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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Holidays & Festivals’

Homecoming Scotland 2014

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Homecoming Scotland 2014 is the follow up to the highly successful first edition of 2009. The initial Homecoming was designed to encourage people of Scottish ancestry to visit the area and to celebrate all things Scottish. Of course, it also served as an open invitation to visitors from all over the world.

Homecoming Scotland was originally born from the idea of celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns; the famous national poet. The event grew into showcasing Scotland’s other significant contributions in the realms of culture, heritage, innovations, golf and of course, whisky. 

The year-long programme for Homecoming Scotland 2014 will feature the same attributes as it did the first time around. The two main events this year are the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in Pertshire. The other events spread over the year focus on activities, ancestry, creativity, food & drink and nature, celebrating the very best that Scotland has to offer. Here are our favourite picks from the vast selection of events:

Highland Games

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There will be staging of the traditional Highland Games in towns, villages and castles across the country. The exciting games, where contestants compete in some truly unique activities such as caber tossing and competitive dancing, are a combination of culture, sport and social entertainment with a uniquely Scottish twist! Some of the more well-known locations for the games are Cowal, which stages the largest Highland games in the world, Braemar, attended annually by members of the Royal Family, and the Ceres Highland Games, the oldest free games.

Stirling – Battle of Bannockburn

28 Jun 2014 – 29 Jun 2014

The medieval city of Stirling in Central Scotland will host a number of exciting events that will recreate and commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant victory for the Scots in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Here you will see extraordinary re-enactments choreographed by Clanranald, known for their work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator and Thor II. Walk amidst interactive medieval encampments of 14th century Scotland; kitchens, blacksmiths and armouries with a real feel of the excitement before the great battle. There will also be hundreds of tartan clad pipers, drummers and Highland dancers providing a real Scottish atmosphere.

Edinburgh

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Edinburgh will once again be at the heart of cultural activity and festivals by running the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. There will be a number of activities to choose from revolving around music, books, art, traditional storytelling, comedy shows and much more.  The annual festival is truly the peak of this artistic gathering and outpouring, and the sweet dish at the end this feast of performing arts will be a spectacular fireworks display at the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The Fringe Festival runs between 01 – 25 August 2014.

Of course there is more to Edinburgh than all the arty stuff.  Not far away from the city are the fabulous Highlands of Glencoe and the legendary Loch Ness – if you are the sporty type, you might even consider taking part in the popular Loch Ness marathon.

Whisky

Homecoming Scotland 2014 will be big on celebrating and imbibing the uisge beatha (water of life).  World Whisky Day will no doubt be a very spirited affair while there will be month-long celebration at the Spirit of Speyside Festival (1 – 5 May 2014), and also at The Islay Music and Malt Festival (23 May – 1 Jun 2014).  There will be eating aplenty too at farmers’ markets and food festivals, all inevitably washed down with a wee dram of good Scottish whisky or draft beer. If you want to combine the beauty of the highlands with a tipple or two, you could take a day tour exploring the best of both worlds. 

Nature

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Beyond Scotland’s cultural and gastronomical fame, are its natural and scenic wonders made famous in song, verse and painting throughout centuries. The Scottish landscape is one of the most dramatic in the world with rugged mountain peaks, thousands of miles of coastline, fairy-tale forests and glens populated by thriving wildlife and plants.  Majestic deer and vast colonies of seabirds have made Scotland their home, and a trip up the spectacular highlands is an unforgettable experience.

Scotland is a place of ancient legends, grand scenery, amazing people, a unique and rich culture and producer of great minds that will be well represented in all the events of Homecoming Scotland 2014. If you’re still hungry for more Scottish wonders in 2014, take a look at our offering, from sightseeing tours to ghostly walks in the eerie Edinburgh vaults to touring the wonderful highlands.

For more information on Homecoming Scotland 2014, go to Visit Scotland.

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The Sun is Shining on Brazil

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The title may sound rhetorical.  The very mention of the name Brazil and sunshine springs to mind.  During the coming year it will be very much in the global limelight.

