Tag Archives: travel

Taking a Ride in a Balloon

My visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was for an article I was going to write and, since I was there on a media pass, the organizers made a flight available.  I didn’t know who I would be flying with until close to the time but the opportunity was one I was really excited about.  When the time came, I was set up with a balloon crew from near Ottawa in Canada.  The pilot spoke mainly French with very little English but we managed to find a way to communicate well anyway.  Nancy was able to hang out with the ground crew.

I asked what I could do to help but they had things well sorted out and I was likely to be a hindrance rather than a help.  Besides, it did mean I could photograph everything that was going on.  The inflation of the envelope and then heating it up and getting it upright was great to see close up.  Then it was time to climb onboard and await our designated takeoff time.

When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, the balloons will fly off towards the river and is is common for them to drop down to the water and touch it with the basket before lifting off again.  I was hoping that this would be something we could do but the winds were not coming from that direction on this occasion.  Instead, they were doing something that is not uncommon at Albuquerque but is actually really cool.

The field is aligned north to south and, when the wind is blowing the right way, something they call the box is formed.  At about 1,000’ the wind is blowing north to south but, at about 2,000’ it reverses to south to north.  Consequently, you can climb up to 1,000’ and head south for a while before climbing up to 2,000’ and reversing course.  Once you get far enough north, you can descend and repeat the whole process.

Having never flown in a balloon before, I knew little about the process.  You can’t see upwards because the envelope is above you.  However, you can see sideways and down very clearly.  Therefore, the balloon above is responsible for maintaining separation from any balloons below.  We were all required to keep an eye on everything around is to be sure we stayed suitably separated.  Looking directly down on balloons with the ground behind them was something I found really cool.

The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how quiet it was.  Sure, when the burner fires, the noise is loud.  However, most of the time you are drifting along with the wind so there is no breeze and everything feels remarkably still.  The main noise is other people’s burners or the conversation in the baskets nearest you.  You can hear a lot of other chatter.  It is a very peaceful experience and the views are lovely.  No windows between you and the view so a totally immersive experience.

After making our way around the box a couple of times, it was time to land.  Normally a balloon flight involves the ground crew tracking you across the sky and aiming to get to your landing zone when you do.  Flying the box meant we were able to land about 50 yards from where we had taken off and they could just wait for us to come back.  We drifted back down and touched down without any issues and it was time to jump out and let them deflate the envelope (which happened surprisingly quickly).

This is, so far, my first and only balloon flight.  I would be very happy to do it again.  I am not so sure that I would want to be in one of the large balloons that we see flying around here with big baskets to carry lots of passengers since that might feel slightly less relaxing but I would like to go again at some point.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Since I haven’t been out photographing aircraft as much as I would normally like to do, the blog has got me looking through older outings.  I was discussing with Nancy what things I might look back on and, since some balloons were flying overhead at the time, we got on to the topic of our visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  The blog has been going for nearly ten years so I tend to think that most of what I have done is on here but there are things that predate the blog and have yet to appear.  A search through the archives suggests this is one.

We went to the fiesta because it was something I had long wanted to see but also because I was going to cover it for GAR and had arranged press access.  This meant several days of being onsite early in the morning and later in the day.  Having not been to a balloon event before other than a fleeting visit to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in the UK, I didn’t appreciate the timing until I was there.  Everything starts really early and is pretty much done by just after breakfast.  The evening might be the second wave of activity but, since the winds were getting up in the evening, that didn’t prove to be much good and, besides, Nancy wasn’t wishing to give up all her time to this so we could do other things during the day and the evening.

I made sure to be there well before sun up each day.  The crews would be getting their balloons out at their respective launch locations across the large grass area.  The sound of fans filling the envelopes would then be followed by burners bringing them up to temperature.  We had a glow one morning to watch which was pretty impressive and then, as the light came up, the launches would start.  These had to be well coordinated given the number of balloons there.  Marshals, dressed in zebra outfits, moved around the site keeping everything under control.

The variety of balloon shapes and colors was fantastic.  To see the skies filled with balloons was amazing and the specials that were shapes of interest or for advertising would get particular attention.  There were three balloons that were bees which carried a single person beneath them and flew around together which looked great.  Since there were so many interesting balloons, there are a bunch of shots below of some of the cooler ones.  I would like to go back one day to see this again.

Port Townsend Day Trip

Months with little travel meant we were interested in a day out if we could find something to do that made sense and wasn’t going to be unnecessarily risky to us or anyone else.  We figured a day at Port Townsend was a good idea.  The ferry across is not a problem because you remain in the car for the crossing.  Once in the town, we were outdoors almost the whole time and it was going to be a lovely day.

