Alf’s Post-Prague Journal

Part II: Beaune

Continuing from Alf's Salzburg Journal

Saturday, September 6, 1997

This morning we left Bern a bit early for the four hour drive to Beaune. Since there were fewer hills and mountains on the Beaune side of Bern we had less than a dozen tunnels to run through today ... and most of them were very short ones. We stopped for a brew on the way, in a little town that used to be famous for its baths ... people used to come to this place to take "the cure." According to Mike, France is curious in yet another way: It seems that towns that had curative waters were also entitled to operate casinos. Perhaps this was a very ethereal give and take thing.

OK, we have just now checked in ... in Beaune.

Hotel de la Poste (10030 bytes)The Hotel de la Poste in Beaune is becoming an old friend of mine; I guess that I have been coming here, on again off again, since the late '60s. I really like Beaune, as you can see. It’s a charming town and a super spot from which to balloon. It is also the home of a couple restaurants that I like to frequent. One is Le Bistrot de L’Huitre ... which serves oysters from Bretagne; these slimy tasty things are best washed down with a bottle of Sancerre ... and, taken with a little bit of crusty french bread. And, more drinks at Route 66.

The other place that I adore here in Beaune is the Restaurant Les Marinieres ... this nook specializes in moules (mussels from the sea). The menu offers up at least twenty variations of moules marienere. I am partial to the house special; the one laced with strings of tightly sliced bacon. It comes to the table really steaming hot. After you make a mess of yourself with the moules you get to dive directly into the broth. Terribly sloppy but loads of fun. Yes, the whole lot is served with french fries.

Sunday, September 7, 1997

This morning we made a flight from Chateau de Laborde; the cocoon for my balloons when they are not playing in other fields with me and my friends. Whatever, we had a north wind so we were able to drift over the huge forest to the south ... like miles and miles of trees. While up in the sky we counted 17 or 18 other balloons off in the direction of Mersault ... there is an air festival of sorts there ... not just balloons; other things as well: Stingers and rogue air to whatever stuff ... all of it probably swiped from the former CCCP. Since the balloon was flying underweight we had a really bouncy landing. I don’t think that we posed a threat to that air show ... otherwise, our landing might have been very different.

After all of that I felt the need for oysters and some duck pate. Life is tough. Yes, I went back to that spot that does it all so well.

Time passes.

Hmmm ... a nap is in order ... and ... after a bit of a read of the Herald Tribune we are off to the air again.

Shamane (7779 bytes)Yes, we had another wonderful Shamane flight. She packed aboard cold meats, cheeses, and Champagne. Did we need anything else? No! Except for a most dramatic flight over the city of Beaune. There were a dozen or so other fellow globes in the sky ... all of us drifting in the same way ... I wonder if they were having as much fun as we were. Of course not! No one could have as much fun as we were having.

Monday, September 8, 1997

What a wonderful day ... so far. I met Elisabeth in the lobby of the Hotel de la Poste. You remember her! She is the owner of Chateau de Vault de Lugny. Anyway, she was in Beaune to pick up some magnums of Musigny for her hotel. I suggested lunch in the hotel restaurant but she had other ideas: She said that there was a Michelin two star restaurant less than a half hour drive out of Beaune, one that she and her father used to visit during wine buying trips for the Vault de Lugny cellars. Of course, I said OK. She had the concierge cell phone it and book a table for 1PM.

Dear reader, do you remember that little car park in front of the hotel: the one captured so well in Stephani’s journal of yore?. Well, Elisabeth had her midnight blue Porsche Carerra (convertible) sitting there, perhaps idling. Hey, reader, I’m the passenger on this part of the trip ... in more ways than one. Anyway, we tore up the wine route (through back winding roads) at about 140KPH. Wow, what fun. A beautiful woman with a fast car ... sigh ... hard to beat ... right?

The restaurant: Vieux Moulin (old waterwheel) is a juxtaposition of antiques and severely modern styles. We had a garden table, well ... a table overlooking the garden.