Three of the world’s largest events are due to be held in Brazil.  In a few days the Rio Carnival will begin.  The FIFA World Cup 2014 will kick off in a few months from now – in June to be precise.  This will ensure that thousands of football fans from around the world will pack the stadiums and beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  Barely will the dust and excitement have settled when the 2016 Olympics will put Brazil right back on the world’s front pages.

football

Brazil is a large country stretching roughly 4,800kms from north to south and 2,700km from west to east.  This is a vast country of golden beaches, lengthy stretches of ocean front, towering mountains and millions of acres of jungle.  Her boundaries cover an amazing array of geographical features that can be broadly categorised as the Amazon River Basin in the north and the Brazilian Highlands in the south.  The mighty Amazon, and its tributaries, serve more than a third of this area, which is so large that ocean-going ships can travel 3,700kms upstream.

The other watery aspect to Brazil is its coastline that runs for about 7,500kms.  This is probably the most popular and well-known feature of the country.  The indigenous Tupi-Gurani Indians call Brazil “Pindorama,” which aptly means “land of the palm trees.

While Brazil’s naturally diverse landscape is rich and varied, it is her beaches that make it such an attractive and magnetic tourist destination.  These sunny, sandy havens can be found the length of the country but it is the south-central regions that have the most famous and highly visited beaches including the legendary Copacabana.

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Copacabana is located in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  Its beautiful sands extend for miles.  However, it is the 4km stretch known as the ‘balneiro’ that is world famous because of its hedonistic and totally relaxed social traditions.  That, by the way, is only the day to day feature of this amazing beach.

Rio de Janeiro and by association Copacabana celebrates New Year every year in the most sensational way.  It is among the largest in the world.  The fireworks display runs for almost half an hour, while the revelry involving music and dancing can continue till well past dawn.  In fact, the spectacle bringing in the New Year is the single largest Brazilian attraction.  It is estimated that more than 2 million people from Brazil and all over the world pack the sands during that night.

Another massive event is the Rio Carnival.  This flamboyant, colour splashed, over the top six-day party brings the whole city (and country) to a standstill.  From 28th February to 4th March nearly 5 million people will watch, dance and sing through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.  These huge displays of fantasy played out on the streets are fuelled by time, effort and money.  So large has the event become that it is probably “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

carnival

The Copacabana is not the only attraction in Rio de Janeiro.  There is also the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Christ Statute (one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World) and numerous historic parts of the city.

A visit to Rio de Janeiro is always a high-spirited affair.  It is also stunningly beautiful and full of contradictions.  Rio de Janeiro is a captivating city and worth every moment spent in discovering it.

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The Year of the Horse Gallops into London

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This Chinese New Year will come galloping in.  The celebration for the Year of the Horse in London is slated to be as bright, noisy and happy as anywhere in the world.  London is reputed to host the largest celebrations marking the Chinese Lunar New Year outside Asia.

In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan the festivities and rituals carry on over a period of 15 days.  In London, however, it will be restricted to the weekend.  2nd February will be the highpoint and main day for celebrations.   The Chinese community and many others too will be celebrating just as vigorously.

Chinese new yearOfficially the celebrations will kick off around noon at Trafalgar Square.  It will be followed by several performances involving acrobatic troupes and traditional dancers from China.  Local artists will perform at a number of sets at a venue on Shaftesbury Avenue.

The West End too will put on a show as befitting its status.  In fact the New Year Parade, led by the Lucky Money God will start here at 10am.  It will then wind its way through the theatre district, down Charing Cross Road before arriving at Trafalgar Square for the official opening.

Chinatown, which stretches from Shaftesbury Avenue to the area around Gerrard Street and includes a part of Soho, will be the main focus of the celebrations.  There will be traditional Horse themed decorations, crafts and food stalls, plenty of dancing drumming and classical Chinese music.  One of the treats will be watching the dragon dancers making their way past the crowds on the streets.  Fireworks!  There are going to be plenty of those and lots of bangs to go along with them.chinatown london

Like the previous years, several thousands will turn up to watch the many events and participate in the numerous parties at the roughly 100 bars, restaurants and cafes in Chinatown.  Of course there will be plenty of delicious food to sample as the restaurants come up with special menus.

