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.”
I 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.
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