Every March Canberra has a 9 day hot air balloon festival. Each morning the skies are filled with colourful balloons, and depending on which way the wind is blowing they often drift over our house. When I used to work in the Parliamentary Triangle most mornings they would be taking off outside my building, and the drive to work was always full of balloon spotting.
We first took Astrid to see the balloons in the 2013. She was 20 months at the time and adored the experience. We would have taken her again last year, but we were in Singapore while the balloon festival was on, so the kids missed out. I think they had a pretty good time in Singapore, so it wasn’t too much of a hardship.
This year we promised another trip to see the balloons. Astrid had been talking about them at preschool with the teachers and her friends so was very keen to go. Soren, at 16 months, had no idea what we were talking about! We intended to go on one of Astrid’s non-preschool days as it involves an early start. The long weekend and came and went though without a balloon adventure as we were all too sick. By the second half of the week we decided we’d better try and get out there as the launch time and site is weather dependant and it can take a couple of goes to actually see the balloons inflate and launch. It was a preschool day but we hoped Astrid would survive on less sleep than normal, even if an early bedtime was required.
We planned for the morning of the 12th of March. We pre-prepared warm clothes (the nights are getting chilly here now) and lots of breaky snacks for the kids, along with the camera gear. Of course Soren had another terrible nights sleep and had barely been asleep 5 hours when the alarm went off at 5am for us to start getting organised and checking the launch information. Astrid was awake and chatting not too long after we got up. I think she was a bit excited. Soren was still comatosed after not much sleep. Looking at the updates for previous days they were sometimes only confirming the launch time and place 10 or 15 minutes beforehand, that didn’t leave us with a lot of time to get over to the Parliamentary Triangle and wrangle two small kids so we decided with one kid already awake me might as well get the other little monkey up and give it a go.
We were in the car by 5.50am with a somewhat stunned Soren, who had been peacefully sleeping 10 minutes before and was now dressed and in a dark car. Astrid was happily chatting away. We were pleased to have at least managed coffee, and were hoping the balloons were launching or else we would be doing it again the next day too! Half way there we saw the update that they were launching from the usual place between the Treasury and Finance buildings. The news made one 3 year old very happy!
We arrived, along with a procession of other cars and it was still very dark. All the balloon vehicles were in place and the balloons were starting to be unloaded. The whole launch process takes awhile but it’s fun to watch it from the start.
Enormous amounts of fabric appear and are laid out on the ground. The dark morning is punctuated every couple of minutes by the gas burners from each balloon. Kids are milling around excitedly waiting for balloons to appear. Our two seemed transfixed. Astrid was excitedly eating pikelets and watching the people work and Soren was happily sitting in his stroller, not really sure why he had even been allowed out of bed, but happy to watch whatever was going on.
All of a sudden balloons start inflating and popping up. There is a sea of half inflated balloons laying next to each other and then they one by one start standing up. There isn’t much space for them all to inflate but they seem to carefully keep out of each others way.
The sun is now mostly up and the sea of colourful balloons ready to take off. With so many of them in such a small space there is hardly enough room, and they often push into each other. Astrid and Soren have been busily stuffing their faces with food while watching the balloons inflate and are pointing excitedly as the first ones begin to take off.
As the sun is finally breaking through the balloons begin taking off one by one………. there is hardly any wind so they are slowly taking off and floating overhead for sometime. This gives everyone a good chance to have a look at each one. Pretty soon the sky is full of colourful balloons.
We spent quite a bit of time watching each balloon take-off and drift over head. With so little wind the sky was full of balloons for quite some time. Some even had trouble getting over our heads. Soren, who never stops moving was happy to sit for over an hour watching them inflate and take off (all the while stuffing his face with food, of course). Astrid, barely stopped asking questions about the balloons but thought the whole morning was just fabulous. It would have been better if we had time for Dutch pancakes and coffee like we’d had previous years, but preschool beckoned. We had to drag both kids away as the last of the balloons took off.
We had picked a pretty good morning for it. Not too cold, hardly any breeze so the balloons drifted very slowly and we had plenty to watch, and not many crowds. Declaring it a successful outing, we headed home and got the Astrid ready and off to preschool for the day…….. where she had a water play day (more excitement!). She held up pretty well considering her lack of sleep and survived the afternoon. Soren was forced to catch up some sleep while his Sister was out. The early morning and being up most of the night before had made for a tired baby (not to mention his parents). We did promise both of them though, that if they let us have the odd sleep in we might get up early again next year for more balloons!