The magic of Mondovi with the Spirit of Saint Pio.

St. Pio in flight, Mondovi, Italy. 
Photo: Wendy Tree

I’m home a week from this amazing trip and thru sleeps, missed calls and timings, myself and my partner in Ballooning in Mondovi, Sir Andrew of Blagdon, we keep missing each other. Like ships in the night ? More like hot air balloons in the day I thought.

So calling Andy yesterday, going to his voice mail (he was out shooting game on his estate, as one does), after the beep,  my words ‘Thank You’ had just vibrated from my vocal chords when I just burst into tears. I thought, after the wake of a few days, I had my mind settled, but it was having none of it. There was a balancing of sorts going on and I wasn’t allowed stop it. My tears, I’m pretty sure drowned out my sincerity of the Thank You, my main purpose of the call, not just for Andy, but for the entire Somerset crew who were all part of it , where heavily included to. Now, to my embarrassment, my emotive albeit tearful Thank You was committed to an answerphone.. eeek !

Friends Reunited; Gianfranco and myself.
A beautiful person and genuine friend to me.

You see, last week, I was afforded, accepted and took the opportunity to grab the odds at face value and travel to Mondovi, in Northern Italy, where I got to fly in St. Pio, a Hot Air Balloon that also carries the appropriate aircraft registration mark G-PPIO and which means rather a lot to me, as it is also flown in loving memory of my dear late Mum, Ann Murphy who passed away in 1998, aged 56. It was Andy and our crew of Lauren, Darren, Guy, with back up balloon pilots of Capt. Brian and Capt. Tom which were our core crew and support that travelled on the trip. With St. Pio now stationed in Mondovi a number of years now, we are blessed with some beautiful Italian based friends: Sabina, Giorgio, Gianfranco, The Bonanno Family, Fulvio Silvestri, the Oggioni Family, Giovanni, Wendy and Dave Tree, the latter who loves Mondovi so much, they made it their home and what a place to call home.

An early morning launch into the stunning scenery under the Mondovi Skies.

At 7:30am last Friday morning (6:30am back home in Ireland), St. Pio was fully and safely inflated. A rap of knuckles vibrated off the 4 x 4 passenger window I was reclined in. We were on, my chariot was ready. St. Pio (G-PPIO) was stood majestically in full glory and within the stunning early morning Mondovi sunshine. Even the view I was being exposed to just now, at that moment, had made this trip so worth it. 

When things went bad for me  (personally) during the Irish economic crash, when I lost my entire life savings and expenses within the same hour, (except for Alisons job sharing salary), which ultimately led to the stress that gave Cancer a green light to knock on my door, and it did, I never thought I would be in ANY position to see my beloved St. Pio Hot Air Balloon again, let alone visit Italy. But here we are, in the now and I’m about to get in this basket and sail the stunning skies of Mondovi. My cancer, what cancer ? It’s just been left behind on the ground, in a different dimension. Capt. Tom Reddy had just completed the full hot inflation. Tom is a brand new balloon pilot, and for me, it’s vital that at this stage in the whole scheme of things, that pilots like Tom get an opportunity to inflate and indeed fly with other pilots. It’s important as you get to see how ‘other’ pilots do things and yes, please cherry pick out, the good, the bad and the ugly flight processes and procedures. You see, ballooning is one of those rare facets found within general aviation. How one flies a Hot Air Balloon is not totally unique to a one or even two line verbatim instruction. Because of its unique aerostatic status, a flight process that can turn and twist a known safe way to do things can still respectfully morph it’s way to what can be equally safe or perhaps (for that moment), into something even safer. All depending usually on the experience of the pilot in command of that flight. 

Flying in the shadow of St. Pio
Mondovi, Italy.
Photo: Capt. Murf.

Flying St. Pio out in Mondovi, and as I take the controls, I enter this different dimension. Genuinely impossible to describe but equally impossible to ignore. My best attempt at it is, (and we are going down memory lane here), as a kid, do you remember that children’s program, Mr Benn? He was a character created by David McKee who appeared in several children’s books and in an animated television series originally aired by BBC Television. The program featured ‘Mr. Benn’ going into a costume shop and changing into something ‘different’, then when he pulled back the changing room curtains, viola, he was entering, albeit temporarily, into that new world and lived an adventure that went hand and glove with it, for that moment, within that moment. On this whole Mondovi adventure, I was indeed Mr. Benn, no surer thing.

The stunning views over Mondovi, from the basket of St. Pio. 
Photo © Capt. Murf 2017. 

Flying this 90,000 cubic feet aerostat in October, gracing the Mondovi landscape, the golden colours of Autumn reaching out to hold the majestic hand of St. Pio, we are safely guided on another beautiful adventure. There’s a big presence in the basket, the unseen making their presence known by a surreal and very spiritual bonding. There is no surer thing, my late Mother was enjoying the flight, and Padre Pio was not too far away either. I was as usual, lost for words, but I still managed to pull off my first in-flight podcast from the wicker basket. There is a first for everything you know...

