Chateau d'Oex

January 1999

Mike and Annie
Mike and Annie

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Raise the curtain on the Alpine Balloon - Paris - India journey.

International Herald Tribune

Herald Tribune web site

The European legs of this trip will be covered by your most obsequious servant, Alf Erickson. However, there is a fearful chance that he will bore you to drink as this is a path that he has traveled many times; and he is at a loss as to what new to write. Aside from finding fresh anniversaries in the 50, 75 and 100 year section of the International Herald Tribune, he will be treading in stagnant water. So, beware, he may have to cast his net so wide that the days’ catch could include some fiction as well as fact.

But, despair not, for on February 6th a virgin hand will assume control of the quill. Ms. Tilman Cantrell Smith will from that day forward guide you through the exploration of southern India.

By the way, daughter Annie Erickson will be the official photographer throughout these five weeks.

And, daughter Lisa Erickson and friend Cindy Mielke will be present for all of the Swiss balloon activities. Both are seasoned hands at this sort of stuff so don’t expect "Ohhhhs" and "Ahhhhs" when the hot globes take to the air in the Alps.

Tuesday, 19 January 1999

My suitcases seem to have a bloody mind of their own. For the better part of the evening they have been crying out to be filled. Not content to wait until the morning of departure…and ignoring admonitions of creased contents ... they bellied up until they were stuffed.

Sometime before midnight they marched downstairs and took positions at my front door.

Wednesday, 20 January 1999

I know that I am a bit late on this but there is no way that I could have posted this yesterday because the IHT is just nowhere to be found in or about my normal Fort Lauderdale haunts. It was only when I got to the Miami airport that I discovered this in the Air France lounge. "This" is the International Herald Tribune for 19 January 1999. The part of "this" that needs to be posted right here and now comes from the 50 year old part of "IN OUR PAGES: 100, 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO". Here goes:

Well, that was worth the wait! Don’t you think?

Air France 95Air France flight #95 is a non-stop 747 from Miami to Paris DeGaulle. Thanks to prevailing tail winds the journey is usually at least a couple of hours less than the return flight. I wish it was the other way around as that would allow more sleep time going east and less wake time returning west. Gee ... I always seem to grumble about my flights. I shouldn’t in this case, as the trip was like flying in a private room. There were only four passengers in my entire section of the plane. Very comfy!!

Thursday, 21 January 1999

And, from TODAY’S International Herald Tribune:

My flight from Miami arrived at Terminal 2C which meant that I had a lengthy hike to make my Geneva connection over in section F. Section F That is not a problem as CDG, unlike Miami, is an airport that was designed to favor walking passengers. MIA was perversely built to provide excessive income for the up front baggage handlers; and if passengers make it to their planes on time that is just a minor fillip in the big picture. But, here I go, grousing again.

I refer to today’s IHT to counter some of the grousing found in the preceding paragraph. According to American Enterprise Institute "fellow" James K. Glassman ... "A total of 615 million passengers boarded 14 million flights in 1998, ascended to 30,000 feet or thereabouts, flew 400 miles on average and got down safely, usually at their intended destination." That works out to be zero deaths per roughly 28 billion air miles. If you had driven that many miles in your car you would have been killed more than 11,000 times. By the way, the above figures deal only with the USA. Flying in Peru is more dangerous, as is driving in Pakistan.

Le RichemondI like being in Geneva in the winter. It is like being in any other major city during an air raid alert. Gee, I guess that dates me! OK, like being in any other major city on a holiday that also falls on a rainy Sunday. It is quiet.

Though only here for twenty four hours that’s long enough to see the city in the four phases of the sun.

Le Richemond Hotel ( is a prefatory place for me. I have stayed here every January since 1988. It is my door to the wonderful activities at Chateau d’Oex.

One very sad note: tonight I had dinner at La Rotonde on rue des Paquis. Though I recognized the owner and the waiters from years past, I didn’t recognize any of my table mates…for I dined alone. This restaurant has offered many happy dinners for me in the past. Tonight they were memories.

Friday, 22 January 1999

And, of note, from the IHT:

This morning Mike and my chase crew met me at the hotel. We took two Previas out to the airport to greet and pick up my daughters who were arriving from Seattle and my friend who was flying in from Fort Lauderdale. All of them, as it turned out, had airplane "problems" of one sort or another.

Cindy’s Air France flight out of Miami had been canceled due to lack of passenger interest, forcing her onto a Delta connection to JFK and an onward Swiss Air DC 10 to Geneva. Fortunately, Cindy’s alternate travel arrangements put her into GVA a little earlier than would have her Air France flight.

