Twenty kilometres as the crow flies in just over one hour, and maximum altitude 1300 m above sea level. Air temperature around 25°C. That’s for those who need figures first.
No statistics can convey the deep peace and joy that comes with a ride in a hot-air balloon. Yes, there are those loud roaring bursts of flame now and then, but tranquillity is the watchword, as you dreamily drift over the landscape in your own little bubble.
This was among my birthday presents last year, as my family decided I may not be capable of struggling into the basket when I get to 80, so my round birthday gift came (symbolically) 5 years early. There was too much toing and froing last year for me to be able to arrange my trip, which has to be at pretty short notice since it all depends on weather conditions being as close as possible to ideal.
The call came last Tuesday: “Can you be at Lommis airfield for 5 am on Saturday?” Of course I can. Then, after I put the phone down, common sense kicked in. Lommis is about 120 km from where I live. I no longer have a car, and trains don’t run at that time of day. Darling Daughter and Son-in-Law live close enough to Lommis, but … they were in Lucerne.
Number One Granddaughter flew to the rescue: “You can stay overnight with us.” The Balloon Pilot offered to pick me up from Granddaughter’s home, but the great-grandchildren decided they would like to come and see Granny float off into the blue so Granddaughter kindly offered to drive me the ten-minute distance to the airfield. In the event, the great-grandkids were securely in the Land of Nod at 4.30 am on Saturday, so it was only my Granddaughter and I who left just before sunrise.
How quickly and efficiently the set-up and take-off all went. Excellent teamwork by the pilot and her assistant, aided by four passengers: 3 senior citizens and a delightful young man who must have wondered if he’d accidentally strayed into a Pensioners’ Outing. It turned out he was indispensable, being tall, able-bodied and strong enough when physical strength was required. He also took some great photos, being armed with a professional camera and the eye to go with it. Thank you, Andreas, for sharing so many of your shots with the rest of us.
And so, as the sun rose above the horizon, so did we.
Thurgau is a relatively unknown but nevertheless very attractive canton; arable farming country with colourful rolling fields, orchards, vineyards, woodlands, smooth-flowing rivers winding through rich pastures, and traditional half-timbered houses and barns dotted here and there among the boring quadrangular modern builds. Tourists in search of spectacular scenery don’t come here: no raging waterfalls or towering cliffs, just gentle rises and falls. From a bird’s eye perspective, it almost looks flat.
My last balloon trip, six years ago, took us from Kriessern across the Rhine and the southern end of Lake Constance into Austrian airspace, then over Lindau in Germany, to a remote field outside a Bavarian hamlet.
This was now quite different scenery. In the distance, we could see the sun gleaming on the surface of Lake Constance, and gilding the river Thur below us. Cattle, sheep and goats grazed. Deer ran through the woods and across fields, kite and buzzard swooped beneath us. Perfect ballooning conditions.
After almost an hour we began our descent, alarmingly close (I thought) to the treetops and wheat fields, and scaring a company of horses peacefully grazing in their paddocks as we came roaring over their heads.
A field of sunflowers craning their necks to the east like soldiers on parade appeared to be where our pilot was aiming for, but no, we sailed over them and side-stepped an apple tree that loomed in our path.
We touched down, bounced slightly once, then rested on what seemed to be a specially constructed landing strip next to the road. Long grass on either side of us in this pasture, but a lengthy stretch several metres wide had been mown just where we landed, to the exact dimensions needed when our balloon sank gracefully to the ground. A man using a scythe under the apple trees on the opposite side of the road continued his work, as though balloons landing in front of him was an everyday occurrence. Perhaps it is, and that really is a landing strip. Our pilot’s assistant was waiting for us with her car and balloon trailer, having tracked our journey from take-off.
Teamwork again, as we squashed out the air and folded the balloon, rolled it up, packed it into its bag and dragged it to the trailer. Thank goodness for Andreas’ youthful strength! The burner and its mount were quickly dismantled, packed neatly into the basket and all stowed away very quickly.
Then came the solemn ceremony of the baptism of balloon passengers. This involves reciting the balloonist’s prayer, receiving a special nobility title plus certificate, and having a lock of hair singed as a token of the adventure. I had already been through this procedure twice, so was exempt this time. (I am Duchess Catherine Above the Clouds, and Gräfin Catherine Schwebefee über Fussach, which means approximately Countess Catherine, Floating Fairy over Fussach. Some fairy!)
The other elderly lady was wearing hairspray, so singeing her hair might have been dangerous, and the elderly gentleman had a large bald patch, so nothing to singe. These two were just doused with mineral water. Only Andreas had a suitably full head of hair so he alone underwent the singeing ceremony, and then we shared a bottle of champagne and munched on croissants. It was, after all, only just after 7 am so definitely breakfast time!
Then back to our starting point, where Granddaughter and three great-grandchildren were patiently waiting. (No, they hadn’t been there all the time. Mobile phones are a useful invention!) And home again, for my third breakfast of the day, this time at a more conventional hour.
Thank you so much, to everybody who made this possible, not least those who paid for it! It was a wonderful belated birthday present, and the opportunity to spend a little time with my younger generations was a great bonus. These are memories I shall treasure.