Festivals aren’t only music and mud y’know. When I delved headfirst into the #mustlovefestivals project, I discovered festivals I never could have imagined existed. Literary festivals. Arty festivals. Animal-throwing festivals. The list of unusual festivals around the world went on and on and on.
Some I tried myself, only to vow never to return again (the rotten tomato throwing Tomatina, for one.)
Well, let me make a start by introducing you right here, right now to seven of my favourite unusual festivals from around the world. No hippy flower shirts required.
Gracia is the cool neighbourhood of Barcelona. It’s the part of the city that wasn’t even connected to the city when Gaudi began his masterpieces and Barcelona expanded along its famous Passeig de Gracia. So it seems fitting that the most unusual festival in Barcelona takes place here.
Meet the Festival Gracia, where giant papier mache figures glide along narrow streets amid music and traditional food.
Kamakura. It’s one of those words I’d never heard until I went to Yokote in north Japan.
Snow was falling as I arrived in the city, 260 miles from Tokyo. Softly at first, like a scene from a story book, before whipping itself into airborne swirls that revealed a thousand miniature igloos sprouting up from the school grounds. Among the bright white and inky darkness, I watched Yokote throw itself into its kamakura matsuri – a two day festival studded with snowflakes, sake and most of all – igloos.
In a city full of literary history, pursuits, and festivals, Dublin excels itself with Bloomsday. Held every 16th June since 1954, Dubliners celebrate arguably the greatest work from arguably one of their most talented authors by retracing many of the steps and the scenes from the book.
By the end of the day, we’ve taken in the Guinness-lit stone of central Dublin, the waves around the Martello Tower where Joyce himself once lived and the heather-tinged cliffs in Howth, the seaside town where Molly said yes (though, to be truthful, we snuck there the day before as well as the sprawling Glasnevin Cemetery that also features in the book.)
But it’s the plan for the evening that for me held the biggest draw.
There are moments in life that you never see coming: moments when clothes, colours, flavours, words, and maple syrup pancakes combine in a kaleidoscope of surprise and deep-fried sandwiches.
The Calgary Stampede takes those moments then flings them into a dirt-stomping, buckle-shining extravaganza of week-long events that left me gasping for breath after just two days.
Dubbed “the greatest outdoor show on earth” by some locals, and the “trampede” by others, one thing’s for sure: Canada’s biggest rodeo is no place to go if you’re looking for a quiet life.
Beyond the candlelight, the festival proceeds like many others. A stage speckled with spotlights forms a focus for the fun while at the edges, stall sell candyfloss, burgers, and palate-scraping cola sweets.
Children skip and dance as though in a 1950s filmset. Grannies natter and the young n cool hang out on stone steps. The night wears on and the crowd thickens, the music pulses.
It’s a kaleidoscope view of the islands themselves. At once beautiful, on deeper viewing complex, with shifting patterns of commerce and artistry, warmth and rigid rules, children, foreigners, locals, music, sweetness, salt…and reptiles.
A single trumpet pierces the air. The church bells chime. And a woman in a blooming white lace blouse sloshes a tankard down next to the bowl of covered pretzels. The foam spills over the edge, the bubbles slide into glass and the sound of psychedelic rock swells across the parasols, between the fluttering leaves and down to the table where I am sitting writing this.
I am at the Bardentreffen festival in Nuremberg, and what a beautiful, bewildering affair it is
Bardentreffen’s direct translation means “the meeting of the Bards” but it’s as far from a medieval flute-and-horn playing jig as a sense of humour is to airport security.
I was in western Canada covering five festivals for the wonderful mustlovefestivals project. Rodeo fascinated me; Vancouver I longed to see.
And Winnipeg, well, it just has too amusing a name to miss.
But Edmonton? And street performers? It was honest work, it was intriguing work. It was a wild card.
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new window. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.