LAST TUESDAY IN JANUARY.
IT’S WILD AND WOOLLY UP HERE ON THE SHETLAND ISLES.
Which might explain this festival’s obsession with fire. Sitting at the same latitude as the bottom half of Greenland, the locals know all about the cold, so don’t expect any sympathy if you’re a sensitive mainlander.
OK, WE WON’T LET THE WEATHER GET THE BETTER OF US. BUT WE STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON.
It’s easy to see why the whole thing comes across as just a wee bit crazy – rowdy local men dressed as Vikings, tramping shoulder-to-shoulder through the centre of Lerwick carrying flaming torches. It’s a fiery, boozy, boisterous celebration of the island’s Viking heritage and cultural ancestry, which culminates in the burning of a life-sized replica of a longship.
FORGET THE FIRE, IT ALL SOUNDS LIKE IT’S TESTOSTERONE-FUELLED TO US.
The parade is men-only (must be a Viking thing) but don’t think that women won’t get in on the partying that happens after the bonfire. The whole thing only lasts 24 hours, but it’s non-stop from start to finish.
LIKE THE IRISH NEED AN EXCUSE FOR A GUINNESS AND A GOOD TIME.
Friday is a good excuse for a Guinness. St Patrick’s Day is the best excuse for Ireland’s biggest knees-up of the year.
THROUGH A BOOZY HAZE WE CAN ALMOST MAKE OUT THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE.
The Feast of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s foremost patron saint, is held every year on the anniversary of his death, to commemorate his influence and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Traditional Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking are relaxed for the day – hence the rush to the bar.
ASIDE FROM THE DRINKING, WHAT DOES OUR ST PATRICK’S DAY HAVE IN STORE?
Expect to see lively street parades with marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations and others, often swathed in green. There are well-attended church services and day-long festivities with traditional Irish music and dancing sessions. It is customary to end the day by putting a shamrock in the bottom of your glass of beer or whiskey and toasting to the Saint, Ireland and those around you. Swallow the shamrock or toss it over your shoulder for good luck.
LATE JANUARY TO EARLY FEBRUARY.
OLD-WORLD, MASKED ELEGANCE.
Aside from dapper gondoliers cruising the city’s canals, there are few images as iconic to Italy’s water-circled city as the masked partygoers at the world-famous Venice Carnevale. Officially recognised as a festival from the Renaissance period, Carnevale was a licence to indulge in heedless pleasure, with masks to protect participant’s identities. However, when all this licentiousness became too much, the King of Austria outlawed the festival and it was only in the 20th century that Venetians brought the party back..
SO DECADENCE IS BACK ON THE TABLE?
With bells on. More than three million visitors crowd Venice’s cobbled streets during Carnevale for the chance to be a part of the festivities.
MUST WE COME MASKED?
Not all participants are masked, but donning a disguise certainly amps up the fun. If you’re stuck for inspiration, check out the costume parade on stage in St Mark’s Square – the winners each day go head to head for the title of festival finest on the last day of celebrations.
LATE AUGUST TO EARLY JULY.
THERE ARE GAY PRIDE PARADES ALL OVER THE WORLD – WHY AMSTERDAM?
Trying to choose the best gay pride party in the world is kind of like choosing a favourite child. There are so many cities that turn on a tremendous event – Sydney, San Francisco, London, New York, the list goes on. However, Amsterdam gets the vote having rolled the event into the supersized ‘Europride’, a three-week long LGBT celebratory extravaganza.
THREE WEEKS! THAT’S A HELL OF A PRIDE.
If three weeks off work is too much to ask, make sure you’re there for the last weekend (early August) – that’s when most of the major events take place.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR US AS PART OF THESE FINAL FESTIVITIES?
Street parties, the Drag Queen Olympics, the Canal Parade, the Funhouse dance party, and the enormous Pride Closing Party. Some events are divided into either gay or lesbian, and some are themed, like the Bear Necessities, but the vibe is generally inclusive and fun for all.
APRIL OR MAY.
THIS MUST BE PARADISE.
If your idea of paradise involves more whisky than you could poke a caber at, then yes, this is paradise.
A CABER? WHAT?
You know, the caber toss? Never mind. The point is that you’re in Scotland, and is there anything more Scottish than whisky? And this is where the spirit comes to life, a five-day celebration of the art, craft and business of making and drinking the water of life.
I’VE ALREADY BOOKED A TICKET.
You won’t be disappointed. The festival takes place in the towns, villages and 50 distilleries of Speyside, with some 400 events over its five days. There are distillery tours and tastings, talks, whisky fairs, fine dining dinners, live music…
MY MOUTH IS WATERING.