I insisted that Elisabeth order the lunch. The result: we had an unusual trout dish ... the trout were dropped ALIVE into boiling water, and served freshly dead with just a side dish of sea salt and melted butter. The trout had an awful look on their little faces. No wonder! Elisabeth insisted that we eat the cheeks of the fish as well as the body. Leave nothing go to waste, I say. She chose a bottle of Batard Montrachet to drink with this. Perfect! Thank you Elisabeth.

After lunch she gave me another high speed twist in her Porsche through the roads of Burgundy. Back to my hotel.

I am going to spend the next three nights, after tonight, in the Vault. Not a bad place to be!

I hope that we fly tonight.

Monday Takeoff (7260 bytes)We did! ... from what looked like a graveyard of old jets.

Shamane again produced a food basket that could have fed ten people. Both the flight and the food ranked a ten. Enough said. No, one more thing: we topped out at 10,500 feet.

Much later we landed near a construction site for a wine barrel factory. And surprise of surprises ... a corkscrew collector who just happens to be the owner of this whole place greeted us on landing. He rushed to our side after identifying the thingys on my balloon. Another Collector (10366 bytes)After deflation and Champagning he invited us back to his house to see his own corkscrew collection. And, in order to give a proper exercise to one of his little engines he opened a bottle of ’93 Mersault. It was a wonderful lush wine. By the way, Mersault is just down the road from here. Lucky man…living so close to the source of life.

All this was followed by a crew dinner in the only place that we could find that was open or that was not fully booked. It seems that today is the anniversary of the liberation of Beaune. I guess from the Germans in '45 ... but, it could date back to some medieval altercation.

Tuesday, September 9, 1997

After a final moules fix in Beaune, Dan the Dent Man and I drove to Vault de Lugny ... we almost flew there as once we were aboard the autoroute we cruised at about 95MPH for most of the way. Dan is a very good driver. That dent a couple of weeks ago was just a learning experience. We listened to Annie Lennox and P. J. Harvey the whole way. Dan had never heard the latter. He thought it was best listened to at night. I wonder if that was damnation by faint praise.

Vault de Lugny (11077 bytes)The Chateau de Vault de Lugny is as beautiful as ever ... the animals in the front lawn work a really bucolic welcome. Since the hotel is fully booked I am staying in the family quarters. This is very much to my liking as I have the use of the CD player and the VCR. But, I just use the CD ... again listening to Annie Lennox ... also, Everything But The Girl (Idlewild).

Michael and the Meal (10824 bytes)In about an hour the crew will lay out the balloon in front of the hotel ...thirty minutes later we should be in the air.

While reading an Agatha Christie novel on the lawn of the hotel, and at the same time having my wrist gnawed by Diva ... Elisabeth’s newest dog ... the crew pulled in with the balloon. Diva was happy to have the additional attention. I was pleased by the distraction. Nothing much got done until Mike directed all faces to the balloon. After a short delay caused by some wind puffs we soared quickly to avoid the surrounding trees.

Our in flight meal was the usual "best". So was the flight.

This evening, after returning to the hotel, Elisabeth and I shared a bottle of Champagne.

Good Night.

Wednesday, September 10, 1997

God, what a beautiful morning. A crispy clear sky and sweater weather all tucked into one. Great time for a walk, me thinks. Helpfully, Elisabeth gave me a 1:25,000 map of the Avallon area (2722E Serie Bleue, for map buffs) and I set off. I walked from Vault de Lugny to Vermoiron and back ... then I continued on to Pontaubert. But, on my way past a hedgerow on the way to Pontaubert I heard a strange hissing noise off to my left. Over the hiss I thought that I detected a couple of English accents. Then my balloon burners came into view ... along with Tim. Sure enough, the crew chose this field to do a major propane refill. Since a lot of propane gets spilled, so to speak, this routine is best done far from people with a fag twixt their lips.

Au Soleil d'Or (13454 bytes)While in town I passed the hotel where my crew is docked. It is a combination Hotel/Restaurant/Bar: named "Au Soleil d’Or."

This afternoon Elisabeth and I and her mother had lunch on the lawn of the hotel. It was a peppery hot moules marinere dish served with pomme frites. And, some wine, of course. All the rest of the guests had departed so we had the entire al fresco dining room to ourselves.

