Thursday, 17 September 2009

European Hot Air Balloon Championships

So I was sat in the gite looking at the tourist information that the owners had supplied and there was a big leaflet about what's on in the area. Even though we've been to France many times I still struggle with the language but I was trying to interpret one of the entries which was going on about Mongolfiers at Brissac. Now I know the Mongolfier brothers pioneered the early hot air balloons so I suspected it was something to do with that. We decided that we'd go to a nearby Sunday market in the morning and then head to Brissac to see what the hot air balloon thing was about.

So fairly early on Sunday morning we set out towards the market and within a few hundred yards of the gite we spotted a host of hot air balloons in the distance. They must have just set off from Brissac which was about ten miles away. As we drove towards the market we watched the balloons as they were heading in roughly the same direction that we were going. When we got to the market it was very disappointing, maybe six stalls and they were still putting them up. We decided to get back in the car and follow the balloons. We first caught up with them as they dropped down by this lovely little village.


They were dropping down almost to the ground and then setting back off again into the sky. We followed them some more and realised that they were dropping markers down at targets. One particular balloon dropped it's marker right in the middle of some crossroads which raised a cheer with the spectators (we weren't the only ones tracking the balloons). We decided that it must be some kind of race, a bit like orienteering in the sky.


One of the balloons dropped right down between this group of houses. I was talking to one of the people from the houses and they told me that it was the European Hot Air Balloon Championships and that tonight there was a spectacular going on at Brissac and it would be well worth going. She suggested we get there early as there wasn't a great deal of parking. So we decided to go back to the gite, have yet another lazy day and then head for Brissac at tea-time.


It was the hottest day of the holiday so we had lunch, sat around the pool and then went to Brissac. We arrived about 5:30pm and the centre of the town had been sealed off and we were directed to a grassed area near the centre of the town to park. We followed people down towards the chateau as we guessed that this was where it was all happening. We paid to go into the chateau grounds and as we walked towards an open area this jazz band were playing to the audience.


There was a big grassed area where there was a couple of beer tents and lot of food and ice cream stalls. There was a few trees giving shade but these had already been crowded with people because it was really, really hot still. We walked around a bit, then sat on the grass waiting for the show to begin. A very excitable man was on the area at the other side of the moat going on about the spectacular this and spectacular that. Couldn't understand much of what he was saying but we thought it was going to be spectacular. Then we heard the drummers, I left Lynne sat on the grass while I went to get some photos. They stopped for a while to talk to the crowd.


Their leader was knelt down talking to some people sat on the grass. I knew he was the leader because he had a whistle.


Then he blew his whistle and all his men lined up in a row, standing on anyone who was in the way (in a friendly manner of course, which caused great hilarity with those not in their way).


And then they set off again playing their drums as they weaved through the crowd. They stopped again a few times as they made their way all around the spectators area, which was getting quite full by now.


After what seemed like hours in the baking sun the vehicles with the balloons started to arrive in the area at the other side of the moat. Then the first of the balloons started to be inflated. There was such a lot of colour as they started to get bigger and rise into the sky.


The balloons were spread across a big area and many of them were between the trees. It must have been quite incredible to have been up close to them are they were setting off.


Many of the balloons were very pretty and we really liked this one with the child being pulled along by the birds. The sun was mainly behind the balloons and any of them that blocked out the sun for a few seconds got a big cheer from the hot and sweaty crowd.


May of the balloons had advertising on them and there seemed to be teams with the same sponsor.


This pink balloon seemed to head in a different direction to all the other ones and came very close to the chateau. The people in the balloon must have been able to see right into the windows as they sailed by.


One of the last balloons to set off was this very strange joker. It had been one of the closest ones to the spectators but it was hard to make out what it was until it had set off.


Then all the balloons had gone so we went and had a drink and tried to find some shelter from the sun. Although it was getting towards 8pm by now the sun was still very hot and the area was very dusty.

Suddenly I spotted a hot air ballooon coming from the other direction to where the ones that had set off had gone. Then another, and another until the sky was filled with almost 50 balloons.


They were heading straight towards us and as they got closer to us they also got closer together. These were definitely a different set of balloons to the ones that we had watched set off and we recognised some of them that we had seen in the morning.


We really liked this one from Stockholm and I was lucky that it turned just to the right spot to get a picture with the whole drawing facing me.


This one came down very close to where we were standing and you could see the people up there looking down at us. Most of the balloons came down low at the other side of the moat and we wondered if they were about to land, but they didn't. Some of them dropped markers like we'd seen them doing in the morning.


This was one of the balloons we'd seen in the morning with the strange face on the side.


As the last of the balloons drifted off into the sunset it started to get dark and our excitable friend on the microphone returned to tell us again how spectacular it was going to be. We didn't know what was to happen next but we had seen a stage with a big crane next to it and this seemed to be where everyone was heading.


Then the drummers returned weaving through the crowd again. It seemed to get dark very suddenly and there were some big spotlights following the drummers around. I tried to get some photos of them in the crowd but even at the maximum sensitivity on y camera(ISO 1600) the shutter speed was still too long and the pictures are very blurred.

Eventually they made their way to the stage and I managed to get a couple of not quite as blurred photos of them.


They played their drums and danced around the stage for a while. There had also been a girl with them but she had disappeared.


Then the stage went dark and the drumming continued. After a while the lights came back up and the drummers were suspended on a living mobile above the stage. The girl was on a trapeze way above the drummers and they were all hanging from the big crane.


The crane swung around taking the drummers over the moat and then right over the crowd in front of the stage. At one point they dropped down low above the heads of the people and then they suddenly shot up nearly a hundred feet in the air (it wouldn't happen in England, the Health and Safety Executive wouldn't allow this). Most of my photos were very blurred but one or two were almost definable.


This was by far the best of the photos of the girl as she did her acrobatics above the drummers. The ones where she is moving are very blurred but I guess are showing the movement. This one is where she held a pose for a few seconds. I think at focal length 275mm this shot taken at 1/50 second isn't far off being sharp.


This next one might even be sharper but unfortunately she was facing away from us.


The crane swung around again and put the drummers in front of the chateau which makes a nice shot.


We decided to try and get out of the area before the crush at the end of the night. Lynne's not a big fan of crowds, especially when it's dark. As we went back past the chateau I took this shot of it lit up.


As we got up towards the town centre the fireworks started and very loud music boomed across the valley. Jean Michel Jarre I think it was.


We stopped for a while and I took a few more shots of the fireworks.


It was still warm even at 10:30 and it had been a very long, very hot day for us after getting up early to go to the market. We drove back to the gite, had a quick drink and then straight to bed.

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