We last came to Port Townsend when on vacation in the region a few years back.  It was surprising how much I remembered about it.  There were plenty of people in the town but it wasn’t busy.  We did go into a couple of shops but they were limited on the number of customers at one time and so we only went to those of real interest.  Lunch was outside and we even checked out the ice cream shop!

The waterfront is a nice place to be and there is a selection of jetties that you can walk out on to in order to get a view of the town.  The architecture of the town is really interesting too and it seemed that a few of the buildings were in the process of being refurbished.  It was fun to get out and about and see something different for a change.  Fall is now upon us so making the most of the sunny days was good too!

Oahu Arrivals Over the Coast

Our first visit to Hawaii included a few days on Oahu.  We were staying out on the west coast of the island and our hotel was pretty close to the approach path for the jets coming across the Pacific.  It was a serious hardship to sit on the shore in Hawaii watching planes fly overhead.  The amount of traffic from Japan is significant and so we had some large jets coming in at that time.  If we were there now, the 747s would be gone but ANA has taken A380s for this run.  Not sure that they are flying right now but they are likely to be back given the traffic that should ultimately return.

Honolulu International

Another archive post today.  When we flew through Honolulu, we had some time at the airport and, needless to say, I took some photos of the traffic.  Sure, there were some familiar names but there were also some airlines I hadn’t seen before.  Whether it was small props or larger jets, something a bit new and different is always appreciated.  Here are some shots from our time waiting for our flights.

Bury St Edmunds

At the time of writing this post (not sure when it will actually get published yet) it is a year since we went to the UK for a couple of weeks.  There are still quite a few topics from that trip that I have not got around to posting about.  One of those was our visit to Bury St Edmunds.  It was a pretty hot day when we were there as the second week of our trip turned in to quite a scorcher.  I had been to Bury St Edmunds before but not for about 30 years.

As town names go, this one isn’t very imaginative.  It is the town in which St Edmund is buried.  I wonder how long they thought about that one.  We didn’t have time to check out the whole town but just got to explore in the area around the cathedral of which more will come another time.  There are ruins in the park area around the cathedral and more churches in close proximity.  If you want to get your worship in, this is the place for you.

There are more modern buildings in the area too but more modern is a relative term.  Still pretty old by the standards of our current home!  The square looked like it was ready for a market to be held but clearly not the day we were there.

Vintage Japanese Rolling Stock

Here are some old Japanese rail vehicles.  These are part of the SCMaglev museum in Nagoya that I visited when I was in Japan last summer.  The museum has a great selection of Shinkansen equipment across the generations but it also has a lot of other rail vehicles from long ago.  The vehicles clearly look old from the outside but the interiors are really an interesting comparison with what you see these days.  The amount of wood in the paneling and the materials of the seating are definitely of their time.  I was quite amused by the fans mounted on the ceiling.  Obviously pre-air conditioning days with these cars and so a bit of air circulation was all you could hope for.  Knowing how incredibly hot it gets in Japan during the summer, they would not have done much for the riders I would have thought.  I wonder whether it was as crowded in those days as it is now.  If it was even close, that would have been brutal.

Flatford Mill

Flatford Mill is a very well known tourist attraction.  I last visited it about 30 years ago when a friend of mine was living there for her job.  The mill is in an area known colloquially as Constable Country.  The artist lived in the area and many of his paintings are of the local landscape.  The mill itself is possibly best known for being the subject of the painting The Haywain.  Originally we had intended to walk along the paths that line the river near the mill.  However, even though we were there quite early in the day, it was already stupidly hot and the idea of walking far was not appealing.  Instead we wandered around the mill, had an ice cream and some lunch and took a look at the buildings that Constable had painted – all while trying to visualize where the settings were and how much they had changed.

An Update to the Japanese Rail Photos

I have put some previous posts together of Japanese trains from my travels.  This is an update to that (although a very late update given that these were taken nearly a year ago!).  I got to see some different trains while I was in Nagoya for the day and then there is the variety of trains that you get around the Tokyo area.  There was also a small line that ran through the Kamakura area which we crossed paths with as we were walking to the beach from the giant Buddha statue that I wrote about in this post.  A few more photos to amuse those of you that like different trains.

Hawaii Helos

Anyone that has vacationed in the Hawaiian Islands knows that there are loads of helicopters around.  The sightseeing flight operations are extensive and there are a variety of types that are used.  The Astar was a big feature of these flights but the EC130 was developed to provide something best suited to these flights and it is now very widespread.  There are other types in use too.  I used a Robinson R44 for one of my flights for example.

There are the occasional MD500s around too which is what you expect to see if you ever watched the original Magnum PI TV series.  The helicopter area at Lihue was a busy place to be with a steady stream of operators moving from the different pads.  I wasn’t on vacation to spend time watching helicopters but of course I managed to slip a little time in with them!