Meet the Festival Makers: DJ Chris Tofu of Grinagog Festival

Grinagog 2017 logoIt’s really heartening to see that no matter how crowded the UK festival market seems, there are always new and exciting events getting started and Grinagog Festival looks like one of the most promising this year. Plus, it’s probably the first proper chance for you to party for a whole weekend without getting muddy in the process. What’s not to love?! I spoke to the festival curator of the inaugural event, DJ Chris Tofu, who has been creating festival experiences all over the country at Glasto, Boomtown, Bestival and many more.

Life is a Festival: The ‘English Riviera’ is traditionally known for its charming seaside towns and Devonshire cream teas. This year, however, Grinagog will bring a whole new cultural venture to Torquay. With your track record of running cultural projects at some of the most well-known UK events, it promises to be a weekend party like no other. Who is it aimed at and what makes Grinagog unique?

Chris: What makes it so unique is Torquay is a perfectly formed festival site with amazing buildings and venues and the beach right there, with hotels costing less than a Halfords tent. The place is like the ultimate festival venue, and I should know because I’ve started loads of festivals. I’m putting everything I possibly can into making an extremely diverse, cultural offering for young people in Torquay. We’re bringing together all the amazing promoters and cultural workers who are in the town and the surrounding area already into one big pot to create a cultural explosion that we hope can really be a place maker for this town.

Life is a Festival: I’m a real fan of festivals taking place in different venues around a city or town as it’s a great way for visitors to get to know a destination and to meet the locals rather than just be in their own bubble during their stay. It will be my first time in Torquay, is there anything off the beaten track I definitely need to see or do?

Chris: Inside the festival we have ska venues in small hotels and these shell sound systems we‘re pushing around with Mixmaster Morris and a medieval monastery full of stuff, but Torquay is rich in trails that lead to lovely places from prehistoric caves to full on massive cliffs etc. The Blue Walnut Café hidden near the festival, is run by a quirky American who used to hang with Miles Davis and has a cinema for 20 people. Ultimately we want this whole festival to be about going and finding quirky culture as you go around. The acts can sell themselves but finding a mad play in a prehistoric cave.

Life is a Festival: You are offering bus shuttles to travel from nearby towns to the festival venues and back, which is a great idea, so people can leave their cars at home. How about the accessibility of the venues, are they wheelchair-friendly?

Chris: Yes, I‘m pretty sure all of the event is wheelchair friendly. [Note: please confirm this with the individual venues before you’re heading to the festival]

Life is a Festival: Having had a look at the diverse programme, I can’t wait to explore the festival! Have you got any personal recommendations or are there any special highlights created just for the event?

Chris: Well, Shaka did one of his first out of London gigs like 45 years ago in Torquay, so I’m looking forward to that. Friday‘s line up is off the scale if you love Bass Funk and BoomTown style music. There is Son Of Dave on Sunday…actually there are vast and always different musical offers. Check out the brass bands!

Sounds exciting! And besides the multi-genre music line-up, there are also all sorts of other fun stuff to try out, including pool parties, roller discos, paddle boarding, spoken word events and short film screenings. A weekend ticket is only £35, so there is really no excuse not to be at the first ever Grinagog Festival from 7-9 April 2017. Line-up preview below, see you there!

Grinagog 2017 lineup

Need Some Travel Inspiration? Why Not Try One Of These 11 Diverse Festivals From Around The World

Now is the best time to plan your adventures for the rest of the year and travel shows like Destinations (2-5 February 2017) in London are a great way to get a good overview on what’s on offer. At the show you can listen to travel experts, adventurers and journalists, such as John Simpson, Simon Reeve or Phoebe Smith, talk about anything from travel safety to trending travel destinations and get your most burning travel questions answered. Of course, the main question I had for the exhibitors was what fabulous festivals from around the world they loved best and, after doing all the legwork, I put together the below list for you to add to your schedule for the coming year and beyond. Here we go!

