Tips to Make the Most of Your La Tomatina


In a previous post, we introduced one of our very favorite street festivals in the world—La Tomatina. If that article whet your appetite, then you are surely excited today, as the date of the next rendition is fast approaching–next Wednesday (the 28th) to be exact. We’ve complied a checklist of things you can do to make sure you make the most of La Tomatina.

  1. Don’t wear your Prada suit: Yes, your clothes will be destroyed. Dress accordingly.
  2. Do bring an extra shirt (unless you were lucky enough to find a  place in ____,): They won’t let you back on the train without one, and your original shirt is probably destroyed by that point.
  3. Don’t wear flip flops: Your feet will be stomped on, stepped on, and not to mention, slippery. Spring for some cheap shoes or wear a pair you don’t mind throwing away.
  4. Do take advantage of the generous locals offering a cold shower from their garden hoses before you head back to the train.
  5. Don’t bring anything valuable—jewelry, hats, glasses, keys, cell phones, etc. You’ll either lose it or it will be spitting tomato guts for months to come.
  6. Do put your money and (if applicable) return train ticket in a plastic bag, if you ever hop to use it again—or just carry lots of coins.
  7. Don’t throw any tomatoes before you squash them: The idea is to laugh, get messy, and have a jolly old time—not to break some poor girl’s nose.
  8. Do be careful with the lorries going through the village: See Point #7.
  9. Don’t throw anything else besides tomatoes: See Point #7.
  10. Do bring a waterproof camera: If you actually expect your friends at home to believe how much fun you had, this is an essential!

Rest in Peace, Love Parade


Today’s post is a little tribute to one of the great parties the world has ever known: The Love Parade. Three years ago today, a crowd surge led to 21 deaths and 500 injuries at the last gathering in Duisburg, Germany, and the party would be forever canceled.

Starting with a gathering of just 150 in Berlin in 1989 to celebrate love through music, the Love Parade was usually held in the capital (but occasionally other cities) and became one of the biggest and most unique electronic music festivals and parades in the world. Called “the greatest amateur circus on earth” due to the images of people sitting and dancing on streetlamps, trees, signs, telephone booths and whatever other obstacles may be in their way, the once-a-year gathering consistently attracted more than one million people, with a peak of 1.6 million in Dortmund in 2008.

While we may never see an annual party like this again, the party spirit of Germans in general, and particularly Berliners, is still alive and well. And in addition to the memories, the Love Parade left us with one of the great all-time logo designs in the world, below:


Celebrating Queen’s Day in the Netherlands

Steven K.,

Tuesday is Queens Day (koninginnedag), one of the Netherlands’ most important national holidays. People will flood the streets of every city in the country, dressed in orange, all in celebration of the Queen’s Mother.

The celebrations will actually begin on the night of the 29th—with public concerts and street parties. In many cases, especially in Amsterdam, these parties will last until the sun rises and the real Queen’s Day festivities begin! After all, nobody has to work today (other than those who choose to hawk their wares—more on this later—and schools are all closed).

We have gathered a few bits of knowledge to help you blend in with your Dutch neighbors on this exciting day.

8 Tidbits for Understanding Queen’s Day

  1. See all of those people selling things? That’s because Queen’s Day is the only day of the year that vendors without licenses can sell products on the street.
  2. That song you keep hearing? It is called “Het Wilhelmus”, and it is a poem that was written in 1574 about the life of William of Orange and his fight for the Dutch people, in a first-person narrative as though he is introducing himself to the people. Radios are playing it, people are singing it…and you should be too.
  3. Those people everyone is waving at? That’s the royal family…you should wave too.
  4. You may not be able to count on the store you want being open, but public transportation will be. Use it. Around large gatherings though, routes may be altered, so make sure you check ahead of time.
  5. Don’t worry too much about crime, but watch your pockets and don’t cringe too bad if you see someone peeing in public.
  6. Why is everyone wearing orange? Because the royal family is named “House of Orange Nassau.” In honor of them, you should wear orange too.
  7. And what are they drinking? That’s most likely oranje bitter, a strong alcoholic drink made by soaking the peel of bitter oranges in gin. You’ll probably see plenty of orange cakes and other orange foods as well.
  8. Why is the celebration today? Good question, and kind of a convoluted one. In case you want to impress your non-Dutch friends, see this link for the story.

