My favorite evening in France ended with my husband and I standing in the dark on a dirt road with nine strangers all passing around a bowl of Lays potato chips accompanied by a flute of Cremant de Bourgogne. I’ll never forget the sensations of that night! Seeing that country road lit only by our headlights, feeling the gravel under my shoes as I wiggled my toes to keep them warm, hearing the laughter and French chatter, tasting the salt of the potato chips and the fresh dry bubbles of the Cremant and thinking to myself that this was an absolutely perfect moment and I wanted to remember it always.
But let’s start at the beginning.
One of my dreams has always been to take a hot air balloon ride. It has been on my list for a while. We decided that while we were in France to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary our time in Burgundy would be the perfect opportunity to go hot air ballooning. We flew with France Montgolfieres from the small airport just outside of the old town of Beaune. I can definitely recommend them, but be warned, hot air ballooning is a splurge.
My husband and I arrived along with about 6 other passengers and watched the balloon be filled with hot air. We were the only English speakers among the passengers but the pilot spoke excellent English and would speak to the group and then translate for us. Our pilot was a very nice and capable man who had been part of the French Air Force. This made me feel comfortable about his hot air ballooning abilities! I admit to feeling a little nervous while I was waiting for the pilot and his ground team to fill the balloon with air but once we clambered inside the basket and lifted from the ground all my nerves floated away.
Hot air balloon riding is the best!
The ride is soft. Easy. Peaceful. Quiet. Even the whoosh of the hot air into the balloon is somehow relaxing. The spring evening air was fresh and cool and sweetly unhurried that evening. The sun was low in the sky making beautiful light and shadows. We lingered in the skies over Beaune and the countryside of Burgundy for about 45 minutes as the pilot allowed the balloon to rise and lower in order to catch various winds. There is no steering when it comes to hot air balloon rides! Just going with the flow of the breezes.
The sounds in the air were all subdued, velvety. The passengers spoke in hushed voices, there was the occasional rush of the hot air into the brightly colored balloon, the beating of my heart, the click of my camera, the squeak from the basket.
The light was gorgeous and glowing. It radiated a beautiful gold on everything it touched, breaking into rays as it scattered through the clouds.
Those moments suspended between the ground and the sky felt magical.
Finally it was time to land. We bumped softly down in a field and then had to wait a few minutes while a crew member ran over to the farmers home to ask permission to land and disembark there. Yes, we had already landed, but the pilot laughed and said, “it is better to land first and then ask permission.” Isn’t that often true in life? Permission granted, we climbed out of the basket.
Then the unexpected part – at least unexpected for us – we now we had to help put away the balloon. It was late and getting cold and dark, but not one person grumbled. Maybe they already knew that this was part of the process? I was a little taken aback, but before you know it we were all pushing hot air out of the balloon and then rolling it back up and finally sitting on it the way you might smush down your over-stuffed suitcase to get the balloon back in its carrying case, Everyone was easy and laughing and the language barrier didn’t seem to be a barrier at all.
We finally jumped in the vans to be driven to our cars which were back at the airport. We had not gone far down the farmer’s dirt road before someone in the crew exclaimed, “now it’s time to drink!” We tumbled back out of the van, a little wooden table was suddenly produced along with glass champagne flutes. Bottles of Cremant, a Burgundian sparkling wine, were popped and poured and passed around and a big bag of Lays potato chips cascaded into a bowl. We stood in a circle laughing and chatting in the dark while we sipped and passed the bowl of chips from person to person.
I felt supremely happy. Giddy.
The way you feel when a dream comes true and it is even better than you imagined.
And that is my story of Lay’s potato chips, champagne, dirt roads, and the perfect hot air balloon ride in Burgundy, France.
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