Tag Archives: travelblogger

Getting into the Festive Spirit with the Hyper Japan Winter Festival 2017

I attended Hyper Japan for the first time in July this year (review here) and loved everything about it, so I was keen to see what the Christmas edition would have in store. The Japan-themed event was again taking place at Tobacco Dock in London (24-26 November 2017) and was brimming with craft stalls, a Japanese food court, and lots of traditional Japanese products, such as handmade pottery, colourful chopsticks, speciality tea, sweets and clothes, including lots of cosplay outfits.

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Japan is a fascinating place to visit and after two visits I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see. It was great that there were a lot of lesser known travel destinations represented at Hyper Japan and I enjoyed learning about them from their enthusiastic local representatives. The guys in the picture below, for instance, are from Susaki City on Shikoku Island and had mini versions of their mascot ‘Kochi’ with them plus the human-sized version appeared on the Hyper Live stage.

Susaki Stall Hyper Japan 11 2017.JPG

Probably my favourite part of the winter edition of the festival was a fantastic Illuminight exhibition, a display of traditional and modern illuminated objects, which ranged from a room filled with giant paper fish (made by local residents and first displayed at the Yanai Goldfish Lantern Festival in Yanai in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Honshu Island) to tiny, fragile ‘akari’ (light) pieces made from real autumn leaves. It was just beautiful!

Paper Fish Hyper Japan 11 2017.JPG

I also loved the ‘geta’ (sandals) and other intricate ornaments made from glass.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Japanese event without lots of pastel-coloured ‘kawai’ (cute) items and it was great to see that even the staff working at the event – like these two Japan fans from Tofu Cute – were having a lot of fun.

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The food court was back, too, and fans of Japanese food were again spoilt for choice with numerous both savoury and sweet options available, from steaming bowls of ramen to ‘Takoyaki’ (ball-shaped snacks filled e.g. with squid) and even mulled sake as a winter warmer. There was also a chance to sample some sake concoctions created by professional mixologists as part of the Sake Cocktail Awards.

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Those who had a bit of time on their hands and who felt like creating some original Christmas presents for their loved ones, were able to join various paper craft and felting workshops with expert teachers. But don’t be fooled, it is a lot harder than it looks and takes a lot of patience and precision. The results look impressive though, like the framed artworks in this picture.

Papercraft Hyper Japan 11 2017.JPG

When I visited on Friday, the opening day, the Hyper Live stage again hosted a variety of Japanese acts, from the very modern, Dream Stage Idol Competition Runner Up Aimi Ikenaga (if you’ve never heard of ‘Idols’ before, BBC Storyville recently did an interesting documentary called ‘Tokyo Girls’ on it), to the more traditional, but with a modern twist, e.g. a live performance by calligraphy artist Taro Fukushika.

If you missed Hyper Japan this time around, don’t worry, it will be back from 13-15 July 2018 and visits to the Japan Centre and various London-based Japanese restaurants and pop-ups should tide you over until then.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for Hyper Japan. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

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Solo Travel Guide to Hamburg

In September I spent a long weekend in Hamburg visiting Reeperbahn Festival (see full review and festival tips) and exploring Germany’s second largest city. While I was part of a small group during the festival, I also planned in two days to explore the city on my own, which I love doing as I tend to get more done and can decide the pace and path myself. Here are some of my top tips for a first visit to Hamburg, so you get a great mix of sightseeing, culture, coffee and food spots plus some awesome views to impress your friends back home.

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Discover the City’s Many Facets on a Walking Tour

I always make a point to join at least one walking tour during any city trip. As a solo traveller, this gives you a chance to mingle with other visitors and you get to ask a knowledgeable local about up to date tips for the best spots to eat and hang out.

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Hamburg has a lot of history and quite a few neighbourhoods to discover, so you can do a general tour to give you an overview when you’ve just arrived (or are short of time) or pick a particular area, such as the Speicherstadt (see pic above), Hamburg’s docklands area, or go with a theme, like musician Stefanie Hempel’s Beatles Tour (it passes through the main streets of the St. Pauli red light district, so you basically get two in one). There are also many other historic or quirky tours on offer. If you have more time, Hamburg surrounded by the most beautiful countryside and there are fantastic walks and idyllic lunch spots along its waterways and smaller rural communities.

Great Neighbourhoods to Explore

Hamburg has many distinct neighbourhoods, so it’s a good idea to take your pick and discover a few of them on foot. If you’re after traditional sights, beautiful old buildings and sea views, the old town and harbour area are for you. If you manage to stay up very late or get up very early (neither of which I managed on my trip) on Sunday morning, the Fischmarkt and its boisterous market criers are an unmissable experience (5.30am to 9.30am, but until midday on Sundays with live jazz music).

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If you’re more into alternative culture or after music, fashion or bookshops, the Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel are for you. Get off at Sternschanze and your first speciality coffee stop, Elbgold, is only a 5 minute walk away. Walk down Susannestrasse with its many small cafes and boutiques, turn  left into Schulterblatt (ahead on the right you can see the Rote Flora, which has been squatted since 1989 and has had a pretty turbulent history ever since), which has Zardoz Records (and books) on the left hand side and Herr Max (great cakes and ice cream) a bit further down. Keep walking and aim for Marktstrasse with more small design and music shops along the way, such as Hanseplatte (see pic above). If you get tired, Hatari on Schanzenstraße is a great place to have a burger (veggie options available) or other yummy lunch options. For those on a budget, Turkish restaurant Pamukkale (Susannenstraße) does an all you can eat brunch including filter coffee for €7.90 on weekdays. In order to get a different view of the old town, you can do a walk along the banks of the Außenalster.

Best Instaworthy Views from Above

The brand new Elbphilarmonie concert hall, nicknamed ‘Elphi’ by the locals, is a must do and you can just turn up and get a visitor’s ticket for free (or book a slot online in advance for a small fee). This allows you entry to the viewing platforms with fabulous views of the harbour which you can enjoy with a glass of bubbly from the café or restaurant.

