Spring brings a bevy of unique and often bizarre events to the world stage. Some are ancient, others are cutting edge modern, but they all offer visitors an opportunity to interact with local communities and enjoy their local customs, food, entertainment and culture.
Beer Day, Reykjavik, Iceland -- March 1, 2008
Prohibition wasn't just an American phenomenon. In Iceland, it took three quarters of a century for everyone's favorite brew to get back on the bar drinking menu and believe it or not, that wasn't until 1989. Beer Day in Iceland marks the abolition of a 75-year ban on the sale of beer. To celebrate, the people of Reykjavik take to the bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs throughout the city to revel in the fact that they can now legally drink beer and pay through the nose for the honor (according to beer bible website www.pintprice.com, indulging in an ale could cost you upwards of $17 for a pint in Reykjavik). A "runtur" or bar crawl is the most popular way of getting to visit as many bars as possible in a short time, and although bars and nightclubs are open until 4am that day, you may have to settle for only drinking in a small percentage of venues. To save a few Euros, try the local Icelandic beers like Egils Premium (the highest alcohol content), Litli-Jon, Kaldi, Viking Gylltur, Thule and Ice Bjor.
Elephant Festival and Jaipur Holi Festival, Jaipur, India -- March 21 and 22, 2008
The Rajasthan capital of Jaipur hosts two days of festivities each March to celebrate their native grand animal -- the elephant -- and the coming of spring with color. The modern Elephant Festival, Hastimangala, is an adaptation of a traditional royal celebration. It features an elaborate procession of thousands of ornately decorated and designed pachyderms at the city's Chaugan showgrounds. The elephants are involved in competitions, races, displays of strength, man versus beast tugs of war, polo matches, and on the following day, are one of the main attractions in the spring festival of Holi -- the festival of color. This day sees locals throwing colored water, paint and powder of each other, making a huge mess but having a lot of fun. Dancers fill the streets, musicians play instruments and sing traditional folk songs to welcome the season. Even the elephants get in on the act, being adorned with brightly colored paints. For more information, visit www.jaipur.org.uk/fairs-festivals/elephant-festival.html.
Altitude Festival, Meribel, France -- April 5 to 20, 2008
Not that you need an added incentive to hit the slopes at one of France's best ski resorts, but for two weeks during the gorgeous spring skiing season, Meribel hosts Europe's largest alpine festival. Ski all day and be entertained all night with hundreds of comedy and music acts from France, Great Britain, USA and Canada. Performances are held in theaters, outdoors, on ice rinks, and in some of the resorts' best bars and nightclubs. This is the festival's fifth year and alongside evening activities there are plenty of on-slope activities and displays by professionals including big air competitions, boarder cross, slope style snowboard acrobatics, grand slalom, half-pipe, snowball fights, three legged ski races and even sky diving displays. The Altitude Festival goes green this year to raise funds for World Wildlife Fund and increase awareness of global warming by make the festival carbon neutral, offsetting all performers' travel costs and by holding a tree-planting weekend after the festival. €2 from every ticket sold at the festival will be donated to the WWF. For more information, visit www.altitudefestival.com/en/index.php.
Ether Festival, Southbank Centre, London, England -- April 18 to 28, 2008
Southbank Centre has a reputation for producing cutting-edge and experimental arts installations and events. Ether is a festival of art, music, film screenings and technology with a strong emphasis on collaborations and visual culture. Many of the events are free including the two-day 2008 International Beatbox Convention and International Beatboxing Showcase -- with seminars, talks, participatory workshops and open mic sessions; and Unknown Devices, an orchestral union with members of the London Sinfonietta, students from the Royal College of Music and electronic artists from London College of Communication, with visuals from VJ artist Pablo Fiasco. For other events, ticket prices range from $15 to $69 for individual performances and sessions. For more information, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk/festivals-series/ether.
Bun Festival, Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong -- 12 May 2008
We all love a bit of dim sum, but the residents of Cheung Chau, Hong Kong's largest fishing island take this food fascination to a new extreme with the world's only festival dedicated to the bun. Each May, the people of the island eat a vegetarian diet for three days prior to the main procession, when 50-foot-high decorated bamboo towers are erected in front of the Pak Tai temple and adorned with thousands of steaming buns as an offering to the ancient Chinese spirits. The buns are thought to ensure safe passage for their fishing boats and bring bountiful catches. This Taoist ritual can be traced to the origins of the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century. Apart from buns for the gods, there are plenty of buns for everyone to eat, plus processions of lion and dragon dancers, and strangely, children dressed as mythological heroes suspended above the crowds on the tips of swords and paper fans (but secured with harnesses that are difficult to see -- so they appear to be floating). The festivities culminate at midnight with the burning of a paper effigy of the King of Ghosts, the lighting of giant incense sticks and the distribution of buns. For more information, visit www.cheungchau.org.
Tadau Kaamatan, Sabah (Borneo), Malaysia -- May 30 to 31, 2008
Tadau Kaamatan is a harvest festival celebrated by Sabah's largest ethnic group, the Kadazandusun and Murut communities. Thanksgiving gatherings are held in honor of Bambaazon, the god of the rice paddy, where locals, led by the high priestess, pray for an abundant harvest. Highlights of the celebrations include the drinking of rice wine (tuak), the preparation of delicious ethnic cuisine and displays of customary dances in the streets and temples. There is also buffalo racing and a Harvest Queen (Unduk Ngadau) beauty pageant. Local beauty pageants are organized in each village in Sabah with women dressing up in traditional costumes and adorning themselves with jewelry. The best place to witness the celebrations is in the district of Penampang, where visitors can experience true Kadazandusun culture with local folksingers, regional dancing, feasts and the playing of unique games. For more information, visit www.sabahtourism.com.
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