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February: Sami National Day Celebrations, Lapland

Sami National Day is on 6 February, it’s celebrated in most of the Nordic countries and is a great way to get acquainted with the age-old traditions of the Sami people. It includes reindeer sprint racing, learning about the Sami language as well as live music. Cities like Tromso, Jokkmukk, Oulu and Murmansk are good places to visit at this time of the year as they have some of the largest celebrations.

May: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

This Moroccan gathering of high-profile musicians from around the world is an event which has long been on my to visit list and looks like a magical experience, even if festivals are normally not your kind of thing. You can stay in a traditional Riad, visit the sights during the day and immerse yourself in the most beautiful music from around the world at night. Unmissable!

May: Teheran Book Fair, Iran

Iran has a rich cultural and historic heritage and the fact that TIBF had around 5 million visitors in 2016 proves its importance for publishing in the Middle East. Of course, you’ll need to look into visas and other formalities in order to be able to visit, but the fair has around 600 foreign exhibitors and offers an enticing roster of cultural activities (author talks, writing workshops) to boot.

June: Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

While you might be more familiar with the novel about Count Dracula, TIFF is a popular film festival taking place annually in one of the most beautiful areas of Romania. In addition, Cluj boasts a vibrant cultural scene and no less than nine universities. If you’re visiting a country where English isn’t the main language, international film festivals are a great time to travel there as they are geared towards visitors from abroad and often offer fun side events like director Q&As and parties. Just make sure you book your accommodation ahead of time, as it will be super busy.

July: Tibetan Hemis Festival, Northern India

This recommendation came from my friends at Earthbound Expeditions and looks fantastic. Hemis Gompa, the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is hosting this annual event, which is also a state holiday, and remembers the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan buddhism. There will be traditional costumes to admire and the sacred masked dances (‘Chaam’) by the Lamas are the highlight of the celebrations.

August: Garlic Festival, Isle of Wight, UK

Interestingly, the soil on the Isle of Wight is apparently so good for growing garlic, the island used to even export it to France. With their motto of ‘In Garlic We Trust’ you get to try unusual delicacies like garlic beer (not so sure about that one) and garlic fudge and an learn cooking with garlic with some experts.

August: Udaya Live Yoga and Music Festival, Bulgaria

Yoga festivals have been taking most of Europe by storm in the past few years and having been to Yoga Connects and Soul Circus in the UK last year, I started noticing lots of other wellness-oriented festivals, including Udaya Live in the Rila mountains of Bulgaria. Imagine spending a few days in stunning natural surroundings letting go of your everyday worries, doing workshops with world-class yoga instructors and learning about anatomy, nutrition and spirituality.

August: Sziget – The Island of Freedom, Budapest, Hungary

Sziget (which means ‘island’ in Hungarian) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and seems to get ever more popular. Taking place on an island in the Danube, it’s a week-long party of concerts, theatrical acts and other creative fun where you can see well-known headline acts alongside lots of quirky other entertainment. Interestingly, you can bring ‘peaceful pets’, like your dog or even a ferret, along, but not so sure if they’d enjoy the loud music as much as you will.

September: Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

This was one of the most intriguing recommendations I got, but alas, like quite a few other festivals this year, they are taking a break and will be back in 2018. So plenty of time to plan your visit. The arts festival offers live concerts, children’s activities and other creative events. It has established links with the UK and is also planning some cultural events in Scotland and London for this year, so keep an eye on their website.

November: Kona Coffee Festival, Hawaii

What better combination than sunny beaches and a festival that celebrates the local coffee culture? Welcome to Kona and its coffee culture festival, which is Hawaii’s oldest food festival and revolves around the history of coffee in the coffee-growing Kona region. The yearly harvest is celebrated with tasting events by artisans, farm tours and coffee art exhibitions.