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My favourite viewing point, however, was the Michel (see pic of view from top below), the 132m high tower of the St. Michaelis church between the Rödingsmarkt stop and St. Pauli stop. It’s €5 (or €4 with the Hamburg Card) and the elevator zips you up to the top in just a few seconds. The views are fantastic, especially on a good day. From there, make your way along Ditmar Koel Straße with lots of Portugese and Italian restaurants down to the Landungsbrücken where all the ferries and harbour tours leave from.

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Quirky Things to Do If You’ve Already Seen the Main Sights

The subterranean Alter Elbtunnel, constructed in 1911 nearly 24m underground the Elbe river, acts as a transport link for people, bikes and vehicles. I was surprised to learn it was modelled on the Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow (another one of my fav cities).

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While you’re there (on the Landungsbrücken side), have lunch or dinner outdoors at Dock3 Beachclub. Watch the ships go by from your deck chair on this artificial beach with real sand and enjoy some seriously delicious food. Something that’s a bit more nerdy than quirky, but also a big attraction is the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest miniature railway and kids with a maximum height of 1m go free.

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As I love coffee and animals, every time I visit a city that has a cat café, of course that’s where I’ll go. Hamburg’s Cafe Katzentempel (2 min from U3 stop Schlump) is the home of 6 rescue kitties, 5 from Ireland and 1 from Greece, offers vegan food and great coffee and is also a good place to meet other animal lovers if you’re travelling solo. If you still have energy at the end of the day, why not party in a real WWII bunker? The Übel und Gefährlich nightclub is housed in the Flakturm IV (U3 stop Feldstraße, I told you, this line is all you need!) and hosts diverse music events.

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Festival City All Your Round 

Hamburg truly is a city of festivals all year round from music of all genres (Reeperbahn Festival, MS Dockville, Elbjazz, Hurricane, Hanse Song, A Summer’s Tale), to literature (Harbour Front Literaturfestival), theatre (Hamburger Theater Festival) and other cultural events (Comicfestival, Cruise Days, Altonale etc.). Plus there are lots of lovely seasonal events, for instance at Christmas time. So whenever you’re visiting, you’re probably arriving smack-bang in the middle of some sort of celebration you can join in on.

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A Cosy Night’s Sleep Right in the City

Hamburg has a well-organised public transport system and the U3 is the line you’re probably going to use most, but any place near a U-Bahn stop will be a good location, so you can get out and home again quickly. I stayed at Superbude St. Georg (see pic below), a quirky hotel and hostel near the Berliner Tor stop (2 stops from Hauptbahnhof) with a very yummy breakfast buffet (including make your own waffles) and communal tables, so it’s easy to get to know other travellers. Other options include the Generator Hostel right beside the Hauptbahnhof, a huge, well-run hostel with comfy beds, which is also a great base in case you’re arriving late or leaving early.

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Getting Around Hamburg

Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel airport has a lot of nice shops and cafes and is only a 25 minute ride from the city (€3.20 one way) on the S1 from the main train station (Hauptbahnhof, so relaxing compared to London. While in Germany shops are generally closed on Sundays, the many shops and cafes at the train station are open all weekend, great for last minute souvenirs. You can rent a locker for your luggage for just €4 (fits a small trolley plus backpack) or €6 (large suitcase) for 24 hours. A daily public transport pass is €7.60 (or €6.20 after 9am) and the Hamburg Card (which in additionncludes discounts on museums, harbour tours and other attractions) is €9 per day. Like in most large European cities, you can also rent a city bike, the Hamburg version is called StadtRAD.

Hamburg on Tour in London 20-21 October 2017

Don’t forget: Hamburg on Tour is bringing the Northern charm of Hamburg to London’s Boiler House (Shoreditch) this October with a fantastic free programme of events for everyone to enjoy. And you can quiz the folks from Hamburg Tourism about visiting Europe’s second largest port city.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival visited Hamburg, the Reeperbahn Festival and stayed at Superbude St. Georg as a guest of the nice folks at Hamburg Marketing. Prices are as of September 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

4 Days, 40000 Music Fans, 70+ Venues: Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival 2017

If there is such a thing as the perfect time to visit Hamburg (also see my Solo Travel Guide to Hamburg), I probably hit the jackpot with getting to go during Reeperbahn Festival time. What an amazing weekend! I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and, after dropping off my stuff at the hotel, headed straight over to the Festival Village at Heiligengeistfeld (U3 stop St. Pauli) to pick up my press pass. Ready to go for a weekend of live music, culture and fun!

What Is the Festival Like?

The great thing about Reeperbahn Festival (20-23 September 2017), which is in its 12th year this year, is that it takes place in many of the city’s best venues, bars, theatres and clubs of all sizes, most of which can be reached on foot and a few by a short ride on the U3 underground. And hurrah, a public transport pass is included in your festival pass. Besides all the indoor clubs, there are also two large outdoor spaces with smaller stages. One is the Festival Village at Heiligengeistfeld (where you pick up your festival pass), which has access for passholders only and Spielbudenplatz with lots of food trucks, which is freely accessible even for non-passholders (apart from some areas). In addition, Reeperbahn Festival has been hosting a two-day music industry conference since 2009 as well as the NEXT conference for digital creatives and also includes a lot of art projects and a very cool gig poster fair, Flatstock 64, at Spielbudenplatz.

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It’s all a bit overwhelming – I hear you!

That’s exactly what I thought when I first arrived, especially as I didn’t know a lot of the bands. Luckily, the printed programme (you could pick a free daily one up in all the venues) had an indication what kind of genres the bands were (indie, pop, rock, folk, singer-songwriter, electronic, hip hop, soul, jazz, classical etc.) and I highly recommend downloading the festival App as it worked like a charm. It also updated you on entrance stops for particularly busy shows and any changes or cancellations, so I used it every single day. Another strategy is to focus on particular countries. The first evening I decided to head to a showcase by Project ATX6 from Austin (live music capital of the world!), Texas, and it didn’t disappoint. All six acts, incl. Little Marzarn and Mobley, were unique and excellent. It took place in a cool venue called Molotow, which had four stages (3 indoors, 1 in the courtyard) and is just off the main Reeperbahn.

