A trip to Le puy en Velay, France

We did this winter balloon meet in November 2004

Well, if we can't fly, we write about it.

I'd heard about the winter meet at LE PUY EN VELAY of course but until I saw the invitation on the BBAC website hadn't thought that it would be a worthwhile experience to drive all the way across France in November for a 3 day Meet. How wrong I was! Some very senior crews from the European hot-air and gas ballooning world attend this beautiful area and it has to be said that even if you couldn't fly, the company and gastronomic delights of this very French meet made the journey more than worth while.

We arrived the evening before the event started, having made better than estimated time from Calais, and introduced ourselves to Jean-Marc the meet director (who is also the finance controller for the Haute-Loire Department). One excellent dinner and a good nights sleep in the comfortable chalets set us up for registration and goody bags on Thursday morning, a good lunch and straight out to fly from the Chadrac area of town in a moderate northerly that would bring constant cold weather for the next few days. Not that we understood the task briefing, but Norman and I were startled to pop over a ridge to see the hare and target only 200m off to our left, too close to do anything constructive about it!

Friday morning was very misty in the grounds of Chateau Chavignac Lafayette and we watched everybody else leap off into the murk, mountains and forests. Last off (when it lifted and we could actually see the hilltops and powerlines) we had a nice out, followed by a sedate return. Well, it's good to give the retrieve (Graham & Pauline) some exercise. Lunch ('ere, I 'ad the Comte de LaFayette on my table, top bloke and a balloonist) at his Chateau followed by a difficult decision, as the Discovery had run an inside plaquette de disc down to the metal and was protesting in the only way a Disco knows how. A local balloonist produced a telephone directory from the middle of a field and phoned the Landrover agent and directed us into the hills. Pads changed on the forecourt in the bright sunshine and a new friend made: the owner is known as the Landrover Doctor. Admired his 1958 SWB and immaculate workshop.

The weather then turned nasty and effectively terminated the flying, but we had a reception with the Mayoress, another with the Consul-General followed by a dinner in the Hotel de Ville, entertained in Old French by an amazing chorus dressed in rich 16th Century costume. Trips to the local distillery, market and Chateau de Polignac completed the program, although some of us (alright, Norman and I) "stacked the Z's" instead.

Chatted to the Metz Director, met some old friends last flown with in Croatia, and made many new ones. I had my first tripe, first oysters. Perfect! Time slowed - the holiday seemed much longer than 6 days - and the farewell lunch (champagne) was Very French, the presents very generous.

Encore, mes enfants?

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