Getting high at the 37th annual International Bristol Balloon Fiesta
These balloons aren’t three for a fiver
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is the largest ballooning event in Europe and has been running for 37 years. I decided to turn up with a massive hangover.
It was a cold Sunday spotted with meagre drizzle, under a slate grey sky. Not a promising back drop but the mood and atmosphere of the place – packed with odd balloon enthusiasts (imagine growing up to be a balloon enthusiast?!), and decidedly unhungover families – all more than enough to lift this sombre spirit.
I wasn’t feeling too clever, it has to be said. The festival was full of booming noises and flashing bright colours up in my face. I thought about going home but then I thought: Hunter S. Thompson did it in Vegas, so I can do it here.
The field was packed with fairground attractions, charging £3 – £5 a ride, but in my state there was no way I was gonna go on one. There was also a helicopter ride attraction, setting off for a five minute ride every ten minutes, just like clockwork. Forty quid though – no thanks mate, we’re all here for the balloons anyway.
It certainly didn’t help that the drinks were sky-high expensive, £4.50 in some places for a pint of icy cider. They did serve “tea”, £2 for a cheap ‘n’ nasty tea-bag floating in a small cup of mainly hot water and milk with clumpy sugar sunk to the bottom.
There was a small stage area and a band with names I don’t remember and faces I forgot playing (not their actual band name), and the crowd seemed somewhat uninterested, but when you’re in a field drinking under the British sun you don’t always need Foo Fighters headlining to feel good about yourself, do ya?
There was a main demonstration area, a cleared out field where people would launch from bizarre contraptions or jump out the sky and land here in front of us. The weather did postpone a few acts but that didn’t stop people flocking in droves. The parachute jump for example was halted many times, one time they couldn’t open the door to their aircraft so had to cancel. They did launch later that evening after circling the skies like ten-freaking-times. Damn cloud coverage.
This year they decided to use a new colour code system for launching the hot air balloons, one where they release colour coded smoke from a chimney – kinda similar to how the papal office announces a new pope, because why the fuck not? Green smoke meant launch, amber meant launch but tether (keep attached to ground with rope) and red meant no-go. Because telling us on a screen or via radio is just sooo 21st Century.
This year all seven launches were given the go (the first time since 1995) and there were 551 successful balloon launches – for non-balloon enthusiasts, 551 is a lot. They launched just over half a dozen in the first round that evening which was pretty cool except some of the crew laid out their balloons too close so they started to almost “bounce-off” each other when inflating.
It was also pretty interesting to watch them try and roll semi-inflated air balloons along wet grass. Remember kids, preparation is key.
Sadly though as soon as they started to launch it began to rain quite heavily: enough was enough and I decided to flee and go home. I attend a balloon fiesta and leave when the balloons come out. Genius. But it was fun though, You should check it out in 2016, just make sure you’re not hanging.