What Kind of Music Can I Expect?

The festival is a multi-genre event with an eclectic line-up of both headliners and up and coming bands from all around the world. This year’s star-studded list included Portugal. The Man, Liam Gallagher and Beth Ditto (whose show was my favourite of the whole weekend, so much positive energy), but also bands like London-based 47Soul, Omar Suleyman from Syria, Amadou & Mariam from Mali and Sólstafir from Iceland. I also attended the Anchor Award 2017 for new music, which was won by UK singer-songwriter Jade Bird. This year’s festival partner country was Canada and I would have loved to see more of the bands lined up for this, but due to lack of time I only managed to catch one of my favourite Canadian musicians, Sarah McDougall, who is always amazing live. Keychange was created by the festival to highlight the fact that women are still underrepresented both on and behind the stage in today’s music industry was another interesting project. Last but not least, the amazing Elbphilarmonie concert hall (U3 stop Baumwall), which only opened in January 2017 and was lovingly nicknamed ‘Elphi’ by the locals, was definitely one of the highlights at this year’s festival. I got to do a tour with a guide during the day, but don’t worry, you can visit for free, sign up online (small fee but guaranteed entry) for a slot or just turn up and ask for a visitor’s pass, which allows you access to some of the building, the cafes and restaurant plus the viewing platforms overlooking the harbour. I also went to a midnight gig on the last day of the festival, the main hall with its 360 degree stage and many balconies is really super impressive!

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Is the Festival just for Hipsters in their Twenties?

Nope, most definitely not. I met people of all ages, locals, Germans from other parts of the country and lots of international folks, too. That’s what’s so nice about RBF, you get to mingle with music fans, journalists, bloggers, music industry insiders and people of all ages, from excited teenagers to retired architects. There is a fun and friendly vibe everywhere and it’s super easy to get talking about the best shows while you’re queueing for a gig or hanging out in the open air area in between concerts.

What other events should I catch in between the gigs?

Did you know that the Beatles started their career in Hamburg, spending about two years in the German port city, honing their skills in the local clubs and pubs before making it big internationally? Hamburg musician Stefanie Hempel does very insightful and entertaining Beatles Tours, which start on Beatles Square right on the Reeperbahn. I was also lucky to go on a tour of Hamburg’s best recordshops with DJ Sebastian Reier, including Hanseplatte, Zardoz Records (who also have lots of second hand books), Smallville Records, Groove City and a visit to the nightclub Übel und Gefährlich on the fourth floor of a former WWII bunker (the rooftop view is fantastic including the St. Pauli football stadium).  You can also do a musical harbour boat cruise with Frau Hedis Tanzkaffee, which runs year round and takes you around the harbour of Hamburg for two hours with an onboard bar and varying musical entertainment or DJing.

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Where Can I Grab Some Food and Drink?

This will be your smallest problem during the festival as there are lots of street food vendors plus the regular Reeperbahn chips, pizza and falafel places (and some proper restaurants) to choose from. Some of the street food was excellent, I tried for instance a yummy vegan hot dog with caramelised onions and goats cheese in a speciality bread roll. The Festival Village, too, had some interesting options like fries with peanut sauce or handmade sandwiches from Handbrotzeit. The Arcotel Onyx near the St. Pauli stop is the official festival hotel where you can take a breather in between gigs or meet music industry folks for a chat over a coffee.

How to Get into Popular Venues & Avoid Long Queues

You’ll be pleased to hear that the bouncers at the festival venues don’t prioritise anyone, everyone needs to queue. There is a special queue for delegates (meaning conference delegates, press and staff), but it doesn’t guarantee you entry. I even had to act as an interpreter for a band from the US who had been told to come to their venue to pick up their passes, but then were sent away by security staff as they had no badge to prove their status. I managed to get them in anyway after explaining their situation in German. Phew. So basically just turn up early if you’d like to see a particular band. For Liam Gallagher’s special appearance at Docks on Saturday night, I arrived two hours earlier and it was no problem. The other alternative is to be really patient and very friendly to the bouncers, as often people leave after each band and they play it by ear how many are still allowed in. It was defo worth it for Beth Ditto at Große Freiheit 36 (see pic below).

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Make a Game Plan – or Just go with the Flow

I’m a bit of a festival nerd, so I love festival schedules! I really enjoy working out how to see my favourite bands and events, but I also often change my mind after getting recommendations from other festival goers, promoters and band managers. What lots of people love about Reeperbahn Festival is that it’s a club festival and you don’t have to book individual concerts. You can simply walk into any of the participating venues with your wristband and sample exciting bands from all over the world. As I didn’t know a lot of the bands, my strategy was basically seeing as many different venues as possible, especially the smaller ones and to catch bands from places or countries I like, e.g. a Swedish showcase at Headcrash including Smith & Thell from Stockholm as well as Maybe Canada (a solo project by Magnus Hansson from Gothenburg). I also enjoyed being in the audience of a live radio show for NDR Blue at Alte Liebe, which included some shorter sets by three musicians as well as live band interviews. If you have a fairly broad musical taste, this is the perfect festival for you, but even for those of you, like me, who are into more acoustic music, there were plenty of gigs to choose from.

Other Tips Before You Go

There is a bag size restriction for all venues, which is roughly A4 size and yes, they will turn you away if your backpack looks a little bigger than this, so either leave larger bags in your hotel or at the nearby (6 stops) main train station (Hauptbahnhof) where you can rent a small locker for only €4 euros for 24 hours. The underground runs all night at the weekend (from Thursday onwards), so you can rest assured you’re going to get home without any problems. Also, talking of personal safety, please be aware that most of the concerts take place right in the actual red light district, but while it certainly is very crowded there in the evenings, I walked around late at night without any problems just like the thousands of other festival goers. I highly recommend booking accommodation along the U3 route (I stayed at Superbude St. Georg, a short walk from Berliner Tor), in fact I used this line for most of my sightseeing, too, it’s just perfect to get to most of the venues and also the hip Schanzenviertel for a brunch or a stroll through the many great shops. Finally, Hamburg’s airport is within the AB zone, which means you only pay about 3 euros for a single ticket and it only takes 25 minutes on the S1 to get to the Hauptbahnhof. Perfect!

