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Five Festivals Not To Miss

From beer to blooms, there’s a party going on somewhere in Europe.

Exotic costumes, men running from charging bulls, royal pageantry, colorful flowers and loads of beer are the main attractions that bring visitors back to five top festivals year after year. On the short list: Munich’s Oktoberfest, Venice’s Carnival, Holland’s Keukenhof, London’s Trooping the Colour and Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. Whatever your taste, these events are popular because they have a lot to offer.

Munich’s Oktoberfest

Munich’s Oktoberfest is the largest public festival in the world. The roots of Oktoberfest date back to Oct. 12, 1810, when Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the celebrations to mark the royal event. The festivities were so popular that it was repeated the following year, thus giving rise to today’s annual bash.

Oktoberfest, officially begins when the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg and states, “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!). With that announcement, it doesn’t take long before the traditional beer tents, each with a seating capacity of 5,000 or more, and the 40+ smaller beer, wine and coffee houses begin to fill. In between the tents are rides of all kinds, from bumper cars to roller coasters, topped off by a Ferris wheel that provides the best view of the entire festival grounds – equivalent to 50 football fields – and Munich itself.

There are many events offered during the celebration including the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, the Folklore International show, the outdoor Oktoberfest Music concert and, once a week, Family Day with reduced ride rates.

The Hofbräu Tent is the party tent and in all but the Hofbräu Tent, you are required to be seated when ordering a beer. Of course, this doesn’t mean you must stay seated, and most do not. Do not wear any clothing that you are too attached to. It is very likely that at some point in the evening beer will be spilled on you. Each year, around 6 million visitors drink roughly 6 million liters of beer and consume over 200,000 pairs of pork sausages. More information about Oktoberfest can be obtained by visiting and Often you hear that Oktoberfest is overcrowded and touristy, but isn’t the idea to share a good thing? To try and explain the Oktoberfest experience with words, I use a statement a friend made about his adventures: “It was absolutely the most fun I have ever had. Ever!”

Carnival in Venice

During Venice’s Carnival the seriousness and difficulties of everyday life are abandoned and people put on a mask to become ‘someone else’. Many merrymakers dress in full costume, some as Commedia Dell’Arte characters such as Pantalone, some in the traditional bauta (white mask) with tabarro (short cape) and famous black cocked hat and others in more exotic, elaborate creations that only come to you in dreams. Many times what appeared to me to be a woman in a formal gown was actually a man in drag. Much of my excitement of Carnival was seeing and photographing the many costumes.

Carnival’s nightly boat parade, magnificent fireworks display and celebrations are an experience like no other. Cultural events such as performances of Commedia dell’Arte theatre, operas and grand balls are also commonplace during this time.

Carnival may not be the most cost effective time to take a gondola ride. We opted, instead, for a sunset tour around the island in one of the many sleek, wooden water taxis. The ride explored the Grand Canal through the heart of the island, lasted about 50 minutes and cost a total of about $80 for five people. The tour was not guided and our driver did not speak English but the sights were nonetheless breathtaking.

If you plan on attending next year’s Carnival, make your hotel reservations far in advance. The web sites, and, provide helpful information about Venice and its Carnival.

My memories of Venice’s city squares bubbling over in celebration and the light of the fireworks reflecting in the canals will last a lifetime.

Trooping the Colour

The Trooping the Colour ceremony, the official celebration of the Queen’s birthday, is your chance to see how the ‘other half’ lives. The ceremony is complete with all the pomp and pageantry the Royal Family of England could offer.

The ceremony, started in the 18th century, originates from the military custom of trooping (parading) a regiment’s flag in front of the troops so that they were familiar with the colour (flag) that they were fighting under during battle. Usually held in June, the parade celebrates the Sovereign’s official birthday, even though the Queen was born on April 21st.

The ceremony is held on the Horse Guards Parade and is carried out by fully trained and operational troops. After the ceremony, the Queen heads her Guards to Buckingham Palace where she takes the final salute. The affair is a whoπs who of the Royal Family and of VIPs from around the world. It is an event where the English revel in their country’s unique royalty.

Tickets are allocated by ballot and are difficult to get. Without tickets, you can view the parade as it passes along the Mall. If you plan on attending, arrive early to stake out a good spot and expect to be joined by thousands of others. If you cannot tolerate the crowds and donπt mind not seeing the Queen, you can watch the rehearsals on the two Saturdays that precede the actual ceremony.

For more information about applying for seats for the main parade or for the rehearsals call in England +(44) 20 7414 2479 or visit

Attending the Trooping of Colour, is to witness hundreds of years of tradition, elegance and grandeur presented in a respectable fashion unique to England.

Keukenhof: Holland in Bloom

In the spring, from March to May, Keukenhof becomes the flower attraction of Holland, and possibly the world. Each year the garden transforms into a vast sea of colors from the millions of blooming tulips, crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils.
The flower garden of Keukenhof was started in 1949 as a method of presentation that allowed consumers to see the wide range of flower bulbs available for purchase. In the first year the Keukenhof was open, more than 236,000 people visited the flower garden. In recent times, the number of annual visitors has grown to almost 900,000, ensuring that Keukenhof is one of the top three most photographed sights in the world.

During my visit in April, the hyacinths, crocuses and daffodils were in full bloom, with the tulips not far behind. The garden was like an explosion of color creating a festival for the eyes. There were flowers with color combinations that could only be created by a true artist. I spent the entire day wandering the many exhibits, pavilions and theme gardens noticing that I was at complete ease with my vivid environment. More information about Keukenhof can be obtained by visiting index_nl.html

Each year nature’s talents, combined with Dutch precision, create a garden where millions of tulips and other bulb flowers bloom to create one of the worldπs most striking sceneries.

Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls

Throwing your body in front of numerous running bulls seems dangerous to some, but to the participants in the Running of the Bulls during Sanfermines it is the climax of their year.

The Sanfermines are the fiestas, held July 6-14, in honor of Saint Fermín, the patron saint of Pamplona. According to historians, the Sanfermines are a combination of a fiesta honoring the saint, commercial festivals originating in the 14th century and taurine festivals centered around bullfights.

Today’s popularity of Sanfermines arose from Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Hemingway encouraged people from all over the world to come and take part in the event. The world responded by arriving in droves, most wanting to witness or experience the running of the bulls.

This dangerous race is run every morning between the 7th and 14th of July. A total of six aggressive bulls are “run” along with several tame bulls, through the narrow, winding streets of the old city center finally emptying into the Bull Ring. The atmosphere is one of excitement and revelry fueled by pure adrenaline. The anticipation of the crowd is soaring along with the level of danger.

The running of the bulls is far from the only thrill of the festival. The daily Parade Of Mules and Horsemen occurs as the matadors, along with their colorful cortege, walk to the Plaza de Toros (bull ring) before the La Corrida (bullfight) begins. Other happenings include nightly fireworks displays and general partying in the streets.

It is impossible to be a mere spectator during this fun-loving occasion. You donπt need to run with the bulls, it is enough just to submerge yourself in the atmosphere and let yourself be taken over by exhilaration of the moment.

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