It’s Not Close to August 31, but Queen’s Day is Fast Approaching!

Steven K.,

Queen Beatrix

On August 31, 1880, Princess Wilhelmina was born in The Hague. She was the last child of King William III and the only child to outlive him. On August 31, 1885, and on the same date each year after that public birthday celebrations were held for her. The occasion was originally known as Princesses Day (Prinsessedag) and became known as Queen’s Day in 1890 after Wilhelmina became Queen following the death of her father. On August 31, 1902, people in the Netherlands heard that Queen Wilhelmina had recovered from typhus and Queen’s Day became a true public celebration.

On September 6, 1948, Wilhelmina’s daughter, Juliana became queen and from 1949, the Queen’s Day celebrations were moved to April 30, her birthday. On April 30, 1980, Beatrix, Juliana’s daughter, became queen. Her birthday is on January 31, but the date of Queen’s Day remained the same as a way of honoring Juliana. Hence, Queen’s Day is the Queen’s official birthday and the anniversary of her coronation.

Got all that?


IDvalencia: Las Fallas Kicks Off Tomorrow!


Spain is full of amazing festivals, seemingly in every town, and Valencia’s famous Las Fallas, which begins tomorrow, ensures the Mediterranean city is known for more than just being a stopping off point for visitors to nearby La Tomatina each August. As a commemoration of Saint Joseph, hundreds of thousands–perhaps even millions–gather to enjoy fireworks, music, and burn huge paper sculptures. This practice is believed to help people start a fresh new year by burning bad thoughts and memories.

Every neighborhood of Valencia has an organized group of people (the Casal faller) who host fundraising dinner parties featuring paella throughout the year, and use the money to construct a massive sculpture (falla) that will eventually be burnt in the festival. The falla is constructed according to an agreed-upon theme, which is typically a satirical shot at anything or anyone who draws the attention of the falleros. Recent editions have included George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Lady Gaga and even Shrek. These are all entered into a contest, and must be completed by March 15th to avoid facing disqualification. From there, they are placed in their respective (albeit temporary) homes during a ceremony called La Planta (the rising), where they remain until being burned.

Some of the larger fallas...

Some of the larger fallas…

More grand fallas...

More grand fallas…

(image credit: Times of Malta)

(image credit: Times of Malta)

(image credit: Times of Malta)

(image credit: Times of Malta)

The Main Event(s)

The event itself is a 5-day extravaganza, featuring a multitude of historical, religions and comedic processions. Each day begins sharply at 8am with La Despertà or, wake up call, which features brass bands marching down the street playing loud music. Close behind them are the fallers throwing large firecrackers (indeed once you’ve been here, you will no longer be surprised to hear explosions even in the middle of the night, or kids seemingly as small as babies throwing pyrotechnics).

Later in the day, at exactly 2pm, comes La Mascletà, an explosive barrage of coordinated firecracker and fireworks displays (the term “las fallas” actually means “the fires” in Valencian, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise). During this, pyrotechnicians are competing for the honor of providing the final Mascletà of the festival on the night of March 19th, also known as La Nit del Foc (“The Night of Fire”).

Besides these two regularly scheduled events, the days of Las Fallas are full of a variety of offerings—bullfights, parades, paella contests and even beauty pageants—and stalls everywhere selling fried goodies like pores, xurros, buyols and roasted chestnuts. Each night of the festival features a fireworks display, with each day progressively becoming grander until the main event on the 19th.

A typical Mascelta crowd for Las Fallas in Valencia

A typical Mascelta crowd for Las Fallas in Valencia

La Cremà

On the final night of Falles, around midnight on March 19, the falles are burnt as huge bonfires. This is known as la cremà (the burning), the climax of the whole event, and the reason why the constructions are called falles (“torches”). Traditionally, the falla in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament is burned last. By this point, the whole city is like a dance party, except that instead of music there is the explosive sound of people throwing fireworks around randomly. This, of course, leads to the occasional building being burned, though firefighers have adopted some clever tricks to in recent years to minimize this risk.