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A Taste of the Reeperbahn Festival and Hamburg in London – Hamburg on Tour 20-21 October 2017

I know, unfortunately it’s another 12 months until the next Reeperbahn Festival, but don’t despair, Hamburg on Tour is coming to London in October and best of all: it’s free! Yep, free music with bands from Hamburg’s most awesome festivals, such as RBF, MS Dockville, Elbjazz, Hurricane, Hanse Song and Wacken, free films courtesy of Internationales Kurzfilmfestival, a free Beatles ‘tour’ with Hamburg musician Stefanie Hempel, free coffee workshops with Speicherstadt Kaffee and a free 360 degree experience of the brand new Elbphilarmonie concert hall. Plus you get to taste some German beer and find out all about Germany’s second largest city. See you there!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival visited Hamburg, the Reeperbahn Festival and stayed at Superbude St. Georg as a guest of the nice folks at Hamburg Marketing. Prices are as of September 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival with the exception of the last photo, courtesy of Hamburg on Tour.

Room For All: A Guide for Shrewsbury Folk Festival Newbies (including festival review 2017)

I first attended Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2012, signing up as a volunteer very last minute and had a wonderful time, as it is just an incredibly well-run and relaxed event. It not only bursts at the seams with incredible live music and dancing, it also has an ideal location being walking distance from the centre of the historic English town of Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, not far from the Welsh border.

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The 2017 Festival

For me, this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival (26-28 August 2017) was all about collaborations. Some of the exciting collaborative projects were The Passerine (Folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow with musicians from Egypt, India, Sudan and other countries) as part of the new Room For All Initiative celebrating cultural diversity, all female ‘supergroup’ Coven (Grace Petrie, O’Hooley and Tidow, Lady Maisery) and the closing performance in the newly named Bellstone tent (Marquee 1) ‘Faith, Folk & Anarchy’ with Steve Knightley, Tom Robinson and Martyn Joseph. As festival co-founder Alan Surtees sadly passed away earlier this year, there were lots of emotional tributes to him as well as a CD to support the newly created Alan Surtees Trust. Other local and international artists included Loudon Wainwright, Le Vent du Nord, Skippinish, The Unthanks, Daphne’s Flight, Sarah Jarosz, the Oyster Band, Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, The East Pointers and Ragged Union. While SFF is very much dedicated to folk music in its many forms, performers from other genres, such as the excellent Stockholm based US blues musician Eric Bibb this year, also always find a musical home here. My favourite new discoveries were The Fitzgeralds from the Ottawa region of Canada, who also offered an excellent step dancing workshop, which was attended by well over a hundred people. There was also a new stage this year, The Launchpad, near the food and bar area, showcasing up and coming musical talent, e.g. the excellent The Trials of Cato (who are based in Wales, but met each other in Lebanon, of all places).

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What accommodation options are there?

As a general punter you can arrive to pitch your tent from Friday morning (the music starts in the early evening) and the festival programme usually finishes around early evening on Monday, so most people leave around then or stay until the next morning (the last unofficial gathering in the onsite Berwick bar with lots of craft beer and cider on tap is always a highlight). If you’re in a campervan, you can park it beside your car or a car park across the road, depending on how much space there is when you arrive. I always come by train and the taxi to the site is less than 5 pounds or a 10 minute walk. There are three permanent toilet buildings (the one in the bar has mirrors and plugs for drying your hair) plus some nice toilets with sinks dotted around the site. The free showers are also good (and nice and hot) and there are drinking water taps available, too. Alternatively, Shrewsbury has a number of great hotel and B&B options, just make sure you book fairly early as it is a very popular weekend (with other events like a large steam fair on as well).

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What is it like to volunteer at the festival?

I always have a great time volunteering at SFF. You make new and meet up with old friends, are part of a lovely motivated team and help making the festival a success. In exchange for about 15-16 hours of work, you get a festival and camping pass for the weekend and work shifts of 2-4 hours at a time. You can also arrive a day early on Thursday from lunchtime. It is advisable to sign up as early as possible, i.e. email the festival for more details about steward applications. You can then choose one of the teams to work in, but please be aware that you might not always end up on your preferred team (especially if it’s your first time) and that it is not always possible for you to see all the artists you might want to see (but you can always try and request one or two). Some shifts also run fairly late (I had an evening shift until 1am), but this depends on your particular team. You can also volunteer to do setup and takedown, if you have time to arrive early and leave late and thereby be free during most of the festival.

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What kind of food and drink can I expect?

There is an outdoor food area around a large tent with tables and seats right beside the main marquee and it offers all the food you could possibly want (burgers, pizza, Mexican, Indian, Italian, fish & chips, two specifically veggie/vegan stalls, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream and cakes). This is supplemented by two large bars, the Berwick bar in an actual building and the beer tent beside the food area, both with tables and chairs, so you definitely won’t go hungry and thirsty!

What is there to do at the festival apart from the live music concerts?

I tend to focus on the concerts, but I often meet people who spend all weekend in trad sessions or in the dance tent. If you play an instrument, there are many tuneworks sessions, which include fiddle, whistle, guitar, accordion, melodeon, ukulele and even mountain dulcimer. You can bring your own instrument(s) or, for some of the beginners classes, borrow one for the class or the weekend (but please confirm this before you arrive). There is a whole separate Children’s Festival section (0-10 years) with a circus tent, lots of music, craft and acrobatic workshops all weekend and a lovely lantern procession in the dark. Older kids (11-20 years) can join the Refolkus Youth Festival and also improve their samba drumming or singing skills, be part of a dance battle or try some aerial acrobatics.

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How accessible is the festival?

