Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

I'm being followed by a balloon shadow, balloon shadow, balloon shadow (Italy trip report)

I'm being followed by a balloon shadow, balloon shadow, balloon shadow (Italy trip report)

Oct 10th, 2006, 05:19 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 460
Lovely pictures and nice detailed report. Looking forward to reading more...
sharon1306 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2006, 08:12 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
Thanks Sharon

LC - our guide's name was Molly. I had to go back and look it up.
flygirl is offline  
Oct 18th, 2006, 05:11 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
topping for another ballooning fanatic... I haven't gotten to the ballooning report and photos yet but I think by this wkd I should have time to do so!
flygirl is offline  
Feb 24th, 2007, 06:28 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
Since December 1 (the beginning of silly season) I've been to NYC twice, Las Vegas, Atlanta for a New Year's Eve party, flew down to visit the house in SC (and went to Savannah), and finally Mardi Gras. Not to mention I went home to visit family twice. The spring looks no saner.... Culminating in yet another trip to Italy.

As it is clear I am never going to finish this trip report otherwise, I'm just going to condense the rest of it, include a few salient, helpful points, post the photos, and post an email I wrote while on the road to various friends. I have to at least include the actual ballooning information, ar ar ar.


I picked up the car in Florence and drove the S22 down to Pienza. It is a beautiful drive - if you are a ceramics junkie like I am, stop in Castellina and check out Pep Bizzarrie. Stunning ceramic pieces (plates, platters, pitchers, etc.) and all of them hand painted. I bought a 4 piece place setting and a pitcher and shipped them home. There are photos of the store in the links below.

Here is an email I sent home about the balloon ride:

Today was one of my most memorable travel days yet - as in ever. It will be hard to decide which overall travel experience is going to go down as my favorite of all time, chronologically they are so far:

Galloping horseback, surfside, along the Pacific Ocean in Peru. uncontrollable giggling as the horse thumped along the beach.

Flying over Whistler in British Columbia...

Volcano run in New Zealand. (giggling the whole way down - if you ever get a chance to run through scree, by all means, do it!)

Zorbing in New Zealand. (non-stop giggling. and I mean helplessly nonstop)

and this morning... ballooning in Tuscany. (google that phrase if you want to know more). such a pretty day and what magnificent countryside. perfect weather and 50 miles viz.

I got up at 445 AM and made my way to Montisi. I actually decided to do a dry run last night just to make sure I wasn't wandering around aimlessly at 530 AM today. it worked out well - I found the place last night just before sunset (a beautiful time to be out) and then went back to Pienza. That drive between Castelmuzio and Montisi is now one of my favorites - it really reminded me of the Corniche drives above Monte Carlo and Nice. zoom zoom zoom. very twisty windy curvy. Last night I also visited Sant'Anna in Camprena - the English Patient abbey. (we also saw it from above today).

Robert and Liz (the balloonists) are a lovely couple and needless to say I now have new friends in Tuscany with an open invitation to come back any time I want (even if I don't go ballooning). What a production to get it all prepared! He used big fans to get it partially blown up and he then used the flames to get the balloon itself to rise. the basket then righted itself and we all clambered in.

Then, the takeoff. I remarked that it reminded me of the Wizard of Oz - haha! We lifted slowly slowly up and up. It was such a gentle graceful glide and it appeared we were headed right for the trees but he didn't even graze them as we passed (but it sure looked close!). We saw the Abbey from way up above. He pointed out all the various spots off in the distance and let me tell you, Tuscany is now one of my favorite spots on earth. (it's in stiff company but it's up there to be sure). We were up at 2000 feet at one point and a few other times down so low we were almost grazing the ground. As we passed some agriturismos the folks came outside to wave and take photos. that was when he descended to just above the rooftops - boy did they get a good view.

We had dogs barking at us at various times, and saw many deer. Near the end as we landed in a field some horses came out to investigate. They were separated from us by a fence but as we were descending to land they were all lined up watching. What a hoot!