Behind the Scenes (10539 bytes)After lunch Elisabeth gave me a grand tour of the backstage property: stuff that the guests normally never see. Diva, the pubby, followed us throughout our wander. This ranged from a vegetable and herb garden to parts of the chateau that have not seen repairs since the 16th century.

Right now I’m awaiting the arrival of the balloon. There is a little bit more wind about than I would like ... it’s a marginal take off breeze: slightly more than ten miles per hour. But. Once the sun gets a little closer to the horizon things usually start to taper down.

Elisabeth’s animals are making a lot of noise now. The chickens, roosters and ducks are providing most of the symphony.

Shit! The wind never did taper off. So, the flight was scrubbed. We’ll attempt it tomorrow morning at 7:30. I really can’t grumble too much as we have really had amazing good luck with flying on this trip. In nearly a month of flying I don’t think we have missed more than a couple of days (counting morning make ups). I mean, if we fly tomorrow morning that will make up for tonight. Of course, we’ll have to fly tomorrow night as well to stay on par.

Elisabeth, her mother and I had dinner at the large table in the main dining room. Most of the guests had already dined by the time that we got there so we had the place pretty much to ourselves ... there were two other couples at the table.

Thursday, September 11, 1997

Before starting, I have to make a correction with respect to yesterday. I lied when I told you that the crew was housed in the "AU SOLEIL D’OR." Actually, they are berthed in abject quarters just down the road.

Anyway, we took off at shortly after 7:30. This time Elisabeth was able to fly with us. Breakfast (10141 bytes)Aside from resident chef Shamane, we had Chris on board for some needed military ballast. The fans and the balloon’s burners do make a hellish noise, especially in the early morning when sleeping ears are tuned for danger. Guests of the hotel, in various states of disgarb, appeared at their windows and either flashed us with approving cameras or scowled at our early morning rudeness. Shamane’s breakfast was up to Shamane standards. Perfect! If I was younger and I didn’t give a damn about weight I’d propose to that girl.

[Forgive the interruption for an explanatory note. What I meant in that ambiguous sentence is this: if I didn’t care about MY weight I’d propose to Shamane.]

Whatever, we drifted over the town proper of Vault de Lugny. The balloon passed close to the cemetery where Elisabeth’s father is buried. It is next to the church where her brother was married. It is a beautiful place. From then on we were on a rural route. In the middle of a vast forest Mike put us down into a valley with a small clearing. Chase Crew  (10324 bytes)After just barely kissing the ground we sloped up over the hill and headed toward some fields. Mike let the drop lines go pretty near the crew ... though they had to dash a few hundred feet to make the spot of the drop. By that time the wind had started to pick up, so the crew had to tap into their assets (weight and strength). Incidentally, Chris did not appear to be terribly impressed with the speed of these "assets." I heard him murmur something about what a proper military training could do for the lads.

After the obligatory Champagne we drove back to the hotel.

I changed to a bicycle for my next mode of transport. I peddled up to see how the crew were doing on their refueling effort. No, I didn’t ... that was a lie. I went into town to buy some pate. It was just on chance that I saw the "lads" pumping propane. The pate? Local stuff, but very good.

L'Esperance (9313 bytes)Promptly at 12:45 our chauffeur (AKA Dan the Dent Man), picked us up for the 8K ride to L’Esperance. This was the site of our three star (and 3 hour) Michelin lunch. Baby potatoes stuffed with caviar, oysters in aspic, turbot with butter ... and a bottle of Puligny Montrachet "Les Combettes" 1989. Finished with a Marc de Bourgone from the Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1979. Pretty special.

Elisabeth has just had her staff herd her animals into the barn ... actually, they willingly follow a wheel barrow of food.

We are awaiting the balloon for the last flight of this trip.

While flying tonight I decided to take another postponement in my life. I am not going home tomorrow.

Until later ... ...

Friday, September 12, 1997

The morning loomed gray and ominous. Not a day for flying, that’s for sure. We are expecting heavy thunder showers in the late afternoon so a pre-dinner launch also seems doomed to not exist. Mike confirmed this by phone just before 10AM. It all works out for the best: As the crew has to drive back to Beaune to pick up more propane this will give them a night off and a good time in town. These guys (and Shamane) have not had any totally free time since we left Prague. Tonight is Friday in Beaune ... and Pickwicks really swings on the weekend ... so, the crew should arrive back here on Saturday with hangovers.