SFF does its best to be inclusive to everyone. The location has paths leading to all the main venues, which are suitable for wheelchair use and mobility scooters and wheelchairs can be rented for the weekend. Accessible toilets and showers are also available beside the Berwick bar and there is a special disabled camping area beside between the Sabrina marquee and the bar. Most of the venues have an easily accessible wheelchair area (usually in the front) and the volunteer stewards can point you to it in each venue.

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Can I bring my dog?

Yes, you can, if it’s friendly and you look after it well. Which means you pick up after it and don’t leave it in your car for hours on end. Dogs are not allowed inside the main music venues, but there is usually space on the grass at the back or side of the tents where dog owners can spread out a blanket and enjoy the show with their four-legged buddies. I petted so many nice dogs (you can see a selection on my Instagram account Cuddle a Dog a Day), including a number of adorable puppies, this year and it’s nice to find out their stories and a great way of getting to know people, which is super easy at SFF anyway as most people are very friendly. There are also many dog owners in Shrewsbury itself and there is a great app/website called Doggie Pubs to find out about dog-friendly places to eat and drink around the UK.

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Will I enjoy myself even if I’m not a big fan of folk music?

This depends a bit about how open you are to trying out new things. The good thing about folk music is that it covers many different styles and SFF only book top class musicians, so if you’re willing to be open-minded, you will definitely have a great time. Plus, you can learn a new instrument from scratch over the weekend, improve your dancing skills, do some yoga, browse the many clothes and pressie stalls or simply chill in the sun (which we’ve had buckets full of this year, not a drop of rain!). Don’t worry about visiting by yourself, it’s practically impossible not to get chatting to some friendly folkies at SFF and lots of people return year after year. You can always opt for a day ticket to start with and I’m sure it’ll be a weekend pass next time around ;-).

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Is it worth checking out the town of Shrewsbury while I’m here?

Absolutely. The birth place of Charles Darwin has a number of museums and historic sights and is just a lovely, lively town to explore any time of the year. During SFF there are lots of morris displays (my fav this year was Pig Dyke Molly from East Anglia) and a parade around town on Saturday and Sunday. The city’s many cosy pubs, cafes and restaurants serve excellent food, including quite a few veggie and vegan options and I often head into town for breakfast to start my festival day. I also always do a charity shop crawl as there are a good dozen or so dotted around the city centre. A few of them also have stalls at the festival itself. In addition, Shrewsbury hosts lots of other interesting events year round, including the Shrewsbury Literature Festival in November. Free festival shuttles take you in and out of town on Saturday and Sunday, but the ten-minute walk along the river is a great way to stretch your legs, especially if the weather is as nice as this year.

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Summer City Break Guide to Stockholm

Stockholm is one of my favourite cities in Europe and it’s easy to see why: beautiful architecture, a seaside location and stylish Nordic design. It was actually my second visit, but the first time was so long ago (12 years, unbelievably) that I decided to do two things, see the best summer sights with the help of Stockholm Pass and simply enjoy being by the sea in one of the most stunning cities of the world.

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Culture Festival & Walking Tour

I couldn’t have picked better weather or, indeed, a better time to visit as right when I arrived the Stockholm Culture Festival was on, which meant lots of free arts and music events around town. Perfect timing! I joined a Free Tour Stockholm walking tour of Gamla Stan (old town), one of which I try and catch in every city I visit, as the guides are usually enthusiastic, the crowd international and you often get lots of inofficial (read, more budget-friendly and authentic) tips for your visit. Our guide dropped us off near the Royal Palace and I heard some loud live music from a stage near the water. When I got closer, I realised it was one of the culture festival events and they had an India theme going, so I ended up eating the most delicious, freshly cooked masala dosa (pancakes) while watching the sun go down over the harbour.

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Getting the Most out of Your Stockholm Pass

The Stockholm Pass is really useful if, like me, you are trying to get a lot of sightseeing done in a short period of time. There are 24 hour (SEK 595), 48 hour (SEK 795) and 72 hour (SEK 995) options and they include many of the city’s top sights, but not public transport. A one-day travel pass can be added for SEK 120 and a three-day one is SEK 240 (each plus SEK 20 for the card itself). So it’s definitely not cheap, but simply add up what you’re planning on doing and see if it makes sense to get any of the above passes.

Just like in Gothenburg (see my travel guide), it makes sense to plan ahead, i.e. figure out what you most want to see and prioritise that. I opted for a Royal Canal Tour (normally SEK 190, there are also other canal tours, but this one is the one with the largest loop taking you all the way around Djurgarden). You can get your ticket at the ticket booth on Nybroplan (queue early, this is very popular in the summer!), but then walk the short distance over to Strömkajen to the first stop, so you get the best seats at the back of the boat. A must-see for Stockholm first-timers is the fascinating Vasa Museum (normally SEK 130), a restored warship, which sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628.

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Alas, I didn’t have time for photography museum Fotografiska (normally SEK 130), but it’s meant to be amazing, several people mentioned this to me as a highlight during their stay. The Sky View (normally SEK 150, free with the pass from 10am-12pm, SEK 30 afterwards) is something you can skip if necessary, as it’s outside the city centre and I wasn’t overly impressed with the views, but was fascinated how anyone can work at such a height (see pic below). Instead, opt for a Drottningholm Palace and Boat Tour (normally SEK 325), a visit to the Nobel Museum (normally SEK 100), Nordic Museum (normally SEK 100) or The Royal Palace (normally SEK 160).

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Another thing I already loved last time around was visiting the world’s oldest open air museum Skansen (normally SEK 100-180), which opened in 1891, combined with a ‘fika’ (coffee and cake break) at one of my top happy places in the world, Rosendals Trädgard (see a pic of their beautiful flower gardens below)! Joining local families and visiting travellers at tables set up under the apple trees, it is a place that lets you forget you are in a buzzling Scandinavian capital. While it seems to have got even busier compared to when I was first here 12 years ago, it is still a place I love dearly and will return to again and again. Skansen is only a shortish walk or ride on tram 7 away and is so big, you could spend the whole day exploring the different areas, watching craftspeople at work, learning about Nordic animals or about domestic ones in the children’s area and seeing a variety of traditional Swedish houses and farm buildings.

