Archive: Hitting the Festivals
Europe is a festive continent. But for the traveler, not all festivals are created equal. Which festivals are worth circling on your trip calendar? Any tips to best enjoy them?
Looking for a great late summer festival? Then look no further than Edinburgh, Scotland! The Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Edinburgh Fringe Festival take place every August for the entire month. It is so diverse! People from all over the world flock to Edinburgh to perform theatre, music, dance, or to watch or join in the fun. Plus, Edinburgh is packed with history for all the history buffs (like me). Simply walk up and down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood House and the past comes alive all around you. Don't miss the underground vault tours or numerous ghost hunts at night! Being there at festival times makes it all the more special, the place never sleeps!
For all of the bagpipe fans
(again, myself included...I even play!), there are the World Pipeband Championships
in Glasgow (always the second weekend in August) and the world famous Edinburgh
Military Tattoo (held almost every night in August). The Scottish people
are extremely friendly and accommodating. I can remember being on a Glasgow
bus and I asked the driver for a certain stop, and about six people all
offered to help, and one older lady even walked me to my destination! They're
wonderful people and the country is one of the most beautiful on this Earth.
Summit, NJ USA 06/29/01
Basel, Switzerland has an excellent Carnival the week after Ash Wednesday.
It runs from Monday at 4AM to Thursday 4AM. Great town that mixes German,Swiss,
and French cultures and entertainment.
Wayne, PA USA 06/06/01
Swiss National Day is August 1. Imagine fireworks in the mountains.
We were in Lauterbrunnen that night - the echos from the mountainsides
were like a distant thunder. I'm sure many other Swiss locations (mountains
or lakes) would be wonderful as well.
Omaha, NE USA 03/05/01
Ever hear of Happy Mosel Day? On June 18, 2000, as our train approached Bullay, Germany, we noticed lots of bikes on the roads. We failed to notice the absense of motorized vehicles! We got off the train and waited for a very late bus that never arrived. Finally we asked a man working in the train station where the buses were. He explained to us that there were no buses that day. Thinking we would make the most of our time "stranded" in Bullay, we hopped the train to Moselkern and hiked to Berg Eltz. The station master gladly let us leave our packs in a safe place in the station so we could make the hike unencumbered.
Six miles later and a train ride
back to Bullay, we once again found ourselves stranded! We wrongly assumed
we would be able to catch a taxi. But no, we discovered it was HAPPY MOSEL
DAY! This meant everyone was out riding their bikes but it also meant
that there was NO motorized transportation other than the trains! Consequently,
we ended up hiking the rest of the way to our zimmer in the far end of
Zell. Complicating the trek was unseasonably high heat. It was only a
few more miles but we were beat! So, plan around Happy Mosel Day or you
will find yourself "walking those extra few miles"!
Las Vegas, NV USA 02/27/01
There is a relatively new wave of outdoor festival that has taken hold of Germany — the "auto-free" Sunday, whereby a popular stretch of road is turned over to bicyclists, rollerbladers, speedwalkers, kids on skateboards, and just about anyone who wants to get around on his own power. A few years ago, only a handful of these existed; now, there are upwards of 35 of them in different areas of Germany and Austria that take place between May and October. I've done two of these recently, one along the Mosel, and one on the Rhine, and they are huge events.
Last year, 120,000 or
so converged on the Rhine. Refreshment and repair stands are spaced conveniently
along the route, and it's really quite a thrill to pedal past the castle-clad
hillsides with only the pleasant whir of the wind through your spokes
to interrupt the experience. Most towns seem to have rental shops or hotels
that rent bikes by the day. My basic machine cost me all of $5, and Kaffee
und Kuchen (afternoon coffee and a piece of cake under an uoutdoor umbrella
with a view of Marksburg Castle) about $3, but the experience was priceless.
You can see a list of dates and towns with these festivals at the following
website (in German, with a nice photo and a map of the routes near the
bottom, some clickable links to festival sites) http://www.upi-institut.de/upi37.htm
Galt, CA USA 02/24/01
For the very best Wine Festival of all, try Bernkastel-Kues, on the Moselle (Germany). Always held on the first weekend in September, the whole town, both sides of the river have hundreds of stalls selling wine from the local vineyards (buy it by the bottle!)and food of every kind. Try the spiesebraten, fabulous spiced pork cooked over pine wood and service with Krautsalad. Or bratwurst of all types, fish specialities; for those with a sweet tooth, doughnuts, waffles, icecream, yummmmm.
It starts on
the Thursday and continues through to the Tuesday with a fantastic firework
display on the Saturday night. Try viewing the fireworks from one of the
many river cruisers, it is spectacular. The castle, which is high on the
hill, finishes the display looking as though it has been set on fire!