Not to be left out, Madame Tussauds will be lighting up the building in lucky red and festooning it with traditional Chinese decorations.  Among the likenesses of Chinese celebrities will be those of martial arts legends, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.  They have been specially brought in from Shanghai and Hong Kong for the New Year celebrations and will remain in London till April.

Joining in the New Year celebrations, the British Film Institute will be casting the spotlight on Chinese cinema by showing over 80 films.  This is part of an extended four month China season and will feature director Feng Xiaogang, China’s Steven Spielberg.

Besides the above, there will be plenty to see and do over this Chinese New Year weekend in London.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Millions of Americans are set to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on November 28th this year. The festival marks homecoming for many who come together to share this holiday with their families. A hearty thanksgiving dinner of roasted turkey, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, green beans, carrots and pumpkin pie is shared with loved ones. It is the time when families thank the Lord for what they have and remember their ancestors for providing them with bountiful harvest.

Thanksgiving DayIn 1621, the European settlers and Native Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For later generations of Colonists, Thanksgiving was more of a religious holiday descended from Puritan days of fasting, prayer and giving thanks to God. The Governor of each colony every year would declare certain days of Thanksgiving for plentiful harvests, victorious battles and timely rains. In 1777, George Washington decreed a national day of Thanksgiving to celebrate America's victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga. By the 19th century, every state was celebrating the holiday with varying dates and months. Soon writer Sarah Josepha Hale began a one woman letter writing campaign, urging politicians to establish an annual day of Thanksgiving to help the country heading towards strife and Civil War. In 1863, her efforts were rewarded when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be the Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving has now became a welcome day of leisure from a six day work week. Some people have a four-day weekend so it is a popular time for trips and to visit family and friends. Thanksgiving day football game, celebratory parades and early Christmas shopping have since become part of this great American tradition.

Thanksgiving paradeWatching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has become a beloved Thansgiving custom for New Yorkers and outsiders who come to witness this grand spectacle. This annual extravaganza has over 3.5 million people attending the parade along the parade route, and over 50 million people watching it on television. The parade works its way through the 2.5 mile route in Manhattan from Central Park West to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. This year's line-up will see family favorites such as Hello Kitty, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Spider Man, Ronald McDonald, Pillsbury Doughboy, Pikachu, Buzz Lightyear, Smurf, SpongeBob and others. Giant baseballs, stars, pumpkins, and candy canes will be among the novelty balloons. Floats will include Santa's Sleigh, True Spirit of Thanksgiving and Winter Wonderland in Central Park. The line-up of music performances include Carrie Underwood, Ariana Grade, Gavin Degraw and Fall Out Boy among many others.

We wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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In search of Père Noël – Christmas in Paris

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During the coldest, darkest winter months it’s often the wonderful thought and anticipation of Christmas that encourages most of us to bravely battle the nasty breeze, sleet and sub-zero temperatures. When Christmas lights and displays pop up across the cities of Europe, one can’t help but feel the build-up of festive cheer and excitement. And during this dark time of year the best place to be is of course the City of Light, where you can soak up the glow of seasonal activities. Paris is chock-full of yuletide activities and makes for a wonderful destination even if you're not too into busy Christmas markets and carol singers. Take a look below at the best things to do if you're spending Christmas in Paris.

Christmas Lights and Displays

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Image by Nicholas Jones

A 2km stretch of the iconic Champs-Élysées is lit up with dozens of lights leading up to the Arc de Triomphe. The 200 trees that are drenched in light will stay lit until 2:00am each day, and all night on December 31st in celebration of the new year.