The other couple was from Phoenix, and, Robert's brother Mark (Robert is the pilot) went along as well. Mark was a very nice person, we talked quite a bit after we landed and come to find out he was Kristin Scott Thomas's babysitter way back in the day. Can you guess how that conversation started? Also come to find out his wife is the niece of the Duke of... (it sounded like he said Fief but I doubt that was right, I have asked one of my British friends who is very knowledgable about everyone in royalty to figure it out although we did exchange emails so I suppose I could ask him, he was very forthcoming about it all.) at any rate he knows the Queen as well as the Princes and so forth. I thought that was pretty interesting.

After landing we loaded it up in the jeep and trailer and headed back. On the way back Mark and I stood in the basket which was bungee'd to the trailer. We were warned that if Robert tooted twice it was the carabinieri and we were to duck down into the basket. (which didn't happen but of course I'd have real trouble not peeping anyway)

It was so much fun - like a very bumpy convertible ride after a balloon ride. All of a sudden Italian fighter jets ROARED overhead, doing very low passes, and then I really squealed and jumped up and down. There were four of them and I was enthralled watching them. (I feel the need... the need for speed! hahaha. Now, name that quote). I suppose we were lucky they didn't try that while we were airborne as they were definitely that low!

I will write more later...

Here are the ballooning photos:


I stayed in Pienza, at Il Chiostro di Pienza. My room looked out over the Val d'Orcia. It's a beautiful hotel and well situated. I loved Pienza and we are staying there again this May.

Pienza photos:


After two nights in Pienza I drove to Rome and dropped the car at Ciampino. I'd recommend that over the train station I think.

While in Rome I stayed at the Hotel Parlamento, which was recommended to me a few years ago by Kismetchimera here on fodors. I've stayed there twice now and number three will be in May. It's a small family run hotel, nothing fancy but very clean and the terrace rooms are spacious (the double I had in May was a small double, but I had a terrace room on a previous trip and it's quite nice - it even had an American electrical outlet next to the Italian one).

Photos of Rome:


I very highly recommend the walking tours offered by Context Rome. I took the Roma Antica tour and it was fascinating. I tend to read a lot before trips (and during, and after) so it was interesting to have some of my readings come alive through the tour guide.

As usual a 3 day visit to Rome barely scratches the surface but, since Rome wasn't built in a day I won't see it all in a day either. Must... Go... Back...
flygirl is offline  
Feb 24th, 2007, 07:23 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 957
Great photos!

And I'm glad you caught up with rest of your trip report now, as I'd missed the initial posting when you began several months ago.
JBX is offline  
Feb 24th, 2007, 07:36 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,880
I've only looked at the ballooning ones so far, they are great. How scary was that?
laartista is offline  
Feb 25th, 2007, 08:00 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
JBX, thank you, glad you liked them!

Laartista, not at all! Imagine no sound at all, save the hissing of the gas when he gets the burners going. And your own voices. And if you are low enough, a dog barking or people talking (sound does carry fairly well - especially as it's out in the countryside and so quiet anyway...). It is so serene and so peaceful you scarcely notice the height. You can be down almost scraping the ground and then 2000 feet up in a blink and you don't even realize it - it's that smooth. Mornings and evenings tend to have very light winds so the ride would be a smooth one - and if the weather isn't good, they don't go up.

I just remembered another little tidbit:

I dined at Poggio Antico in Montalcino after the ballooning. The setting was beautiful and the food and wine - well let's just say after a two hour meal I was ready to take a nap. There are plenty of good shade trees around for that! I didn't however, I went into the winery itself and bought 3 bottles of 99 Brunello Riserva to bring home. Remember the days when you could check liquids? Well, it went into my carryon. Try that now!
flygirl is offline  
Feb 25th, 2007, 08:02 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
I mean, carry on liquids. ar ar ar
flygirl is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 02:23 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
I thought this might be of interest to some folks prepping for a trip to Italy as well. I wrote this months ago but never posted it (yes, that far behind am I!)