Sunday afternoon there is a parade of floats from all the local vineyards
and bands from all over Europe. The floats often give away samples of
their wine so carry a glass with you at all times! See you there!
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, UK 01/04/01
I studied in France for a year and have been dating a guy from France
for 3 years. He took me to a festival in the southwest of France (Dax)
last August - it was like a less international Oktoberfest-VERY FUN! All
the main streets are blocked off, filled with tents of drunken people,
lots of food, rides for kids, marching bands lining the streets with people
following behind arm-in-arm singing the spanish-style songs, then dancing
until all hours of the night - all week. Not to mention tons of campers
near the river all there to have a good time and fireworks over the river
on the last night. I definitely recommend it. This is one in a series
of four festivals in four different towns in the southwest of France/
northeast of Spain - Pamplona, Bayonne, Mont de Marsan and Dax!
PA USA 12/08/00
I also attended the Oktoberfest in Munich. It was great, as expected. My husband loves his beer, and he made friends everywhere!
We next headed for Expo2000 in Hanover. They also had an Oktoberfest tent, our favorite spot in the whole Expo!
We really preferred Bavaria, so we headed back for the Cannstatter Volksfest, held in Stuttgart. It starts a week after the Munich event, but lasts a week after. It is essentially the same as the Munich Oktoberfest, with music, beer, good people, good food! We were told about the Volksfest by a fellow American Rick Steves fan whom we met on a train.
I would circle these two weeks and festivals on my calendar every year
if I could!
Las Vegas, NV USA 10/18/00
I recently returned from Oktoberfest in Munich with a few friends from the States. One tip I can pass on this year, for the safe return of your friends, is to put a piece of paper in your buddies' pockets with their name, the hotel they are staying at, and a telephone number where you can be reached.
One of my friends wandered off with another American to check out the other fest tents. When it came time for the fest area to close, he couldn't remember which gate we had come in.
He went up to a group of Polizei and asked for directions. When they asked him where he was staying, he did not know. Then they asked what street it was on, and he responded with, "If I knew that, I wouldn't be asking you!" They would have arrested him except he was also a police officer, so they pointed him towards one of the gates.
After wandering around the city at 1:00 AM looking for our hotel, he decided to curl up under a tree to ride out the night. When he was nice and comfortable, he noticed a very nice looking hotel across the street from where he lay. After a couple of minutes, he realized that it was our hotel!
So the next time you have a group of people out enjoying a festival somewhere,
just take a couple of minutes to make sure that they can get home okay.
Mons, Belgium, BE 10/16/00
I just returned from a month in Bavaria, and boy was it beautiful! I loved
it! As far as festivals, I obviously left before Oktoberfest, but I was
lucky enough to catch the Herbstfest in Rosenheim. This is a great alternative,
as it is essentially a "mini-Oktoberfest," as my friends from Bayern called
it. It gives the excitement and fun of the big festival without the huge
number of people. Rosenheim is about 40 minutes from Munich by train,
so it makes an easy day trip. It runs the last two weeks in August and
the first week of September.
La Grande, OR USA 09/13/00
In Hungary next year, the Pepsi Island 2001 is a great festival! This
Year a whole-week-pass was about 35 bucks and a day ticket was about 8
dollars. There use to be one big star everyday like Lou Reed, Velvet Underground,
David Bowie, and more. Also, there are a lot of stages representing different
types of music and culture- from techno to metal to world music.
Budapest, Hungary 08/12/00
We visited two lesser known festivals on Germany's Rhine River this summer. On the last Sunday in June, all the river towns between Koblenz and Bingen, on both river banks, shut down the main road that passes through and between the towns for a great bike-fests. The entire 60 km stretch of road was full of children, parents, and grandparents, most on bikes but some on rollerblades, all intent on enjoying the vineyard-draped and castle-studded scenery under their own power. We rented bikes at the Hotel Bach in Bad Salzig for $5/day each and joined in. All along the way, refreshment stands were set up by local clubs and businesses, repair/first aid stations were numerous, and local restaurants, especially those with outdoor patios, were doing a brisk business in spite of the occasionally sprinkly weather. We only covered a portion of the route, but it was a great way to see the sights and rub elbows for a day. Train schedules were augmented to handle the extra crowds and all trains had cars for schlepping bikes. A news report I saw later estimated the crowd at 150,000, so I suppose this event isn't exactly unknown in Germany!
The other festival took place a week later in Bingen. The "Rhein in
Flammen", or "Rhine in Flames", is a fireworks/light show event that draws
big crowds to the waterfront area where the cruise boats dock for most
of the evening, with the show beginning at around 11 p.m. Besides the
regular fireworks, the local castles and ruins are set "ablaze" (or made
to look like they are) through a combination of pyrotechnic and light
trickery, all of which is truly impressive. Some people had reserved a
place on one of several cruise/dinner boats which could be seen following
along as the show proceeded southward. The Bingen tourist office can probably
help with advance reservations for cruises; both this and the Tal Total
event are otherwise free to visitors. Both events seem great for families
and provide a festive break from the alcohol-themed fests (Oktoberfest,
wine harvest festivals) for which Germany is so well known.