La Crema

La Crema

La Crema

La Crema

History of Las Fallas

Like most of Spain’s events, the history of Las Fallas is widely disputed, although popular belief suggests that it started in the Middle Ages, when artisans disposed of broken artifacts and the wooden lanterns that lit the streets to celebrate the spring equinox. This also coincided with the church’s festival of Saint Joseph, who was the patron saint of carpenters. From there, smaller characters started being created from the wood, which evolved into the grand statues that are seen today when polystyrene and soft cork made it possible to produce falles over 30 meters tall.

The event has become so huge that a significant part of the local economy is devoted to it, and an entire suburban area has taken on the name of City of Falles due to the excessive amount of artisans, sculptors, painters and others who spend months producing the fallas here. While Valencia boasts a healthy population of about 1 million, it is estimated that this number is more like 3 million during the festival.

IDportland: Saturday Market

Steven K.,

Portland, Oregon; Old Town

Welcome to Portland’s Old Town

Very rarely can one find one particular cross-section of a major city that represents the city as a whole, but the Portland Saturday Market does exactly that. Just starting its 40th season, PSM is the largest continually operating outdoors arts and crafts market in the US, and operates every Saturday and Sunday from the beginning of March through Christmas Eve (including the “Festival of the Last Minute,” in which it opens daily up through Christmas Eve).

PSM’s unique nature is not so much about what is being sold–arts and crafts fairs everywhere tend to have the same things on offer–but about who is selling them. Whether it is the flannel shirts, the thick lumberjack beards, the messenger bags, or simply the atmosphere, stroll through the 258 vendor booths and you feel 100% reassured that you’re in a city where emo music, veganism, compost and recycling are ubiquitously accepted.  There is plenty of talent too, as you may score a beautiful wall decoration, a unique homemade toy or  piece of jewelry. That depends on your style. But one thing that is universally true is that you will go home with a happy stomach. With offerings ranging from Polish to pizza and mezze to Mexican, there is truly something for everyone.

Portland's Saturday Market Action

The market welcomes young and old alike…


Just make sure you make it to the right place–along the Waterfront on the river side of Naito Parkway, since the Skidmore Market adjacent to the MAX station often cashes in on its proximity. The more “authentic” experience is a block or two east, by the river–at the “official” Portland Saturday Market!


Portland Saturday Market Sign

Every weekend, rain or shine…(March thru Christmas of course)


How an Extra “9” Cost Me Big


Ronaldo Shirt

Brazil’s most famous #9

It was about 8:30 in the evening, and I had just arrived at São Paulo-Guarulhos  International Airport to board my flight to Washington. I checked in with time to spare and, as GRU’s entertainment options are limited, decided I’d spend another 15 or 20 minutes chatting with my friend who was so generous to bring me to the airport.

After a few minutes of talking about the country’s politics, which I know little about, we exchanged farewell pleasantries and I was on my way. In theory. The problem is, I unknowingly had left my passport and my boarding pass on the car’s dashboard, and waved as my friend drove off. I realized it within minutes, and figured I would simply give a call and, since she wasn’t far, have her turn back.

So I called. And called. And called. Each time, I heard a recorded voice on the other end saying something in Portuguese I couldn’t understand. Starting to feel a twinge of panic, I raced to the Internet shop across the departure all, and paid for 15 minutes. My friend had a  smartphone, so I thought maybe an email would do the job as well. So message after message I sent, each becoming more desperate in tone, eagerly refreshing my inbox after each one. Nothing.

Next recourse was to buy an hour of wifi from the same shop, and hopefully have my phone connect to a chat messenger like Whatsapp, which I knew my friend also had. Except that it wouldn’t connect, and by this time, I was sure she was nearly back to Sao Paulo. Sure enough, I got a phone call after an hour that said she was back at home and just now had seen my messages.

While I was relieved that I had located my passport, my flight was long gone by this point.

My friend was kind enough to come back to GRU and pick me up, and I asked, rather incredulously, why she had changed her number. Except she hadn’t. Brasil had changed it for her.

In late July of last year, due to the shortage of mobile numbers, every mobile phone number in the country had a “9” added to the front of it, just after the area code. While I had remembered hearing about it, I didn’t make the connection and actually go into my contacts list and change the number. Those words I couldn’t understand on the other end of the phone told me the same as well, but the announcement wasn’t in English.