The arrivals monitor showed that the Seattle/Amsterdam Northwest thing was scheduled to arrive about two hours behind schedule. We all repaired to the coffee shop for the wait. That news was a lot better than a notice for "family and friends awaiting passengers due to arrive aboard NW 192 please report to the chapel". Anyway, the delay was caused by a "security breach". Apparently, an Amsterdam bound passenger checked in with luggage, boarded the airplane and then disappeared sometime before the little tractor pushed the plane away from gate. Chateau d'Oex The absence of the passenger was only detected half way down the tarmac when there was found to be wanting, in seat 7B, a receptive hand for the offered glass of pre-flight Champagne. It took two hours to find and extract the luggage of the missing passenger from the bowels of the 747.

By 1:30 we were on the road to Chateau d’Oex.

By 3:30 we were in our rooms at the Hotel Ermitage.

By 6:30 we were having dinner.

By 9:30 we were in bed.

Saturday, 23 January 1999

Fifty, seventy five and even one hundred years ago this date in history was a very slow news day for the IHT. 21st Annual Festival Even Mr. Newnes was hard pressed to come up with something to write about: he had to ferret out the fact that an obscure composer of nocturnes had punched out more than a century ago and that yet another European treaty was signed somewhere.

But, as it is a Saturday, other pages of the IHT have some prized nuggets worthy of a good read. Those of you who are familiar with my Paris journal know that every weekend I am drawn to the "friendship" section of the Intermarket part of the Trib. How could my eye not wander in wonder over the fresh offerings of Gabriele Thiers-Bense and her fellow Munich meat trade rival Claudia Puschel-Knies. These hyphenated surnames claim to offer from their prestige lockers only the very choicest cuts of chops.

Let’s start with Gabriele:


"Are you a Europhile American who could be enthused by one of the young, rich & beautiful US-women? By descent from one of the leading American families, residing luxuriously along the East-Coast and the South-West, maintaining numerous estates (country and city residences) in the USA, on the Bahamas & in Western Europe. She is mid 30 / 5’9" tall & slender, refined elegance plus an outstanding international Elite University education! She speaks French, Italian & Spanish, is a member of the US & Europe’s First-Society & meets every supreme class demand based on intense love and understanding for harmonious family bonds! This unusually versatile and gifted woman is very adaptive, incredibly composed & now again ‘available’ (but certainly not for long)! She is the excellent ‘match’ for a prominent person up to 60! Only for marriage."

Now that was pretty tame for Ms. Thiers-Bense’s pen, wasn’t it?. Let’s move on to the Puschel-Knies woman for some less disguised puffery:


"A breathtaking young dream woman - in her mid 30s - 1.72 m tall ... an exquisite, radiant creature, full of temperament, classy dark type, with long hair and slender, feminine figure (casting all models into the shade). She is from one of the renowned, European families of entrepreneurs, enjoyed all the benefits of a good upbringing (Swiss boarding school, graduated from American elite university); while working for one of the big, international consulting firms she is beginning to assume functions in her family’s business. A self-assured, independent woman with such a natural grace and lovable way about her, perfectly at ease in the best society, tender and romantic, brightens up a room with her smile, loves children and animals, is sportive (riding, golf, skiing) and well versed in music and the fine arts, emotional, feminine, irresistibly charming, with the touch of real class that makes all the difference ... ! (Heiress to a fortune of millions) - seeks ‘HIM’ the man of her life ..."

So much for the high ticket items from the Bavarian mate vendors. Let’s get on with the day.

For those of you who have been here with me in years past, and you are legion, you will already know that the view of the launch field from the hotel is spectacular. Field Pass Hours before lift off all sorts of shapes and colors people the campus. This year is no different. Again, the carnival-inspired marching band is in full swing. Out My Window The only new addition to the field is the tastefully arranged covey of Bangkok pole dancers who, warmed with propane powered radiant floor heaters and tankards of Champagne, grind out provocative dances to the sound of scratchy counterfeit CDs.

Ah yes ... the flight itself! Canon Annie Well, after an elevenish take off we drifted ever so slowly in one direction or another, never straying very far from the music below. Since Annie and I were fitted, between us, with five new cameras our view of what was happening was pretty much limited to what was framed in our respective viewfinders or LCD screens. In fact, if we didn’t photograph it we didn’t see it. Moreover, it probably didn’t even happen! Pilot Mike However, since this year our pre-launch flight was inaugurated with bubbly peach stuff rather than something from the caves of Mercier we likely saw more today than we did on previous maiden lift offs. At least I did.