It’s a truly satisfying festival, blending single malt with the singular beauty of rural Scotland and its convivial hospitality. You’ll go for the whisky but stay for Speyside itself. Ok, and the whisky. But you’ll stay, that much is certain.
MID TO LATE SEPTEMBER.
AH BEER, GLORIOUS BEER.
If you happen to be partial to the amber ale, as millions of us are, then Oktoberfest is known to you. If you go to join the fun, you’ll discover it’s the beating heart of the beer-swilling world.
TELL US IT’S NOT ALL BOOZY LADS STUMBLING AROUND IN LEDERHOSEN.
Over six million visitors turn up to be a part of the festivities so chances are you’ll run into a few boozy lads but they won’t dominate the fun.
WE IMAGINE THAT WE MIGHT BE NURSING A HANGOVER AT SOME STAGE.
In that case, eat yourself out of a hole with traditional treats like hendl (roast chicken), schweinebraten (roast pork), or schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock).
ALRIGHT, WE’RE BACK ON THE HORSE.
Before you get into doing your bit with the nearly eight million litres of beer that is drunk here each year, have a go on the amusement rides and sideshow games. Your eye might be slightly out later.
A SYMPOSIUM? SOUNDS SERIOUS.
When famed Danish chef, Rene Redzepi (of Noma note), pulled the symposium together for the first time in 2011, we imagine he was hoping that everyone would take his efforts seriously. And they did: in the short time that the symposium has been running it has garnered a reputation as ‘the Food World’s G-20’.
A CHEF MASH UP?
The philosophy behind MAD is ‘to expand knowledge of food to make every meal a better meal… Good cooking and a healthy environment can and should go hand-in-hand’. So yes, there’s a healthy contingent of eager chefs, but the symposium draws in many others from the food industry, including farmers, food journalists, suppliers and food-service professionals.
The cast of guest speakers reads like a who’s who of the international restaurant world. Think David Chang, Albert Adria, Alain Ducasse, to name just a few – so you would be hard-pressed to come away from the festival without a mind packed with new culinary ideas.
WE SENSE A WINNING COMBINATION OF LOCATION AND THEME HERE.
The viticulture gods do shine down on this UNESCO World Heritage site at the end of June each year. With an architecturally stunning setting and world-famous vineyards surrounding the town, this fabulous festival draws in wine aficionados from all corners of the globe.
WINE TASTING IN BORDEAUX? WELL, WE GUESS SOMEONE HAS TO DO IT.
You will most certainly not be alone; this shindig is known as one of the biggest wine festivals in the world and while the wine is first and foremost, the four-day fiesta includes barrel-rolling competitions, live music, fireworks displays and sound and light shows each night. That is, of course, if you get tired of all the tippling.
LET’S GET STARTED THEN.
The festival sets up on a two kilometre stretch of road between the historical old town and the river, with a string of tasting pavilions featuring more than 80 appellations from Bordeaux and the Aquitaine region. Make your way to the water.
IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE HERE…
WHOAH, THAT’S A NEW ONE.
The festival goers that are suspended hundreds of feet above the ground in those colourful hammocks are called slackers, and they’re not your usual festival slackers; these guys earned their name from the slack wire helping to prevent them plunging to their deaths. The fiesta is a chance for lovers of the sport to meet up in a totally non-competitive environment.
WHAT IF WE PREFER THE VIEW OF THE DOLOMITES FROM SOLID GROUND?
Completely understandable; the aim of the get-together is to not only give enthusiasts a chance to hang out (boom boom) but to gently introduce newbies to the sport. Don’t feel pressured to get high (bam) – the festival organisers put on musical entertainment, an outdoor cinema, food stalls and yoga lessons for those not into the high life. At night there’s a dance party that even the slackers get in on.
A STEP ABOVE THE FACE-PAINTING STALL AT OUR LOCAL FETE.
This is a go-to destination for anyone who has ever been interested in body art. There is awe-inspiring body painting on show as well as airbrush and special effects artists working their magic. In some cases, it’s hard to even believe that there’s a human being underneath that paintwork.
THERE’S QUITE A BUZZ GOING ON – IS THAT A DJ ON STAGE?
Over the years, the body painting festival has broadened its horizons to become a self-proclaimed ‘multicultural, multimedia open air space’ and that’s why you can experience five different zones with a host of DJs playing anything from reggae to electronica, to dancehall to hip hop. There’s even a stretch of beach dedicated to activities for the kids and a whole market zone with fashion, craft and jewellery.
WHERE CAN WE SEE THE BEST OF THE BODY PAINTING?
The best body artists from over 50 countries around the world are on show, so everywhere you look there are stunning pieces of art. However, for something a bit different, stick around until the evening show of the best UV body paint, spectacularly lit up under lights.