Here are some books I read to prepare for my last trip to Italy... and books I've bought since to prepare for the next visit. I usually buy books before, during, and after trips for the current destination rarely is it my first visit to a given destination and never is it my last visit.

Miss Garnet's Angel by Sally Vickers oh such a treat! I took it with me but finished it long after I had left Venice. I recommend reading this before you leave and visiting some of the spots the author highlights. It's a fiction book and quite enjoyable. (older English lady leaves England after the death of her friend to start a new life in Venice...)

Time Out for Venice, Florence/Tuscany and Rome
Top Ten DK guidebooks for Venice, Tuscany, Rome. For Tuscany I recommend the Reid Bramblett one.
Collected Traveler for Venice and for Italy, both by Barrie Kerper.

A Valley in Italy by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran wacky Englishwoman raises family in a formerly-ruined castle Umbria. Charms village in the process.

Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. It received the highest recommendation by Barrie Kerper, above. I didn't finish it before I left and it's on the waiting list for my attention again. (I will finish it before May).

Out of this Century: Confessions of an Art Addict by (and about) Peggy Guggenheim. If you want to see how the other half lives. Talk about the roaring 20s. Her life story, and the stories about the lives of the expats in the '20s and '30s, are what make us all (well, me anyway) have such romantic notions of chucking it all and moving to Europe. There's that little detail about either being an heiress or having latent artistic talent must put that on the list of Things to Do.

World of Venice by Jan Morris. I bought this five years ago before the first trip and re-read a few chapters before taking off. A must-buy before you visit Venice.

A Traveler in Rome by HV Morton. My absolute favorite book, to date, about Rome. A must-read. No question about it.

The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy. A delightful book about the history of Florence. I'd recommend this as a take-along if you have room.

Witness to Hope by George Weigel. This is about Pope John Paul II. I think it must weigh five pounds. On the to-read list. My Mom bought it for me for Christmas the first year I went to Rome. (update - it still sits collecting dust).

Books bought in Florence after the fabulous walking tour I took:
April Blood by Lauro Martinesi. Halfway through it, I should finish it about the same time I finish the Stones of Florence (yes, I'm one of those people who read several books at a time).
Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King. On the waiting list for attention.
Medici Money by Tim Parks. Ditto.

Another take along book to Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome. A thank you Flyfish who recommended it and Walter who knows the whole book anyway!

I bought a book on the Colosseum while in it and I recommend getting one there, they are fairly comprehensive. They also have photos and diagrams which are a plus.

After I got home, a few books I've bought to read before May '07:

The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone. (update - currently a third of the way through it. It's a masterpiece. Must-read before a trip to Florence and Rome.)

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon.
Naples '44 by Norman Lewis.
The Rubicon by Tom Holland.

Shortly plan to buy Colleen McCullough's entire set on Rome which I've been told by a few people is quite good. It's historical fiction but apparently well researched.
flygirl is offline  
Mar 1st, 2007, 08:57 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 509
hi flygirl. I realize that your trip was 9 months ago, but I would like to know anyways why AF did not allow your 22" on board. Did they measure it? Weight it? Simply reject it? I want to be prepared! TIA!
Mariarosa is offline  
Mar 1st, 2007, 12:38 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963

They eyeballed it and told me to check it. I said "no thanks, I am happy to carry it on, it's a carryon bag". She said "it's too big". Given that this was a wide-body jet I was surprised. It turned out well but I wish I had done triage ahead of time just in case.

When I got to the gate I saw a gentleman with a bag that was my size and was a little ticked off until they made him put it into the sizer right before the gate and it failed - they took it. So there really wasn't a way around it.

This May we are flying United to Italy and I am carrying a small carryon with two days of clothing and checking my "normal" carryon. I was pretty proud to get everything I needed into a 22 inch bag, I have to tell you. I have no problem checking for international trips - assuming I see my bags. AF is just about the only airline who regularly loses my luggage though. Although America Worst takes the prize - they not only lost a bag on the way to Vancouver, it took them 5 days to find it!