Corkscrew balloon #2 landed a couple of hours later, just about five minutes away from our hotel. Forty five minutes after that we were eating lunch and thinking about dinner.

A few hours later we were eating pizza and thinking about something else.

Sunday, 24 January 1999

Sigh, as it is now a Sunday there is no today’s International Herald Tribune to read. Though, presumably, something did happen somewhere in the world "100, 75 AND50 YEARS AGO". We just don’t know what.

But, for trivia starved eyes I have found an amusing morsel:

Listen to this! The National Institute of Standards and Technology has recently informed us that a new set of exponential prefixes has entered our modern vocabulary ... thanks to a need created by such things as advances in computer clock speeds.

For something really big or very long the Institute strongly suggests:


That is a yotta. A "one" followed by 24 zeros. Or a "one" trailing eight sets of three zeros, each set off by a comma. More conventionally, we are dealing here with septillions, or 10 to the power of 24. Useful, huh?

Anyway, to put this in perspective: How long would it take someone to download a one-yottabyte file using a 28.8 baud modem? Well, about 11 trillion years, give or take some.

Satisfied? OK, tomorrow or on another slack news day, I’ll see if the Institute can come up with something on the wee end of the scale.

But, back into the air for now.

Hey, if we fly high enough today we should be able to see Mont Blanc. Had we done this 33 years ago, to the day, we would have seen the fiery crash of an Indian Boeing 707. Cindy and Steve It left its smudge on the French side of the mountain. The death toll was 117.

Less than forty five minutes after reaching our cruising altitude of 10,000 feet we spotted the dome of Mont Blanc. Powerful spy glasses were aimed ... filters were changed ... perspective was shifted. The smudge was not seen. Some of us speculated that 33 years of snowfall surely must have covered and recovered the singed bits. Others wondered if French tourist officials had resorted to using barrels of "white-out" in order to hide the crispy wreckage from innocent eyes. I thought that maybe we were just looking at the wrong side of the mountain. The bottom line: whatever was no longer is.

ZermattAfter two hours of doing a modified box flight we landed less than a kilometer from our hotel. Since we didn’t crash or do anything silly this is a short paragraph.

This afternoon, after lunch, I drove to Visp (a town in the German speaking area of Switzerland). Visp lies at the base of the mountain upon which Zermatt rests. And Zermatt is the place from which Becky begins and ends each day of skiing. Yes, she was there and I was here. It is now time to merge our holidays.

We did. She is now here in Chateau d’Oex with me.

Monday, 25 January 1999

It’s a Monday morning and the train from Geneva has yet to arrive with the "dailies." Forced to reread the IHT from Saturday I stumbled upon evidence of a most grievous error. In my earlier haste to refresh you with the latest stuff from the IHT I had missed the history snippet. Usually found on page ten, on Saturday it was tucked away in the bottom right hand corner of page eight. Normally I would not confess to such an oversight ... but, to allow this sin to pass sans notice would mean that you would not be able to read this:

Dear Reader, the alert among you will have noticed that Mr. Newnes announced the death of the great one several days ago. In his report Lenin passed into the unknown on the 21st of the month. What can be said! Obviously, he didn’t die twice.

Finally, something for the really small-number aficionados among us:

Again, this vocabulary enhancement is brought to you with the compliments of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. If you are interested in measuring things that you can fit in your own backyard then negative powers of 10 are more suited to your needs than are the things found in yesterday’s prefatory noises. For the tiniest of the tiniest you need a ruler or a clock that measures the truly itsy-bitsy. Well, a power of 10 to the minus 24 takes you deep into a very small world. Here a yocto-something allows you to describe the really little. For example, just a snap more than three yoctoseconds (or 300 zeptoseconds) is all the time required for the light from your torch to pass over a simple atom plucked from a blade of grass.

January 25 FlightWhat a wonderful day for ballooning ... and what a wonderful flight. More than four hours in the air took us down the valley at a low altitude ... and back up the valley at a high altitude. Then past Ruth’s Teeth ... and over the ridge ... for a landing near Thune. The onboard lunch was from the kitchen of Shamane.

Tuesday, 26 January 1999

One hundred years ago yesterday AND today offered something of interest to the editors of today’s IHT:

It is a rainy day all over Switzerland ... perhaps it is raining all over Europe. The balloons are grounded and the people are either, eating and drinking, napping, playing, shopping or reading. Some of us are fiddling with computers. By the way, a good rainy day read is: Felton & Fowler, BEST, WORST AND MOST UNUSUAL. When we can’t fly I shall offer you something from its pages to kill my time. Today here is something about a clever method for delivering bits of mail.