November: Uppsala Light Festival, Sweden

Scandinavia has long been one of my favourite destinations and while there are lots of festivals in Sweden around Midsummer, our Northern neighbours also know how to celebrate the darker time of the year. Head to the fourth-largest city in Sweden for a winter weekend break and experience the magic of ‘Allt Ljus’ – squares and buildings illuminated at night-time. How much more ‘hygge’ can you possibly get?

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the Destinatons Show 2017. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.

Building Bridges (Not Walls): Celtic Connections 2017

The beginning of a new year is usually a hopeful time for me. However, given the state the world is currently in, the start of 2017 has sure felt a little bumpy for many of us. Luckily, Celtic Connections in Glasgow (19 January – 5 February 2017) has a track record of uniting cultures rather than dividing them and this is where I was headed for the second time, I really couldn’t wait! After having helped out behind the scenes at last year’s festival, I decided to just be a punter this year to give myself more time to explore Glasgow in between gigs. Nearby Edinburgh might have a greater visitor appeal as a well-known festival city, but Glasgow’s music, cafe and culture scene is not far behind at all. I was also luckier with the weather this time around and had found a lovely Airbnb near the Mitchell Library, i.e. walking distance to most of the festival hot spots.

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Two day-time sessions I had booked, which took place upstairs at the Royal Concert Hall, were both billed as author talks, yet the second one featured a short set by world class musicians, a nice surprise. The event was with well-known Scottish author James Kelman, who was talking about his latest novel ‘Dirt Road’ and we learned that a film for cinema based on the book is in production right now. To our delight, we got to hear some of the music from the film played live by a group of musicians including prolific multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell (last saw him on stage with Joan Baez at Cambridge Folk Festival 2015) with his daughter Amelia, Lousiana accordion wizzard Preston Frank and his daughter Jennifer as well as the young Scottish accordion player Neil Sutcliffe, who plays the main character, Murdo, from Kelman’s book. What a brilliant event, just way too short, of course.

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Given the current political climate, I was also glad to have made it to a packed ‘Take Back Our World’ event organised by Global Justice Now at Glasgow University for the first couple of sessions on Saturday morning. The speakers included Bernie Sanders’ brother Larry Sanders as well as activists from around the UK and abroad and it was heartening to see so many grassroots organisations working together at this important point in time. In the afternoon, I headed back to the RCH to listen to renowned Scottish actor David Hayman, talk about the children’s humanitarian organisation Spirit Aid, which he is head of operations of. During his talk the audience learned that unlike many larger charities, this ‘guerilla’ organisation uses 100% of donations to fund projects as far away as Afghanistan and Palestine, but is also helping people closer to home in local Scottish communities. It was inspiring to see what a small, determined group of people (like famous Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said) can get done with (comparably) small amounts of money. Definitely something to find out more about.

The gig I had been looking forward to most was a sold-out shared bill at Oran Mor in the Westend on Saturday night with Adam Holmes and the Embers as well as US four-piece Darlingside (see above). Adam’s band has long been one of my fav Scottish acts and even though they often play quite large festivals are still very underrated. So, if you haven’t heard of them yet, but enjoy intelligent songwriting with beautiful, gospel-like melodies, you won’t be disappointed. The main act on the night was Boston-based Darlingside, who had been a big surprise hit at Cambridge Folk Festival last summer and whose first visit to Scotland it was. The best shows are always the ones when you see the musicians having as much fun playing as the audience has listening to them and these four just combine a huge amount of positive energy and creativity, never mind being able to play viola, violin, banjo, mandolin and guitar to layer their meticulously crafted songs. It was a delight for the ears of any Americana and folk music enthusiast and their 90-minute set went by way too fast.

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After browsing through antiques, books and other second-hand finds at the Barras market in Glasgow’s East End on Sunday morning, I was headed to the O2 ABC on Sauchiehall Street in the afternoon which had a bit of an empty nightclub during daytime vibe and thus didn’t seem ideal at first. However, the Hazy Recollections session with an eclectic line-up including its curator Findlay Napier as well as Ben Seal and Urban Farm Hand and Mhairi Orr soon made up for it. It was also great to meet some more festival goers, many of which came from other parts of Scotland, or further afield.

