Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nothing Says "Party" Like Balloons!

Okay, let's get right to it. I said that there would be tons of photos in this post, and I am going to try to keep it to a reasonable number. If you still had dial-up, you'd hate me. (But come on, if you still had dial-up, you'd hate everything.)

Somewhere a while back, Morgan and I had seen a flyer for the Sint-Niklaas Vredefeesten, and it showed pictures of hot-air balloons. As a result, I figured "vrede" had something to do with balloons, but that was entirely wrong. Instead, it means "peace." Anyhow, based on spotty Dutch translation and a picture of a balloon, we found ourselves in Sint-Niklaas for the festival. We were there in spite of the fact that we were leaving for Italy the very next day. The timing was terrible, but: balloons!

The balloon launches were divided up by types of balloons - first the gas balloons, then the mini hot-air balloons, then the regular hot-air ones, and finally the "special form" balloons. We arrived just in time to see the gas balloons floating overhead. I guess these are not nearly as common as the hot-air ones, since there were three of these compared to ... well, let's just say lots more of the regular variety. The balloons were being launched from the main square in the town, which seemed awfully small to me for the purpose, and perhaps a little too surrounded by buildings with pointy tops, but obviously I'm no expert on ballooning.

Once the gas balloons were out of sight, the square came alive with people unrolling their mini balloons. Apparently, these are radio-controlled, so they're like RC airplanes. When I heard "mini," I thought they might be about 5 or 6 feet tall, all told.
I was wrong.
 We didn't get to see any of them being remote-controlled, however. I think it was too windy - no one wants to have their giant mini balloon go floating away! Instead, everyone just walked them around the square, holding onto the baskets.
I'm not sure their intentions are benign.
There were a lot of these suckers.
After all that excitement, we were hungry, so we went to investigate the food booths. What we found was that each side of the square had food that consisted of a hamburger stand (and the burgers looked absolutely terrifying; not anything like a self-respecting American burger), a gyro stand, and an Indonesian food stand. Well, then.

At least it was good Indonesian food.
Properly fortified, we made our way back into the crowd for the main event - the hot-air balloons.
Things started out pretty mellow ...

... but quickly got kind of crazy.
From that moment on, it was pretty much non-stop balloons being dragged over, unrolled, secured to a car, filled with air, having their fires lit, final checks made, ties loosed, and finally ending with waving to the crowd as they lifted off. All of those things, in different stages, all over the square at once. It looked like mass confusion, and I was pretty sure someone's balloon was going to be accidentally burnt to a crisp due to proximity to someone else's flame, but nothing dire happened.

This was only about 15 minutes since the first balloon launched. It was
like a balloon assembly line out there.
See? This looks like a bad idea.
Fast on the heels of the last regular balloons getting filled and ready for takeoff, the special-form balloons took over the stage. These are the ones people really want to see, mostly, because they're the ones that are in all sort of fun shapes.
That form is pretty special, all right.

The "Up" balloon pictured at left was actually pretty cleverly done. It's mostly just a basic balloon printed with an all-over pattern of smaller balloons, but some of them are little pockets that fill with air and give it a bumpy texture.

In the distance is the balloon that was being filled in the last picture, a girl in a flight helmet. I think she goes with the guy with the blue hair, but I'm not sure. The bit of yellow you see in the right corner turned into something kind of spectacular.

You can't tell what yet in this photo, but I'm including it anyway
because it cracks me up.

I have to ask, would you be willing to go up in the air in that thing? It doesn't exactly look aerodynamic. And I suspect it needs better conditions than it had for really successful flights. As it was, it barely cleared the apartments on the other side of the square before it started descending. For all I know, it ended up in someone's back yard.

Only one more balloon made it off the ground after our princess here, and that was the lion that had been used on all the advertising for the festival.

It's a lion wearing a crown. I guess that makes him a lion king.
If you can believe it, I didn't post all the pictures I like from this experience. In fact, a couple of my favorites are missing because they didn't fit into the narrative. If you're curious, and you're not 100% sick of balloons (and the word "balloon," which I might be), then you should head over to my Flickr to see what you've missed.

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