The basket started rising from the ground, and I laughed from excitement…and nerves. After decades of waiting, I was finally riding in a hot air balloon!
I expected adventure. I expected amazing views. I didn’t expect to be scared.
And yet, I have to admit that I had my moments. Most of them I kept to myself. However, I think I mastered the variety of ways you can say “Look how high we are!” Excitement. Disbelief. Nervousness. A range of tones were there. And sometimes they were combined.
Fortunately, the adventure and views were strong distractions. We launched near Château de Chenonceau and couldn’t get enough of the castle and its grounds. Built in 1513, the castle is also dubbed the “Château des Dames,” because of its history of being “loved, administrated and protected by women, who were all extraordinary and who, for the most part, have marked history.”
As we glided with the wind, one woman seemed a bit disappointed that she wasn’t seeing many châteaux, until we started pointing out estates that surely qualified. It was just difficult to appreciate their size when the world below looks like the Game of LIFE board.
The hour or so in the air flew by quickly. I was prepared—and grateful—for the intermittent torch to keep us aloft. When that was lit, the high-pressure gushing fire dominated all other sounds. When off, the world floated up to greet us. Everyday sounds like zooming traffic and barking dogs were clear yet faint, with a detached sense of reality. Then there were the exclamations of my 14 fellow travelers.
Toward the end, we descended gradually, looking for the ideal landing spot. The world grew, changing in size from a board game to Little People land. Treetops looked like broccoli.
At this point, we had some hold-your-breath moments—I think intentionally dramatized by our balloon captain. The last minute pull up in front of electrical wires. The basket tipping from scraping the tops of trees. I can’t say they were the thrill I think the captain thought they would be. But the landing itself was easy and a non-event.
On the ground, we celebrated the successful journey in the traditional way—with bubbly. In this case, Crémant de Loire.
I felt exhilarated. Delighted. And a bit relieved. And my adventure in the Loire was just beginning.