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As I was keen to repeat my lovely island experience from Gothenburg, I also took the boat to Stora Fjäderholmen island (normally SEK 145), a half hour boat trip from Nybroplan pier. There are thousands of islands in the Stockholm archipelago, but it would have taken way too long to get there, so I guess I’ll just have to return again. You can walk around the small island (see pic below) in no time and see glassblowers at work, look at wooden boats or watch the sailing boats go by from one of the cafes. Or, like me, share your lunch with Tyson, the island’s resident ginger tomcat (see Instagram for pictures).

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A great evening option included in the Stockholm Pass is the Grönalund amusement park (normally SEK 115-250 without rides). I was thrilled to see, after already having booked my flights, that the inspirational Patti Smith (I love her memoirs Just Kids and M Train), was going to play a gig on the last night of  my stay, plus, to top it all off, there was even a solar eclipse that night! To get in for free on a music night all you need to do is turn up before 6pm (I made it to the front row by arriving around 4pm, but just go when they open if the concert is important to you or join later if not). Needless to say, her gig was epic, such a lovely atmosphere and I met lots of other gig goers from different countries. It finished around 9.30pm and you can catch tram 7 to the city centre afterwards, they had plenty of extra buses, too.

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Design Hotel or Quirky Hostel – Your Choice

I spent my three nights in Stockholm in three different places, all a few minutes walk from each other. I can recommend design hotels Tegnerlunden and Birger Jarl for a great night’s sleep (pictured below is the suite I stayed in at BJ, but the regular rooms are equally stylish, they are about a 15-20 minute walk or a short metro ride from the main train Station T Centralen) and both also had fantastic breakfast buffets. I only wish I’d had more time to enjoy them.

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Alternatively, City Backpackers Hostel offers a central (10 minutes on foot from T Centralen) and friendly welcome to weary travellers on a budget. The four-bed dorm was comfy, they have great facilities and the breakfast (not included, neither are the sheets, probably the only downsides, but common in Scandinavia) was great, too.

Three More Tips

Make sure you don’t miss Kungsträdgarden metro station, as it has the most fascinating painted ceilings and walls, the below is just one section of it, google it, it looks amazing!

Stockholm Kungstradgarden Underground Station

Sweden is generally fairly expensive, but you can save your money and the environment by refilling your bottle with tap water, as it’s drinkable and there are water taps in public areas or just take it from any sink.

And, if you’re spending a whopping SEK 21 for a stamp on a postcard home, make sure your effort isn’t wasted by putting it in the bright yellow letterbox, not the blue one for local mail.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a 48 hour Stockholm Pass by the nice folks at Destination Stockholm. Prices are as of August 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

 

Gothenburg Travel Guide – Using the City Card, Festivals & Island Hopping

The first time I went to Sweden I visited its capital Stockholm and absolutely loved it. But I’d also heard lots of good things about Sweden’s second city Gothenburg (or Göteborg in Swedish), so I decided to head there this time around. It has a lot of great museums and other attractions, many of which are included in the City Card, and lots of cultural and arts events all year round, such as the Göteborg Film Festival (January), popular music festival Way Out West (August), the Göteborg Book Fair (October) and also a large culture and arts festival, Kulturkalas, which happend to be on from 16-20 August 2017 when I was visiting.

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The Kulturkalas Festival

Göteborg’s culture festival Kulturkalas has hundreds of free events for all ages happening around town every August and attracts huge numbers of visitors. As I was pretty lucky with the weather, it was a pleasure walking through the city’s parks, which were decorated for the festival and offered lots of things to try and lots of yummy pop-up food stalls. If you’re travelling with children, there are many craft workshops to try, even metalwork and I saw many small kids proudly pulling along little wooden carts, sometimes with a teddy bear in it, which they had made themselves. But there are also walking tours, a bus tour of all the churches of different religions around the city and non-stop live music on many stages and on some street corners. The main information tent is near Kungstorgsplatsen and the volunteers are happy to help you with finding events. Alas, most of the programme is in Swedish, with a smaller section in English, but they also have a great website, where you can search for individual types of events or by date. My favourite event was a contemporary dance performance at the Göteborg Opera, for which you just had to pick up a free ticket beforehand. I checked earlier that day and of course it was sold out, but decided to return just before it started and got a ticket without any problems as there are usually some returns. So never give up when someone tells you something is sold out (this applies to most events I go to in any city or country btw.).

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Is it Worth Getting the City Card?

I was lucky to have been given a 48 hour City Card to try, but would definitely buy one anyway, as it included many cool attractions as well as (unlike in Stockholm for instance) public transport (buses, trams AND ferries). The City Card starts at SEK 395 for 24 hours, SEK 545 for 48 hours and SEK 695 for 72 hours. This does sound like quite a lot if you’re on a budget, but a public transport ticket already sets you back SEK 90 for one day (a single trip is SEK 29) or SEK 180 for three days and you can easily do enough sightseeing in 1-3 days to get the best out of your card. All attractions mentioned below are included in the card, but don’t worry, you can also have a great time exploring the city on foot and for free if you like.

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What Should I See? 

This is, of course, entirely up to your own travel preferences. As the weather was so good while I was visiting, I decided to spend two of my four days just exploring the islands (more below), but there are plenty of high-quality museums to keep you busy all day, such as the renowned Gothenburg Museum of Art, Maritiman (a collection of historic ships to explore in the harbour), Universeum (a science centre with a rainforest and ocean zone, open until 8pm on weekdays) and the Volvo Museum, if you’re a car lover. Sadly, the one I really wanted to see, the design museum Röhsska, is closed until June 2018. Next time. You can also get an amazing bird’s eye view of Gothenburg from Utkiken (86 meters high, stop Lilla Bommen near the Opera). Make sure you time your visits well, i.e. leave the attractions that are open longer until the evening, e.g. Liseberg Amusement Park (often free concerts, but be aware that rides are not included in the city card).