I was glad that, like last year, I had bagged a free ticket to the first of three BBC Alba Seirm (‘seirm’ meaning tune or melody) recordings for my last night at Celtic Connections. It was again held at the lovely Hillhead Bookclub (alas, not a book in sight) in the Westend and this time around I knew the drill. Everything took quite long because of the filming, but who was going to complain when there were so many excellent musicians on the bill: Mary Chapin Carpenter (see above) Darlingside again (yeah!), Welsh singer-songwriter Gareth Bonello and two Scots Gaelic singers Eilidh Cormack (from Skye) as well as Joy Dunlop. I shared a table with a couple of Gaelic speakers from some of the Hebridean islands and had an altogether fantastic evening.

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In between the gigs I managed to try some more veggie and vegan places, of which there are plenty in the city, including The 78 Bar in Finnieston on Thursday night (great vegan haggis burger). A lot of these cafes are also dog-friendly, which is a nice touch, unless you’re allergic, of course. The Hug & Pint on Great Western Road had a good lunch deal for their Asian-inspired vegan food, but it might be better to head there at night, as my daytime visit was decidedly lacklustre. A return visit to Café Saramago (in the CCA on Sauchiehall Street) positively surprised me with excellent soya latte and a simple but very delicious sweet potato chilli (so good, especially in this chilly weather). Alas, I never got to try Tantrum Doughnuts (I’m coming for you on my next visit!), but enjoyed being back at Kember and Jones on Byres Road. My fav new discovery by far, however, was The Singl-end Café. It’s unsurprising there is never an empty seat in the house as the food looks and tastes absolutely fantastic. They offer plenty of veggie and vegan options (including vegan and gluten free breads and pastries plus three different types of non-dairy milk) and the baked eggs (or Shakshuka, see above) were out of this world. A stone’s throw from the bustle of Sauchiehall Street, this place should be your first port of call for a satisfying breakfast, lunch or dinner out. Celtic Connections sure is a great way to spend a couple of days relaxing at first-class concerts as well as enjoying all the amenities a city like Glasgow has to offer and I’ll most definitely be back again soonish!

 

End of Year Soul, Funk & Jazz Party: The Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2016

So, here’s a first: before this winter I’d never been to a festival which stretches across two different years. The long-established Smooth Jazz Festival in the Bavarian tow of Augsburg, Germany, ran from 29 December 2016 until 1 January 2017 and I had discovered it only recently as I was heading back to my hometown for the Christmas holidays. It was also a first as I’d never been to a smooth jazz event before. It turns out, just like in the Americana and folk music scene, which I usually write about, there are excellent performers and dedicated followers in this genre, too, and I met lots of super friendly folks.

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The first gig I attended was held at the impressive Kurhaus Parkheater in the suburb of Göggingen. Originally built in 1886, it almost completely burned down in 1972 and was largely forgotten until it was restored to its former glory and reopened in 1996. Hailing from Fresno, California, and trained at the renowned Berklee College of Music, saxophonist Jeanette Harris treated us to favourites from her two recent albums ‘Chocolate Vibez’ and ‘Summer Rain’, among other compositions. I have to admit that purely instrumental music is normally not so much my thing, but listening to any musician who is a master of their chosen instrument is always a treat and this set as well as the acoustics in the venue were pitch-perfect. I would have loved to stay for the next act, UK smooth jazz veterans Shakatak, which I later heard did a great show, but I was feeling really under the weather with a bad cold and annoyingly had to call it a night at that point. Oh, well.

