Tag Archives: festivals

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!


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.

Myths, Music & Storytelling Magic in Wales: Beyond the Border Festival 2016

My first festival of the summer was Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival, which took place from 1-3 July 2016 in the grounds of Atlantic College and the medieval St. Donat’s Castle near Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. It’s a fairly small but well-established biannual festival, attracting between 2000 and 3000 visitors and many of the festival goers have been regulars for years, if not decades.

BTB programme

This year’s themes included Stories from the Celtic World, Myths of Gender/Gender in Myth, Myth and Music of India and Greece as well as Blacksmith Tales and Legends. For such a compact festival it had a whopping 9 festival areas, some in tents, some outdoors and one larger indoor venue at St. Donat’s Arts centre (which was sort of the festival hub for artists and attendees and had wifi and a café with sea views).

As it was my first storytelling festival, I had no idea who the big names were and what styles of stories I would enjoy most, so I tried a whole variety. Unlike at music festivals, where you can listen to partial sets of different bands and still get something out of it, I quickly learned that here it was best to catch the whole story from beginning to end.

Various people had recommended Ben Haggarty to me, a very accomplished storyteller who did an impressive performance of ‘The Blacksmith at The Bridge of Bones’ on Friday night. His style was a little too theatrical for me, but he seemed immensely popular and his performance was quite mesmerising and entertaining, here is a taster.

Right afterwards I caught a beautifully inventive story called ‘UniVerse’ by Irish-born and London-based storyteller Clare Murphy whose sense of humour I loved straight away (and made me a bit homesick for Ireland) and whose wonderfully original style had the audience spellbound. Read her blog post on what storytelling is and definitely check out some of her videos online (I dare you not to giggle!).

BTB Blue Garden

I started the Saturday with a yoga session in the Blue Garden led by Diana O’Reilly, with the morning sun shining down on us, which was a blessing in itself, as was the wonderful location overlooking the sea and the calm, welcoming atmosphere at the class.

As my volunteer shift happened to be in the Pavilion, I caught Jo Blake Cave and Laura Pocket (on double bass) with a reimagined version of her post-apocalyptic magical story ‘The Girl Who Became a Boy’. This was followed by travelling back in time to 14th century Venice by top Italian storyteller Paola Balbi.

I also greatly enjoyed listening to the Welsh-Indian band Tŷhai before it was time for some bilingual tales (partly in Welsh) by Dau Dafod (Jez Danks & Dafydd Davies Hughes). After grabbing a yummy veggie meal from The Parsnipship I decided to give ‘Beowulf’ a try, which was expertly and very humorously told by Jesper La Cour Andersen and Troels Kirk Ejsing. The Danes had the audience really engaged in the story (‘rowing’ a boat, being guests at a Viking party etc.) and it ended up being my favourite show of the festival, so much fun!

Later that night it was time for some music again and a very special collaboration by Mumbai singer Tauseef Akhtar and Welsh singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn. Ghazalaw is one of those projects which gets the balance exactly right by merging the music and song of two cultures in a very beautiful way including tabla, fiddle, harmonium, kora, harp and guitar. Their first album is fantastic and they also played some new songs for us.

BTB kids area

After another yoga morning session, which always helps to put me in a poised and happy mood for the day, I caught the first part of another brilliant Clare Murphy show, this time with Tim Ralphs and the (to a bunny person like myself) very enticing title ‘Tales of the Rabbit God’. Luckily my next volunteer shift was at the Pavilion again, so I managed to listen to Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason whose story was called ‘Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight?’. It was fantastic to learn so much about storytelling traditions of different parts of the world all in one weekend in rural Wales.

The finale of the festival on Sunday night was a wonderful parade with everyone and their handmade lanterns and costumes moving from the festival grounds to the Big Top led by the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band. After the closing ceremony and the burning of a giant fire sculpture (created by Goffee) in a field overlooking the sea, it was time for the last act of the festival, a (mostly) Eastern-European dance party with The Turbans, which was the perfect end to a vibrant, story and music-filled weekend in Wales.

BTB fire sculpture

So if you like your festivals small and friendly where you get woken up by sheep bleating in the field next door, both old and young will have a good time and you can learn a thing or two in a relaxed atmosphere, do put Beyond the Border in your summer calendar. The nearby small town of Llantwit Major (hourly bus from near the festival grounds or a half hour walk away) is also worth exploring for an afternoon and has some very cosy cafes.

P.S. As a linguist, I’d like to give a special mention the the amazing sign language interpreters at the festival! I’ve never been at an event where they seemed more engaged and passionate than here at BTB. Find out more about sign language interpreters here.