Galt, CA USA 07/28/00
I happened on to a local Highland Games in a small village in the Scottish
Highlands during my recent visit - it was the highlight of my trip! The
events are amazing (burly guys in kilts flinging 56 pound weights over
their heads, tossing "cabers" (like telephone poles) end over end, etc.
It also afforded an excellent opportunity to visit with locals and other
tourists from all over. We thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality and civic
pride of the community. Many communities host Highland Games, generally
from mid-July through mid-August - look for signs along the highway and
at the entrances to towns.
Lebanon, OR USA 07/26/00
The annual Fete de Musique, a grand one day music festival taking place
all over France. There were concerts of all varieties in various venues
all over Paris, and a celebration in the streets til the wee hours of
the morning! In addition, the Annual International Rose Competition took
place at the Bagatelle garden in the Bois de Boulogne, and we are gardeners
and lovers of gardens, and were astounded by 8000 gorgeous, profusely
blooming rose bushes! We also were present for the annual Courses des
Garcons, a hilarious 5 mile race of about 400 waiters from restaurants
in Paris who turn out in their black trousers, white shirts, and black
ties to race carrying trays and must not spill their water! The police
barricade the streets, Parisiennes turn out in huge numbers along the
course to cheer the waiters on — it was full of good humor and fun! And
made more so by a French family who heard us asking questions about the
best vantage point from which to view the race, and invited us to join
them to watch!
Susan and John Rebillot
St. Petersburg, Fl USA 07/04/00
I have found, as already mentioned here, that the Chriskindlmarkts are wonderful ways to meet locals, get a sense of European traditions and craftmenship, and to sample a variety of foods for a minimum of expense. One of my favorite travel memories is of my very brief visit to Salzburg in early December. In the evening the whole town was taken over by the Christmas market. It was so wonderful and cheery and festive. We wondered around and got ourselves cups of gluwein and just started checking out all the handmade Christmas ornaments, and the food, and the stalls.
Suddenly though, we started seeing all the children rush into the market
with big black hairy masks and shaking cowbells with a vengeance. It was
like hysteria was breaking out all around us, people running and shouting,
cowbells jangling... we just looked at each other blankly, until my sister
yelled, "Charissa, that kid's going to hit you!" And sure enough a little
masked child struck me across the legs with a stick he was carrying. We
gradually realized this was part of the game and it was time to run. Gluwein
sloshing in our hands, we took off like bats out of hell from the masked
children bearing sticks - coming at us from every direction. It was the
most hilarious adventure I have ever had. Apparently we landed in Salzburg
just in time for the traditional arrival of St. Nicholas. It was such
an unexpected delight and that is part of what makes it so special in
Bothell, WA USA 06/29/00
I love Italy in the summer specifically to enjoy the small town festivals
from wine, gnocchi, pizza and even beer. I specifically go to Abruzzi
August is the highlight of the year for English Heritage. History
in Action 2000 will be held at Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire, and includes
no less than 80 re-enactment societies — Roman Legion, Normans and Saxons,
Napoleonic, WWI & II, and even the American Civil War society. As an American
ex-pat, I have gone to this historical festival for the past two years
and would not miss it. As an added bonus, Kirby Hall is were they filmed
the move "Mansfield Park." You need a car as there is no mass transit
to the Hall. Come early and bring a blanket and picnic lunch. Enjoy!
Huntingdon, Cambs UK 05/11/00
Northern Europe can be great in the early or late winter. Airfare deals can be had (I flew round-trip from Washington, DC to Amsterdam last November for $235 including taxes!), hotels are cheaper, and the tourist crowds nonexistent.
Check out Amsterdam in mid- to late November during the beginning of their Christmas festival. A large parade with Sinter Klaus (Santa Claus) and Swarta Pete (Sinter's Moorish "helper," generally played by a Dutchman in blackface and Rembrandt-inspired clothes) throwing little gingersnaps to all the children along the parade walk. The sight of the streets near the Dam covered with gingersnaps is a sight to see. Ask a local to explain their Christmas traditions, especially Swarta Pete (Apparently, naughty children in the Netherlands don't get coal in their stockings — they get put into Swarta Pete's sack and taken to Spain!) Quite a hoot!
It's a great way to get into the Christmas spirit, as the Europeans
seem to start their celebrations early, before our Thanksgiving. And if
you forgot to pack your umbrella (and you'll probably need it!), don't
worry, you can buy one from one of the tacky souvenir shops right outside
the Centraal train station for about 10dfl (less than $5 USD).