But, it’s OK that I have the free time. Since Elisabeth’s brother and sister-in-law (and the kids) are due to arrive later today I have to shift my belongings into the hotel proper ... after the current guest departs.

All of the guests are now gone.

Vezelay Suite (9064 bytes)I’ve moved all of my things into the Vezelay suite. It’s a directly above the dining room and it overlooks Elisabeth’s "barnyard". Her barnyard is the beautiful front lawn that is somewhat triangularly shaped (I’m sure the French would say shaped like a hart). Well, at least the path that demarks it is that shape. During the day it is the roaming area for Elisabeth’s peacocks, roosters, hens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl (none of which are destined for the kitchen). It is also the romping ground for her two dogs: Camel and Diva. Diva is still has amazing puppy qualities and sometimes I think she drives Camel quite mad. But, they really do get along famously ... you should see them when they roll around the reception area playfully biting each other. When we were last here in July Diva was so small. When I see her next she will probably be able to jump into the balloon basket without assistance.

Before lunch, Elisabeth and I and her mother sat outside and had glasses of 30 year old Tawny Port ... along with bread and foi gras. Afterwards, still outside, we ate lightly grilled chicken and pasta.

Time for a nap. The rains started ... they began with a drizzle ... slow and pleasant to the ear. A couple of hours later came the crescendo: thunder, lightning and sheets of wet stuff. A pretty perfect afternoon.

My travel agent, Cindy, phoned me during the storm and confirmed that I could fly home on the 14th. Damn! I don’t ever want to leave.

Later ...

Only five new guests showed up at the hotel for the evening: one guy from Switzerland, a couple from Toronto and two from I don’t know where…the latter two had a small but very well behaved kid with them.

Before dinner Elisabeth and I and her mother had drinks in the salon of erotic paintings. I didn’t take any photos of this salon this time around as I have an ample number of them from the July trip.

Dinner for eight at a table for seventeen was intimate. Poor Elisabeth was pressed into table service as there was a supply and demand gap in the kitchen. Elisabeth is a genius at everything that she touches ... and, such a business woman to boot ... I’d marry her in a flash if she would have me.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to the return of my hungover crew. That day will very probably be the very last day of this particular corkscrew balloon trip. I hope that the weather is super fine as I would like to take Elisabeth’s sib and his wife up for a ride in the sky. That is the least that I could do for a couple who let me quarter in their quarters while the hotel was full.

It’s way after midnight. I am drinking Pol Roger Champagne and listening to Paula Cole.

'night all.

Saturday, September 13, 1997

Another morning when the Wind Goddess decided that we should not fly. And another morning when I had to change rooms. At this pace if I stayed here another ten nights I would have tasted, so to speak, every guest room in the hotel. Last night I stayed in the Vezelay suite. While I was having lunch all of my possessions were transported to La Reine. Hey Stephani, this is the room where you and Robin stayed this summer.

Anyway, late last night Elisabeth’s brother (Phillipe) and his wife (Sylvie) arrived from Paris. The were accompanied by their little 5 year old girl and their twin 18 month old infants. Fortunately for them, they usually travel with a nanny who can look after the children while the adults are doing adult activities.

A little before 1PM we all gathered in the salon for drinks and nibbles. This was followed by a lunch of pate, fish and chocolate soufflé, accompanied by the appropriate wines ... actually, the soufflé was offered up with a rum from Martinique.

Appropriately followed was some rest time, all the while tuned in to Billy Holiday’s "Songs For Distinque Lovers".

As I type this my balloon is being inflated ... gotta go.

Clouds (5961 bytes)Later.

Flight descriptions are probably boring you to tears by now. Just look at some of these cloud pictures taken at over 10,000 feet.

It’s almost over ... in 12 hours I’ll be in Paris awaiting an Air France flight to Miami.

This is the end of my journal. I don’t want to write anything more. I have tears in my eyes.

Sunday, September 14th

I assume that I flew home.

Next: After a couple of weeks at home, I went to Avignon, France.

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