A lesson for the books, and hopefully it will be decades before Brasil has to add another digit, but make sure you have your contacts fresh!

(image credit: Rio Times)

If only I could have understood this in Portuguese…(image credit: Rio Times)

IDthailand: Full Moon Party



Nearly thirty years ago, a group of 15 or 20 visitors to a little-known Thai beach threw a little party to celebrate the beauty of the evening’s full moon. Today, anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people flock to Haad Rin, a little beach on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, to do the same—every time there is a full moon.

With the beach already buzzing full of people and small lamps, the party officially begins at dusk, when the golden moon rises over the white sands of Haad Rin. Over the next several hours, until the sun rises again, the beach turns into an all-out dance floor, as the DJ lineup switches things up from trance, to techno, to drum-and-bass, to reggae, to pop—pretty much any and everything to keep the crowd moving. Some will take a break to eat (there are beach vendors selling all kinds of yummy foods), perhaps take a dip into the warm Gulf of Thailand, or even shoot some of the impromptu fireworks you are bound to see.

All you’ve heard about conservative Thai culture doesn’t apply here—and that’s not surprising considering that very few partygoers are actually Thai. Pretty much anything goes, although police have made an effort in recent years to curb some of the rampant drug use that the party had become known for.

But while you have to keep your wits about you—Thai drug laws are strict (or, more likely, you’ll be expected to pay a hefty bribe) and the parties are often marred with petty theft—the Full Moon party is truly something to experience, unlike anything you’ve seen before or will likely see again.

SKK_1230 SKK_1373 SKK_1181 SKK_1300

IDseattle: The Three Years That Changed Seattle Forever


Before 1990 or so, Seattle was a blue collar, industrial city tucked away in the Pacific Northwest. A manufacturing stronghold, it was home to one of the world’s largest aircraft makers—Boeing—and an active naval shipyard. It had a few professional sports teams, a large state university, and a lot of rain. Rain, in fact, was probably what the city was most known for.

That all started to change in 1986. It was in that year that Bill Gates decided to take his obscure computer software company public, giving it a home in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue. The next year, a man named Howard Schultz acquired a small coffee company, with just six stores in Seattle. And a year after that, two kids from the coastal town of Aberdeen, Washington—about two hours away—showed up in Seattle with their guitars and a vision.

That obscure software company, Microsoft, would end up becoming the most important name in the beginning of the digital revolution, creating three billionaires and an estimated 12,000 millionnaires among its employees. Seattle was now at the center of the technology world—Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley—and a city with significantly greater purchasing power as well.

What Microsoft has grown into in suburban Seattle

What Microsoft has grown into in suburban Seattle


As for the coffee company, well, it just so happened that Schultz had visited Milano, Italy earlier that year and noticed that there was a coffee bar in just about every corner. People did not just patronize them to fill up on coffee, but rather to meet and greet with friends and colleagues—they were a part of Italy’s social fabric. He decided to try to apply this concept to his new purchase, a little company called Starbucks, and the idea of coffeehouse-as-meeting-place would storm the nation and eventually the world. Today, Starbucks has more than 20,000 stores in over 60 countries.

A look inside the first Starbucks today

A look inside the first Starbucks today

And those kids—Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain—would create a band called Nirvana and with it, an entire counterculture. Grunge music was born, and more significantly, Seattle as the creative hub that spawned it. Seattle had had famous musicians before—think Jimi Hendrix—but he in particular spent the majority of his active years in London and elsewhere. Nirvana truly made Seattle home, and the city that had previously had a small music scene went on to produce Pearl Jam, Soundgarten and Alice in Chains among others.

Nirvana's performances gave life to Seattle's dormant music scene

Nirvana’s performances gave life to Seattle’s dormant music scene

Today, Seattle is regarded as anything but blue collar–a technology hub with an artistic, coffee house culture full of youth and creative energy. For this, it can look back on the years 1986-1988, and those few individuals that sparked the evolution from industrial port city to what it is today, and give thanks.

Seattle is moving at top speed today

Seattle is moving at top speed today