Washington, DC USA 05/02/00
My wife and I were in Spain during Semana Santa 2000. There is no Holy Week action in Madrid during the week, but Seville is loaded with stuff. The small towns have a lot of action as well. Here's the scoop:
First, we planned the trip around Semana Santa. I called some of the hotels in Sevilla listed in Rick's book in July 1999 and was told to call back later in September/October. Well, I started sending e-mails to hotels in October asking for rooms and was getting denied (check out www.sol.com for a great listing of hotels in Sevilla). After getting negative responses from aboout six different places I just gave up and called a travel agent, who booked us a room in about 2 minutes and charged me $10 for it (which was worth it). We stayed at the Monte Caramelo, in the Remidos neighborhood (the nicest in Sevilla) on the opposite side of the river from the Cathedral and the Barrio Santa Cruz. This turned out to be a blessing as it was a lot quieter and allowed us to take a break.
The pasos are really, really slow (those things must weigh a ton), and neat to watch, but it kind of gets old after a while as the best spots to watch near the Cathedral are taken by chairs for the town's upper crust.
Every store in town is closed on Good Friday and most also close on Thursday, so be prepared to be inconvienced. However, bars and restaurants are open.
We drove to Arcos on Good Friday and the experience was a lot better there. We saw the paso in the town and it felt better as it was all local people. The priest wore all black with gloves and a cape, and walked with a big staff with gold at the bottom and a crucifix at the top. He looked really impressive (like Ichabod's father in the movie Sleepy Hollow) and I got goosebumps.
It was neat to be there for the experience, but it is also kind of a
pain to be a tourist at that time because there are also 9 million other
tourists in town and everything's close — including the Alcazar — and the
Cathedral has limited hours. I'm glad I did it, but I won't do it again.
Portland, OR USA 05/01/00
I was in Bordeaux, France for Christmas. The city was very nicely decorated with lots of small white lights and packages strewn between building (up in the air) and a Santa Claus here and there on the side of a building. I was a student and spent the holiday with my host family. They had a huge tree and made sure each guest had something to open. They were very nice people and had invited all of their friends who had nowhere to go. So, there was a house full of single French people who had met them various ways. There were lots of drinks and great food!
I also was in St. Emillion for the grape harvest ("vendage") in September.
There was a parade. St. Emillion is an old city and very pretty.
Denver, CO USA 03/31/00
In February a few years ago, we were in Venice for Carnevale (Mardi
Gras). It was fabulous! People were dressed in elaborate costumes and
walking around the town. They gladly posed for photos. These costumes
were much more involved and beautiful that something we would put together
for Halloween, for example. There was a parade which came in from the
sea, including a giant Asti Spumante float carrying a bunch of people
dancing on top. The weather was a little cool but not too bad. We did
not have reservations, but luckily we arrived before Carnevale began.
Otherwise, I think we might not have been so lucky. The water level was
good too. We didn't see any garbage in the canals which I have heard about.
Denver, CO USA 03/31/00
My trip to Portugal last year coincided with the festivals beginning
in Lisbon on June 10 and continuing with Sao Joao up the country but ending
in Porto. Just loved the parades and lighted balloon lanterns in Porto.
Fabulous! But my all-time favorite city will always be Obidos.
Chicago, IL USA 03/17/00
Saturday, July 10 my husband and I went to a "Renaissance" festival
in Burghausen, just east of Munich. Plenty of food and beer were served,
but because they want to keep it true, no other vendors are allowed. The
castle is one of the longest in Germany and there was plenty of room for
puppeteers, acrobats, games, fire-eaters, musicians and much more, all
in costume. The castle is authentic and is part ruin/part building and
free to the public. If you have the time go to the museums in the castle,
they are a few dollars but are quite extensive and larger than they look
from the outside.
Auburn, CA USA 02/28/00
We spent one Christmas going to the Christmas markets in Germany and
Austria. Not to buy particulary, because we bought very little, but because
this is where the local people go and shop for Christmas ornaments and
gifts. Plus the sausages and hot wine (Gluh wine) were wonderful. Most
have singers and other entertainment. Rothenburg and Munich were the big
and small of it but all were fun.
Katy, TX USA 02/26/00
Oktoberfest is nice, but any one of the hundreds of small-town fests throughout April-October are great. The smaller the town the cozier the fest and the more likely you'll make new friends.
Almost as well known as Oktoberfest is the Bad Durkeim (near Mannheim)
Weinfest. 20,000+ people per day crowd into this village of 1,200 to sample
the new wines and dance. Usually held in September-October. Enjoy!
I, too, had a great time at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (although
there must have been a million cameramen there — it was very distracting).
