I have only ever been ‘up close and personal’ with hot-air balloons once that I can recall. That was a serendipitous visit to Leeds Castle in England in 1990. I was driving to London after visiting the then-uncompleted Chunnel site when I saw the sign for Leeds Castle at an upcoming off-ramp. I didn’t have time to go inside the castle, but the grounds were hosting a large Balloons and Bentleys festival. At the time, I was much more interested in all the vintage Bentleys but there were plenty of hot-air balloons floating around and above the castle. (No usable fotos of this; it was back in the day when cameras used FILM).
Fast (or slow) forward to the USA in 2018… the Plainville, CT Fire Department has hosted a balloon festival every August since the early 1970s and this year I finally carved out time in my schedule to see what all the hoopla was about. I have only the Leeds experience to measure against but I’d have to say that little ole Plainville does an impressive job. Over the course of 3 days, the event attracts tens of thousands of spectators – more than the town’s population, I suspect; the volume of the crowd on Friday night put me in mind of a gigantic carnival or music festival. Logistics were well applied – lots of free off-site parking and loads of free shuttle buses to the town park hosting the (need I say it?) free event. Food vendors, souvenir sellers as well as music piped over all in addition to the half-dozen hot-air balloons being inflated, tethered and some even offering tethered rides taking folks a few stories up in the air.
There was something slightly scary about the balloons being so closely scrunched together. Not only that, there was NO ‘no-go’ zone around the balloons to keep visitors at a safe distance. With the size of the propane flames that were keeping the balloons inflated – or taking them up and down in the sky – it looked and felt more than a little bit dangerous, especially as it got darker. But what do I know? Nobody else seemed at all concerned.
Disappointingly, some balloons, both at Leeds and Plainville, sported corporate logos but the most lacked any advertising. Adding to the magic of this night was a full moon that cleared the trees at the edge of the park as it rose but the high-powered floodlights that illuminated the field made getting a decent moon-with-balloon photo difficult. I tried.
Of course there are lots of other, perhaps more impressive balloon events in other places but Plainville did a great job bringing these gigantic propane-fueled bubbles to town. The crowds have ensured its success over the decades, so if you missed it this year, there’s always next year.