Sadly, the cold also made me miss Brian Bromberg, Oli Silk and JJ Sansaverino the following night, but I was all the more excited for the concert at the Dorint Hotel on New Year’s Day. Another first, as I’d never been at a festival on the first day of a new year. The lunchtime concert opened with US jazz, soul and R&B singer Lindsey Webster supported by her husband Keith Slattery on keys and joined by the excellent smooth jazz ‘house band’ with Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar and Marius Goldhammer on bass (Lutz Deterra, on keyboard, completed the band for the second part of the afternoon). Lindsey has a lovely, natural way of performing and gave it her all (including her hit single ‘Fool Me Once’ and a beautiful cover of the Prince song ‘Call My Name’), which was greatly appreciated by the festival audience, who loved every minute of it, myself included.

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The final act of the festival, after a short coffee break, was also yet another highlight: saxophonist extraordinaire Elan Trotman, born and raised in sunny Barbados and another Berklee graduate, whose first-rate performance was as infectious as music can possibly get. He took his saxophone off the stage several times during his set and played right in the middle of the assembled audience, which quickly broke the ice. From the Caribbean flavoured ‘Tradewinds’ to a lovely rendition of Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’, it was definitely time for a dance together with a room full of jazz fans who’d already partied their socks off at the New Year’s celebration the night before. I certainly didn’t expect a fully seated daytime festival gig to be this lively and felt really uplifted for the rest of the day!

Apart from the outstanding quality of performers, Smooth Jazz organisers Christian Bößner and Sandra Hoffman also did an excellent job in terms of the organisation and friendliness of the event. I chatted with attendees from as far as Mallorca, the US as well as other German cities most of whom were regulars at the festival. If smooth jazz is your kind of thing or if you’re keen to give it a try, make sure you check out their yearly festival roster, they also run popular smooth jazz festivals in Mallorca (May) and the Algarve (September). I certainly had a great time at the 17th Smooth Jazz Festival.

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In case the above has whetted your appetite and you’re visiting Augsburg with its 2000 years of history for the first time, here are a few travel tips. Don’t miss the Fuggerei (supposedly the oldest social housing estate in the world, but instead of stark architecture, it’s rather quaint), the Goldener Saal in the City Hall, the Perlach tower (which you can climb for panoramic views), the Cathedral, the many fountains and a stroll in the old town. For those with a sweet tooth, Café Dichtl and Café Eber are good bakeries to try, so is Bäckerei Wolf (a few outlets around the city centre). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many veggie-friendly options around town, including the just opened Mom’s Table on the city’s main thoroughfare Maximilianstraße. Not too far from there is also where the famous Augsburger Puppenkiste puppet theatre and museum (shows used to be on national tv, so it’s known all over the country) has its home. While Augsburg may appear conservative at first glance (and it is in many ways), we also have a very exciting cultural and social project, the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, where you can stay in unique rooms designed by artists. It’s a friendly, mostly volunteer-run hotel, a gathering place for creatives and a welcoming home for asylum seekers from all over the world.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with concert tickets for the 2016 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All Photography used in this blog post by Christan Nordström (with the exception of the Christkindlesmarkt picture, taken by Life is a Festival).

A Bookish Christmas: The Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2016

Have you ever wanted to go to a place where everything revolves around books, where you can spend a whole weekend browsing tons of second-hand bookshops all without leaving the little town you’re staying in? Then the world’s first ‘book town’, Hay-on-Wye is definitely for you! Since Richard Booth (bookshop pictured below) opened his first bookshop in the little Welsh town near Hereford in the 1960s many other towns from all around the world have followed his example and joined the International Organisation of Book Towns.

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I had been to the ‘big’ book festival in the summer of 2009 once before the year I started the blog and had had an absolutely fabulous time, but had never made it to the winter edition until this year. It was exactly what I needed a month before Christmas: a few days away from it all in a cosy B&B surrounded by books, taking in the beautiful scenery, munching mince pies and sipping mulled wine like it was an Olympic sport AND a book festival on top of all that – genius!