Even better, though, was the fabulous Internationl Arts Festival that
Edinburgh was hosting at the time. I think the festival lasts around nine
days, but events and activities seem to begin before and end after that
time period. There were performances starting every five minutes! I saw
Japanese fan dancing, Indian masked theatre, a performance by the company
of the Abbey Theatre — things I never would have gotten to see otherwise.
And the price? Very affordable. I was paying less than 5 pounds for some
of my tickets. The festival takes place in late August, so it makes for
a great late-summer trip.
Do you like a good German bierfest? I recommend the Starkbierfest, beginning
this year on 17 March. They brew a special beer that's stronger than usual
to keep up strength during fasting for Lent. I went last year and was
lucky, the weather was fantastic! And, it was like the Oktoberfest without
tourists! Go to the Paulanerkeller am Nockerberg. Party with the locals,
but pace yourself, it's strong beer.
Bel Air, MD USA 01/05/00
Don't miss La Tamborrada in San Sebastian, Spain! It begins on Jan. 19
at midnight. The entire town parties for 24 hours straight..no sleeping
allowed! Men in chef's hats parade throught the streets drumming, while
the rest of the town watches and drinks "mucho vino." The next day, there
is the largest children's parade in the world. All of the local children
and those from neighboring villages dress up and drum through the streets.
There are hardly any tourists in San Seb this time of year, so take advantage!
Pamplona's San Fermin Festival (running of the bulls) was great! There
is more then just the running: bullfights, the carnival, nightly fireworks,
Basque area. Stay at a pension for a better location and 1/2 the price
of the American hotels! If you're there the whole week, it gets old after
4 days, take a day and a half side trip to San Sebastian — beautiful beach!
Annandale, Va USA 12/05/99
Bastille Day (July 14th) is celebrated in Carcassonne, France with THE
biggest fireworks display from inside the walled city. It was truly magnificent.
We celebrated my husband's 50th birthday (July 14th) watching the fireworks
and hope to return for his 60th birthday celebration. It's been written
up as the most spectacular fireworks display in France for Bastille Day.
naples, fl USA 11/07/99
Stumbled into Oktoberfest by luck and accident. WOW! If you want to
avoid the wackos and extreme drunks, go in the mid- to late afternoon
and leave before 9PM. The chicken is the best I've ever had and the pretzels
could double as lumpy VW spare tires. DO NOT look for the cheapest beer
and food you have ever had. However, ride the rides while you are sober
or you will find yourself contributing to someone else's memories. The
tents do not stay open all night as you may expect and they are stringent
on getting you out at closing time. Messing with the ladies that are working
so hard will get you a dent on the head that looks like a large glass
of beer. Be nice!
Poulsbo, WA USA 11/01/99
We "stumbled" onto the wine festival in Bacharach. Besides the great
Rhine scenery and beautiful town, they had a very nice wine festival that
only the locals attended. Well, locals and us. There are two or three
parades every day down the short streets of Bacharach and each beautifully
decorated float, usually by a local winery or church group, has people
willing to fill up your wine glass or cup with the local wines. Needless
to say by the end of a parade you'll feel pretty good. There is some German
folk dancing and at night they have pop bands. Our favorite was the one
playing 70's and 80's American pop hits. Nothing like a night in Bacharach
with a band playing "I'm walking on sunshine" and singing in English.
Huntersville, NC USA 10/21/99
Don't miss in Liguria Sanremo the following festivals: Italian Song Festival
(February), Flowers Parade (March), open-air jazz festival (July), and
international fireworks competition (July).
Clara Randone/Holiday Homes in Liguria
The Military Tattoo in Edinburgh is an amazing experience not to be
missed. I purchased tickets for the last weekend of the Tattoo only a
few days in advance!
Seattle, WA USA 09/25/99
We just visited the Regatta Storico in Venice, which is held first weekend of September each year and dates to the 13th century. The actual event consists of a historic regatta, which is a colorful and exciting water-borne parade. After that there are four races, about half an hour apart. Depending on location, you get to see about 15 seconds' action once every 30 minutes. By the end only the locals are very interested and most people have left. Shame, because the best race is last: two-man boats cross the lagoon and then row up and down the length of the Grand Canal. These are true athletes, and each boat represents an area of Venice. Each neighborhood shows up to cheer on its boat.
We purchased reserved seats — a complete waste of money, unless you can
get a waterside table at a restaurant that includes a meal. We sat in
front of the Madonna church near the entrance to the Canal. The seats
are not tiered, so unless you are in the front row you see the backs of
people's heads. Not 30 feet from us, people sitting up on the steps of
the church (for free) had a much better view, and they got to hear the
commentary for which we 'easy marks' had paid. I would recommend getting
a place halfway up the canal where you can do something between races.
Just make sure that you have a good angle for the camera, as the Regatta
presents lots of Kodak moments.
