VFYW Contest: Time Traveling With Hot Air Balloons

For contest #251, we go back to a year when Covid didn't ruin all the balloon festivals.

Quick program note: To minimize the number of emails that ping your inbox every week, and to consolidate the Dish into a big weekly dose, we are discontinuing the email version of The View From Your Window Contest and just publishing it as a post — a post we will link to at the bottom of every emailed version of The Weekly Dish, every Friday. (And, as always, the posts for every contest will be available in the online archive.) So when you don’t receive the contest results in your inbox next Friday, just go to the emailed (or online) edition of the Dish that starts with Andrew’s column — published around 1pm EST — and scroll to the very bottom.

From the winner of last week’s contest:

Obviously sending you pictures of half-naked bodybuilders is a respectable strategy. I feel guilty that I just ripped the photo off Facebook while searching for “Bhutan gym” and didn’t give any credit: He’s Tashi Tobgyal, age 20 from the Thimphu Muscle Factory, bless him.

What to say about this week’s contest. It’s super easy and super hard at the same time. Kudos for creating a very different kind of competition, since the photo was taken years ago. I imagine that there will be some grumbles …

“This one is SO FRUSTRATING,” a reader grumbles. I also made this week’s contest a bit more difficult by cropping out the row houses, but the full version of the photo is now seen above. This reader begins the guessing game:

Walla Walla, Washington? A slight bit of smoke appears on the horizon and the Blue Mountains are in the background. I’m guessing that the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede was delayed this year due to Covid.

It has been delayed, but it’s supposed to launch in a few weeks. Another reader floats east to Montana:

This really looks like the top of the Rimrocks in Billings. The picture would have been taken during the Billings Balloon Festival, which started in 1995 (when I was a sophomore in high school). I grew up in Billings and attended Skyview High School, which at the time had only been around for a few years and catered to kids from the new “Heights” neighborhood.

Over in Kalispell, Montana, where I visited Glacier National Park and posted a contest view from my Airstream in late August, I had a close encounter with a hot air balloon being launched from the RV park — here’s a time-lapse:

Another reader heads south:

Albuquerque? Look, the chimneys don’t look right for New Mexico, and the trees don’t look right for New Mexico, but I know the semi-obscure fact that they have a hot air balloon festival there, so I’m just gonna close my eyes and let it ride.

Albuquerque’s festival is actually the largest one in the world. Another reader, another state:

This week’s picture was taken from the top floor of the old Warren County Courthouse at the corner of Howard and Salem in Indianola, Iowa, during the annual balloon festival. The old courthouse was recently demolished to make way for a new, modern justice center.

Another reader senses a theme:

This week I learned that there are so many balloon festivals all over the world. I also learned that the majority of them were cancelled due to Covid. I searched as many places as I could. I kept thinking this is a photo from a European town, but again, most festivals I checked were cancelled. I did, though, see a festival in Macomb, Illinois, that was not cancelled. I found a photo that looks close to the view, but … I’m pretty sure it’s wrong:

Another reader has bittersweet memories:

This is in the Berkshires of lovely central Massachusetts. The rolling hills bring me back to the better parts of my first marriage.

Another jumps across the Atlantic Ocean:

This is Cappadocia, Turkey, well known for hot air ballooning. The background looks decidedly Turkish and that it is a walled city.

Coincidentally I was scrolling through my Instagram feed this week and spotted an amazing view of balloons in Cappadocia:

The poster, Julie Rodgers, is an acquaintance of mine and Andrew’s, and she’s written some wonderful pieces on being a gay Christian if you’re interested (e.g. “Conservative Christians and LGBTQ People Don’t Have to Be Enemies” in the WaPo).

Another reader heads west from Turkey:

I started with a quick list of balloon events and got stuck on the Grand Est Mondial Air Balloon festival in Hagéville, France. However, this event is only in odd years (as in odd-even, not odd-weird — though 2020 certainly qualifies for that). The number of balloons in this View is also much fewer than the usual number in Hagéville.

I won’t be surprised if it is a little farther away in the city of Verdun — famous for the longest battle of the First World War, with 70,000 casualties a month for nearly a year. 2020 sort of feels like the Verdun of years.

Let’s be dun with it, amirite? Another reader looks to the balloons for clues:

Like other readers, I’m sure, I focused on certain balloons in the photo. The colorful one in the center for some reason made me think of the Ethiopian flag colors and sent me looking at photos of balloons in Ethiopia. Turns out it belongs to Pattersons, a store selling cleaning and catering supplies.

Another reader also went balloon hunting:

Another reader looks to the roof for clues:

Last week there was the Central European Hot Air Balloon Cup in Szeged, Hungary. Beyond that, my best guess is that the view is from a building at the University of Szeged, since the rooftop in the foreground strike me as being like the tops of august university buildings throughout Europe. Beyond that ... ?

Another goes beyond that:

The first clue isn’t the balloons — lots of places have those — but the chimneys. They look European, perhaps French or Spanish. Add the second clue, the balloons, and a Google search yields Igualada, Spain, the home to the European Balloon Festival. My instinct says this answer is too easy (the roof isn’t a guaranteed match for Spain), but the geography of Igulada seems to be a reasonable match with the hills in the photo.

That’s where my trail runs cold. There seem to be some larger buildings off to the left, so I’m going to guess this view is to the northwest of the balloon launch site:

I could be way off, but *fingers crossed* I hope I got the right country at least!

Another gets the right country:

Bradford-on-Avon, England? Not positive, but I was there just a couple of weeks ago and did see balloons. I am very positive it’s the UK: the sky shows you that, with its light blue and ever-present clouds even on a sunny late afternoon. But the giveaway is the TV aerials on brick chimneys of the terrace with lead coping.

