Chateau de Bagnols Part 2: Bonding, Hot Air Balloons, and Cross-Dressing

"This one's for you and me, living out our dreams We're all right where we should be Lift my arms out wide I open my eyes And now all I wanna see Is a sky full of lighters A sky full of lighters." -Bruno Mars

The Winery
If you missed the opener to this blog, you can catch up here. I think the coolest part about the castle was the winery for sure. The room looked as if it hadn't been changed one bit in hundreds of years. It was pretty incredible to think about how some things in that room had been preserved perfectly for longer than my home country has even been in existence! Considering how lucky I've been in terms of traveling and seeing/staying in some of the nicest casinos and hotels in the world, it's rare that I can honestly say I'm in awe of much anymore...but I was certainly in awe of this castle and the surrounding French countryside. It really wouldn't be much of an overstatement to say we were treated like kings during our stay. This was the kind of place where your crapper is an actual throne, and if you go to the pool a waiter will show up with a bucket of beer for you without you even having to ask. In case you think I'm exaggerating... Every night after we were done with our activities and random shenanigans for the day we would meet back at the winery for an incredible multi-course dinner or a pig roast. Then we'd have a DJ spin for us all night while we enjoyed a sick open bar of top shelf liquor. One night they held a poker tournament for us, so we walked into the winery to find the awesome setup below where antique and classy meets degen gambler: The atmosphere was always really relaxed and everyone seemed to geniunely be bonding well as a group. There was none of the stereotypical stupid team-building exercises, but we certainly went from being a group of people from various counties and walks of life who happened to be LockPROs to a cohesive unit of people who work together to promote a brand. Even in emails that circulated between the pros after the retreat you could immediately tell that there were more familar and friendly tones and that overall there was a greater sense of togetherness in what we're doing as a group. I really have to say hats off to the owner of Lock Poker for setting up a retreat where we could not only have a blast and party for days, but to truly bond at the same time. I also went out of my way to let her know how impressed I was with how well she has selected players with the correct personality for the job. Not only did I honestly like (or love, no-homo) every one of the pros I got to know during the retreat, but I also believe each and every one of them to be a good representative of our brand in the poker community. I was already proud to be a LockPRO, but this trip really brought that pride to another level. The most awesome activity that I actually made it to (since I was too hung over for archery in a fucking moat!!!) was probably the hot air balloon ride. The funniest part of the entire event probably took place before we even got off the ground, when one of the people who prepares the balloons told us to get ready because "it may be a little noisy." What he really meant to tell us was that we were going to be subject to one of the loudest sounds we've ever heard while he ignited a giant flame that's so hot it makes you feel like your face is about to melt from 30 feet away. You can catch a better version of the story as Nicky Evans tells it on the video blog, but everything IS funnier with a British accent to be fair. We then managed to draw the balloon operator who was clearly the class clown in school. Not that there's anything wrong with that...I graduated Class Clown Cum Laude from elementary school in '98. But this guy REALLLLLLY liked to screw around. He literally ran the basket of the ballon into treetops several times on purpose, and went WAYYYYYYYY higher up in the sky than any of the other balloons did. Now I'm not scared of heights, but I was eventually becoming a tad concerned about getting hit by a plane as we approached the clouds. The really fun (read: shitty) part of the day came me when we landed. We landed in some random field and started joking around about how the truck that they load the basket onto probably wouldn't be able to make it up the hill and we'd have to carry the balloon all the way down the hill (well over 100 feet). Well, to make a long story short, THAT'S EXACTLY HOW THAT SHIT WENT DOWN. The girls stayed in the basket while the guys fought to lift and drag it. Jessica Welman had a particularly great time as she laughed her ass off and took pictures of our struggle. Once we got to the truck and loaded the basket the guys got to hang around and help deflat/fold up over 100 feet of ballon while they drove the ladies back to sip on mimosas. Nice life. I have to say that when the owner's assistant said before the trip that it was "Just three more days before our lives change forever" I thought she was being overly dramatic. But I have to admit that the entire trip was definitely one of those rare experiences that I'll remember forever and where I made some friendships that will last a lifetime. It was far beyond my wildest expectations, and I can't express how grateful I am to be part of such an amazing group and brand. Stout PS to Marc Alioto: If you read this far and thought I'd somehow forgotten to include you in this blog, you're dead wrong. Marc lost a prop bet against Portuguese LockPRO Francisco Costa and, as a brutal result, had to wear a dress to dinner one night. To his credit, he took it ridiculously well and we had a hell of a time with it.