Derby, UK 09/08/99
The Oktoberfest in Germany is definitely worth going to if you don't
have too many preconceptions about it. It is basically just one big piss-up
and it is usually freezing cold and muddy, but it tends to add to the
fun! You'll meet people from every walk of life and the beer is very cheap
(about $1). I've been pickpocketed twice there, though, so don't take
anything of worth except a bit of money which should be either in a money
belt under your clothes or you can sew a small pocket to the inside of
your shorts. If you camp there, don't take an expensive tent — it may well
Australia, USA 09/08/99
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is the last weekend of August. It is a
musical show in the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, performed almost entirely
by active servicemen and women. The show itself is beautiful, the music
is inspiring, and when they bathe the entire castle in blood-red light
it's awesome. And bagpipes sound wonderful when played correctly. There
was one band from a regiment of tank crewmen who were on leave from Kosovo
to perform. And a band mounted on horseback. All the pomp and ceremony,
mixed with the very deep Scottish heritage. It is a marvelous experience.
It sells out months in advance; you can visit www.edintattoo.co.uk...
Actually all of August is festival time in Edinburgh — the Fringe Festival
has performing arts all month long. Loding is difficult to find as well,
but worth it.
Derby, UK 09/01/99
A free week, $15US, and a sleeping bag (optional) is all you'll need
if you want an excellent European adventure. Traveling around Europe on
my own last summer, I luckily arrived in Budapest, Hungary at the right
time. Every year at the beginning of August there is a week-long festival
held on an island ('Pepsi Island') located just outside the center of
Budapest. $5 for a week-long pass and you get to camp among thousands
of crazy Hungarians, enjoy several hundred bands from all over the world,
and sip on Amstel beer for 10 cents a liter. Great food is cheap as well.
Completely broke and disoriented after a 60-cent splurge, I snuck to the
back of the main stage and met the band Green Day, who were generous enough
to let me sample all of the good food I could eat and crash in their trailer
for the evening. I can't promise you'll be that lucky, but I guarantee
quite the adventure. Cheers.
Seattle, WA USA 08/24/99
We arrived in Paris on Bastille Day. That evening, we strolled over to
the Champ de Mars, and watched a fantastic light show and fireworks display
from across the Seine, with the Eiffel tower in the foreground. It was
all choreographed to music, which, strangely consisted of American show
tunes! We heard songs from "Grease," "West Side Story," and "Hair"; with
a few French cabaret tunes thrown in for good measure! (Never heard the
"Marseillese".) The French have a wonderfully eclectic sense of style
for thier celebrations. We Americans are too anal-retentive to ever do
something like that on July 4th!
Washington, DC USA 07/29/99
For a real Dutch experience check out the Koninginnedag, or Queen's
Day. It's the celebration of the Queen's birthday (or, actually, her mother's
birthday) on April 30. Amsterdam, in particular, is crammed with thousands
upon thousands of Dutch who come to party. It's sort of a mix between
a garage sale, talent show, dance party, and music festival...all with
plenty of Heineken flowing. No matter what your tastes (musical or foodwise)
you WILL be able to find a corner of the city on this day to suit you.
I went this past spring and would go again in a minute. Tip: Reserve a
hotel room VERY EARLY, and wear comfortable shoes because NO TRAMS RUN
ON THIS DAY.
Napa, CA USA 07/28/99
Just attended the Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival in Peer (near the Netherlands border) last weekend. It was a 3-day affair held on a farm with lots of room for camping. The festival was great — good music, good food, good beer and very friendly folks. The lineup was a good mix. Only interesting point was the crowd mildly "booing" when Wilson Pickett's group pushed a little too much for the crowd to welcome him back for an encore.
The North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haag (the Hague) was held the beginning of July - another great festival.
Guiness sponsors two festivals of note in Ireland - The Dublin Blues Festival - sometime in July and the Cork Jazz Festival in October. Both are great "craic."
There's a small blues fest this weekend in Eindhoven, The Netherlands
at Willhelminaplein. Generally there is some blues going on every week
Carmel, CA USA 07/24/99
Sweden has their mid-summer celebrations on the Friday and Saturday
closest to the 26th of June. We were in a small town in Dalarna to celebrate
Mid-summer. Families erect a may pole-type decoration on their front lawn
that they make from flowers and leaves. They sing traditional songs and
dance around the "may pole." Single women are to pick 7 different types
of wildflowers and place them under their pillow on Mid-Summer's Eve (Friday),
and the man that they dream about that night will be the man they marry.
Then families get together on Saturday for feasts and fun. Many towns
have community celebrations that tourists are invited to. But be warned,
they are mostly done entirely in Swedish. But small towns are best, especially
if you can make contact with someone before you arrive. Swedes are very
nice and are more than happy to make you feel at home.
