Just to be clear right from the start, this is not a story like Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I didn’t go to Europe and meet the man of my dreams, nor did I eat lots of pasta or learn to meditate, but I did re-discover my sense of adventure and confidence in myself after being dumped by the man my 23-year-old self thought was “the one”.
It was after several weeks of nursing my broken heart, that my Uncle Dave called from England looking for an addition to the ground crew for his upcoming participation at a hot air balloon competition in Filzmoos, Austria. He was actually hoping that his brother, my Dad, would come, but my parents thought this was just what their youngest daughter needed to get her zest back, so they told Uncle Dave that I would go.
Filzmoos, Austria is a beautiful village of 1,350 people, tucked into a valley in the Alps about 72 kilometres southeast of Salzburg. They have been hosting the International Hot Air Balloon Competition and Festival since 1978 for one week each January.
Approximately 38 balloonists from 10 countries compete in several events throughout the week. There is a long-distance race, destination races and fly-in competitions, where an object is placed on top of a stick and the pilot has to maneuver the balloon close enough to grab it.
The highlight of the festival is the “Night of the Balloons”, where all the teams inflate their balloons in the centre of the village and a party ensues involving the whole town.
The ground crew assists in the setup and takedown of the balloon and stays in visual contact during the flight. All together, the balloon weighs about 850 pounds.
One day, Uncle Dave landed the balloon on the side of a mountain. We were able to get the truck about 60 feet above it on a narrow path and dragged the balloon and basket up the side of the mountain in waist-deep snow. It took all of our collective strength and about two hours, but we did it!
Filzmoos is a great little town, with plenty of guest houses and excellent restaurants to replenish yourself after a day of being alive in the mountains with the balloon crew or skiing on the many fantastic slopes that surround the village.
There was never a meal that went by without the host bringing out a big tray of Schnapps to toast the success of the day. It was a successful day whether that success was getting the balloon up over a high mountain peak, being able to get the heavy basket two inches closer to the truck, asking an Austrian farmer for permission to land on his property while not speaking the same language or just figuring out how to pick yourself up and carry on after being dumped by some guy from your hometown who was not worthy of your brave and adventurous self.
This story has been entered in the Foreign Correspondent Contest and could earn the writer a round-trip, for two, to Frankfurt, Germany, courtesy of Condor Airlines. See the Contest Guidelines at old.whatsupyukon.com.