The rest of my group (Becky, Annie, Lisa, Cindy and Hermann) has gone off to Gstaad to spend the afternoon at the indoor curling rink. Steve and Becky Steve Trieber, balloon pilot and sometime curler, reports on the action. For those of you unfamiliar with this game, I have additional pages from years past (1998 and 1997) that further illustrate the fiendishly clever rules and ways of the sport. While everyone is playing their hearts out I shall be in town choring. One of my chores will be a visit to the CoOp, Chateau d’Oex’s all purpose one stop store. Snow! I am looking for a Swiss-to-USA phone adapter, some no fat milk, a Celine CD and a pair of gloves ... all under one roof.

It is dark now. The rain has turned to heavy snow. This is good. Provided it doesn’t return to rain and give us by tomorrow morning just a huge carpet of slush. My Italian-French-German TV is unhelpful here. Weather maps are apparently unknown. CLICK!

Time to eat!

Wednesday, 27 January 1999

January 27 was a very good day in IHT history. But, the vintage story, by far, has been the one lying in the coffin; maturing in wood for exactly a century:

And, from Mr. Newnes:

The New York Times chimes in with:

Is it true that the longest web pages on the Internet can be found at?:

If you want to do more than just flirt with grand illusions and informational parasites, the above world of memes may be your world. NOTE: As I write this, the above chap’s interest in memes has shifted over to Old Tyme Radio ... which you can find at:

Dear Reader, I suppose that you have figured out by now that something is up with the weather here in Chateau d’Oex. More Snow Yes, it is still snowing. It started yesterday afternoon and the end is not in sight.

No doubt about it now. Any chance of ballooning today is totally out the window. The snow keeps coming. Well, I guess that it is now about time to think of the sole alternative: food ... perhaps followed by a post-prandial stroll around a city not known for its deep discount stores.

Bill Baker, one of our balloon pilots (and Cindy’s true love), has swiped a four-wheel-drive Previa in order to better transport us over the precarious ice encrusted roads to Gstaad. Shopping in Gstaad Since Bill is a close confidante, I have asked him to make delicate inquiries as to the exact location of the Gstaad Dental Museum. Convinced that my daughters and my girl friend would share my interest in such things as the evolution of dental floss and the conquest of periodontal diseases, I felt somewhat sanguine about the safety of my American Express card in its otherwise dangerously close proximity to the boutiques of Cartier and Lanvin.

The Hotel Bernerhof Gstaad ( was our first stop. Two hours and several pots of beef fondue later we pushed away from the table. No one showed any interest in anything dental. The shops of Gstaad were like magnets; how could I have thought otherwise.

Another evening of snow and food. No museums.

Thursday, 28 January 1999

A lot of my mini-history-reports from the IHT have been allowed to marinate for exactly a century to the day. Consequently, they have quite a lot more flavor for the appreciative reader than do the things from the ‘20s and the 40’s. Don’t you think? Witness:

With only 50 to 75 years in the pot, the ingredients that the IHT was left to sort through today lacked body. Snowy Annie There were but mildly disturbing reports of mining deaths in Illinois or somewhat worrisome accounts about Tito’s difficulties with the Cominform. Though of regional interest, they fell far short of a time aged world wide relevance.

A forty-eight hour base of snow is now being rained upon. This will be followed by more snow. A mess! The whole day is a wash. Nothing to report.

Friday, 29 January 1999

The morning is here, as is much more snow. Wind, too. The sensible thing is to have breakfast and just go back to bed. But, not before a quick read of history:

The afternoon is here. Feeble noises from the launch field suggest that a tiny weather window through which we might fly could open up around lunch time. Lunch comes and goes; the weather window remains shut. What do we do now? We have been stapled to this valley for four days. Can’t we do something? Go somewhere?

"Look," someone says, "we’ve been eating this Gruyere cheese morning, noon and night ... at all our meals. Gruyeres Maybe we can visit the bloody place where they cook this stuff."

I reply, "The stuff, as you call it, is made not very far from here. Though the actual manufacturing process, from udder to wax dipped wheel, is only mildly interesting; the castle at Gruyeres is the lodge for some interesting art."

The philistine grouses, "Forget it! If I can’t eat it, what’s the point?"

"Fair enough for you," I say, "but, I need something more than a full belly." With that, I arranged for a machine to drive us to the Chateau des Gruyeres.

