Posts Tagged ‘Street Festivals’

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!

Celebrating Queen’s Day in the Netherlands


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.

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


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)


La Tomatina: The World’s Biggest Food Fight


If you remember the Muppets growing up, you probably remember the (sadly not so) comedic Fozzie Bear doing his monologue on stage, laughing at his own jokes with his trademarked “waka waka waka!” and subsequently being pelted with tomatoes from every corner of the auditorium.


If these memories of your youth ever gave you the urge to chuck an over-ripe tomato at someone, well you’re in luck! On the last Wednesday of every August, in the town of Bunol, Spain, some 30,000 people gather to engage in the world’s largest food fight. More than 100 metric tons of tomatoes are thrown on this day, giving this otherwise quaint town of just 9,000 inhabitants a slimy, red-and-green bath.

While speculation abounds, in reality nobody is quite sure exactly how this festival, which first took place in the mid-1940s, came to be. Popular thought is that disgruntled residents attacked the local civic leaders with tomatoes during a town celebration. But other legends have also been told: a humble beginning as a food fight among friends, the spontaneous aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage, a class war among children, spectators of a carnival parade volleying tomatoes amongst each other across the parade route, and finally the Fozzie theory—a practical joke on a bad musician. Regardless of the origin, however, we do know that like the slimy residue participants end the day covered in, the idea stuck. It was, however, banned under the rule of Francisco Franco for not being a religious holiday, but was restored in the 1970s after he was ousted from power.

As the town’s population is more than quadrupled on this day, accommodations are limited—the majority of visitors commute from Valencia about 40km away. Local shopkeepers have managed to stay one step ahead of the game as well, covering their storefronts with huge plastic sheets to protect from the day’s carnage.

Enjoy a few photos of last year’s edition below, courtesy of AP/Alberto Saiz:

Spain Tomatina Food Fight

Spain Tomatina Food Fight

Spain Tomatina Food Fight

IDivrea: The Battle of the Oranges


All around the world, this weekend is one of celebration. But while most of the world dances the weekend away for Carnival, the town of Ivrea, at the base of the Alps in northern Italy, has a different method: pelting each other with oranges.

The annual Battle of the Oranges is the largest food fight in Italy–an organized battle of nine groups “competing” with each other by throwing oranges. Joey Phoenix of has an excellent writeup of the battle, which I am showcasing below for you to enjoy.

The Battle of the Oranges get serious 'round here!

The Battle of the Oranges get serious ’round here!

The Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, Italy

(by Joey Phoenix;

In February of each year in the small town of Ivrea, in the north of Italy, something extraordinary happens. Corresponding with the end of the beautiful Italian Carnival season, an event occurs that leaves many people cowering in fear and stringing up nets to protect themselves. What is this that makes people so frightened that they hide in their homes, or so overwhelmed by temporary madness that they don masks and head into the fray?

It is a festival known as the Battle of the Oranges.

For weeks before the festival you can see thousands of crates being brought into the town center to be used in the events. Store owners and local businesses begin stringing up nets in order to protect their windows from the wayward throws of participants. Other bystanders purchase red scarves to wear around their head. This head garment is a symbol universally recognized as a protective measure, as the wearer of the red scarf does not wish to be struck by fruit.

Participants organize into a number of groups that war against each other in the town center during the battle. There are nine neighborhoods in Ivrea, and thus the teams are comprised of regions. Each participant pays €120 to enter, and this entry fee goes into the cleanup that occurs each night after the battle, readying it for the onslaught the following day.

For three days everything that moves, except those that are wearing red scarves (but even they are not impervious to the accidentally misguided orange), becomes a target for the Aranceri, or orange throwers. Brave men stand on top of carts, the less intrepid few duck behind them. But for this short period of time, the town center is a sea of orange as flying spherical fruits become projectiles. The event falls on the three days preceding Fat Tuesday. Although it is a fun celebration, it has a reputation for being slightly violent. Many of the group members wear masks to protect their head and faces. Coming out of the battle with a black eye or a broken nose is not an unlikely event.

The Battle of the Oranges has its origins in legend. Supposedly, the daughter of a miller named Violetta was once threatened with rape by a duke who was exercising his, at the time, legal rights over her. It was on Violetta’s wedding night to another man, but instead of surrendering herself to the brutal law, she decapitated the duke. Afterwards, the people, taking her defiance as a revolutionary symbol, charged the castle and established their liberation from their cruel overlords.