The many boutiques and shops that line Champs-Élysées are decorated with festive displays, lights and trees. Stop by at the traditional Christmas market for a cup of mulled wine and a bit of shopping. Don’t miss the stupendous Galeries Lafayette department store: from the outside you can marvel at the ever-changing light show the wonderfully magical window displays, dedicated this year to the theme of The Beauty and the Beast. Be sure to check out the Printemps store as well.

Other noteworthy spots with twinkling lights are Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde, where you will also find the Paris Big Wheel.

Ice Skating

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Image by Olivier Bruchez

Donning a pair of skates and heading to the rink is a winter favourite, especially among kids.
Patinoire de L’Hôtel de Ville is situated right in front of the city hall and is the most popular (and busiest) rink in the city. If your skating skills are a bit rusty, fear not, the huge rink includes a smaller area for beginners and children – and there are even instructors at hand to help you perfect your technique.

Patinoire des Cinq Continents at Champs-Élysées, right in the middle of the liveliest Christmas shenanignas. This year the rink takes its inspiration from the five continents of the world by featuring over 300 animated pandas, deer, wolves, polar bears and other critters in its ice garden.

If you want to skate under the watchful eye of the Eiffel Tower, you can do so at the Trocadero Square rink where you will also find a Christmas village and a snow garden.

Cultural Events

There are many things to do in Paris besides the obvious Christmas activities, from shows to art exhibitions.

For scenes straight out of a storybook, catch the legendary Sleeping Beauty (La Belle au bois dormant) ballet at the Opéra Bastille, or the Beauty and the Beast musical at Théâtre Mogador.

For thrills and wondrous excitement, go to one of the latest circus shows: Cirque BouglioneCirque Pinder or Cirque National Alexis Gruss. For something out of this world, you can experience Kooza, the new show by Cirque du Soleil. Whatever your choice, prepare for an evening of fantastical characters, colours, sounds and mind-boggling feats and tricks.

Art lovers will appreciate the many exhibitions taking place, most of which run until the end of January. See the works of Frida Kahlo at the Musee de l’Orangerie, Goya at the Pinacotheque and Braque at the Grand Palais

Quirky

Christophe Alary Musee

Image by Christophe Alary

Enter the bizarre, mysterious world of carnivals of the bygone era at Musée des Arts Forains, also known as The Fun Fair Museum. The museum is located in Bercy, a disctrict once used by Parisian wine merchants, where you can see rows and rows of warehouses with rails running down the lanes for transportation of the barrels. The museum is usually only open with prior reservation, but opens to the general public during Christmas. The collection includes merry-go-rounds and carousels, Japanese billiards and much more dating all the way back to 1850.

Still unsure of what to do in Paris? Take a look at the tours we offer in this beautiful city!

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Halloween – A New Orleans Speciality

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As the days grow shorter, the nights longer and the season of mist rolls in, it is time for the ghosts, ghouls and other scary creatures to begin their annual visits through the streets of the living.  It is the time of superstitions; keeping vigil for passing spirits and performing rituals that ward off the ‘ha’ants.’  In other words it is Halloween!

Shortened from “All Hallows’ Eve,” Halloween is one of the western world’s oldest festivals.  Derived from an ancient pagan Celtic festival it was surreptitiously incorporated into the Christian Calendar.  It marks a series of special religious ceremonies to prepare the people for a feast to honour the saints – Hallowmas.

Halloween made its way to North America after the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 drove more than two million Irish to the New World.  They brought with them Halloween and the fun and games that go along with it.  Children would play "knock-a-dolly," a prank in which they would knock on the doors of their neighbours, but run away before the door is opened.  A traditional delicacy barmbrack, a type of fruitcake, would be made and eaten.

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In the US some of the traditions underwent changes and “knock-a-dolly” morphed into “trick-or-treating” for candy.  During the 1930s the practice of dressing up as witches, scarecrows, mummies and vampires was the norm. In the 1950s decorating front yards and houses with lights and carved pumpkin lanterns became common. Get-togethers with family and friends turned into raucous parties.

