One great thing about working with an international group of colleagues is the opportunity to learn more about other cultures. In our office it’s common to hear cries of, ‘ciao, ragazzi’ and ‘uitbuiken!’ in between discussions over the correct way to serve coffee or how much money to put in the birthday kitty.
Recently we all witnessed the curious antics of the Dutch on Queen’s Day – and yes, we might have joined in a little bit – and as we look forward to the summer months, we’ll all have a chance to discover some fascinating festivals held around the world, courtesy of our mirthful colleagues.
Our first stop is almost next door. France’s Lorraine Mondial Air Balloon event originated as a show and competition to promote tourism in the local area. A bi-annual occasion held since 1989, this event in July sees the congregation of hundreds of balloons from many different countries in the Lorraine Regional Nature Park. The thousands of spectators and hundreds of volunteer assistants witness a breathtaking display of shapes and colours filling the sky.
A short swim across the Channel and up the Thames leads us to London and the Chap Olympiad. A celebration of athletic ineptitude and immaculate trouser creases, theannual Chap Olympiad 2013 will be held in Bedford Square on Saturday 13th July. This charming Georgian square witnesses over 1,000 chaps and chappetes – religiously attired in tweed, what? – competing in such events as umbrella jousting, moustache wrestling and the cucumber sandwich discus. Bowler hats and cucumber medals are awarded as prizes, and punters can also enjoy live music, entertaining side shows and a variety of refreshments including the obligatory G&T.
Next door in Wales, the town of Llanwrtyd Wells is home to the annual World Bog Snorkelling Championships. Held at the end of August, this competition requires participants to snorkel two lengths through the 60 yard (55m) long Waen Rhydd Peat bog in record speed. Over a hundred people – from an astounding array of countries, given the subject – compete each year, many of them wearing fancy dress, and proceeds go to a local charity every year.
A short Montgolfier ride to the south, the Valencian town of Buñol plays host to La Tomatina festival on the last Wednesday of August each year. The festival begins with ‘palo jabón’, a greasy pole at the top of which balances a ham, and then progresses into an hour-long tomato-throwing frenzy, throughout which participants are advised to wear goggles and gloves, as enthusiasm can grow fervent. The cobbled streets of Buñol are left immaculate after being hosed down, as the acidic tomato juice is an excellent cleaning fluid.
It’s worth noting that La Tomatina is one of Spain’s milder ‘quirky’ festivals. Other popular – and controversial – events include El Festival de Santo Vincente, where a goat is thrown from a church bell tower, Antzar Eguna, in which young men attempt to decapitate a dead goose by hanging from its neck, a Valencian ritual of Quail Catapulting (Google it if you’re that curious), and the world famous San Fermin (the Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona. In reaction to the latter, a contemporary action called ‘Running of the Nudes’ takes place along the Pamplona route two days before San Fermin. This event, featuring hundreds of participants from all over the world, is designed to highlight the plight of bulls in a culture that refers to bullfighting – another controversial celebration – as ‘fiesta nacional’.
Across the Mediterranean in Ascoli Piceno, a large Italian town halfway down the eastern coastline, an annual Medieval Parade and jousting festival is held on the first Sunday in August. Locals dress up in 15th century costume and march through the main street in a procession that precedes the Quintana: Ascoli Piceno’s medieval joust. On horseback, champions from each of the town’s sestiere (neighbourhoods) take turns to drive their lances against a cardboard figure of a Saracen, in order to score points for their team. The winner is then given an evening procession back into the town centre, where revelry ensues well into the night.
Over the sea and far away, South Korea’s Boryeong Mud Festival, held over a week in mid July, attracts over a million visitors to the Daecheon beach area of this city 200km south of Seoul. First held in 1998, the idea was used to promote a range of cosmetic products, launched two years previously, that use mud from the Boryeong mud flats for its rich content of minerals, bentonites and germanium. Activities in the Boryeong Mud Festival include mud slides, a mud pool, and even mud skiing competitions, and the celebration culminates in an impressive firework display.
A quick paddle across the Pacific leads to the town of Clinton in Montana, USA, where locals and tourists over the age of 21 years gather to take part in the Testicle Festival. This event, held at the end of July, mostly concerns the consumption of bull’s testicles, or ‘Rocky Mountain Oysters’, but also includes more adult themes such as oil wrestling, wet t-shirt competitions and lots of public nudity. The ‘Testy Festy’, as it is known, attracts over 6,000 people annually, so it’s pretty safe to assume that it takes a lot of balls to put on a festival like this.
Finally, special mention must go to the attractive town of Ashbourne, in the county of Derbyshire, England. Not only did this town give the world the esteemed game of Shrovetide Football, but it also hosts the World Toe Wrestling Championships in the month of June. For this competition, two opponents sit facing each other with their feet on a ‘toedium’ and wrestle their interlocked toes until one foot is forced to touch the side of the frame. Entrance costs a princely GBP 1.50 and all proceeds go to charity.
Who can afford to work, with such a glut of jubilation in which to indulge? We’re off to buy Eurorail tickets. If you find yourself caught up in any of these festivals this summer, why not let us know how it went down…and if you need a hotel room while you’re on the road, you know where to look.