I got this hint from the Internet. She publishes beautiful pictures of Chiswick Gardens’ Lantern Festival on her facebook pages, so I decided when I can afford the time I city-hop to London to visit the place, but I turned out to be much more complicated.
No problem at all, it was to find a flight and a hotel. That afternoon when accommodated to the place after a short walk through Hyde Park, after my work done which took me extraordinarily long because of a terrible Wifi connection, and when it turned dark outside, I set out for the show.
Google said it takes me about three quarters of an hour from Paddington. That was at about 7pm. Google first sent me to WBrompton where I had to change. That made absolute sense as WBrompton had connections with national railway services. However at WBrompton nobody knew about a connection to Chiswick Gardens. The best recommendations I got that time was to go to Chiswick Park underground station. No Gardens actually, but it sounded promising. So I had to go back to Earl’s Court which took me ages because of signal failure that day. Slowly I felt becoming impatient.
When I finally made it to Chiswick Park, it was rather spooky there. No information counter, no direction sign to the Gardens, and the local map exhibited at the station didn’t show anything resembling Gardens. The passengers seemed unfamiliar either. Just when I turned back home. A friendly station guide addressed me. Probably he had observed me walking up and down the nearby roads asking everybody. The guide asked me straightway whether I’m looking for the Lantern Festival a Chiswick Gardens. To all my astonishment, YEEEEA! Probably he was already quite used to the problem. His instruction was simple: “Down the road take the E3 bus and you are almost done.” I felt my confidence reappearing. Not only I was close but also I found someone who helped me. Somehow he appeared from nowhere as if sent by an angel just in place to guide me.
I easily found the indicated road, but when I asked for the direction, the same picture as always, nobody seemed to know the Gardens. And those who pretended actually didn’t. Even the bus drivers though they could correctly point to the E3 bus stop, didn’t know which side of the road I have to wait.
Then I found that young women. At the first place I didn’t know whether to ask her at all. Sitting on a bench at the bus stop she seemed deeply submerged in listening to her music. Looking down, not noticing everything around her, she seemed a bit like a drug addict. Actually she wasn’t. When I explained her the place I was looking for, she almost jumped up from her seat. “The Lantern Festival at Chiswick House” she exclaimed loudly. That was partially out of her excitement and partially because she had listened to her music at height volume. Her excitement was contagious though. She assured me that I’m pretty close I just have to go to the other side of the road and after a few stops on the E3 bus I will be there. My hope was restored and suspension growing. If she talks with such an excitement about the place, that is exactly where I want to be.
Of course I didn’t had the correct bus ticked bought in advance, but it didn’t matter any more. The bus driver sensed my helpless excitement and accepted my whole day underground ticket and he even showed me where to drop off.
Though the bust stop called Chiswick House there was no such think, and worst of all there was nobody to ask. It was an almost dark street. Packed with parking cars, it exuded loneliness. Though I couldn’t remember having passed an entrance, I decided to proceed which proved to be the wrong direction. When I eventually came to the first gate, it was closed and a notice said since 4:30pm. My disappointment was just saved from falling into an endless deepness by the lights that I saw in the distance of the park that could have been from the lanterns I figured, so I kept going. After a few turns left I came to a gate where visitors left the park. Yes, they were at the Lantern Festival and it was marvelous. Finally, it seemed I made it, if it were not for the guard who refused entrance. “It’s exit only” she preached repetitively and the way she told it to me and other tourists without offering any guidance to the entrance sounded like “The festival is over and we only allow the guests to leave.” At that point all my hope was in shatters. After so many wrong tracks and wasted time I made it to the place of desire but it was to late.
At that point I decided to return to the city center. After all at Piccadilly Circus there is a light show 24/7. As I walked so long around this side of the park, I decided it should be shorter the other way around. Providentially, I was wrong. Not only the walk was longer, but also I found an other entrance.
After a few turns I saw a parking lot and a guard in front of it. My hope began to rise again. Was it possible to convince him to let me in secretively? After all, the park was still full of people as can be guessed from the number of cars. “No problem,” he told me. ”The entrance is only a few feet up the street and the show is open till 9pm” I had still 5 minutes left so I began to run. The next guides were less helpful. In fact, they gave contradictory instructions. Probably they were not interested in a late visitor like me likely to delay their end of work.
When I finally made it to the correct entrance, the ticket counter was closed and the entry barred. The guard in front of the blockade explained that everything is closed and by no means he can let me through. However I saw so many people walking through the park. Then I explained in my best pidgin English that I arrived from far away and going to stay in London only that single night and desperately want to make some take-home photos. Well, he suggested appeasingly to take all photos at the entrance area. I did, but when he turned his back I slipped behind the barrier.
I eventually was in. I felt a new kind of excitement, not just after a long ordeal I was where I wanted to be, I was a perpetrator now. Every time scared to be caught and the risk was real. I was in a restricted area now. The blockade that I slipped through was not the only one. As a matter of fact there followed many of them. I learned that the show was a round walk, and the guards with the visitors moving out were blocking footpath after footpath to prevent visitors from getting lost in the dark. Actually I was lost among barriers on empty trails, while at the same time only few meters apart there was a heavy stream of visitors moving towards the exit.
After a brave leap over the hedge I was on the right track. I found my place among the hundreds of guests. I just had to move against the flow, but I’m used to that. Almost running to the place where the guards were closing, I had the chance to see the most part of the show.
More than 200 photos I took that night. Most of them of low quality because I didn’t travel with my height-end camera, just a small pocked one that didn’t allow for manual adjustment of aperture and exposure which is essentially when taking photos of small bright objects in the dark. Additionally most of the pictures are blurred because of my tremor of excitement. Please excuse and enjoy the short replay of a show that cannot be really captured in pictures.
After the exhibition I took a taxi that waited abundantly. It took me just 20 minutes back to my hotel. What trouble I could have saved if I took a taxi in the first place.
But would it be just such an exciting adventure? It felt like a treasure hunt with an exceptional reward.