Commercialisation has played a large part in many of these changes.  There is a whole industry devoted to making costumes and creating Halloween themes for children’s parties.  Halloween is now a roughly 7 billion dollar industry making it the second largest festival in the US of A.  Local department stores and businesses host parties with games for the whole family and throw in treats for kids as part of their effort to boost sales.

While Halloween is a big event all across the US (second only to Christmas when it comes to holidays), it seems to me that the city of New Orleans has imbued it with a spirit of its own.  Perhaps it has something to do with the well-earned reputation for being the most haunted city in the country.

Whatever the reasons, Halloween in New Orleans is now the second biggest party of the year after Mardi Gras. The city has turned Halloween into a weekend long festival of street parades and costume extravaganzas.  If you are in New Orleans for Halloween don’t be surprised if you bump into ghastly creatures like vampires, witches or comic superheroes of all ages, sizes and genders wandering around the streets – day and night.

There are plenty of voodoo and costume shops around so you can pick up the accessories that you need to get into your creepiest mood.  To really get into the spirit of Halloween in New Orleans you might want to start by taking one of several organised haunted tours.

These ghostly walking tours take you to spooky cemeteries and haunted houses in the Garden District and places where ghosts have been sighted and other supernatural activity reported.  They take you through the French Quarter, which boasts of being the most haunted part of the city.  In the heart of the Quarter on Royal Street is the La Laurie House, reputeduly the most haunted house in the area. This is where the monstrous Madame LaLaurie tortured and killed her slaves before fleeing to Paris. 

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New Orleans even has an Official Halloween Parade in the French Quarter, which is renowned for wild times, innovative themes and fantastic floats and costumes. This year promises to be even more visually stunning and unrestrained making New Orleans THE destination for Halloween shenanigans.

Halloween night in 2013 falls on October 31, a Thursday, so all the action will take place the preceding weekend.

See all tours in New Orleans.

 

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Oktoberfest 2013

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The halls will be alive to the clink of glasses and sound of polka music!  Oktoberfest has rolled around again.  A time for binge beer drinking, when, those fateful words, "O'zapft is!" – "It's tapped!" uttered by the Mayor of Munich heralds the start to the festivities.

Despite the global economic gloom millions of people from around the world have decided to pour into Munich (and other parts of Bavaria, Germany) to take part in the world’s biggest beer guzzling party.

Oktoberfest-2013What began as a horse-race in 1810, with a bit of beer on the side, has turned into an annual bash lasting for as long as 16 or 17 days and become a Bavarian cultural thing.  It has also become the inspiration for similar events in cities across the world.

You would be justified in being puzzled about the fact that Oktoberfest begins in September.  It has a very practical reason.  October can be rather cold in Germany with the possibility of snowfall.  September is much nicer but the last weekend of the festival always ends on the first Sunday of October.

Just in case, you cannot figure out where the party is happening – head for Munich’s city centre.  The festival is held in a large open field called Theresienwiese (meaning Therese’s meadow) occupied by several brightly coloured tents.  The oldest, largest and central one is known as the Schottenhamel Tent where the traditional opening ceremony, which is the tapping of the Oktoberfest beer barrel, takes place.  Another important tent is the Hippodrom.

The Oktoberfest is not just about downing beers, there is plenty of traditional food to be had.  Here is a list of the dishes you can get your teeth into:  Hendl (chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezeln (pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

Besides the food (and beer) there are plenty of parades including the really impressive and colourful Costume and Riflemen’s Parade and the Gay Parade.  There are also thrilling rides, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, plenty of music and yodelling!

While all this is going on you have to watch out for those youngsters who overestimate their capacity for the festival beer.  The locals have a name for these types bierleiche – beer corpse! The beer served during Oktoberfest is at least 1 to 2 percent stronger than the usual fare.

Have a great time at the Oktoberfest in Munich!


