On a spectacular day late in January, in Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland, Corkscrew Balloon III finally had its maiden flight! It was all part of the 22nd Annual Swiss Hot Air Balloon Festival, a favorite winter spot for the Corkscrew Balloon Fleet.
Late on the morning of January 25, the three Corkscrew Balloons gathered for a family portrait on the launch field at Chateau d'Oex. From left to right: CB2, CB3, CB1. Nestled between CB2 and CB3 is the Hotel Ermitage, where we stayed. [More photos]
Paul was there for the trip, snapping pictures like a madman and occasionally making journal notes.
(For those interested in the background of the new balloon, full details of Corkscrew Balloon III's conception and gestation are also available here.)
After the balloon festival in Chateau d'Oex, Linda joined me in Geneva and we headed straight to the Orient to celebrate Chinese New Year. We spent a week in Beijing, where we welcomed the start of the Year of the Dragon ... then a week in Shanghai .. and then a week in Taipei.
After being home for just one brief week in April, it was time to leave Florida once again. I spent a few days in New York, sampling some Big Apple things, and then I headed back to Thailand ... for three full months at the Oriental Hotel.
Here is the full story, in seventeen chapters:
In all, 143 pages ... 70,308 words ... 526 photos.
August 2-11 found us in France. (This was Watcharee's first-ever trip out of Thailand.) We ballooned at Chateau de Vault de Lugny and picnicked at our favorite spot by the river. Then it was on to Beaune for more ballooning. This was the first time out of the bag for the Screwmaid Balloon since the snowy flights at Chateau d'Oex. The girls seemed to like the sunshine.
Then, while my family went to Siena for the Palio, Watcharee and I headed back to Bangkok for a brief visit 'home.' My Bangkok Journal covers all the details from August 12 through August 21.
I concluded August in Scotland with Annie. My Scotland Journal tells of the nights spent on the Hebridean Princess and the days spent hiking and biking through the Scottish Isles. We've got lots of castles and cemeteries, plus more.
After boating through the Scottish Isles with Annie, I went back to Bangkok to spend a few days "at home". This would prove to be be my last stay at the Oriental before ALIMAK completed its work on the John Le Carré Suite and turned it into the Gore Vidal Suite. The story is in my Bangkok journal.
September 10-16 found Watcharee and me in Eisenach, Germany for the Annual General Meeting of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts. We spent a week there, with corkscrews and a balloon. My German Corkscrew Journal includes notes and photos from the conference and from our balloon flights.
On September 16, Stephani, Robin, Annie and Paul joined us in Eisenach for a Road Trip and Scandinavian Ballooning Adventure. We headed north to the coast and boarded a ship to Oslo, then we spent several days ballooning in Oslo, Lillehammer and Stockholm. Paul was in charge of the documentation:
Watcharee's mother ... like mothers the world over ... always answers the phone with: "I've been waiting for your call." Using that tone of voice that only mothers can muster up. Like she has been sitting by the phone all day.
My earlier Bangkok journal has drawn to a close. It is complete through the day Watcharee and I left for her very first trip to the United States. Final additions: Watcharee attempts to capture a grape in mid-flight ... then she packs for our trip.
Here is the full Bangkok Journal, in six parts:
After the United States Embassy finally granted Watcharee her visa on October 20, we decided to take a quick trip to America to try it out. (It seems to work!)
Our trip included a couple of weeks in Fort Lauderdale (culminating in a lot of local electoral excitement). A possible return by way of Seattle did not materialize; we ended up flying east instead of west. All the details of the visit are in my American Journal.
After Florida, Alf and Watcharee returned to Bangkok for a couple of weeks before undertaking their next trip.
On November 9, Christie's South Kensington conducted another of its regular London corkscrew auctions. Alf wasn't able to attend and provide a personal report, but you can see some of the items featured in the Christie's catalog.
In late November, Alf and Watcharee met Annie, Tilman, Sian, Shamane and Stephani in Calcutta. Alf passed the journal pen to Stephani, and the story of their pre-Bhutan, pre-polo travels is told in Stephani's letters home from Calcutta.
Between India and polo, several of the Screwy Tuskers spent a few days in the rarely-visited country of Bhutan. Annie and Tilman tell the story.
And then ... it was time for Elephant Polo 2000! Tilman and Annie cover the details of the Tournament, and Shamane provides a postscript. Alf and Watcharee were not in attendance this year; they went back to Bangkok after Bhutan.
In recognition of the valiant Corkscrew Balloon crew, Annie created a special Year 2000 Calendar to honor them. The illustrations for each month are available here.