Written by Jonathan Brouillette on 26.09.17

In our generation, life is all about finding those unique experiences and enjoying them to the last drop. That is why people enjoy pop-ups and festivals: they offer ephemeral moments that are hard to come by and are intensely enjoyable. Among those experiences this past summer was the Balloon Festival. For many, it marks the last true days of summer before school starts back up and the festival period is all but dead. This year, the festival offered us a truly unique experience: going up in a hot-air balloon!

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If you’ve never been to the festival, imagine a huge carnival ground complete with the typical rides. Then, add on food trucks, an SAQ tent with alcohol, and an artist’s alley. There was even a 2km American Ninja-Warrior type obstacle course that had us sweating bullets and wondering why we tried it in jeans. The whole festival grounds surround the large stage where every night national or international stars play for tens of thousands of people. We were overjoyed to see Virginia to Vegas and Scott Helman on Friday the 19th. The crowd was cheering hard as the night was supposed to ruined by heavy rain but actually turned out to be beautiful!

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What makes visiting this festival unique is the balloons though. If you have never seen them before, imagine painting the sky with beautiful colours as the sun sets. Just seeing the balloons getting blown up and being able to walk so nearby is just so different from anything we have experienced before. But we were lucky! Getting to go up in the balloon is something else entirely. You’re right there by the balloon as it inflates. You feel the flames as the pilot tests out his burners.

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When the balloon is up and straining against the ropes to fly, you scramble into the basket with a giddy apprehension. Sure, you’re going to be flying but will the small wicker basket hold you? And of course, it does. Sailing off into the air feels so odd, but the ground grows smaller and smaller and you realize that you’re flying. Nothing like a plane, the quietness is profoundly calming. The other hot-air balloons float below, above, and right by you following a path discernable only to the pilots. It is gorgeous. It is like nothing else and you are hard pressed to feel anything but childlike wonder.

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We floated several kilometers in the air for more than an hour. Then, we descended mere inches above evergreens as the pilot searched for a landing spot. When you finally do land, you can huddle in the van as the crew deflates the balloon and puts it away or you can get your hands dirty and help.

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We highly suggest taking a flight, either in the early morning mist or the sunset late afternoon. It is a unique experience you will not get anywhere else. It is made that much easier at the International Balloon Festival each year as they set up all of the details for you. Look forward to next year and start saving now as the flight is $150-$180 per person.

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Photos by Jonathan Brouillette (@darksteelangel).

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