can't stand up in it. Now, it has to be smaller, roads are narrower here, especially in some of the old towns, and even a regular European sized camper van wouldn't work going where I want to go. But in a morning it's hard to put your pants on when you can't stand up! Sure, it's way more convenient and luxurious than using a tent, and plenty of people manage in a tent. I can reach about everything whilst sitting on my chair, cooking stove, food, utensils, etc. In Germany, Czech Republic, and Hungary, overnight parking is not allowed, except in rest areas, or camp sites so, I was not so relaxed whilst wild parking although having non camper type van helped me blend into the landscape. I like my house here and I haven't spent enough time here. Maybe I'm running out of enthusiasm for long trips. So all in all, I had that not quite so relaxed feeling. Maybe I was getting homesick!

So it's the end of another journey. Just over two months, 9 weeks to be exact, with a total of 6,000 miles. I've seen lots of super places and made another super trip. I've met and made a lot of friends.

I enjoyed the trip, but I'm happy to be home.

Next day was my birthday. I'd emailed everyone in the village to come take a drink with me to celebrate and they all came. Well, since there are only 5 houses apart from mine, and a couple of people were away on holiday, the numbers were easily manageable.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my travels. I know a lot of you have, you've told me. I've enjoyed my latest journey, I've enjoyed writing about it, and I've enjoyed having you along for the ride. If you've missed any episodes, they are all on my web site. And if your are really bored, you will find there, on my web site, my accounts of a total of around two years travelling, with over 2,000 travel photographs, 220 separate journey accounts, around 200,000 words, and 150 photos of Little Cat, amongst other things........

I don't know what my next trip will be. Maybe Australia at the end of the year, or early next year, to visit with Eleanor. Meanwhile I think I'll just put my feet up and watch TV. Ha! You can believe that if you like................

Best regards

David Barker

One final note for the year

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