I had arrived in Hay on Friday night just in time for the big Christmas light switch-on with Ben Fogle in the centre of town. There was a little Christmas market in a sizeable tent by the Cheese Market and it was the first time this year I really felt like Christmas isn’t all that far off now. A little later that evening a lot of us gathered for music of a very different kind, the Ben Baddoo Afrobeat Band. It took place in the Castle, which is about to get an exciting makeover (more details below), one large room of which was nicely decorated with holly twigs, a real Christmas tree and a roaring fire in the corner. After a few minutes, the West African beats had everyone shedding their coats and dancing as if we were partying in much more sunny climes.

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Saturday morning started out well with an intriguing talk by Gruffyd Aled Williams about the significance of Owain Glyndwr in Welsh history followed by braving the pretty chilly temperatures on an equally fascinating guided tour of the now obsolete Hay Railway, which was in fact a narrow gauge horse-drawn tramway and was in operation from 1864 to 1962. After having checked out the pop-up stalls of the food festival and warmed up with some spiced apple cake and latte at the Old Stables Tea Rooms in the centre of Hay, it was time for another event, this time in St. Mary’s church. Ben Rawlence talked about his book ‘City of Thorns’, which describes life in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya and we also heard from Yohannes who made it to the UK from Ethiopia via the Libyan desert and Calais. Lots of food for thought about what home means to all of us, especially at this time of the year.

I ended the evening with a lovely carol singalong in Hay Castle with more mulled wine, homemade mince pies and in good company. It was strange being in a small community such as Hay where nearly everyone knows each other and it felt at times almost like gate-crashing some sort of private celebration. I did meet a few others though who had come from further afield, such as London, like myself, Manchester and even Belgium to attend the festival. We all agreed we wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else that weekend.

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My Sunday began with an absolutely fabulous tour of Hay Castle (read up on its history and planned restoration on the Hay Castle Trust website) led by Mari Fforde. I’ve always loved how old houses preserve so much history over the centuries and was glad to see how passionate the local committee is about keeping their local history alive. It was a really dark, cold day, but thankfully the town centre was lit up by many beautiful lights, all the shop windows were lovingly decorated, there was a vintage festival on in town and many mugs of hot beverages waiting to be consumed by thirsty festival goers.

After finally having had enough time to do a really good bookshop crawl (yessss!), I attended my last talk of the weekend, ‘Browse: The World in Bookshops’, with the book’s editor Henry Hitchings who was interviewed by Hay Festival director Peter Florence (see picture below) in the Swan hotel, which was also the official festival HQ. The festival closing event at the Castle was another concert, this time with Australian born, Bristol based singer-songwriter Nuala Honan. Of course, there was more mulled wine and more lively conversation until it was time for the short walk back to my B&B and, alas, bye bye to Hay-on-Wye the following morning.

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Judging by the many sold out events of the weekend, the smaller, more intimate sister of the bigger Hay Festival is definitely a successful addition to the already existing roster of literary events in Hay. For me, it was the perfect booklovers weekend getaway and now I’m looking forward to Christmas even more!

Hay also has a vibrant social media presence, if you’re into that kind of thing. Do check out the below twitter accounts for updates on events, foodie delights and more if you’re planning a visit: @hayfestival @HayHOWLs (to stop the closure of their local library!) @chefonrun @BoothsBookshop @childrnsbkshop @haycastle @HayMarketsLtd @4bruce7 @alanababycorner @marifromvalley @thestoryofbooks @haydoesvintage @broomfieldhse @haycheesemarket @Chris_the_Book @globeathay @Oxfam_at_Hay @thefudgeshop @OtherworldzHay @thefudgeshop and many more.

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Fly Away With Me: World Travel Market 2016

Living in London has many perks and one of them is that some of the largest events in any industry take place right here. Of course, World Travel Market, which took over the Excel from 7-9 November 2016, is not exactly a festival as such, but it comes pretty close to feeling like one if you’re a travel addict, blogger, or both. It’s a huge event and with nearly 50000 exhibitors and visitors from around the world and a long list of presentations and networking sessions on offer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In order to narrow it down a bit, I decided to focus on four areas this year: Travel Blogging, Creative Tourism, Responsible Tourism and Women in Travel and came away with some fascinating insights from all events I attended.

