Forbes Passport – Rail and Festivals in Europe

A visit to a festival can add spice, inspiration, authenticity and fun to your travel experience. From chasing cheese down a hill to throwing tomatoes at people, Europe has plenty of quirky and worthy festivities to choose from.

The 2022 Steel Rail Revival created a vibe that resonated throughout the village of Fairport. Read on to learn more about 10 other unique European festivals.

1. La Strada Street Theatre Festival

Since 1994 La Strada is turning the streets of Graz into a stage under the open sky and offering visitors the chance to experience theatre and street art in surprising ways. It is one of the most important events of its kind in Germany and aims to create an interplay between the city, artists and audiences.

It focuses on how artistic manifestations transform and react to transformation processes in the urban environment. La Strada also explores the idea of bringing new audiences to theatres and to reconquer public space as a cultural space, making it directly accessible to all people.

The festival presents different kinds of performances, including dance and circus acts. There is also acrobatics and mime, as well as puppetry shows. This year, the festival had many German and world premieres.

Alina Cojocaru’s performance of Fellini’s 1954 film La Strada – the title meaning ‘the road’ – was particularly captivating. It was a show that combined the melancholy and hope of a itinerant life, but also the camaraderie and the hardships that came with being on the move.

Cookson’s production is both empathetic and nuanced, and captures the spirit of the film’s characters. However, the story is not without its problems and the final moments of the show are somewhat disappointing.

Another highlight of the festival was the theatrical transgression of a classic fairy tale – this time, ‘Dornroschen’ by Theater Anna Rampe from Berlin. The show is a transgression of a classical fairy tale, and it does not fall into the typical cliches that are usually associated with these stories. The audience is invited to join the performers and becomes part of the scene.

2. Festival of Lights

As the days grow shorter and darkness falls over the northern hemisphere, cultures across Europe incorporate light into their rituals and celebrations. Some, like the winter solstice and Hannukah, are celebrated across boundaries, while others, such as the Festival of Lights in Berlin, are location-specific.

This event turns the city’s landmarks, streets, squares and trendy neighborhoods into a sparkling wonderland of lights, transforming them into a spectacular display that draws visitors from around the globe. Renowned light artists and designers adorn historical buildings with creative luminous installations and projections, telling a story with their mesmerizing creations.

The origins of this festival are rooted in 1643, when the city pleaded with Virgin Mary for protection from the plague and promised to honor her with the construction of a statue on Fourviere hill. When the inauguration was cancelled due to bad weather, Lyonnais residents improvised by placing lit candles in their windows, giving birth to one of France’s most beloved traditions.

A magical sight to behold, the festival is held for a weekend each December. The iconic buildings of Lyon’s old town are illuminated with the soft hues of candlelight while art installations and creative lighting techniques bathe the city’s Renaissance-era facades in a spectrum of colors.

Other cultural festivals involving light and illumination include Loi Krathong in Thailand, where little rafts of flowers, food, coins and lit candles are floated on rivers and streams, and Yi Peng in Cambodia, where hundreds of lanterns are simultaneously released into the sky.

Whether you’re looking for a fun family outing or a more low-key way to take in the lights of the season, these events are sure to spark your holiday spirit. So go ahead and plan your trip to see these amazing European festivals for yourself!

3. St. Dominic’s Fair

The St. Dominic’s Fair is one of the oldest trade and cultural events in Europe, attracting millions of visitors to its stalls. Located on 21 streets in the historical center of Gdansk, the fair covers an area of four hectares. Stalls are set up by vendors from 11 countries and offer items from almost every field of production – antiques, jewelry (especially amber), regional and artistic handicrafts, wicker baskets, wooden rolling pins and many other items.

The tradition of the Fair dates back to 1260, when Pope Alexander IV allowed the Dominicans in Gdansk to grant indulgences on the feast day of their founder. The Fair became a major celebration for the city, attended by gentry and even the king himself. The Fair was interrupted only by World War II, but since 1972 it has returned to Gdansk every summer.

Each year the opening of the Fair is announced by a bugle call, with one note added each year to reflect its age. The President of the City presents the merchants with keys to the city gates and officially opens the Fair. It is an event that celebrates both the medieval tradition of fun and the spirit of Gdansk’s rich history.

The Fair is held in the month of August and lasts for three weeks. Tourists and locals alike visit the stalls to buy, bargain and look for treasures. During the Fair different languages can be heard and traditions are mixed together. The atmosphere is very festive and it is an excellent way to immerse in the Polish contemporary culture. The Fair also offers numerous concerts, festivals and competitions. In addition, visitors can try delicious regional delicacies in 150 stalls scattered around the city.

4. La Tomatina

Thousands of people flock to the small town of Bunol in Spain’s Valencia region every year for one thing: La Tomatina. This unique and fun food fight is a staple in the festival calendar and takes place on the last Wednesday of August. For one hour, dozens of trucks unload their loads of over-ripe tomatoes and people hurl them at each other, dyeing the town center streets red.

There are many theories about how this popular fiesta began, including that it was a way to celebrate the end of the tomato harvest or an act of protest against the city council. It certainly has grown into a massive event since its inception, and it is a riotous and unforgettable experience.

To get the most out of your time at the Tomatina, be sure to arrive at the town square early. The earlier you are, the more action you’ll see. Also, try to avoid drinking too much before the event – it’s hot and the alcohol will go straight to your head. You don’t want to faint, puke, or be so drunk that you don’t remember it!

To participate in the messiness that is La Tomatina, you should wear clothes that you don’t mind throwing away. Swimming or diving goggles are a good idea to keep the acid out of your eyes, and a waterproof camera or smartphone is a must if you want to capture the chaos on film. Alternatively, leave your camera at home and opt for the Stoke Travel day trip to Bunol, which includes transport, entry tickets, and lunch. You can also stay the night in Valencia and take a train or bus back to Bunol once the fighting is over.

5. Carnaval

Whether you’re chasing a wheel of cheese, throwing tomatoes or participating in a wine-fueled marathon through French castles, Europe has plenty of worthy festivals to offer. Forbes Passport offers up this selection of wacky, eclectic and worthy celebrations from across the continent to add to your travel bucket list.

With roots dating back to ancient Rome, Carnival has become a globally celebrated cultural event. Now, it is observed in more than 50 countries. Each has its own unique traditions, with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, known for its samba blocos and Venice, Italy for its masked balls.

Carnival celebrations are often viewed as a marker of the end of the holiday season, marking the time before the Christian feast of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. It is a time to celebrate freedom, joy and life before restricting yourself for 40 days to fasting and prayer.

While the festival of the dead has long been a central feature of the festival, today’s participants are less interested in death and more in expressing their own individuality and creativity. This is seen in the incredible costumes and elaborate headpieces worn. A popular mask is the bauta, which is like a full mask, but it also has a cape and tricorn or cocked hat that cover the face in a way that completely changes one’s appearance.

Another wildly creative and entertaining part of the Carnival is the parades. These are usually led by comparsas, or carnival groups. Santiago’s reigning characters are the lechones, which resemble pigs and have a curved snout. In the southwestern town of Barahona, the comparsas are more risqué and include the painted group Los Pintaos.

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