Monday, June 9, 2008

The motherland of Hot Air Balloons

Did you know that Annonay in Ardeche is the birthplace of hot air balloons ? In June 1783, Joseph & Etienne de Montgolfier flew a hot air balloon in the town square of Annonay. Ever since I discovered this fact, I've been meaning to go there - a 2 hour drive north of us. BTW the French word for hot air balloon is montgolfiere.

What better way than their annual hot air balloon festival last weekend to commemorate that event ? Since X wasn't home, I thought we'd take a small expedition to the festival entitled "Art of Flight". They actually do a re-enactment of the first flight with a balloon made from paper & cloth - totally 18th century with everyone in period costume. That would have been fun but it was scheduled a little too early in the morning for us to make it in time.

On the way, we came across this little parade complete with marching band - seemed like some sort of harvest festival. I was in such a rush I didn't even take down the name of the village - I had parked illegally, hopped out to see what was going on & then went back on my way.

As we enter the park, there was a huge stand selling kits of all shapes & sizes. Of course we had to buy one. We spent most of the afternoon playing with it. There were some serious looking kites.

I couldn't help but notice that there were lots of mousseron mushrooms in the field & nobody were picking them !! There were small tho & no, I didn't - it was my mushroom-off day.

There were 2 huge tents of all kinds of old fashioned toys & games, open for all . We didn't play too many cos it was crowded but I like the one on the left, a pretty contraption where you put marbles at the top & they roll down by themselves. Simple is best.

There was also a little demonstration of these mini mongolfieres activated by a remote control that sets off the burner. But that wasn't what I drove 2 hours to see, we were ready to see the real thing.

There was a huge discussion (all over the PA system for the benefit of everyone) after taking into account wind conditions, speed, direction, on whether or not to actually fly the balloons. It had rained a little all afternoon & the weather wasn't looking too bright. In the end, they decided to only set up one balloon but will not take off afterall. It was disappointing not to watch 30 hot air balloons fly by but it was still better than nothing. They might not even have done that if not for the fact that there was a Japanese TV crew waiting on the sideline.

I've never seen a hot air balloon inflated before so it was quite an eye opener & I'll share with you how it's done. You never know when you'll need it to make a quick escape.

Step 1. The envelope (what we know as the balloon) is stretched out on the ground & attached to the basket which is lying on it's side. A small fan blows air into the balloon.

Step 2. Once it's sufficiently inflated, the burner is turned on & the air inside the balloon gets heated.

Step 3. As you know, hot air rises so voila, it lifts the balloon upright.

We had an enjoyable day out - ventured into unknown territory, had fun rolling around in the field even though we didn't get to watch them take off. I'm jotting down the dates for the hot air balloon race.

Some interesting facts :

1. The best time to fly them is just after sunrise & 1-2 hours before sunset when the wind is calmest & the air most stable. No wonder the schedule had a takeoff at 6.30am & I thought it was a typo mistake.

2. Ever wonder how to steer a hot air balloon ? The balloon goes where the wind takes it. However, the winds at varying altitudes may blow in different directions and at different speeds, so the trick is to climb or descend to an altitude where the wind is blowing in the direction you want to go.

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