World Travel Market

Travel Blogging has become a huge growth sector in recent years with destination marketers, travel brands and influencers getting a chance to mingle and learn from each other at a lot of events – plus bloggers get access to the press lounge! On Friday, I attended at two events on mobile and live social media and video. We heard from digital communications experts like Flagship Consulting, bloggers, e.g. Niamh Shields of Eat Like A Girl,  and vloggers, such as Evan Edinger and Hannah Witton, who are using video as a blogging tool and I was impressed with their stories of how it is helping them to connect with their audiences, one video at a time. The next day the focus was on personalisation for bloggers and brands and influencer strategy with presentations from travel brands, such as  Cheapflights and Skyscanner, who work with content creators and shared some interesting details on how each of them manage those collaborations. Traverse hosted all of the above events and they are organising a blogger conference in April 2017, see you there!

World Trade Market Press Centre

Another fascinating session and the one closest to my heart was the Creative Tourism presentation on Tuesday. The title ‘Creative Tourism: A Necessary Update’ didn’t sound especially creative or promising, but the session most definitely was! Caroline Couret, the CEO of the Creative Tourism Network, based in Barcelona, presented a number of fascinating case studies on how destinations from different countries, such as Saint Jean Port Joli in Quebec as well as Ibiza Creativa, can attract creative travellers from around the world. Of course, the challenge remains for destinations and brands working in this market to stay commercially viable while providing options for a target group of highly independent and diverse travellers, an issue which I’ve also experienced in my own niche of festival travel. But how encouraging to see that this area has become such a growth market in recent years and is starting to be taken seriously around the world.

The World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 were also announced during WTM 2016. This was probably the most inspiring event of all I attended, every single nominee sounded like an exciting forward-thinking business and the winners came from all four corners of the world. The overall winners this year were Lemon Tree Hotels in India (socially inclusive work environment and employment for people with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds) and Tren Ecuador (a community-based tourism initiative supporting local people along a train route), both pictures below accepting their awards. I was particularly impressed, for instance, that all Lemon Tree Hotel supervisors are trained in Indian Sign Language and in the case of Tren Ecuador, how lots of smaller projects successfully combine to create a livelihood for many rural families. Further winners included the Sam Veasna Center in Cambodia (wildlife conservation), the Friends International ChildSafe Movement (responsible tourism campaign) and Elevate Destinations (innovation by tour operator). It was also really encouraging to see how many of the organisations and sponsors had female leaders presenting and receiving the awards.

WRTD Awards

Which also makes for a nice segway to my last focus at WTM 2016: Women in Travel. As there were too many events clashing on the Wednesday, I only made it to the last panel session of the day-long Women in Travel Meetup, but was extremely glad I had done so as it was the perfect WTM closing event for me. The discussion organised by Alessandra Alonso of Everyday Mentor focused on female ‘start-up stars’ and we heard from a diverse group of speakers about their individual projects. One of them was Carolyn Pearson, who started Maiden Voyage, a women’s business travel network out of the simple need of wanting to meet other business women travelling alone and Natalia Komis whose start-up I Am Adventures takes artists, entrepreneurs and social innovators on creative adventures around the world. The panel members reminded the attendees to always concentrate on your own business mission and to make sure to join a network. The informal networking session which followed was proof of the friendly and productive atmosphere with interesting connections made with business women from various countries (more on the blog soonish).

So if you’re an established or aspiring travel blogger, destination marketer, translator (I did meet one other linguist specialising in tourism!) or simply passionate about travelling, WTM is the event for you, see you next November!

Disclaimer: This blog claims no credit for any images used in this post. All three images are copyright to its respectful owners, in this case the the official WTM photographers.