Niche Appeal: Folk at Standon Calling Festival 2013

I signed up for Standon Calling (2-4 August 2013) as they had a dedicated folk stage, the Lordship Stage, with each day’s acts being presented by the Crypt Sessions, Loose Music and Folkstock respectively. Meanwhile, over at the main stage were all the well-known bands most of the other people were here for; not exactly my natural musical habitat, but volunteering was still fun. I helped with the wrist band exchange at the main gate and we also got food and drinks vouchers, which was a nice added benefit. Image On Friday I was most impressed by Gibson Bull, not only as his live set sounded good, but also because of how professionally he handled not playing in front of a big crowd (given the time of day and general non-folk orientation of most of the audience). If partying until 5am to noisy music had been my thing, it would have been paradise. As it wasn’t, I checked out a few of the late night venues for a while, including my other favourite, the circus-like Autumn Shift tent, and then called it a day. Image Saturday started with a nice veggie breakfast and exploring the grounds a bit more. A big hit with the families was the pool and kids area, which included a percussion display to try out and the fabulous super-cape-abilities workshop tent. After another stewarding shift and a bit of a downpour, which luckily didn’t last very long, it was time for more of my kind of music. Today’s favourites were Case Hardin (just Pete and Tim) as well as Danny and the Champions of the World with the full band, who were on last that night and really rocked the folk stage! Image Sunday was the day of the dog show, which was fun to watch, and it was also my favourite day music-wise. The first act I really enjoyed was Zoe Wren, a newcomer with definite potential. She was followed by Indi Forde, who wasn’t exactly folk, but had great stage presence and had everyone’s feet tapping. Missed a few more bands because of my last volunteer shift, but was very glad I caught The Willows later after listening to one song by De La Soul and then leaving the 4000 or so people to it. Their set was the closing act of the festival for me and am already looking forward to seeing them again live in London soon.

Folktastic: Warwick Folk Festival 2013

Morris Dancers Warwick
Another weekend, another festival. This time I headed to Warwick boasting an impressive medieval castle and, at the end of July, the Warwick Folk Festival (25 – 28 July 2013), which has been around for over three decades. It is one of the most trad-oriented festivals I’ve volunteered at so far and offers a diverse programme of concerts, ceilidhs, workshops of all kinds as well as children’s entertainment. While a large number of the events took place on the festival grounds beside the river Avon, there were also plenty of ‘fringe’ events happening in Warwick town centre. A handy shuttle bus ferried festival goers between the two locations. 
Jim Moray & band WarwickThe three evening concerts on the main stage included Jim Moray, O’Hooley & Tidow, Dervish, The Young’uns and an energetic performance by Le Vent du Nord, hailing from Quebec, on Sunday night. However, my favourite venue of the whole festival was the Co-op acoustic stage. Despite the noise of the espresso machine on the far side of the tent, it was the most atmospheric venue to me.
Nurse Roberts & Medicine Man WarwickFavourites were Sarah Horn & James Cudworth (also playing with Aelfen), Nurse Roberts & the Medicine Man and Brent Mason, a Canadian singer-songwriter, who we had a nice chat with on the train back to London.  O'Hooley & Tidow Warwick I also loved the sound of Salvation Jane, an Australian vocalist ensemble with beautiful harmonies, Niall Teague & the Fast Company, a dynamic Irish band, and folk septet The Old Dance SchoolThe Old Dance School Warwick Volunteering was fun. I had a couple of shifts at the main stage, one very uneventful afternoon one, while Saturday evening was as busy as it gets. There was a bit of a downpour for a few hours and everyone crowded into the huge and relatively dry and warm space. Was also happy with the spot we found for camping. Proper showers and toilets nearby and a bit hidden away from the main area, guaranteeing a few good nights of sleep (additionally improved by hot water supply for my hot water bottle from the first aid volunteers, thanks guys). All in all a very enjoyable musical weekend.
Tent view Warwick

Partying with the Peacocks: Larmer Tree Festival 2013

Larmer Tree Peacock
I signed up for Larmer Tree volunteering at the last minute and had no idea what to expect. To my delight, it turned out to be one gorgeous weekend party for all ages – excellent! The festival took place at the Larmer Tree Gardens (Dorset/Wiltshire border) from 17 until 21 July. I caught a train from London on Friday morning and then managed to catch a lift with other festival goers from the station in Salisbury.
Volunteer HQ
Once the happy tent was set up, I made my way to gate 1a for my first shift of the weekend: helping with arrivals, i.e. directing incoming festival enthusiasts as there was all sorts of different car parks and camping areas. Caught the last bit of Seasick Steve’s set on the Main Stage and hung out in The Social (cosy, circus-like tent with a variety of acts and a bar) before hitting the hay.
Tea Stop Bus Larmer Tree
Had an earlyish start on Saturday as my next shift was assisting with the kids craft workshops and I absolutely loved it. We spent the whole morning making bead necklaces, bracelets and ‘beady people’ keyrings with excited little ones.
Kids bead workshop
After lunch I caught a few music acts at the ARC (Carrivick Sisters, Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou) and wandered around the gardens discovering various fun areas. There was a book crossing tree, an art exhibition, lots of stalls with reasonably priced vintage clothes, festival gear, food and coffee (incl. a red London bus that served as a cafe) and even a human jukebox, a car-like machine with four guys on the inside who played your song of choice when you put money in a slot. How cool is that? At night I went to see Imelda May‘s set on the Main Stage. Had never managed to go to one of her gigs while I lived in Ireland and really enjoyed her show. 
The Dukes Box Larmer Tree 2013
Sunday morning was spent at the kids craft tent again followed by the big carnival parade around the grounds with us volunteers collecting donations from festival goers for the Lucy’s Days Out charity. Today’s music included Steve Knightley, Thomas Ford and a really lovely set by KT Tunstall (first time I saw her live and especially loved the songs from her new album). The festival’s final act on the Main Stage was Bellowhead, who had everyone dancing and singing from song one.
Girls dressed up Larmer Tree 2013
Afterwards, I ventured back to the ARC for a couple of comedy acts. Around midnight an electrical storm cut American comedian Rich Hall’s set short, but he continued it more than an hour later. The lightning and brief rain shower right at the end of the night was a wonderfully atmospheric end to my festival weekend. It had really been a fantastic few days and I not only met lots of friendly volunteers and a couple of translators, but also ran into someone I knew from a festival in Vancouver a few years back. It’s a small world indeed, especially if you’re into festivals, it seems.
KT Tunstall Larmer Tree 2013