I suppose I could say here (off luggage topic) that I also went to the ABQ Balloon Fiesta and have many many pretty ballooning photos from that too - which I have yet to sort completely. Before my NEXT trip to ABQ I plan to sort and post some.

flygirl is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2007, 09:16 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 509
Thaks flygirl. I just bought another carry-on that is 21" in height. I hope this one will work, as my previous one was supposed to be a 22", but with the handle, it was more like 23.5". So, hopefully, we won't have to check it!
Mariarosa is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2007, 10:50 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,880
Thanks Flygirl for the great description of that balloon ride. I hate flying so not sure I would ever go up in one. But maybe one day I'll become brave. Sounds like it was an awesome experience.
laartista is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2007, 12:19 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
I think you should try it out sometime! I really think you will enjoy it. My Mom hates heights so I think we are going to have to stuff her into the basket (ar ar) but she will thank us later (we are going back to the same place again this May, doing the balloon ride again). I made a beautiful poster of the balloon ride - a collage - and sent it to Robert for Xmas. They loved it!

I am going to get on the stick soon and post some more ballooning photos from Albuquerque - check back here too for them. I may as well double-link them in case ballooning aficionados find them and want to see other photos. (also since I will put them on the US board).
flygirl is offline  
Mar 18th, 2007, 02:59 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
I finally put my balloon photos from Albuquerque online - here is the link. I did an oopsy on posting the report - I thought I was in the US forum when I first posted it. But now it's in the correct spot and here is the cross-reference.

flygirl is offline  
Apr 6th, 2007, 08:09 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 4,464
Hey Flygirl

Thanks for the report. I am planning a trip to Tuscany in late April and appreciate the suggestions.


Regards Ger
OReilly is offline  
Apr 9th, 2007, 02:23 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963
Ger, thank you! Mom and I are only 4.5 weeks away from leaving again... and we will be ballooning again this year.
flygirl is offline  
Jun 17th, 2007, 01:52 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 41,760
I missed this first time around!
Thanks to ger I now have the pleasure.
cigalechanta is online now  
Jun 18th, 2007, 05:36 AM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 255
I keep re-reading this section about ballooning in Tuscany and am considering it for our trip in July. I have just e-mailed them to inquire about availability. Is anyone familiar with the drive from Montalcino to Montisi? It appears to be about 30 km on the map. Would that be about a 1/2 hour...or would it take longer? Flygirl, if you happen to see this, I am curious about what time you got back to where you started...I realize you started at 5:45 am....I don't see what time you finished; sorry if you put it in there & I missed it.
tinamidon is offline  
Jun 18th, 2007, 06:24 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,963

Montalcino wouldn't be a bad drive either. What I'd suggest is to do a dry run the night before both to make sure you can find him and also check timing. I took my Mom with me this year and we did the ballooning again (this particular report you've read above was about May 2006, I have yet to write the May 2007 report).

This year, we got there at 6 AM and then the balloon prep started - I believe we took off around 7 AM and landed by 9 AM not far from Pienza. We then had a "champagne" breakfast (local fizzy, not Champagne) and the farmer whose field we had landed in came out on his tractor (dog trotting alongside!) and offered us some of his own wine. We were parked under a tree next to his vines. It was a blissful morning. It's soooooooo quiet out there.. ballooning.. good company... lovely weather... local vino... how much better can it get?

This year, we did not get back to the hotel until after 130 as he and Liz took all of us to Bagno Vignoni to visit the town, see the terme, and have the after-ballooning espresso and cookies. (we did something similar last year but right in Montisi). Last year as I recall I was back at my hotel in Pienza in time to change for lunch in Montalcino.
flygirl is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
Jul 14th, 2014 06:41 AM
Jan 15th, 2007 10:29 AM
Dec 14th, 2006 06:52 AM
Dec 28th, 2005 04:39 AM
Jun 28th, 2005 07:40 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:55 PM.