Friday, September 29, 2023

Postcards from France

Annonay - Les Freres Montgolfier

Last Wednesday (9/27) I rode about 20 miles north from Tain l'Hermitage on the Rhone, where we stay, mainly uphill to the town of Annonay in the Ardèche. This was the home of the aviation pioneer Montgolfier brothers and I specifically wanted to see their statue and the town square where on June 4th 1783 they first demonstrated their invention, the hot air balloon.

Interestingly, their balloon was not inflated as I had expected but had a fixed shape and was constructed of four linen sections with paper pasted inside to provide the form and make it airtight. The sections were joined together with 1,800 buttons and the exterior reinforced with a cord net.

The First Balloon

In order to heat the air for the balloon it was tethered over a smoldering fire and when eventually released it shot up to about 5000 feet and covered about 1.5 miles before the air inside cooled and it landed with little damage. Scientists and artists were on hand from the Paris Academies to document and illustrate the occasion.

The launch site today - Wednesday is market day!

Within 6 months the brothers had constructed a new much larger balloon with its own charcoal heat source and capable of carrying two passengers in a gallery around the bottom. Following tethered testing, on November 21st in its first free flight the brilliantly decorated balloon flew 5 miles over Paris at about 3000 feet. It had carried enough fuel to go four times this distance but when the pilots were obliged to use their jackets to quell flames from the burning fabric they decided they'd travelled far enough and landed after 25 minutes.

The Brilliantly decorated first free flight piloted balloon

After a coffee and "pain au chocolat" in a cafe overlooking the town square the ride back was relatively easy - a long downhill to the Rhone and a flat stretch along the ViaRhona bike path to Tain.

Allan Broadribb

P.S. There is a hot air balloon festival in Annonay held annually in June.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Postcards from France

Last year I told John I'd write a couple of articles under the banner Postcards from France but he seemed to think that might be a bit spicy - too bad - we're back in France and it's what you're getting anyway.
If you're riding a bike in France and the traffic light turns red then ride around the cars to the light because there's a 5 meter zone for bicycles at the front and you get your own traffic light low on the pole so you don't get a crick in your neck looking up at the big one. Stops bikes getting stuck between cars all over the place and cars will actually move over to make it easy for you to get to the front!

In urban areas the postman delivers your mail on an official yellow LaPoste electric bike which is really cool. Good way for the postman to stay in shape too,

On the French roads there are two highway signs that may cause you some confusion "Toutes  Directions" and "Autres Directions" which basically translate as "Somewhere" and "Elsewhere". Ask anyone and they will tell you clearly what is meant but don't ask anyone else or the clarity will fade. These signs have been a source of much amusement for natives and tourists alike and many differing opinions have been published. Unfortunately GPS navigation systems have made them meaningless - as if they weren't already - but fear not they still exist and remain a great conversation starter. Or, you can talk to your cars' navigation system but it's not as much fun. 


Allan Broadribb