Another gets the right city:

The obvious choice is Bristol because of the balloon fiesta held there. But I have lived in Bristol and I don’t recognise that view. The top of the hill looks exposed and slightly moor-like. It makes me think this might be somewhere in the North of England, where there are plenty of valley towns with terraced Victorian housing. But I have no idea. So I’ll actually say Bristol, just so I can enter the competition this week for the first time ever.

Bristol it is, and about 50 other readers guessed that city as well. One of them gets nostalgic:

My mother is from Bristol and we used to spend the summers with my grandparents at their house in Richmond Hill. Bristol is famous for its hot-air balloon festival, and I have fond memories of looking out the windows and seeing balloons on clear summer days over the years or going up to the Downs to see the balloons over the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

But which neighborhood in Bristol? “My guess would be out in the suburbs — Brislington,” a reader guesses. Another:

We moved to Bristol just under two years ago, so we’re still exploring the city, but my wife reckons she knows this view from trips to our friends who live on the south side. We have regularly visited them on summer weekends when the balloons are out. So we think this could be taken from Windmill Hill.

This reader gets the right hood:

Bristol is the easy part — let’s skip it and focus on this part of the photo:

We see a big white building (edged in red), a tower (yellow) and a tree (green). We must find a zone of the city from which we can observe their relative positions matching those in the photo. That zone — so says Google Earth — is the suburb of Clifton.

Clifton it is. Another reader finds a gorgeous photo confirming the location:

This particular shot is from The Downs, a park just above the neighborhood of Clifton, and you can see the hill and white building in the distance:

Another reader gets flummoxed by the big tree on the right side of the contest photo:

The roofline and gentle topography screamed “ENGLAND.” (With this being the 250th VFYW contest, maybe Andrew’s feeling nostalgic?) I got to Bristol fast. But finding that damned hemlock tree sent me sideways. Not confident, but I’m going to guess 8 W Mall Street.

That tree was a bit of a curveball, as you’ll see shortly. Another reader goes for the right address:

10 York Gardens, Clifton, Bristol. Probably not right, but it’ll be close.

Oh so close — just a door down. Below is the winning entry this week, from a reader who not only nailed the right address but also the right year:

OK, not much to go on this week obviously, but those rooftops sure look like the UK to me. So, a quick qwant [Qwant is a French search engine] for “hot air balloon shows in the UK” leads one to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, held in August each year (not 2020 of course). Reading up on the Fiesta we learn the balloons perform “mass ascensions” at dawn or dusk each day and take off from Ashton Court Estate:

The sky in our picture looks like dawn to me, so we’re looking in a general south-east direction with the rising sun off to the left. Prevailing winds in this area are out of the south-west, so the balloons are coming from the right of the picture which lines up with the location of Ashton Court.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is listed as an ideal viewing area for the Fiesta:

I used that bridge to get a bearing into the city of Bristol and then started looking for the terraced housing that has similar rooftops to the picture. I settled on the rooftops being that of Cornwallis Crescent in Bristol (specifically numbers 11 through 14, if I have the correct location). That would leave the window in question at the next street over, so my guess is the upper floor of 12 York Gardens:

The view from that window gives me the tree to the left and the purple-hued tree beyond the rooftops, but wait …

Now, the fun part! The only thing not jiving with that location is the evergreen tree on the right; it’s clearly not shown in current map and street-view imagery. So, with the wizardry of Google street views from previous years, I must conclude that this picture was taken in August of 2014, as the tree was cut down by the following summer:

Five other readers also nailed the right address, but the reader above had the most detailed entry. One of the others writes, “I asked my cousin to drive over from London to check it out for me, but now he just thinks I’m insane ...” As a consolation prize to one of the others, here is the view from his window in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois, featuring his cat — thus making an exception to the rule of no animals in the VFYW:

Chini, of course, also got the right address, adding:

We may be up to our 250th view, but never doubt the contest’s ability to teach you new things. This week, for example, I discovered that hot air balloons are far cheaper than I expected. Yes sir, for only $40,000, you too can get up at some ungodly hour of the morning to go floating high above the British Isles!

Another reader passes along a video tour of this year’s “flypast” over Bristol — only 43 balloons, compared to hundreds during a regular year. Many photos here. Here’s what the Bristol Balloon Fiesta normally looks like:

This reader can’t wait for a return to normal:

Unlike last week’s contest from Bhutan, where every possible window and highlight opened up onto an enticing alternative world, this week every search result brings up “Closed due to Covid 19”, “Restrictions may apply”. I know and love Bristol — it’s the perfect mix of bohemian, intellectual and gritty. A liveable city which I’ve somehow never quite managed to live in. Like everywhere else in the UK, though, it’s hunkered down, waiting for something that seems to be coming faster and harder than we guessed. Like your competition, the balloon festival promises us escape. Maybe next year.

Until then, there’s always this little escape from reality:

Bristol also has Banksy!

Bristol is actually Banksy’s hometown, so he has tons of art here. This couple even published a guide. (Funny enough, they had come for the Balloon Fiesta.)

Bristol is also home to the one of premier manufacturers of hot air balloons in the world: Cameron Balloons. Now it all makes sense!


This week: Bristol, England. Next week:

That photo selection was inspired by this reader:

I live a small life. I am not wealthy. Your photo competition just reinforces how much I’m not part of your world. I just don’t have the bourgeoisie stability to relax and enjoy commenting on pleasurable exotic international vacation spots.

I grew up near that location, so take it from me, it’s about as non-exotic as you can get. Where do you think it is? Email your entry to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject heading, along with any specific details, fun facts, or personal stories within the body of the email. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two gift subscriptions. Happy sleuthing!