Events Schedule

Saturday :    21.09.13    11 a.m.      A parade through Munich.
Saturday :    21.09.13    12 p.m.      Tapping of the first Oktoberfest-beer-barrel by the Munich mayor in the Schottenhamel Tent.
Sunday :    22.09.13    10 a.m.        Traditional costume parade through Munich.
Monday :    23.09.13    12.00 p.m.   Oktoberfest tour for 1200 preschool children, invited by the City of Munich. Special lunch for senior citizens in the big tents.
Tuesday :    24.09.13    12 p.m.-6 p.m.    Family day: all rides and performances cost less.
Thursday :    26.09.13    10 a.m.    Traditional religious Oktoberfest mass in the Hippodrom tent.
Sunday :    29.09.13    11 a.m.    Traditional concert of the Oktoberfest brass-bands around the Bavaria monument.
Tuesday :    01.10.13    12 p.m.-6 p.m.    Family day: all rides and performances cost less.
Thursday :    03.10.13    12 p.m.       Senior showman meeting in the Hippodrom tent.
Sunday :    06.10.13    12 p.m.    Traditional gun-salute on the steps of the Bavaria monument.


Serving Hours in the Beer Tents:
Weekdays: 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Weekends and Holidays: 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Daily Beer Tent Closing Time: 11:30 p.m.

Exception: "Käfer Wiesn-Schänke" and the "Wine Tent" stay open until 1:00 a.m.

 

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La Tomatina, Buñol – A Sanctioned Tomato War

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Buñol is a small, quiet town about 38kms from the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Valencia.  It has a population of about 9,000 souls.  Every year on the last Wednesday in August it goes crazy with an influx of mainly British, French, German and Spanish tourists who come to indulge in a tomato fight of epic proportions.  This year the tomato-fest is on the 28th of August.

The tomato fight started in 1945 when a group of young men were not allowed to participate in the local festivities, which involved costumed figures of gigantes y cabezudos, or “Giants and Big-Heads.”  They staged an impromptu tomato fight in the Plaza del Pueblo.  This was instantaneously popular; repeated the next year and has been carried on till today becoming a traditional, free-for-all, fun sport with an international flavour and participation.

In 1980 it became an official event with the local authorities organising the spectacle. In 2012, about 40 tonnes of tomatoes were trucked in from the Extremadura region as ammunition for the festivities.  La Tomatina has even acquired religious sanction.  The tomato throwing is now done to honour San Luis Bertrán and the Mother of God of the Defenceless (Mare de Deu dels Desemparats- another attribute of the Virgin Mary), patrons of the city of Buñol.

La Tomatino begins at 10am, with a greasy, two-storey pole climb.  The pole is coated with soap and a ham tied to the top.  Whoever reaches the ham gets to keep it!  As the climbers attempt to slither up to the prize, the crowd sings and dances, all the while being showered with water.  Once the ham prize has been acquired, the tomato fight begins, signalled by a loud shot.

That is the ideal situation but most times it takes too long to get to the ham, sometimes not at all.  So the fun part – throwing the tomatoes – begins regardless.  There are no teams and each man has to fight his own tomato battle.  The pandemonium lasts for an hour when another loud shot is fired to signal the cessation of the tomato war.

By this time the whole town square is a gory, pulpy scarlet and so are the participants, of course.  Fire trucks shower the players and the streets to remove the tomato paste.  A side effect of the festivities is that the cobblestones in the square and surrounding streets become spotlessly clean because of the tomatoes’ acidity!

You would think that indulging in the messy pleasure of throwing tomatoes would be a simple affair.  Well think again.  There are rules, instructions rather.  They are:

  • The tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.
  • No other objects except tomatoes are allowed.
  • Participants have to give way to the trucks.
  • The festival doesn't allow ripping off T-shirts.  (This one is seldom adhered to.   The players will often tear each others’ shirts off – man or woman.)
  • After the second shot signalling the end of the tomato battle, no tomatoes should be thrown.

Here are couple of tips when going into this purée making battle.  One is – wear goggles to protect your eyes or take a cloth to keep them clean.  The other is – for heaven’s sake; don’t take your camera in to the square.

