Montgolfières and Shooting Stars


Pink sunset
Pink sunset

The sky is where it’s all at for the moment – whether during the day or at night. We have been enjoying luminous days with improbably blue skies for the past few days. The evenings are, alas, starting to draw in already – nightfall comes three-four minutes earlier every day – but the clarity of the night sky makes the stars stand out like diamonds against velvet.

Daylight Wonder

We were just finishing our dinner outside yesterday evening when we heard a sporadic puffing sound approaching, a bit like a dragon with asthma. We’ve heard this before and knew immediately that it was a montgolfière (hot air balloon).

Montgolfier against the evening sky
Montgolfière against the evening sky

The last time, one came past very early in the morning and we shot out of bed to watch it go past but I didn’t have time to fetch my camera. This time, I sprinted (as far as one can at my age) upstairs and grabbed it, taking a shot through the window and then several from outside.

Gas burner blasting away
Gas burner blasting away

I don’t think I have ever seen a hot air balloon so close and it came from an unusual direction. It can’t have been more than 50-75 metres up but, with successive bursts of gas, it soon gained height and sailed away in its stately fashion.

I’ve never been up in a montgolfière (so called after its inventors – see my post here) but feel it must be a very civilised way to travel, provided you don’t come down to earth with a bump unexpectedly.

Colourful yet stately
Colourful yet stately

Starlight Wonder

Once the sun has set, the Milky Way arches across the sky and you get a sense of just how small we are in the scheme of things. After all, the Milky Way is our home galaxy but around 100 billion more of them are estimated to exist across the known universe. Thanks to the lack of light pollution down here and the clear skies at this time of year, the stars and the constellations are wonderfully distinct.

On Sunday night, we dined outside with friends at their house under a sky without a cloud. As night fell, we were treated to a display of étoiles filantes (shooting stars), since this is the time of year when the earth crosses the belt of small meteors, the debris of comet Swift-Tuttle. Known as the Perseids, they rapidly burn up in the atmosphere, leaving a short-lived silvery trail. The lack of light pollution enhanced our view of them.

We all got cricks in the neck as we craned to look at them. Sometimes, several seared across the sky at once but mostly we had to wait a few minutes between each one. The sky is so big, of course, that you can’t look everywhere at once.

They move so swiftly that you can’t photograph them without a much faster shutter speed than my camera could manage. I did make several wishes, though, which I’m not prepared to divulge.

Dramatic sunset
Dramatic sunset after the montgolfière had been over

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  1. Gorgeous skies and gorgeous stars. We laid mattresses out in the courtyard to lie and watch the Perseids. There weren’t as many as we’d hoped, but it was thrilling nonetheless. The stars in these skies are simply awesome. What a lovely accompaniment to a dinner al fresco.


    • We were a little disappointed not to see more of the Perseids this year. Blink and you miss them. But the stars themselves are a wonderful backdrop to an evening outside.


  2. stunning photographs, it must have been such a thrill to see that hot air balloon. I think the french word for it is much more romantic isnt it. What a brilliant sunset too, i take photos of those but would love to see one like that.
    Gill x


    • I was lucky to get those shots. The cloud just bubbled up at the end of the day and the sunset caught it from underneath, so the colours were fantastic. My photos don’t do them justice. The French word is indeed more evocative – named after the brothers who invented the hot air balloon. I would dearly love to go up in one…


  3. Fantastic pics Vanessa. I went on a hot air balloon to celebrate my 50th and it was truly amazing. We took off from Monmouth and sailed/flew towards the Brecon Beacons. Do try it if you get the chance.


  4. Wonderful photos, Vanessa. There was a hot air ballooning weekend near here at the end of May but it was very curtailed due to the rotten weather.
    And please be careful watching the stars! That’s what set my neck problems off last year. This time I lay flat on the garden bench to watch the shooting stars. No health repercussions this time!


    • I was lucky to have the time to get my camera. At least hot air balloons move so slowly that you get several chances of a good shot. Occasionally, they have come over here in numbers but that’s very rare. At our friends’ house we couldn’t lay down on their gravel to look at the shooting stars! Here, at least, we could lie on our sun loungers. But I think the chance of seeing them has passed for this year.


  5. Hot air balloons are so gorgeous! I had the experience once of flying in a helicopter at their level (far out of their way, of course!) It was a festival and there were at least 20 in the air. Breath taking! Right across the river from me is a jump site for parapentists…I frequently see them drifting and floating over the river.


    • I love them. I would really like to go up in one. The idea of sipping champagne while floating over the countryside rather appeals to me. And I’m sure you see things from that height that you would never see from an aircraft.


    • It was an extraordinary sunset: the sun just caught the clouds from underneath. The colours never reproduce quite as they are in real life, though.


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