This intrepid band of early-morning ballooners picked the perfect morning to sail over Melbourne.

During 2017 the banner over this blog has featured  hot air balloons; we watch them almost daily from the Ohanessians’ apartment. Seeing them is an uplifting (pun intended, I’m afraid) way to start the day. It’s also been a tempting one. How much fun it would be, we tell each other, to soar over the Yarra River Valley (Melbourne and vicinity). We really ought to do that someday.

Four balloons took off together.  This is a picture of one we’re not in.

Someday came early on Boxing Day (December 26). Very early. The alarm clanged at 3:30 am; anticipation had already forced me out of bed an hour earlier. Not too excited! Michael drove us into Melbourne and parked (no charge at that hour); then a 10-15 minute walk to meet our companions and load the Balloon Man’s van for our ride to the take-off spot. No good, our pilots judged. The breeze was wafting the wrong way. So off we drove to a second spot. This one, the pilots deemed, was OK.

Our balloon a few days earlier. When Joy snapped this picture she had no inkling we soon be passengers. We’d never seen one sailing this low in the city.

The ride was more than OK. It was exhilarating. The weather was crisp and cool but not cold. Visibility was forever. We did have one complaint. The sides of the gondola were deeper than necessary. The designer must have been a six-footer. Or more. Joy and I managed to climb into the thing, but perhaps with a little less gracefulness than we desired. Our not-very-polite fellow passengers, all of whom were younger and lither, could have looked the other way. To our knowledge no one took pictures. If any should turn up on Facebook, we’ll sue.

Find the tallest apartment building in the photo, upper left-hand corner, the one that incorporates four silos. That’s where we live.

We’ve been in air balloons before–I once even preached from one–but this ride was exceptional. We’d never flown so low over a city. In fact, we couldn’t have done so in the States, where there are ordinances to keep balloons sky high. Not here. We barely cleared some treetops for a close look before ascending quietly to take in the breathtaking panoramic views. These pictures tell some of the story, but only some. You had to be there!

Here’s proof we are now certified fellows of The Royal Australian College of Ballooning–a real achievement for one whose speaking has often been called just so much hot air.

New Year’s Eve saw us once again in Docklands, Melbourne’s dramatic waterfront and marina area, for New Year’s Eve spectacular fireworks display. We thought last year’s was fantastic; this year surpassed it.

Celebrating the New Year at the Docklands, Melbourne

It may be because our hosts placed us this year at the base of one of the high rises from which the fireworks were launched. The sky burst directly overhead.

Fireworks bursting right over our heads.

I wanted to duck, convinced that so many burning embers could not fall  without singeing us. But we were untouched–except in our inner feelings. They require that vastly overused adjective: awesome

New Year’s Eve party gave us an opportunity to reconnect with Kamran and Fatema, whom we met at last year’s celebration. They are our only married Indian-Pakistani couple friends. What holds them together is their common Muslim faith, they say. They are as winsome as they look here.

The evening’s enjoyment came also from the good company we were in. The O’s good friends Cobein and Michael Watts hosted about a dozen of us in their apartment and on the waterfront sidewalk so we could enjoy the music, dancing, fireworks and general revelry welcoming in the new year. I think you’ll know how much we loved our time together when I confess that after the fireworks, after a brief post-party visit to Kamran and Fatema’s apartment, and after the Uber ride back to Richmond, we finally fell into bed around 2:00 am. Right much excitement for the elderly.

New Year’s Eve revelers, a delightful group. Hostess Cobein is fourth from the right standing, host Michael is kneeling beside Candy and her Michael.

Do you remember Hang from our last post? She’s the gracious young Vietnamese university student who rescued us as we tried to find the right tram to the Christmas carol party in Northcote. When she waved goodbye after shepherding us to and helping us board #86, Joy and I agreed we wanted to get better acquainted with her. We invited her and her boyfriend Harry to Christmas dinner, which they had to miss because Harry had a previous appointment with his work colleagues. So we tried again and this time almost succeeded. We asked them to join us for New Year’s lunch at their favorite Vietnamese restaurant.

Ha and Hang with Joy and Candy

Turned out Hang could accept but Harry still couldn’t. Work, again. Hang asked if her mother could come instead. Of course. Well, we missed getting to meet Harry, but Hang’s mother Ha did come and we were glad. When we first met her, both Joy and I thought we were meeting Hang’s sister, she seems so young.

We’re fans of Vietnamese food, and this restaurant provided the best (Hang used to work here, so she knew what goes on in the kitchen.) We’re also fans of Vietnamese people if these two are representative. We think they are. Ha is also a university student. They are in Australia because the current political climate in America makes it hard for international students to study in the States. This former professor grieves at America’s lost opportunity.

Hang and her mother Ha and I are standing on the same level floor. Can you guess why they are special to me? You’ll notice Michael is missing. His height would have spoiled the picture.

Melbourne hosts a large Vietnamese population. This was a safe haven for escapees from that war-torn country in the 60s and 70s and beyond. They are still welcome here. Fortunately, the ones we met don’t hate Americans, though the memories of that disastrous conflict aren’t easily erased.


Our hot air balloon casts a big shadow.
Every now and then you see an honest advertisement. This one on Richmond’s main street deserves a picture, don’t you think?
An example of why it’s so hard to keep Joy with us as we walk. On the way to lunch with Hang and Ha–we were running a little late–she had to stop for a picture of this handsome fellow in a shop window.
The flying party’s over. Time to put the toys away.