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My unforgettable journey to watch Bristol Balloon Fiesta

Bristol Balloons Night Glow 2015

Getting caught among several hundreds of stranded passengers in Paddington Station is definitely not what I wanted nor expected on my first trip to Bristol. I was going there to watch the International Balloon Fiesta. I thought I was lucky to have escaped the tube strike which ended the day before but I found myself held up by a different chaos. Dozens of trains were cancelled due to a signal failure.

I was too absorbed reading on my new tablet that I didn’t become fully aware of the situation until about an hour later. I thought my train was just delayed until asked one of the staff. Somehow my subconscious mind observed that many of the passengers had left the station to get an alternate route.

I wanted to follow suit but thinking about the flights of steps I had to climb up and down and the weight of my strangely heavy backpack, I had a second thought. I reckoned that by the time I’d get to the other station, the system would be back up again. So I decided to stay put and updated my hosts in Bristol of potential delays.

After about an hour and a half, the system did come back up and the lines were open again. I still had 45 minutes before my scheduled departure but I thought of grabbing the first available train in case the line closed again. But it seemed everybody wanted to be on board so I watched as the people desperately tried to grab a place on the train. Considering those who were before me, I stood back and let everyone go past me.

Another train became available but it was not stopping at my destination in Temple Meads. I had to change train in Bristol Parkway. Worrying I might get lost I hesitated to board but there might not be another trip in the next hour or the signal might fail again. Before I had made up my mind, a huge crowd surged in front of me. Anxiously and impatiently, I waited for them to get inside the coach and make space for others to get on board. I managed to squeeze myself inside just a few inches away from the door. A couple more people boarded after me. We were packed like sardines and the train slowly inched its way. At this rate, we’ll arrive in Bristol in the morning, I thought.

I did arrive in Bristol an hour later than I had hoped. Not bad, considering so many people were delayed longer than I was.

“I’m going to Fishponds,” I said to the taxi driver who nodded his head prompting me to get on the passenger seat behind him. Reading the address out loud to the driver from my notebook, I sighed in relief but only for a short time. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the meter as the fare went higher. “I hope it’s not going to reach £20,” I anxiously wished to myself.

The fare was about £12. After paying the driver, I quickly grabbed my heavy backpack. Terry was at the door with his big smile and warm hospitality. He and Val were going to be my hosts for the weekend and it was my first time to meet them.

The next day I slowed my pace down and spent time in the church meeting new friends. I slowed my pace down after a chaotic night the night before. “I am going to watch the mass ascent of the balloons at 6 o’clock this afternoon and stay there for the night glow at 9:15 pm.” That was my plan.

At 4pm, Terry and Val chaperoned me to the city centre to catch the bus to Ashton Court to watch the balloons. The road was congested and there was a long queue for the shuttle transporting people to the event. I amused myself watching the children playing with the fountain. The water looked fresh and clean.

The clock on a high-rising building showed 5:45 PM. I had given up hope to see the mass ascent of the balloons but at least I could still watch the night glow. That’s what I hoped until Terry came to tell me the bad news. The shuttle organisers have stopped selling tickets and told the people that they had shut the gate because the place had reached its full capacity. My heart sank!

Terry asked me what I wanted to do. I told him, “After all the trouble I went through last night, I have come this far and I’m not allowing anything or anyone to stop me from getting there.” He and Val went to grab a bite while I stayed in my position.

The long queue had shrunk to about a quarter and I thought I’ve got a better chance. The organisers tried to send everyone away, but like the remnant of the crowd, I persisted and kept myself abreast of any updates. One of them said, “There might be another bus but we cannot guarantee. You can try to go on foot but people who were already at the gate in Ashton Court are turned away. Cars are also being turned away.”

Bristol BalloonsI decided to stick to that little chance no matter what. The balloons started to appear on the sky and I kept hoping that I would make it for the night glow.