Last year some 50,000 people showed up for the festival.  That was a tad too many for the limited confines of the square.  So this year (2013) the town authorities have limited the number of entrants to 20,000 people and are issuing entry tickets to the square.  The town residents get 5,000, while outsiders get 15,000.

The tickets are not free, of course!  They will cost €10 each.  Tickets can only be bought online from the town’s official website.  The ticket will take the form of a wristband.

I wonder if a few rebellious souls will stage a parallel red war to protest the regulations and limitations placed on them.  Will 1945 repeat itself?

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Touring the Sistine Chapel in Rome

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The Sistine Chapel is probably the single most impressive, influential and famous art-filled room in the whole world.  Intended to be the private chapel of a pope, the whole world now comes to worship at this altar of artistic creativity.  It also serves as the election room of new popes.

Sistine ChapelThe building and the painting of the Sistine Chapel was completed in three major phases.  The first was the building and wall painting phase.  Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV (of the della Rovere family) it took about eight years (1475 to 1483) to complete.  It was consecrated and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August 1483.  The architect was Baccio Pontelli and the construction was supervised by Giovannino de'Dolci.

In 1481, while the chapel was still being constructed, Pope Sixtus IV brought in several great Florentine artists to paint the walls.  They were Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, Pinturicchio and Bartolomeo della Gatta.  They took only eleven months to complete their commission.

The walls are divided into three horizontal sections.  The uppermost comprises of pilasters that support the vault.  The middle section (or order) tells two stories from the bible.  The left wall relates the life of Moses while the right wall tells the life of Christ.  At ceremonial occasions the lowest portions of the side walls are covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515-19 at Brussels.

There are six windows on the long walls.  Between each window is a niche with painted images of the first popes – Peter to Marcellus – who were all martyred.  A beautiful and delicately carved marble screen, with an inset wooden door, divides the presbytery from the nave.  The screen is the work of three sculptors – Mino da Fiesole, Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata.  The screen used to divide the chapel into two equal parts but was moved making the presbytery much larger.  The floor is a marble mosaic beautiful in workmanship and design.

The second phase saw the introduction of Michelangelo.  In 1508 Pope Julius II (a ‘nephew’ of Sixtus IV) wanted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel repainted.  The ceiling was originally frescoed by Piero Matteo d'Amelia with a star-spangled sky in 1481.

He had originally called upon Raphael (a passionate enemy of Michelangelo) to take up the project but he refused.  Instead he suggested Michelangelo’s name in an attempt to discredit him knowing Michelangelo was a sculptor and not a painter.  Raphael created one of art history’s greatest gaffes.

Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from 1508 to 1512.  What he created has become a beacon of art throughout the world.  He demonstrated control and understanding of detail, proportion, colour, texture, form and an unmatched originality that has illuminated the world – let alone art.  He brought perfection to reality.  The Sistine Chapel is a display of one man’s incredible creative genius.

The pope wanted paintings of the 12 Apostles.  Michelangelo dismissed the idea as a “poor thing”.  Thank heavens for his courage and ‘artistic licence and integrity’ or we would not have the most amazing works in the history of Western art.  Instead what Michelangelo painted were stories from the Book of Genesis – from the Creation to the story of Noah.

This phase of Michelangelo’s work included the incomparable and stunningly daring fresco, the Creation of Adam.  Michelangelo’s portrayal of God as a muscular figure with long white hair and big white beard is the one many of us, today, picture him to be.  In earlier works God was represented only as a hand reaching down through the clouds.

The near touching of God and Adam’s hands is one of the most replicated, parodied and iconic images of the world.  It also goes against the common perception of God breathing life into Adam.  Michelangelo also shows Adam with a ‘navel.’  Other departures are the serpent in Eden depicted with a woman’s head; the forbidden fruit is a fig and not the commonly accepted ‘apple.’

To paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo built his own platform, extending over half the chapel area.  It allowed him to stand upright (Sorry! He did not paint it on his back).  However, it denied him the possibility of viewing his work from the floor.  Despite that he painted huge scale figures from a distance of only a few inches.