I briefly crib from the castle handout:

"From the Middle-Age to the Renascence, it was the residence of the dynasty of Gruyeres. Nineteen earls lived in it from the XIIth century to the year 1554. Earl Michel’s failure marked the end of the dynasty."

With Mike’s failure creditors pounced on the property. But, the place remained goal-less for centuries. Finally, in 1990 it became the seat for the International Center of Fantastic Art. Today it contains an eclectic combination of period pieces and bizarre art.

GigerHowever, just a few steps toward the castle parking lot you can find even more wonderfully outrageous art. Here, the H.R. Giger Museum houses the continuing life works of the guy who designed the alien in the first "Alien" film. And, sometime soon in the next millennium guests will be able to take a drink at the Giger Bar. Presumably, surrounded by alien life forms.

Saturday, 30 January 1999

It is Saturday once again. Can it be that the Munich based Thiers-Bense / Puschel-Knies marriage-mediation cartel is under a threat? Read these words from the Frankfurt office of Edith Brigitta Fahrenkrog:

"YOUNG, ARISTOCRATIC EUROPEAN LADY - BRIGHT, SMART AND SIMPLY BREATHTAKING ... 30 / 1.77 - with great style and exquisite taste. An enchanting blond lady, captivating by her youthful charm, feminine grace and fascinating beauty. An endearing and lovable personality, very elegant and refined. She has a high-level education - a successful and remarkable business career - is used to travel worldwide, a perfect hostess and she is very involved in the international social life. A refreshing and happy person with a capacity to smile, to laugh, respecting values and principles of life. A ravishing beauty, she would love to share all aspects of life with a wonderful, considerate and caring man."

But, wait! Gabriele Thiers-Bense has just tossed into print some proof that the Munich woman can in fact deliver the meat on time:

"THE GLAMOUR OF 2 FIRST SOCIETY WEDDINGS, celebrated by US East Coast & Western European clients this past January 99, prove the quality of our skills - two marriages, two brilliant couples, who by no coincidence could have been matched in such perfect correspondence!"

Tomorrow will be our last full day in Chateau d’Oex ... our last day to balloon in the Alps. If the weather is not kind to us we will have left January with a 3-6 record. That makes for a pretty bad season. Very rarely have we batted .5000; and never have we sunk so low as .3333.

The preceding paragraph implies what happened today; rather, what did not happen today. Guess!

Sunday, 31 January 1999


The IHT again proves that nothing stays the same and that everything comes back:

The sky looks pretty much like it did yesterday: inviting. Though the sun has not yet made an entrance into the valley, the near total absence of clouds augers well for another clear day. It is only the wind that we fear. Annie Rides the Rails Actually, it is the dreaded "Beeeeezzzzzzzzz" that worries the pilots. That noise is a uniquely Alpine air stream that twists and turns and twists again. Its terrible qualities allow it to attack balloons without warning. Within seconds, a sky once fraught-less with danger becomes a vortex from hell; everything floating is dashed to the ground and blasted to pieces. There is no possibility of human survival ... only death, smashed wicker, ruptured propane tanks and shredded envelopes lie in its horrible wake.

Yes, your loyal journalist now prays that the organizers of today’s activities error on the side of caution ... and gamble not with the chance of turning this pristine and snowy valley into but a smoking funeral pyre accompanied only by the sounds of weeping loved ones, zipping body bags and murmuring priests.

January 31 turned out to be just fine. Here is our first menu of the day:

Saumon Fume Creme Raifort Sur Crudities

Supreme De Poulet Forestiere
Nouillettes Au Beurre
Jardiniere De Legumes

Apfelstrudel Tiede Sauce Vanille

No, we did not fly. Instead, we took to the rails. Train Ticket After a scenic train ride from Chateau d’Oex to Montreux, we switched to a cog train for the climb up the mountain to Caux. It was at the Buffet de la Gare at Caux where we spent the next two hours with the above items.

And, after one final meal and one final night in Chateau d’Oex we shall start the next chapter of our journey: Paris.

Miscellaneous Photos:

Our Gang and The Crew

Anyway, this evening Becky and I, Annie and Steve, Cindy and Bill ... and Lisa and Mike had our final dinner together at the Ermitage Hotel. As is our custom for last meals we had a Charbonnade. I probably have the spelling of this dish all wrong. Anyway, it is where you grill a number of meats at the table and eat them with various sauces. At the end of the meal our friends Tim and Shamane dropped by to say goodbye. We all promised to get together again next January.

Until Paris ...

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