Anchorage, AK USA 07/17/99
Summer solstice...time for the music festival in Rouen, France. The
tradition is to stay up until dawn, listening to more than 80 music groups
of all types. Steel drums, classical ensembles, alternative...on street
corners, in courtyards, in front of restaurants. People come from all
the neighboring towns to join the festivities. The city is very crowded,
but everyone is there for a good time. We later learned that many cities
in France have music festivals on Midsummer's Eve.
Virginia Beach, VA USA 07/15/99
La Tomatina — the world's largest tomato fight — is held in a small town
near Valencia in Spain. It is always on the last Wednesday of August and
an experience you'll never grow tired of retelling. A little frightening
really, being smacked by tomatoes amongst 30,000 half-naked young people — but
you only live once! And the food at the street fair afterwards is a just
reward: juicy spit-roasted chickens, crispy fried potatoes and cold beer.
Brooklyn, NY USA 07/14/99
Edinburgh in August is THE place to be for festivals:
Jazz & Blues Festival 30 July - 8 August
Military Tattoo 6 - 28 August
International Arts Festival 15 Aug - 4 Sept
Fringe Festival 8 - 30 Aug
Book Festival 14 - 30 Aug
Film Festival 15 - 29 Aug
The grand finale is on 4 Sept: the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's concert in Princes Street Gardens with a huge fireworks diplay from the castle. There are around 200,000 spectators for this, the biggest fireworks display in the world.
During August the population of the city doubles and every possible venue (theatre, pub, church hall, scout hut, etc) is used for performances. You can see drama, comedy, music, dance, opera, street theatre. Around 50% of the audience is local people so it's not just a tourist-based event.
On New Year's Eve we have the Edinburgh Hogmany Festival. There is lots
of entertainment on, street theatre, dances, kids' events. On New Year's
Eve there are live bands and fireworks for the world's biggest street
party...250,000 people celebrating in the streets below the castle. And
this year's looks like it'll be THE best.
Edinburgh, UK 07/03/99
Le Mans! For the 24-hour auto race. Just did this for the first time and will again as many times as possible. If you are not a motor sports fan, this may be a bit much, though the culture scene there is fascinating — best described as EuroBubba. If you are a motor racing fan, this is absolute heaven! Maybe not a festival per se, but a party that goes on for about 50 hours straight — the 24-hour race is in there somewhere, and it is the best auto race in the world; even F1 pales by comparison. And you still get French food. Probably the only place in the world that I could sleep in the car (in the parking lot) and be happy about it. Entry is a reasonable FF320 for all 24 hours. 2nd weekend in June. There are many web sites devoted to the race.
P.S. Earplugs are much more important here than on a transatlantic flight.
Derby, UK 06/26/99
We were in Norway on Norwegian Constitution Day, May 17th. It was an impressive display of Norwegian patriotism.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, dresses up, either in their community's
national costume or in their Sunday best — even the kids with the purple,
pink, or green hair. It puts American patriotism to shame. And the Norwegians
are friendly and love to educate you on their traditions, if you simply
ask. We had many lovely and educational encounters. And I learned why my Norwegian
family did things certain ways and ate certain foods.
Ray and Mary Eldridge
Seattle, WA USA 06/11/99
Germany's Christmas Markets usually start on the lst advent weekend
before Christmas (there are 4) and run until just before Christmas. Why
are they so special? Everybody in good mood, good food, good drink. Cheap
fares this time of year from US. Hop between Christmas-market towns with
flexpass from German rail — distances are not that great. German cities
have terrific transportation. Stay about 20 minutes out in suburbs. Most
Christmas Markets are in old town centers.
Whitefish, Mt USA 06/10/99
The Vevey Winegrowers Festival is held only every 25 years. Next celebration:
29th July to 15th August 1999. Based on a highly artistic concept, the
daily theatrical performances are created by the Swiss theatre producer
Francois Rochaix and centered around traditional themes such as the four
seasons, the labour of wine growers, and greek-roman mythology. This pageant
is performed by professional artists in addition to more than 4000 amateur
participants. It includes fiction and theatre, music, dancing and singing,
traditional folklore and modernity. The open-air performances take place
on the Market Place, in the heart of Vevey and along the lakeshore. Every
show or parade is followed by the Town Festival (music, performances,
dance, games and theatre). Web site: www.vevey.ch
Depoe Bay, OR USA 06/10/99
I stumbled onto a wild festival in mid-August in Koblenz, Germany, called "The Rhine in Flames." There were an estimated 250K people, thousands
of river boats, a free rock concert, unbelievable fireworks, and an amzing
light show at a castle. All on a point of land where the Rhine meets to
Mosel. Couldn't get a room, so slept it off in the car. Worth the hangover.
