A Travellerspoint blog

Every colour in the sky at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Amazing views at dawn in New Mexico

sunny 21 °C

With the rising of the sun comes a rising of every color in the rainbow. It's October in Albuquerque, and the International Balloon Fiesta is delighting locals and visitors alike with a combined lift-off of hot air balloons the rest of the world can only imagine.

The famous festival draws thousands of people each year to see its magical moments of a clear blue sky knitted with a patchwork of color. Giant buzzing bees, super-size pints of beer and massive cows were some of the unusual shapes we saw floating across the horizon.

And this is not a festival to just stand behind a barrier and watch - from any vantage point at the Fiesta Park, you can see hot air balloons unloaded, stretched out, inflated and launched right before your eyes.

The early start is perhaps not for the faint hearted - we were on the road before 6am to squeeze in the drive, park n' ride and breakfast burrito with coffee before sun-up. The balloons can't go up or stay up in the full heat of the day, hence the dawn rush. But the amazing views mean it is surely worth the effort - I'm told it is the most photographed event in the world.

To that end, here follows a series of snaps I took at the fiesta. Let's look at the experience of one of the hundreds of balloons, named Moonshine. It arrives in a truck like this:

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then gets inflated to this...

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Last minute addition of crew member...

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...quick TV interview...

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...and then off it goes! More photos from the day in this blog's Photo Gallery or on my Picasa Gallery, which you can get to via the Favourite Links on the right of the page or through my website. Until next time, dear readers, here's to a similarly rapid rise for Silly Billy on his new adventure in the USA :-)

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Posted by BillLehane 16:30 Archived in USA Tagged events Comments (0)

Seeing the eclipse in Lishui, China

sunny 32 °C

Months ago Ciarán, friend and delightful obscurantist, alerted me to an interesting upcoming event: a total solar eclipse. It would only be visible over a certain arc of Asia, a curve which happened to sit just a few hundred kilometres above Lishui.

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Ahead of time we weren't even sure we would be in China on the day, but that all worked out and so on 22 July we were out on the balcony in our PJs buoyed by eclipse excitement.

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Our frequently unseen neighbours, a mix of teachers of all ages and their kids, were out in force too.

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These guys, not seen since they were watching us barbecue like they were seeing a bizarre exotic ritual, even had eclipse glasses for the occasion!

Another block over, meanwhile, a lady and her son had gotten hold of what looked like a piece of glass doused in black ink and were determinedly using it.

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This Chinese girl, age unknown (they look the same from 11 to 35!) spent most of the time on either her house phone or mobile, and then went running off down the hill right in the middle of the eclipse for some reason.

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As for ourselves, well I discovered you could look askance at the eclipse with two pairs of shades on without going blind. I realise this is not medically sound, but was a working solution for a lazy observer! We really only got the 85% version of what they had in the actual path of totality - the sun still had a tiny sliver of moon-like presence.

It still looked really cool - the campus was cloaked in semi-darkness of an unnatural kind, while the inside of the apartment was as dark as the middle of the night. Made me think of the eerie, tinted vision of U2's 'Last Night On Earth' video. Mere minutes later, the sun came back out and normal 30-plus scorching service resumed as if nothing untoward had occurred.

So it's at this point, as the eclipse fever starts to fade, that you start realise the hype behind an event like this is considerable. 'The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st Century', not to be outdone in anybody's lifetime we're told but only in the year 2132. You believe it without realising you're just being sold a different superlative each time.

Credit must go to BBC News for at least partially dispelling this myth: the next total solar eclipse is not an unreachable 123 years away, it's next summer. That's right, for two minutes or so on 11 July 2010, be in Argentina or be square. Until next time dear readers, consider that if the sun being blocked out is supposed to be the amazing part, why does anyone but the geekiest scientist care that it's a few minutes shorter?

Posted by BillLehane 01:11 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

The curious incidents of drinking out in Lishui, China

That red wine needs a bucket of ice

sunny 33 °C

First up, a warning. If you order Chinese wine, it will probably be pretty awful. Harsh vinegar like you wouldn't believe, in fact. The best domestic wines they have, if you're lucky enough to choose a good one, are about level with an own-brand supermarket wine back home. One called 'Enduring Pulchritude' (that's 'beauty', thesaurus fans) should really be called 'Enduring Fortitude', and not because it's well aged!

The good news, however, is that here and there you'll find a smattering of foreign wines that, for the most part, are really quite drinkable. But most locals here in Lishui seem not to know what to do with them – they obviously never order them themselves for a start, as many a dusty shelf can attest. Furthermore, if you do order one in one of several comfy but slightly off Western-style café bars in the city, you might just get something like this:

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No complaints about the huge decanter, but you can't really enjoy wine from a brandy glass! Funnier still was the second time we ordered this particular wine – quite nice, really, and a great deal in Euro terms to drink out for €10 – when it arrived with a small bucket of ice for us to dip into our drinks!

As for pub drinking there's not a lot going on mostly due to our location in a developing city and the fact that the Chinese style is more to have drinks over dinner. So we really got a treat the other week when by chance we came upon Lishui's first place with beers on tap, the Yes Bar. Tiger and Carlsberg, to be precise. And unlike the café bars above, it has a real wooden bar and the pleasing look and feel of a classy jazz club.

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Imagine our surprise, moreover, on learning first that it had only been open for the previous two days – we don't miss a trick 'round here – and then that it even sold cans of Guinness!

The actual night time atmosphere of this place isn't great, sadly. It's all flashing lights and bad Chinese music, leaving the deck chairs outside as the only good spot. And like many other outlets of various kinds in Lishui, some of the staff just don't know how to handle us laowai.

One of the first times we went, Megan decided to order us two pints of Carlsberg. In what I can only assume was her usual flawless Mandarin, she asked the girl for two pints of beer, referring in addition to 'the green one' and pointing to the tap. Several minutes later, we weren't even looking at what was on the table when suddenly these arrived. We just had to hold up our hands and laugh!

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Until next time, dear readers, remember to be thankful for life's simple pleasures and the privilege of ready access to them!

Posted by BillLehane 20:33 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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