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Bus and Boat Tours

Seeing any harbour city from the water is always the best way to get great photos and Gothenburg was no different. I had time for a Paddan Canal Tour (normally SEK 175), a flat open-air boat with live commentary in Swedish and English by a tour guide. This was awesome as it had picture opportunities galore (e.g. of the Feskekorka, the city’s fish market) in just 50 minutes and even went into the harbour (don’t sit in the front and on the side if you’re afraid of the odd splash of sea water!). I also did a 2.5 hour Archipelago Tour with live commentary in Swedish and English (normally SEK 280) on a historic ship from 1881, which is perfect if you’re in need for a break from all the sightseeing (coffee, cake and lunch can be bought on board, card only, no outside food allowed), but can take a good chunk out of your visiting time, if you’re on a tight schedule. Instead I recommend a visit to Brännö island (20 minutes by tram to Saltholmen, 15 minutes on the ferry), where you can have lunch by the sea or go for a swim or a walk in the same time. I also did one of the short 50-minute Bus Tours (normally SEK 189, from Stora Teatern near Kungsportsplatsen) in the morning as it gives you a quick overview of the city’s history via a recorded commentary in a number of languages. There are also plenty of walking tours for a leisurely guided stroll through the city.

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Island Hopping on the Archipelago

The main reason I’d come to the West Coast was to be by the sea and to explore the archipelago just off the coast. The Southern Archipelago islands are car-free and can be reached by ferry in 15-30 minutes. Simply take a tram to Salholmen and any of the ferries from there (pick up a free booklet plus a map of the islands on board plus a timetable as some are more regular than others). The ferries are very comfy and generally have clean toilets, which can be useful when you’re out and about all day. My favourites were Brännö and Vrangö and I’ll post separately about how to plan a trip there. Make sure you bring a credit card, as many places in Sweden do not accept cash.

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Fika Breaks, Shopping for Local Products & Dog-friendly Travel 

My only regret during my four-day visit to Gothenburg was how little time I had to check out the city’s many great music venues, street art, cafes and shops. I did have an evening stroll through the Haga district and made an effort to spend a morning walking around the city centre plus enjoying a ‘fika’ (Swedish for coffee break) in the lovely secluded courtyard of Da Matteo cafe on Vallgatan. There is a cluster of cool shops in the same block (Swedish design, clothes, second hand books, flowers) plus some food trucks for a great lunch option, so it’s fantastic if you’re short of time. I also happened to find lots of cute dog sculptures all around town and the Gothenburg tourist office website even has a dog-friendly guide to the city.

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Meet the Locals

Swedish people are generally relaxed and friendly folks, but most of them tend to be on the reserved side. So in order to experience life like a Swede, West Sweden started a great initiative called Meet The Locals. You can browse a list of people and activities online (visiting a farm, meeting for coffee, going on a boat trip) and get put in touch with your chosen local. I tried this but due to a lack of time on my part as well as my local’s part, we didn’t actually manage to meet up. However, I still had lots of nice conversations with people on trams, in cafes mostly while visiting the islands and due to my dog project Cuddle a Dog a Day (so many cute Swedish dogs!). I also randomly met another translator at a bus stop who invited me to his home, what a lovely gesture, which also gave me an insight in Swedish everyday life.

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Of course, all of the above only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in the West Swedish city of Gothenburg. I’m most definitely going to return for another visit as soon as I can! Feel free to leave a comment if you have additional tips or questions. You can also find more pictures and videos of my trip on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a 48 hour City Card by the lovely people at Goteborg.com. Prices are as of August 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

Happy Campers Despite The Rain: Cambridge Folk Festival 2017

Of the three years I’ve been to Cambridge Folk Festival, the 52nd edition, from 27-31 July 2017, was the least euphoric for me (for lack of coming up with a better adjective for it). The weather was not great on most days and really sucked on Saturday night plus there wasn’t really any act that I was dying to see live this time. On top of that, on the last festival night, I managed to pick a bus to the campsite with a driver how wasn’t in the mood to do the roundabout thing, which I’d been looking forward to practically for a year. Having said all that, I still had a great time because of the fantastic new music I discovered, the always friendly vibe, the yummy food and last but most definitely not least the fun team I worked with (third year in a row).

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Of the acts I did catch I was most impressed by a few of the bands I had not seen before like the excellent She Drew the Gun from Liverpool, Amythyst Kiah from Tennessee, the Indigo Girls with guest band member Lucy Wainwright, Juanita Stein, Worry DollsMoxie and Daoirí Farrell (both from Ireland), 2017 Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito (see second pic below), The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, Blue Rose Code and Scottish band Admiral Fallow (see pic below), the last set of the festival for me and the perfect end to this year’s event.

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Acts I didn’t care much for were Jake Bugg (really doesn’t compare at all to, say, the Passenger performance in 2015, but still attracted lots of screaming selfie-taking teenagers) and, a bit unexpectedly, Shirley Collins, whose main stage performance was rather uninspiring and who seemed to favour sticking with just music from the past and dissing musicians creating new ‘folk’ music. Surely traditional music was also new at some point and it’s exciting to witness the emergence of new folk songs, the best of which are bound to be classics one day while keeping the best of traditional folk music alive as well.

We also got some fantastic surprise sets at the Clapham’s Common After Hours Stage (my favourite way to relax after a long festival day) with appearences by Jon Boden (yes, really!) and lots of other great performers until about 1.30am most nights. The campsite was still fairly quiet overall and I had a few good nights’ sleep.

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Instead of doing a run-down of my festival weekend I thought this time around I’ll answer a few questions people tend to ask me about going to festivals. Here we go…

What is it like working at a festival?

