Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

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Years ago I was staying in Bristol overnight when streams of hot air balloons drifted overheard. Amazing, and ever since I've wanted to see them again. This August I eventually made it to the biggest hot air balloons event of its kind in Europe. Firstly getting there: it is a free event and plenty of car parking though you have to pay for that. Special shuttle buses run from Bristol Temple Meads and the centre every 10 minutes. It is still at least a mile to walk when you are dropped off, or if you like a good walk there is a signed walk from the M Shed which takes 45 minutes. Mobility scooters are available. The fiesta is real family event with hundreds of families picnicing and even BBQing on the grass and enjoying a day out in the summer holidays. Plenty of food outlets if you don't want to cart the bags about. Big funfair area mostly hidden behind the trees. Usual county fair type stalls and plenty for the grandchildren including a Lego marquee and Little Tike's roadshow. One of this year's features was a huge interactive area by the BBC for WW2, and hurricane and spitfire display – sorry you will have missed that now! 2 stages showcase local musicians, but they're not deafening. There is a full program of flying events during the afternoon but the stars are of course the hot air balloons. They launch from the main arena which has grassy slopes all round so easy to view everything, and has 3 screens for close ups and interviews. 6am for early birds and 6pm there are massed balloon ascents of up to 100 balloons, and on 2 evenings at 9.15 they have a night glow. This must be fantastic – but too late for trains going my way, needs an overnight stay. Several companies advertise balloon trips but they book up fast, though helicopter flights went on most of the day on a turn up and wait basis. anyway the mass ascents are spectacular. The balloons are all laid out in the arena, filled and off they go. It's just an incredible sight. Need to say it is a bit weather dependant and Hurricane Bertha thwarted one ascent, but light rain on the evening I was there deterred neither balloonists nor spectators. excellent website –

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