Stillness in the Midst of Chaos: The OM Yoga Show 2016

One year ago I was a brand new yoga convert and attended the OM Yoga Show for the first time. I wrote about my experience as a yoga newbie and have since been doing my best to keep a regular practice going throughout the year. I also went to two excellent yoga festivals in the summer, Yoga Connects near Rugby, and the inaugural Soul Circus in the Cotswolds. The UK has seen a real yoga boom in recent years and the OM Yoga show, which took place from 21-13 October 2016, is always a good place to find out about new trends and take a few classes with expert teachers.

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Having been to a talk by Dan Peppiatt of Yoga Like Water at Yoga Connects in July, I was keen to try out one of his sessions and the first one I took part in was a blind-folded yoga class. Yes, I  know, sounds scary, right? We got each given an eye mask and pretty much hoped for the best! Just listening to the instructor’s voice without any visual queues required quite a bit of trust and finding balance with your eyes closed turned even the most basic asanas into a nice challenge. Do try it at home and see how you feel. Doing yoga blind-folded was definitely a real eye-opener for me!

The second session by Dan I attended was all about preparing your hands and fingers for arm balances and, phew, there weren’t actually any handstands involved in the half-hour session. Instead, Dan talked us through various muscle groups and movements, which are all essential in order to be able to balance upside down or even just for crow pose. It’s ultimately more about technique rather than strength (good to know). It was a very interesting lesson in patience and we learned that breaking any process down into individual steps is a great way of achieving a long-term goal. Something which is not only useful in the yoga world, but does also come in handy in other parts of our daily lives.

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Another workshop I really enjoyed was the Rainbow Kids Yoga class (see above) on how to get children of different ages excited about yoga. We went through a variety of ‘journeying’ and other playful sequences including taking the kids, or in our case, a bunch of adults channelling their inner child for half an hour, on a trip to New York (or wherever else takes your fancy) which included riding the ocean waves and flying across the sky. Yep, it took quite a bit of imagination, but we were all up for it and all the laughing, dancing and group bonding most certainly released a lot of happy hormones. What a lovely experience!

After having greatly enjoyed one of David Sye’s sessions last year, I was keen to do another class by the Yogabeats founder this time around too. Driven by rhythmic, fairly fast-paced music and lots of food for thought, it was another memorable workshop, the half hour it lasted flying by in no time. Do check out their classes and charity work online, if you want yoga for body and soul and not just in order to keep fit.

Something quite different, but also a nice challenge is the fairly recent trend of aerial yoga, which was a new addition to this year’s show. As was to be expected, it was incredibly popular and alas there were long queues for it on each day, but it’s  on my list to try sometime, maybe at a yoga festival next year.

Pip & Eugene of Acro Yoga Dance with were also at the show again this year. This brave little girl (see below) was definitely a step ahead of most of us, so great to see the yogis of the future!

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I also made sure I took out some time for talks on meditation and mindfulness, which are all part of a well-rounded yoga practice and something which I still find even harder to make time for than the asana-based work. The first session I attended was by Kat Farrants, founder of online yoga platform Movement for Modern Life and focused on creating a personal home practice. The other was by Neil Seligman who talked about a related topic, how to sustain a daily mindfulness practice. There were a lot of similarities between the two speakers. Both had come from a fast-paced work environment and performance-focused culture and had been keen to find a more balanced lifestyle. So both of them developed a personal approach to include yoga and mindfulness in their daily lives. The secret? Not rocket science, of course. Instead it is about breaking down your practice into bite-sized chunks, creating a dedicated mindfulness area in your home and sticking with it (the hard part, obviously)! It has definitely motivated me to keep up my own home practice, as imperfect as it often is.

In fact, the OM yoga show mirrors quite well what life is like for most of us. There is a lot of noise all around us and we are constantly being pulled in many different directions. The important part is to learn to stay centred amidst the chaos and focus on our personal goals. And just like last year, after three yoga-filled days, I came away with lots of good tips for my personal practice, a few nice product samples and some interesting new yoga contacts. Mission staying motivated for a regular yoga practice most definitely accomplished!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a one day press pass for the 2016 event in exchange for a personal review of the show and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.