A painter friend of mine recently offered up one of his paintings as a raffle prize and asked others what their best ever raffle prize was. When I said I had won a balloon ride he conceded that may have been a better prize than winning one of his paintings.
The ride was in one of the many Warsteiner balloons in Germany. The late Albert Cramer, owner and brewer-in-chief of the Warsteiner brewery was a keen balloon pilot. In 1996 he founded a Montgolfiade, or balloon festival and sponsored many balloons around the country. Little did we know, as Pascal Kreins was getting the balloon out and firing up the gas to inflate it, but he has been the number 1 ranked competitive balloon pilot in Germany.
There was another balloon leaving from the same site as us, albeit smaller with fewer passengers. We watched it take off while we were still climbing into the basket of our balloon.
We took off shortly afterwards and slowly floated over the landscape into a generally southeasterly direction from our starting point.
We passed by the Park + Ride by the motorway where we had left our car and a different starting point for another set of balloonists.
Overall, the ride was very pleasant with great views. The only parts which I found disconcerting were most likely because of my years of experience of parachuting. When flying a parachute, you are pretty much always in a downward glide. You can vary the steepness of that glide and the direction in which you glide, but you cannot go up (unless you are in a thermal, but that is rare and usually unwanted!)
Flying in a balloon has different controls – the direction was completely down to the winds, but going up and down is perfectly controllable. As we approached woodland, my instinctive reaction was concern as a downward glide as under a parachute would land us in the trees. Being piloted by a skilled balloonist meant that we rose above the woodland and gently flew over it. And the houses in the village we crossed at the end of the flight. A deer was rather perturbed by the sound of the gas flames and bleated up at us, but we passed over it too.
We came in to land about an hour after we had taken off. After helping Pascal and his colleague to collapse and pack up the balloon again, we were all welcomed into the ballooning aristocracy. I was awarded the title “Heißluftfee Natasha vom Schaumberg, schnell startende Wolkenbezwingerin, sicher gelandet bei Michelbach” [Hot Air Fairy Natasha of Schaumberg, fast starting conqueror of clouds, safely landed at Michelbach]. There may be readers who feel Hot Air Fairy is a very apt title for such a wordy blogger…