Twenty-eight years later Michelangelo was back.  This time it was Pope Clement VII who commissioned him.  Shortly after Pope Clement died and was succeed by Pope Paul III who pushed the artist to quickly finish the fresco.  In this phase Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the altar wall – the largest fresco of the century.  He started work in 1535 and finished it in 1541.

Winding staircase in the Sistine ChapelEven if Michelangelo had not created what he did in the Sistine Chapel, it would still be a room filled with an extraordinary collection of masterpieces.  From this single room emanates more creativity, beauty and inspiration (artistic and religious) than any other collection of art anywhere.

Despite its amazing fame there is nothing outstanding about the Sistine Chapel’s architectural features.  Its dimensions are based on that of the Temple of Solomon as detailed in the Old Testament.  It is 40.93 metres long, 13.41 metres wide and 20.70 metres high.  The roof is barrel-vaulted.  The exterior is a remarkably bare brick-walled edifice with no ostentatious embellishments, sculptures or carvings.  There is no grand entrance door.  Entrance to the Sistine Chapel can only be made from within the Papal Palace.

Visitors today are blessed because what they view is the restored and cleaned frescos, which took about 30 (1965 to 1994) years to accomplish.

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Tomorrowland Music Festival 2013, Belgium

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Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland is a massive electronic music festival that occurs in the town of Boom, Belgium, since 2005. Organised by ID&T, Entertainment and Media Enterprise, this 3-day music festival – described ‘A trippy technicolour fantasy’ – is amongst the biggest electronic and dance festivals in Europe. You’ll have the world’s biggest DJs playing to the world’s best crowd in this fest.

Decoration and Stages
Each year, the organisers invest a lot of money and manpower decorating the festival area that contributes to the total Tomorrowland experience. The artistry of the decor is as much of an event in itself.

Tomorrowland has close to 20 stages – each designed to suit the personality of the artists. It also has lots of lakes and trees, with a ride on the paddle boats a popular choice.

Tomorrowland 2013
This year’s festival will take place from 26–29 July, 2013 at De Schorre National Park in Boom, Belgium.

Fifteen stages cover all genres of dance music, in an astonishing main-stage set-up.

Line-ups for this year include: Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Carl Cox, Sebastian Ingrosso, Fedde le Grand, Avicii, Steve Aoki, Hardwell, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Nervo Twins, Headhunterz, Arty, Markus Schulz.

Official Anthem

Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike have officially released the anthem for this year's festival, "Chattahoochee," named after the TomorrowWorld site in Chattahoochee Hills, GA.

Tickets

Tickets for the 3-day full madness cost €198.50 this year. Each ticket comes with a special bracelet that’ll allow you into the festival. Make sure you get the correct one.

To purchase the ticket, you’ll need your passport details; which, security verifies at the gate that they match with those given when purchasing the tickets.

There is VIP Comfort Pass that allows access to the raised viewing platforms. Also remember, this is an 18+ event.

Opening Hours

• Friday 26 July 2013: 12:00 till 01:00
• Saturday 27 July 2013: 12:00 till 01:00
• Sunday 28 July 2013: 12:00 till 01:00

Little Trivia about the Festival

• Ticket Sell Out Times: (2013: 1 Second; 2012: within the hour).

• The festival was intended to be Europe’s answer to the amusement park setting of America’s popular Electric Daisy Carnival when it started in 2005.

• Tomorrowland is run by the Dutch event and entertainment company ID&T — the largest dance music company in the Netherlands.

• The festival has won many awards including “Best European Festival” and “Best Belgian Summer Festival” as well as being nominated for “Best Global Festival”. At the 2012 European Festival Awards the event won ‘Best Major Festival’.

• The 2012 festival welcomed 180,000 revellers who all safely returned to 75 different countries, with the live stream clocking up 7,933,661 views.

Believe us; you don’t want to miss this festival for the world! Let the MADNESS begin!

 

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