Member for 4 years 2 months
Passionate and curious
Outdoor and human
In the Ardennes sky
One of my best ever evenings, in a hot-air balloon with Magic Air Events
5 mins OF ESCAPE
A few minutes before take-off
Have you ever experienced that feeling when time stops before your eyes? When you find yourself in the right place at the right time, observing all that the world has to offer? Well that's exactly how I felt on my first hot-air balloon flight over the region of Wallonia, in the Province of Namur. For reasons relating to weather conditions, hot-air balloons have to fly in the early morning or late afternoon, when a divine light warms our bodies and paints the landscape in hues of orange. Whenever I've seen photos on websites of hot-air balloons in the sky, I've often wondered why the light is always so amazing. Well now I know! The secret lies in the simple fact that wind and weather phenomena oblige balloonists to fly at dawn or at dusk, when it is safest. These are also the times of day when the light is at its best. But before I could see it with my own eyes, a few preparations were needed.
First of all, at around 5.30 pm, I go to our meeting place, an extremely beautiful Belgian village called Han-sur-Lesse. There, a number of balloonists explain to their passengers the sequence and safety procedures of their imminent flight. Some have already flown in a hot-air balloon while others, like myself, are starry-eyed and hopping up and down with impatience. We're surprised and delighted to learn that all the passengers are to help rig up the balloons. Split into groups, we enjoy a wonderful moment of good-humoured activity, pumping air into these giants after positioning the baskets properly. Eventually, the inflated balloons stand tall, like dismantled dolls that have just been put back together. Then, the pre-flight euphoria gives way to apprehension and doubt, as we face this strange flock of birds, these gigantic balloons made entirely by human hands.
The basket gently rises and our extraordinary ascent begins
Then, when we've finished preparing it, the basket is ready to receive its five passengers: Eric the balloonist, a man with two children, and yours truly. Flames flicker above the burner as we climb aboard and the basket begins to leave the ground. The burners generate an incredible amount of heat. At least we won't be cold up there. It takes just a few minutes for the fear to melt away as we find ourselves several metres above the ground, above the comfort of the earth, admiring the first exceptional landscapes unfurling before us. With every metre gained, I'm convinced we're witnessing the most beautiful view of the entire flight. But minute after minute, it gets constantly better to the extent that, with hindsight, I really can't say which was the best part. From up here in this giant basket, everything looks so small and so different. Houses become models and people become ants as they wave warmly to the balloons that seem to watch over them. From this height it's easier to appreciate just how beautiful the Earth is, and how lucky we are to live surrounded by such stunning landscapes. I've been in the Ardennes for just a few days and have only explored a tiny part of the region but, seeing it now from a new angle, I think it's more wonderful than ever.
A spectacle of animals and light
The wonderful light begins to turn red, getting lower and lower as we fly, turning the clouds into giant candy floss. Here and there, the sky is dotted with a few other hot-air balloons, like ours, gently drifting with the breeze. Even they, after seeming so huge on the ground a few minutes ago, are now almost insignificant in the immensity of the sky. I could stay up here for hours on end, if only we didn't have to land before nightfall. But first, we have just a few more minutes to fly over the region's fields and villages, startling the hares, stags and deer who thought they were alone in these tall forests. The reigning silence is broken only by their hasty retreat. The only words we can utter are in praise of all this beauty that we're so privileged to see, mingled with a few questions to satisfy our curiosity on the mechanics of the balloon.
All under the spell as the magic works on children and adults alike
Eric, our experienced "driver”, takes pleasure in answering them with great enthusiasm and even takes us close to the tops of these immense fir trees, removing any possible doubt as to his ability to control the rig to perfection. We can reach the branches with our fingertips and even pick a fir cone that probably never expected to be harvested. The two children on board with me have stars in their eyes. I'm fairly sure I do too, despite being fifteen years older. We make jokes about the trees down below that look like heads of broccoli. We point to all the little curiosities that we'd never have seen from anywhere else. Horses and cows start galloping across the fields, trying to get away from this huge flying machine. Ironically, a lady outside her house asks us if we can see her lost cows from our uninterrupted viewpoint! We do indeed spot them a little further away, at the edge of the forest. As budding herdsmen, we've just done our good deed for the day!
An original way to land
It's nearly time to land. Eric chooses a field that's sufficiently wide and close to a road so that his wife can come to fetch us. Then these drivers with a difference take us down, landing the baskets in this field in the middle of nowhere. We feel totally disconnected after the flight, like explorers randomly landing on a new planet that we're visiting for the very first time. The inevitable bumps as the basket sets down make the experience of flying in a hot-air balloon even more exceptional.
We're shaken gently about until the balloon finally spreads itself across the field. It's now time to put everything away, following the opposite procedure to that carried out during the preparations.
It's difficult to return to reality. Fortunately, the moment is prolonged a little because we toast our flight right in the middle of the field. It's dark when I leave, gripping my first-balloon-flight certificate, a souvenir of my experience in the Ardennes sky.