November 6, 2007

Up, up, and away! Hot air balloons and Parc Andre Citroen

Posted in Exploring at 1:19 pm by Lauren

I have, for a very long time, romanticized hot air balloons and wished to go up in one. So when my friend Ann called to tell me about the Eutelsat hot air balloon that rises above Paris, I was enthralled with the prospect.

The balloon is tethered at Parc Andre Citroen, a modern, intriguing park created after the demolition of the Citroen car factories. The careful design of the park led us from feature to feature, garden to garden, exploring the variety of elements and the contrast between wild and manicured plants. The glass pavillions (two large and several small) encased miniature gardens in varying artificial climates. As is so often the case in Paris’ parks, the lawn (or pelouse) was “resting” and closed to visitors, but on this first visit Ann and I were content to wander.

We purchased our tickets for the balloon ride at 10 euros apiece. (Tickets for adults are 12 euros on weekends; children receive reduced fares.) Compared to the hundreds of dollars it costs to take a traditional balloon ride that freely floats over a longer distance, I was content with the lower price for just a taste of the air.

Ann and I have flexible enough schedules that we were able to visit the balloon at noon on a Monday. Because of that, only two others queued up for our flight; the balloon accommodates up to 30 riders. We climbed into the cage of the balloon, which was circular, with a hole in the center where the tether attached the balloon to the ground. As the balloon lifted in lurches, I was suddenly aware of the wind for the first time that day. As someone easily susceptible to motion sickness, I can vouch that the neither the wind, nor the awkward movements of the balloon caused any nausea for me during the 15 minute ride.

Finally above the ground in my first hot air balloon, there is only one way to describe the sensation I felt: terrified. While Ann took video on her digital camera, I insisted on holding tightly to the railing with at least one hand (and often, both). But the wind and the view both exhilarated me. The Eutelsat balloon rises to the height of the second level of the Eiffel Tower, and from that vantage we had an expansive view of Paris below. I identified Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Sorbonne, Notre Dame, Montparnasse, and even the smaller cast of the Statue of Liberty that overlooks the Seine.  

I was relieved to touch ground and release my white-knuckled grasp from the railings of the hot air balloon’s cage, but the loss of the view and the freedom of the air was disappointing. I imagine I will search it out again, though my desire to take a longer hot air balloon ride may now have finally been quelled by my terror.


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