Thursday, June 18, 2009

2009 Annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival

On June 6, we went to the Temecula Valley Balloon Festival. We heard about it last July, just after we moved there, and it sounded so exciting that it became the one annual event that we've anticipated all year. It became one of those things that we've looked forward to so much that, if we only got to see it one time in our lives, we would be happy. As it turned out, it was worth every moment of the anticipation and more.

As I've said in my previous posts, Temecula is an amazing city. There is a wonderful sense of feeling connected and being involved with the community is so fulfilling, personally, that we feel like, not only are we a part of it, but it has become a part of us. To someone who hasn't experienced Temecula, I would suggest that they go to the Balloon Festival because it exemplifies, in a nutshell, exactly what Temecula is all about.

The Balloon Festival was located off Hwy 79, in the heart of Wine Country and overlooking the rolling hills, at Lake Skinner. It's a very large area away from the city and set in the hills away from it all. We've never traveled up there before, so it was nice to see the old wagon trails, an abandoned one-room schoolhouse, and other remnants of history that were left behind during the pioneer days. The road is peaceful and winds through time as it travels through the city, Wine Country, then into the quiet, beautiful hills. As we got closer, we ran into some traffic, so it took us about an hour to get to where we could park the car at about 6:00.

Let me say, before I go on, that before we started our drive up Hwy 79, we stopped off at our favorite place, Old Town Temecula, for a few hours. They were having a Japanese Children's Matsuri event on Main St., right behind the place that is dear to our hearts, the Temecula Children's Museum. It was a wonderful experience and, of course, we spent time with our friends there and enjoyed some Japanese culture with food, children's activities, and photo opportunities.

So, back to the Balloon and Wine Festival. When we got there, the weather was in the low 60's, so we were grateful that we brought jackets and blankets to sit on. We were all set up to enjoy the concerts, the sights, and the flavors of the event that we've planned on for so long.

Combining wine tasting and wonderful food with music, Saturday's music featured Sugar Ray, Caitlin Crosby, Patty Smyth and Scandal, and Starship. Pechanga Indian Casino was one of the major sponsors and they set up one of the two stages for the concerts. The festival also offered wine and food pairing as a gourmet dining option with four courses prepared by local executive chefs and paired with Temecula's award winning wines.

The kids had a special fair set up near the wine stage and the balloon launch area. There, they had face painting, a petting zoo, pony rides, exotic animals, air slides, games, and lots of activities that the kids could spend the entire day and night doing if they wanted to.

Above are some pictures of the exotic animal exhibit. Along with a these beautiful birds, they also had a baby alligator, a monkey, a 55 lb. snake, a kangaroo, a huge iguana, and other wild-looking animals.

After we spent some time in the kids area, we walked over to the vendor area, which was huge. There were hundreds of vendors set up in white tents that were selling everything from art, bath and beauty products, body art, clothing, collectibles, children's stuff, fashion accessories, health care, home decoration, home improvement, insurance and realtors, jewelry, non-profits, outdoor stuff, prepackaged food, sunglasses, wine related items, and other miscellaneous stuff. This area was like a big outdoor swap meet!

As it got later, we decided it would be a good idea to head back over to our blanket and wait for the balloon glow. We were on the grass right in front of one of the concert stages, so we got a good spot. The night sky looked wild as the balloonists unloaded the baskets and balloons from their vans. The corporate balloonists that were setting up were: Cayman Islands, Embassy Suites Temecula, Farmers Insurance, Lake Havasu City, Pechanga, Smokey Bear, The Grape Escape Balloon Adventure, and Wilson Creek (who had a champagne bottle-shaped balloon).

Quick, move the blanket! The balloons are going up! What we didn't realize was that one of the balloons was going up on top of our blanket, so we had to back everything up about 20 feet. We had no idea how good our spot was until this started happening!

Because of our good positioning, though, I was able to get a couple of pictures of the balloonists firing up the ballons - from the inside! As you can imagine, it was freakin' hot in there! Then, the magic started happening:

Within a few minutes all the balloons were up and being fired along with the beat of the music from the concert on stage. This was amazing!! It's difficult to explain the magnitude of the excitement here. Unfortunately, the pictures don't show how excited the crowd was, the sound of the music, the energy of the balloons, and the build up to this. This is just one of those experiences that you really need to be there for to fully understand how magnificent this experience was.

It all ended so quickly, too. When we walked back to the van, we noticed a sea of cars, all trying to get out at the same time. There must have been several thousand of them. Instead of trying to move the van into a line, we decided to put the seats down and relax - for a couple of hours - until the traffic started to move. In the meantime, I got couple of pictures. The first one was taken from the roof of the van with my camera set at 3200 ISO with no flash. It is the champagne bottle balloon; the last balloon standing. The next picture is a small portion of the sea of cars all waiting to make their way back through the hills toward the city on the two-lane highway.

This was a truly unbelievable and unforgettable experience. As long as we live, we will look back at this with a smile and be so grateful that we had the opportunity to experience this together as a family. Maybe next year, we'll be able to go again. If not, then we hope that all of our friends and family will be able to go because, like I said, it was an amazingly unforgettable experience that we will smile about remembering for as long as we live and we know that others will feel the same. Not bad for only $20 per person, no matter what room you might have in your budget, especially in this rough economy; the bills can wait.

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