Click HERE for my Mondovi Podcast.

Such is the friendship and indeed pure comradery of the ballooning community in Mondovi, after flight no. 2 in St. Pio, the five balloons that flew on the Saturday morning, all packed up from their each respective landing site and travelled back with their chase crews to the Balloon Port. The next thing I remembered, was been urgently ushered inside from the outside morning sunshine, at the Balloon Port Cafe, and seeing a large white box on a table. Everybody was there and they all were wearing big smiles and looking at me. My friends and indeed piers of the sport that I love: Italian and World Ballooning Champions, Balloon Flight Instructors, renowned Hot Air Balloon Burner inventors (The Bonanno’s), fellow sport pilots just like me, but most important of all, we can forget the notarys, these are all my FRIENDS and that’s more important to me than anything else.

Having my cake and eating it.
Being presented with a surprise St. Pio Cake at Balloon Port, Mondovi.
Photo: © Fulvio Silvestri 2017.

My biggest smile was yet to come but I wasn’t to be aware of it until now, right now, as my friend Gianfranco took me by the hand and to the sounds of claps and cheers, pulled back the cover and unveiled a beautiful St. Pio Hot Air Balloon Cake, fully decorated in the colours of G-PPIO. If my face was smiling, I can assure you my heart and mind were playing ‘pass the ball’ with my emotions. It could have went either way, but my big surprise smile stayed put and the emotive tears stayed away, which I hoped they would but knew what would be will be. A massive Thank You to Gianfranco for organising a beautiful surprise. It just topped off a fantastic few days for me. 

Click HERE to listen to my recent interview on LMFM Radio where I 
chat to award winning host Gerry Kelly on how my trip to Mondovi went. 

With the St. Pio Cake polished off, with the aid of some ice cold bubbly supplied by Dave  and Wendy Tree, the afternoon was calling. It was time for me to envoke a plan. From our crew, Capt Tom and Darren drove me the 3 hour + journey to Milan (Bergamo) airport which allowed me come home direct to Dublin that night. By 12:30am (Sunday morning), I was having the most beautiful sleep in my own bed, and as for the dreams that were dreamt that night? I think you and me both know what they consisted of. Suffice to say they gently flew off a pillow that allowed a certain head rest and to try and even attempt to digest what had just happened over the previous 72 hours. What a fantastic time. Just WOW !

I went for my weekly Chemotherapy on the following Tuesday morning. 
My white blood cells (which get hammered constantly by my treatment) were UP by a factor of  3

As the late magician, Paul Daniels would be heard say.....
“Now THAT’s Magic !!”

No contest. 

St. Pio in flight with good company. 
Photo: Wendy Tree

Yes, I know (and actully do) appreciate that I am in a very privileged position. Not just within the discipline of aviation, but more importantly, on the friendship front. I have serious friends, that there is and never will be any doubt. From within the hour of getting my dreadful news of my inoperable cancer, my very close knit fraternity of genuine friends were standing by the foot of my bed. I’m now 1 year on fighting this inoperable beast and yes, of course, my amazing friends are still here. 

As I eluded to earlier, about 3 years ago, and overnight, I got stripped of every single red cent I had to my name, along with any cash flow that obviously came with it. Being self-employed (in Ireland) I wasn’t (and am not) entitled to ANY social  welfare. I spent day after day looking for a job, until eventually I got hired by PayPal, whom have been very supportive to me and my small family. But when trips, just like this one to Italy, come about, Yes, we get very good value airline flights and we don’t stay in high end hotel accommodation, in fact we stay in a beautiful 600 year old hospital that has been converted to bedrooms and a musical academy, all under one roof. But the day I left on this trip, I had access to a white envelope that an amazing and need I say generous friend was involved in , making sure my pocket was not empty going. I’m sworn to secrecy on the rest of this story and I will of course honour that. But as secret and all as this source will remain, I will never ever forget what role this amazing and generous source has played. As I said, I’m blessed with amazing friends and by golly do I know it. 

 (Click email address to say hello, securely).


  1. Aidan, Even after 40 years I still find flying in a balloon magical. Describing flying in a balloon as another dimension is so apt. Recently one of my crew was flying with me and we'd just taking off with his daughter who had never flown. He looked at me and recounted, " See that face .... That's the face of a Pig in Shit!" I've never lost the magic and yes it is a great privilege. I love nothing better than flying people for the first time and sharing the magic which I know you also hold dear to your heart. Whenever I've been stressed, for what ever reason, when I get the balloon off the ground all other troubles disappear and I'm flying a balloon with the responsibility of giving the passengers a great experience and most importantly getting them safely back on the ground everything else disappears. I hope that your flights in G-PPIO in Mondovi let you escape for a while and have helped you sustain your personal fight and that it won't be long before you are airborne again. There is always a basket space reserved in South Somerset.
    Best wishes Aidan.


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