Did I mention I've decided never to say 'No!' to anything again? I’m not talking about that third helping of tiramisù or paddling across the Pacific on a plank, but turning down opportunities which may not arise again. After all, how many more chances am I gonna get? And it’s never too soon to start ticking off boxes on your bucket list cos before you know it the bucket’s gone rusty or you’ve kicked it before your time. The point is not to be frightened and never to think - let alone say: “I’m too old to do that.”
This musing was prompted by an invitation, as previously mentioned, to go hot air ballooning. Wow! I thought. Offers like that don’t come along every day and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So I accepted with delight and gratitude but when I started telling people, some tried to bring me down with comments like: “Is it safe?” and “Won’t you be terrified?” which only compounded my desire to go.
The Festival International du Ballon takes place every year at Chateau-d’Oex, a picturesque village in the Swiss Alps. That's where we headed along with hundreds of other enthusiasts and spectators who flock to the town to marvel at the myriad of brightly-coloured balloons of all shapes and sizes taking to the skies.
Everyone ooh-ed and aah-ed as the aeronautical displays took place: paragliding, freefalling, sky-diving and a daredevil stuntman looping the loop in his busy, buzzy biplane. Could this be the famous Jean-Pierre Camembert who always goes down in flames? I wondered - and I knew it was him when I saw his cheesy grin.
The weather was perfect: cornflower blue sky, diamond white snow and billows of impatient inflatables straining to take off. We watched fascinated as the long limp lengths of cloth laid out on the piste were pumped full of air until they rose up like perfect soufflés.
We propped up the Champagne Bar while awaiting our flight and our names were eventually called. Rope handlers controlled the eager vessel as we clambered clumsily into the basket and were then released to soar . . . up, up and away in our beautiful balloon.
The landscape below soon diminished into Dolls' World as we floated freely above the earth – free to breathe the pure fresh air and reach out into the wide blue yonder, no metal wing or plastic pane shielding us from the atmosphere.
The pilot kept the craft climbing with powerful gusts of hot air blasted into the balloon’s body from the onboard gas cylinders. Hot air rises, cool air falls – that’s how it works. I feared my hair might catch fire such was the power of the flames but luckily the tanks were far enough away.
We reached our cruising altitude then drifted lazily across the valley over fields, forests and farmland - on the north side white with snow, on the south, a peaceful patchwork in varied shades of green. Cattle grazed, deer ambled, rabbits scampered homeward as foxes prowled around. It was fascinating to watch from above and you couldn’t help but wonder at this serene and silent world you’d never seen before.
After an hour or so, we landed lightly beside a cow shed, bending our knees as instructed to absorb any impact. The balloon was kept inflated so the pick-up truck could find us then they folded it away, stashed the basket in the back and returned us to our base. If I was asked to describe the experience in one word, I'd have to say'tranquil' for that is the enduring quality of a balloon flight.
Had I said ‘No’, I’d have missed out on a beautiful adventure so I'm glad I ignored the scare-mongers and did what I wanted to do.
I'm ignoring them again on Monday when I leave for Egypt - Gawd 'elp me. Camouflage patterned swimwear is all packed for the Luxor-Aswan trip and sequinned flak jacket and harem pants for Cairo! More about that next time.