Switzerland 05-06: Chateau d’Oex – International Balloon Festival

Peedee has been looking forward to this for months, since about May, she says.
We got up very early on Saturday morning because the train left at 7.34. Peedee was convinced she was dying and was set on flying back to American first thing Monday morning and never coming back because she hates the germs in Switzerland. We got our train to Lausanne, changed trains to Montreux, which was fine although for some reason, the entire station looked completely different. The trouble with the second train was that it was packed full of skiers and snowboarders and although we hiked the entire length of the train, there was nowhere to sit, so in the end, we stood in between the carriages, where apparently my bag kept setting off the sensors which opened the door. The soldier standing behind me got very annoyed and eventually disappeared, or so I’m told. I think I’m completely innocent of this one. When we got to Montreux, we changed trains again. I’d looked at a map of the station early in the morning, so I knew platform 3 which we arrived on and platform 5 which we were leaving from were in fact opposite sides of the same piece of concrete. It didn’t look far on the map but it would take over an hour. We found that this was because it goes very steeply uphill through the local villages and stops everywhere.
We arrived at Chateau D’Oex (pronounced day)

just before ten and bought our tickets for the day (8CHF) and were each given a yellow tag to wear, which made us feel like we were being evacuated. We walked down through the town and into the showground. It was still early and there were only a handful of balloons blown up, which gave us a chance to watch how they’re blown up. First a big fan is used to get it full of cold air, while people run around pulling it in various directions on ropes. Then they fire the hot air into it and eventually, it starts floating upwards. The basket starts off on its side on the ground, but at this point, it begins to move, so people on one side pull it and people on the other push it and eventually it’s upright. There we were, surrounded by people from all over the world, real jetsetters, photographers, reporters etc and then Peedee spotted Miss Suisse in a balloon:

I don’t know what her name is, but there were lots of people taking photos of her. This is the fire:

You can really feel it when it goes off that close to you! By now there were about twenty balloons ready to go and some of them went. They fire lots and lots of hot air into the balloon, the short blue flames, not the big pretty yellow ones like that ^ and then the balloon begins to hover and then lots of people have to push it around to make sure it doesn’t start floating off in a random direction. Once the first one was up, the others quickly followed
As far as balloons went, the most exciting bit was over. We watched them until they were out of sight and then stood up on the field watching as one or two more balloons at a time were blown up and sent away.

Then there were a handful of odd-shaped balloons:

(here a clown, a mobile phone and half an orange)
We went into the big hall which I think used to be a barn, and had lunch. Jemma and Peedee had bread and vegetables and made sandwiches and I’d bought a baguette at the station before we left. Then suddenly Peedee said “Look, there’s a flying castle.”
I’d finished eating so I ran outside to take a photo and saw when I described at the time as “a tartan penguin lying on the ground.” Five minutes later, when I went back out again, it was in the air:

Not a penguin. I ran back inside, said “You have got to see what’s in the sky out there!” and ran back out again. It was surreal standing outside, among a crowd of people with this in front of me:

listening to “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes over the loudspeaker. Really weird.
We’d intended to go up on one of the free balloon flights but there were no balloons, so we decided instead to go for a ride in a helicopter. It was 60CHF and between, we managed to make enough money. We bought the tickets, then went and stood in the snow in the queue. Peedee took a picture of me “with the ticket in my hand!”. I never figured out why it was so incredible or funny that I was holding the ticket. Jemma was doing exactly the same thing. I was scared – I’ve never been in a helicopter before. We got in and were still trying to figure out which seatbelts went where when suddenly we were wobbling into the air.

I didn’t take any photos while we were up there, although Peedee has photos and video. It was amazing, flying around over the mountains, seeing a frozen reservoir, going over into the next valley, trying to work out where I was from up high. Was I above Chateau D’Oex or was I somewhere completely different? The pilot was a master. All too soon we were landing, coming in far too fast, then going around in a circle before hovering slowly downwards into a perfect landing. It was noisy, but not deafening like I’d expected. We turned around to take photos of it as soon as we were out but it was already taking off to refuel and spraying us with pieces of snow and ice which were falling off it as it moved.
We were going to go and have a look around the village, since everything else seemed to have finished but as we were crossing the field, I heard something about parachutists, so we waited for that:

before going into the village. Everything was closed but up by the church we got a great view of the snow:

This is the showfield:

glistening with snow in the late afternoon sun. We went down the hill and had hot chocolate and vin chaud. This is what was opposite us:

The shutters kept randomly opening and shutting and they were very pretty when they were shut. A horse and sled went past:

and eventually we went back to the station and got the train back. We were going to stop in Montreux for a proper look but it was very cold, so we had a hot chocolate each in a bar (where there was the most gorgeous golden labrador puppy!). On the platform an American man asked Jemma why there were so many people with skis and snowboards, was there somewhere nearby to ski? Jemma didn’t know but apparently I know everything so he asked me and I explained about the mountains and villages behind the town, where the trains go. Then we were approached by an American girl and an English one who wanted to know which platform they needed to be on to go to “Egg”. I was baffled, then I realised they were saying Aigle which I guessed was the other side. The English one was very English. When I said it wasn’t this one because the train was going completely the opposite direction, she said “Oh, how awful!” in a very Eton-esque accent before they ran off to the other side like I guessed.
We got the next train out of Lausanne. Peedee bought a cup of some kind of herbal tea at the station while we were waiting and we were back in Neuchatel by 7.30. That’s a record.

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