Each year, a young woman is elected to play the part of Violetta, and the people commemorate their freedom from the tyrants by becoming the Aranceri. These “orange handlers” are separated into two groups. The first of which become the “tyrants”, and stand in carts. The other half remain on foot, symbolizing the “revolutionaries.” The oranges are the weapons thrown back and forth. No one is quite certain as to where the usage of the orange originated, because they are not even grown indigenously. Some sources declare that the orange is meant to represent the decapitated head of the duke, or his removed testicles. But no one is quite certain. The original plant life thrown at tyrants were beans, as the poor serfs would throw them back at the lords who had given them the paltry vegetables.

Although spectators are not allowed to take part in the festivities, anyone from anywhere in the world can participate in the Battle of the Oranges as long as they pay the entry fee and aren’t afraid to get nailed by a few oranges. So, if you’re interested in the commemoration of a people declaring freedom, and the rising up of citizens against their cruel governments, then enter the Battaglia delle Arance. It is one of the only places in the world where you will have a legal right to throw large spherical fruits with astounding speed at perfect strangers. It’s not only legal, it’s encouraged.

In Ivrea, during the Battle of the Oranges, people completely lose themselves. It is a festival  that’s both dangerous and exciting – and everybody in the town comes out to watch.

Nobody Does Carnival Quite Like Brasil


Brazilian singer Kelly Key leading some Carnival festivities

Brazilian singer Kelly Key leading some Carnival festivities

Easily the most anticipated holiday of the year in Brasil, this weekend’s event basically shuts down the country (with the exception of shopping, carnival workers and tourism industries, as nearly 70% of the country’s visitors come this week). In Rio de Janeiro alone, nearly five million people will participate, including nearly 500,000 from abroad.

While the celebration before Lent is celebrated around the world, nobody does it quite like Brasil. Every major city will host massive parades led by samba schools—dance groups that spend the entire year practicing to compete against one another during Carnival—which are televised and watched by anyone who isn’t there. Smaller cities have their own parades in which anyone can participate, basically turning the entire town into a marching party. Everywhere you look, trios elétricos (trucks equipped with deafening sound systems that drive around blaring samba music) will be driving around, followed by a contingent of people dancing instinctively to the rhythms as if compelled by nature. People sing, people dance, people wear costumes, and people drink. Indeed, it is estimated that this weekend alone will account for nearly 80% of the country’s beer consumption for the entire year.

While the style of celebration varies place to place, the epic nature of each city’s celebration is consistent. In the Southeast (most notably Rio), the festivities are dominated by traditional forms of samba—the enredo, the embalo, the bloco and the marchinha. In the Northeast (most notably Bahia), people enjoy more Afro-Caribbean influenced styles: the frevo, the maracatu, samba-reggae and Axé music.

The thought of an entire nation dancing for an entire weekend is probably unfathomable to most, but once you’ve experienced a Brazilian Carnival, that view may chance. So if the thought of it intrigues you, grab your dancing shoes and let’s go!

IDlondon: Notting Hill Carnival


Imagine a million people running around with no place to go, all united in celebration of….something. So what that the vast majority of them haven’t a clue exactly what they are celebrating? It’s Notting Hill Carnival, baby!

Every year on the last weekend of August, about a million people of every creed, color and nationality descend upon this otherwise quaint neighborhood on the western edge of central London—just to the north of the posh Kensington and Holland Park areas and just east of gritty Shepherd’s Bush. The Carnival originated in the 1960’s as a celebration of West Indian culture, with a heavy dose of Trinidad, Jamaica, St. Lucia and just about every other country in the region. While its origins trace to a time of heavy racial tension in London, it has evolved over the past four decades into a multicultural celebration, with countless blocks of narrow residential streets packed shoulder to shoulder with peaceful party-goers.

While the event is centered around a parade, featuring Caribbean steel bands, dancers with elaborate costumes, radio deejays and the like, most attendees probably never see the parade course. Instead, every few hundred feet there seems to be another party going on, with a new set of speakers blasting reggae, trance, hip hop, and just about anything else that gets people moving.

If you can navigate to some of the food stalls, you can enjoy Jamaican specialties like jerk chicken, plantains, patties and rice & peas, and of course there is Red Stripe—the beer of choice by a longshot—available by the basketful.

Enjoy some of the pictures below from the Carnival, and if it looks appealing to you, book your ticket to London for the last weekend of August. If you’re looking for one of the largest street parties on the planet, with completely free entrance, you won’t be disappointed.