Yeehah! Americana at its Best: Maverick Festival 2013

The weather for the sixth Maverick Festival (5-7 July 2013) at Easton Farm Park in Suffolk and the inaugural Americana Music Assocation UK conference could not have been any better this year: pure sunshine all weekend long. It was my first time at the festival and I was especially excited to see many of the overseas Americana acts. And sure enough, with pretty much every new band that got on one of the four stages I kept adding more names to my must-sign-up-for their-newsletter list. I also loved the location. Everyone was really relaxed, (well-behaved) dogs were allowed and the playground plus various farm animals kept kids and grown-up kids happy. Food and drink were reasonably priced with some veggie options on offer, even though carnivores definitely had a lot more choice.
Back to the main reason that made Maverick so amazing: the music. While we caught a couple of sets at the Peacock Cafe (barn) and the large outdoor stage on the Green (perfect for sunworshippers, a bit too hot for me), we mainly switched between the atmospheric Barn (second largest venue) and the Moonshine Bar (smallest one and my fav). The good thing was that if you liked a particular genre, a certain bluegrass, blues or singer-songwriter sound, you could pick out those acts and see them once or twice over the weekend learning the songs in the process. Alternatively, you could sample lots of different musical styles in one weekend and find some new favourites.
Here are a few that particularly impressed me (again), but do check out the full festival line-up as all the bands are worth giving them a listen!
Hatful of Rain: The Exit Song 
The Carrivick Sisters: Garden Girl 
Danni Nicholls: Time
Danny George Wilson: Follow the River 
Tony and Grace: Holy Hand Grenade
Stephen Kellogg: Crosses 
Kristin Diable: Time Will Wait 
Dennis Ellsworth: Electric Stars  
The Good Lovelies: Best I Know 
Leeroy Stagger: A Hundred Million Reasons 
Ruth Moody: Trouble & Woe 
As Leeroy Stagger pointed out during his Saturday night’s set, it’s good to play in front of ‘real music fans’. This pretty much sums it all up. Everyone on the farm that weekend was there to listen to some kick-ass music. No matter what style you liked best, the bands were giving their all, we met plenty of friendly Americana-loving folks and the festival was intimate enough to have chats with some of the musicians over a coffee. So better put next year’s Maverick dates into your festival calendar right now, you won’t want to miss it! 
Zzz…zzz…listening to all this amazing music can be so exhausting!!

Need some literary inspiration? Try one of these book festivals!

I spent last week in lovely Norfolk where I attended the BCLT summer school at UEA in Norwich, officially the yearly literary translation boot camp, inoffically five days of self-confessed ‘word nerds’ obsessing about commas and speech marks.
One of the many highlights of our workshop week was that six fiction writers from six countries were also in attendance, hurrah. We translated excerpts from their work from Spanish, Japanese, German, Dutch, Norwegian and French into English and hung out with them over dinner and in the pub.
This is also how this non-exhaustive list of book festival recommendations came about. It’s just a tiny taste of the literary landscape of each of the countries, so do add a comment if you have any additional favourites. The good thing is half of them are still coming up later this year and all the websites look pretty tempting to any self-respecting literature festival addict. Enjoy the ‘word-nerdy’ browsing!
Festival des Correspondances, Manosque, September
Heidelberger Literaturtage, Heidelberg, May
Internationales Literaturfestival, Leukerbad, July
Harbour Front Literaturfestival, Hamburg, September
Internationales Literaturfestival, Berlin, September
Apparently there is a new literature festival in the pipeline for 2013 in collaboration with the Japan Foundation, so watch this space!
Crossing Border Literature & Music, Den Haag/Enschede/Antwerpen, November
Norsk Litteraturfestival, Lillehammer, May/June
Hamsungdagene, Hamarøy, July/August
Hay Festival, Segovia, September