Boston, MA USA 06/08/99
To get a taste of Mardi Gras madness while in Europe, consider Carnaval
in February, in the southern part of the Netherlands, primarily the province
of Limburg. People of all ages get dressed up in costumes you wouldn't
believe and party until they are forced to go home. It is not uncommon
to see the Dutch crying at the end, saddened that they must wait aother
year for the Carnaval festivities. I got to spend my Carnaval in the underrated
town of Maastricht, where the 400 pubs keep you in good shape well into
West Linn, OR USA 06/04/99
Fête des Canaux (Canal Festival) at Bruges, Belgium is held in August
every other year (I believe it will next be held in 2000). Bruges is often
described as the Venice of the North, and they turn a portion of their
canal system into a historical portrait of Bruges. They create about a
dozen stops where actors portray famous events in Bruges history. "Famous" is rather relative, as it's nothing you will find in a European history
text. However, I loved it. It's done at night, creating a magical atmosphere
of torches and candlelight. They sell a program explaining each of the
scenes. While the Canal Festival may not be as tasty as one of the wine
festivals, you can always sample some of the 600 beers brewed in Belgium
beforehand at the local bars!
Las Vegas, NV USA 06/03/99
I too love the winefests in Germany. My favorite is the Wiesbaden Weinwoche
- a whole week of tasting wonderful Rhinegau wines. As a relatively large
city, Wiesbaden lacks some of the charm of the small wine villages, but
you get more selections with the larger fest.
Pennsauken, NJ USA 05/27/99
We love Europe and usually travel in late spring/early summer. However, we now view trips to Weihnachtsfests, or Christkindlmarkts in Germany, as very special, trading all the flowers and sunshine for the magic and beauty of the Christmas season. On our last trip, we visited 16, including Salzburg's and a couple in eastern France.
These fests run from late November to around the third week in December. Nuremberg's is the most famous, and very crowded, but worthwhile. In the large cities they are open every day, while in the smaller towns they may only be open on weekends. We really enjoy looking at all the booths, eating bratwursts and drinking the gluehwein (hot spiced wine). Speaking of gluehwein, you pay a deposit for the cup in which it is served and can return the cup and receive your approximate two dollar deposit back. Or, as a German friend suggested, and we did, you can keep a cup from each market (they generally bear the city's name, the year, and a picture), and have a great set of souvenirs.
The booths sell Christmas decorations, some hand-made, some manufactured, desserts (lebkuchen, pfeffernuse, fruitcakes, etc.), nutcrackers and smokemen, even various wursts and clothing.
We found the weather to be quite tolerable; we wore only sweaters and light jackets.
Overland Park, KS USA 05/25/99
The weissbierfestival in Bayreuth, Germany in May seemed interesting
if you were 21, otherwise just a loud party with too many drunks.
wayne, pa USA 05/24/99
It is hard to beat France for festivals: in June there is a nationwide
music festival, followed in July by Bastille Day celebra- tions. Several
places including Orleans and Reims have Jeanne d'Arc festivals, and in
between there is always some festival going on in a village somewhere.
Big or small, the attention to detail and sincere enjoyment on the part
of the people is great to see. Neigboring Monaco's Lumiere (fireworks)
festival outdoes any such display you've ever seen. For festivals — go
CA USA 05/22/99
Running with the Bulls for San Fermin in Pamplona is the biggest party
I have ever been to. If you plan to run, watch one first to get an idea
of what to expect. Running is a lot of fun, but you have to take it seriously.
Check out some of the photos of unsuccessful participants in the photo
shops near the route.
Dallas, Tx USA 05/20/99
The best festivals are, of course, in Germany! There's always the Octoberfest
in Munich, but there are lots of smaller, regional fests that are also
quite worthy. And then there's Fasching! We Bavarians know how to party!
central, TX USA 05/18/99
After living in Europe for 8 years, I vote the Bernkastel-Kues wine
fest over our Labor Day weekend the best! Best assortment of vintners'
booths for probing, best assortment of food for snacking or feasting (try
spiessbraten!), great parade on Sunday afternoon, and world-class fireworks
We're looking forward to the "Renaissance Festival of 1531" at Satzvey
Castle (near Koln) on May 22nd,/23rd/24th, 29th/30th, 1999. See http://www.burgsatzvey.de/e/index.htm
Tallahassee, FL USA 05/13/99
I spent one of the most festive days of my life on Saint Patrick's Day
in Galway, Ireland, a few years ago. The pubs opened early in the day,
closed for a one-hour respite in mid-afternoon (during which time there
was a huge parade) and then resumed the festivities late into the night.
I asked around town to find the best "sessions" — Celtic folk music jam
sessions where anyone can show up with an intstrument. The sessions got
bigger and the music got better the later it got. (Or perhaps it was the
Guinness.) Everybody there kept asking me two questions: Is it true you
dye the beer green in America? Why?
Seattle, WA USA 05/11/99