I do a mix of attending festivals with a press pass, volunteering and, like at Cambridge, working as part of the festival team. Each of them have their advantages and disadvantages. With a press pass you tend to have easier access and can see any acts you want, but it can also be a bit boring as it takes more effort to interact with people if you’re there by yourself. As a volunteer you have a ready-made group of pals you work and hang out with, which is great fun and a lot more sociable and you still get to see a lot of acts as you generally get given a festival pass. I try and volunteer only at festivals that ask for no more than 4 hours per day, as I think any longer shifts are basically work and should be paid accordingly. At Cambridge we do about 6-8 hours of paid work a day and as you’re staff it comes with a bit more responsibility than simply being a volunteer. But it’s so great to work with other people who are motivated and to make sure, together as a team, the audience is having a fun and is having a safe festival experience. As we are usually the first to notice if anything doesn’t go according to plan (accidents, logistical issues, lost children, the lot), we really get to see how much work and coordination it takes to make such a large event happen and how good teamwork positively contributes to it.

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Isn’t camping sort of roughing it and not very enjoyable?

I first started festival camping in 2012 when I made the crucial mistake of buying a super light tent with only one skin. It makes me cringe thinking back to that summer when my little tent got flooded by rain and after a wet and uncomfortable night I headed into the nearest town desperate to buy a sturdier model. Since then I’ve had the best of times with my ‘happy tent’ (see pic below), a 3-man dome tent, which is just perfect for one person actually. It fits my self-inflatable sleeping mat and sleeping bag on one side and my handluggage-sized trolley and other bits and pieces on the other side. I only go to festivals with reasonable shower and toilet facilities, so do read the FAQs of the festival(s) you’re planning to go to. I also always travel by public transport, so it’s essential to keep everything to a minimum while still bringing enough change of clothes, wellies etc. to keep you comfy no matter what the weather gods throw at you. Although there tend to be very few thefts and festival security patrolling the camp sites at most festivals I’ve been to, it’s also wise to not leave any valuables in the tent if you can avoid it. Some festivals offer lockers or you might be able to ask a neighbour in a Campervan to keep things for you if needed. Campers tend to be friendly, helpful folks, so don’t be shy to ask for help and offer it yourself if you see anyone struggling with putting up their tent (we’ve all been there).

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Don’t you get lonely attending a festival by yourself?

I love solo travel and that also applies to festivals. Most of my friends are not quite as excited about festivals as I am and I’m not quite as excited about drinking, smoking and just hanging out when there are the most amazing bands on the line-up. So I just tend to have more fun on my own. Yes, the first night when you don’t know anyone yet, can be a bit lonely, but it’s a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and talk to new people or learn to sit with that feeling of loneliness, which is also a good experience from time to time. I always bring books to read and a journal to write in and there is so much on all the time that I hardly ever have any spare time anyway. Like already mentioned above, volunteering or working at a festival is a great way of meeting new and most of all trustworthy people, who can keep you a seat or look after your bag while you’re off to the loo, all of which is a bit more difficult when you’re on your own.

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What do you recommend bringing to a festival?

I hate being cold even more than being too warm. So I always pack a blanket, a hot water bottle (onsite ambulance stations or coffee vans sometimes let you fill those if you ask nicely or you can bring a travel kettle if there are plugs around the site), a water bottle as festivals always have taps for drinking water (saves the environment and quite a bit of cash, which you could spend on artist merch instead), band aids, dry shampoo, plastic bags (you can never have enough of those, especially when the weather is bad) and for those weekends when it gets really sunny don’t forget your sun protection and a hat.

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How do I get to be in the front row for a particular set?

Every festival is different, but at Cambridge you basically have the largest stage (stage 1), the slightly smaller stage 2 and the Club Tent (talks/Q&As, folk clubs and more traditional music during the day, fairly up-tempo acts at night) plus The Den (up and coming acts, just outside the main festival area). For both stages 1 and 2 I recommend getting to the front at the end of the set just before the one you want to see. If you get there only by the start time of your preferred artist, that is usually too late, so you do need to plan ahead. Having said that, Cambridge is always fairly relaxed and you won’t have to worry much about it being too crowded and claustrophobic. The tents are open on two sides (stage 1) or three sides (stage 2) and this might be an English thing, but there are often gaps in the middle as most people tend to stand around the edges, so if you say ‘excuse me’ a lot in a friendly way while threading your way through the crowd, you might get further to the front even if it looks busy from outside the tent. People are also generally willing to let children stand in the front. During the Indigo Girls set on Friday night, there was a girl even sleeping in between other people’s legs right behind the front row, so it’s definitely no problem with little ones.

My partner doesn’t care much for music, what else is there to do?

Cambridge has lots of alternative activities on all day and most of them take place by the Duck Pond, a bit outside the main arena. The Hub offers workshops for children and young people (craft, dance, music), the Flower Garden does too (talks, storytelling, music workshops) and there is a healing area as well with Tai Chi, yoga (sadly missed both sessions this time), positive thinking, drawing and willow art. There is also a café there where you can refuel in between workshops. Plus you have a lot of fun stalls to explore in the main arena offering jewellery (like this very well designed one below), fancy dress, instruments, CDs and more.

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What do you eat at festivals as a vegetarian or vegan?

It is actually at festivals where quite a few pop-up stalls with inventive veggie and vegan food started out and there is no problem whatsoever at most UK festivals to eat meat-free all weekend (but do confirm this on the website of the festival you are planning on attending). At Cambridge I had a choice of curries, salads, smoothies, Indian street food, burritos, cakes, wood oven pizza and more and a veggie version of the ‘full English’ is pretty standard, too, nowadays. As a staff member, I was lucky to also get to eat at Red Radish backstage once a day, who had the yummiest veggie and vegan dishes every day, such as delicious curry with melons and vegan Bolognese pasta.

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While my first ever Cambridge Folk Festival in 2015 was still the best one so far for me, 2017 was definitely very enjoyable again. And the fact that Rhiannon Giddens (video snippet of her 2015 set) will be taking over from Jon Boden next year as a guest festival curator (besides Bev Burton who took over the main festival programmer job from Eddie Barcan this year) is already a great reason to attend next year, too!

Stage 1 Friday CFF 2017

P.S. This year there was an all-female line-up for stage 1, which should be a great example for other festivals to up their female musicians percentage. I personally think it would work even better if it wasn’t all condensed into one day and just spread throughout the weekend, but what’s important is that Bev and the team have obviously given it a thought and are helping to make positive change happen. Excellent!