Roughly about 20 minutes later, a shuttle came and I got my ticket after arguing with the ticket seller. He refused me first but I didn’t have to try hard to convince him that I was in the queue. With persistence I made it to the 2nd Night Glow of the 37th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

My trip back to Norwich was a breeze. Everything was on time but I would not have had it the other way around. All those troubles I went through to watch the event added drama to the overall experience.

Finally, here’s a short video clip of the Night Glow.

Next Post: Discovering Bristol City and How It Captured My Heart

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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Gokul Raj January 3, 2017, 7:27 pm

    Hot Air balloon ride is high up in my bucket list. That would be one hell of a experience.

  • Eric Gamble October 12, 2016, 3:37 pm

    Man I don’t know how I keep missing it but Riding in a Hot Air Balloon is definitely on my Bucket List! We have several festivals here in the states devoted to Hot Air Ballooning including the most famous New Mexico one but I think it would be great to ride one over Cappadocia in Turkey or in Myanmar!!

  • Jessica {The Bohemian Diaries} October 12, 2016, 2:03 pm

    Looks like so much fun! The colors are beautiful and the it looks STUNNING at night!
    Jessica {The Bohemian Diaries} recently posted…TAIWAN’S TRAILS: HOW TO TAKE THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFEMy Profile

  • Helena October 11, 2016, 10:33 am

    Now this is a balloon festival! I recently went to one here in Canberra, Australia and it is no where near this cool!
    Helena recently posted…My Yearly Visit to TomakinMy Profile

  • Bethanny Sudibyo October 10, 2016, 4:25 pm

    Aawww this seems like a lot of fun! I love hot air balloons. I’ve never heard about a balloon fiesta before, so thank you for sharing!
    Bethanny Sudibyo recently posted…Indian Getaway: My First Intrepid Travel TripMy Profile

    • Jemina Sentina October 12, 2016, 5:13 am

      I really had a great time despite all the hurdles I went through.

  • Pramod October 10, 2016, 11:05 am

    This is a festival to attend. Fills you with joy as you read the narrative piece.

  • Melody Pittman October 10, 2016, 3:15 am

    I had never heard of this; thanks so much for sharing! It looks like it was absolutely beautiful. How awesome!

  • Amy October 10, 2016, 2:37 am

    You got to see it! And maybe all the hardship paid off because you were kind enough to let other people ahead of you on the first train 🙂 Sounds like an incredible experience and it looks amazing, hopefully you’re future travels are a little smoother.

    • Jemina Sentina October 10, 2016, 3:49 pm

      Thanks Amy, sometimes it’s the journey that’s worth telling more than the event or the destination.

  • Danielle October 10, 2016, 12:57 am

    What a different and cool thing! I absolutely love the video of the balloons lit up at night – would love to see this one day! Is it a yearly event?
    Danielle recently posted…How Anxiety Actually FeelsMy Profile

  • Emily October 9, 2016, 10:14 am

    Looks fabulous – this is on my list for next summer. I didn’t know they did a Night Glow!
    And a typical train journey in the UK…

    • Jemina Sentina October 9, 2016, 4:48 pm

      Hope you will make it and have a better experience than I did.

  • Vicki Louise October 9, 2016, 6:25 am

    What an stressful journey! But at least you got there in the end and got to see the Night Glow – it looks incredible!
    Vicki Louise recently posted…The Ultimate Overland Budget Southern African SafariMy Profile

    • Jemina Sentina October 9, 2016, 4:50 pm

      As travelers these are things we can’t avoid to face. But yea, no pain, no gain.

  • Castaway with Crystal October 9, 2016, 5:45 am

    What an amazing day/night! I’d love to see this one day. Thanks for the post.
    Castaway with Crystal recently posted…15 Free Things to do in NZ, North IslandMy Profile

    • Jemina Sentina October 9, 2016, 4:55 pm

      It was indeed amazing, made even more exciting because of the precursory chaotic trip.

  • Jo February 10, 2016, 4:21 am

    This looks absolutely stunning, Jem. I would love to get a chance to see this spectacle one day. Thanks for sharing.

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