Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Summer Travel: World's Wildest, Weirdest Festivals!

June 08, 2021 Lea shares the oddest, wildest, weirdest summer celebrations on earth. Season 1 Episode 19
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Summer Travel: World's Wildest, Weirdest Festivals!
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Lea takes on the world's weirdest, oddest summer festivals around the world.

-- In the USA, there's underwater music in Key West,  hat contests in Connecticut, and all things Elvis in Memphis.  In Canada, she remembers participating in a noisy celebration of survival.

-- Bayonne, France celebrates Basque culture; and Italians high in the Dolomites swing on hammocks. In Portugal it's the festival of trays, in Austria, body painting, for the Finns it's celebrating beer, and there's baby jumping in Spain. And Romania has a maidens fair for fair maidens.
-- Going east, South Korea has a mudfest, and a watergun festival. Kenya celebrates dromedaries. There's a big Mongolian celebration, and a belly-button Festival in Japan. Sri Lanka adorns its elephants.

-- Blondes have more fun in Latvia, and other kinds of blondes, Golden Retrievers, compete in Scotland.

-- And then there are the throwing, crushing and hauling events -- tomatoes and wine in Spain, grapes in Australia, and girlfriends in Finland!

-- Lea ends with a special memory -- of a duct-tape parade in Ohio!
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; Travelea on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember by Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.comPlease follow, rate and review this award-winning travel podcast!

*Edited for clarity.

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. 

Summer means outdoors, picnics on a lawn with kids playing nearby, driving with a top down to get drippy ice cream cones at a roadside stand. Or buttery lobster rolls on a wooden table by the ocean in Maine. Listening to an indie rock group in the town square or lazing on a beach or on a dock by a lake shopping for fresh corn and warm tomatoes at farmer's markets, baseball games in boats, fairs and camps and eating outside. I love summer. But what I love most are summer festivals around the world. 

In episode eight, about spring travel, I gave you a whole bunch of fun spring festivals and I've collected some of my favorite, quirkiest summer festivals to share with you in this episode. And if you plan to attend any, always check ahead to be sure they're on. Let's start with the United States. At the Florida Keys Underwater Music Festival held annually on the Saturday after July 4, a concert is held at part of the world's third largest and North America's only living coral reef. Here's the catch: ocean theme songs are streamed into the water through waterproof speakers hung for the bottoms of boats floating above the reef. You can hear maybe the Little Mermaid or Jimmy Buffett, or the Beatles octopus garden, you'll see musician divers with mermaids playing surreal instruments, such as a "fluke allele." Sound travels 4.3 times faster in water than in air, so you can listen to musical vibes not just with your ears, but your entire body. 

Hang on to your hats at the Bridgeport Connecticut Hat Festival. Contestants gather at Bucky do Square; yes that's its real name, to be shortlisted for the fun hats competition for best ladies and gents, girls and boys hats, and the most elegantly hatted couple. The main event is Hatter Day, a hat-hurling challenge, psychic hat reading, and even a best hatted dog competition. 

Elvis week is usually held in Memphis in mid-August, and includes movies, special performances, and the ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists contest to crown the best Elvis impersonator. It's a week of scheduled events to mark the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. I do not think they have a tableau him in the bathroom. And you do get to see Graceland. 

Let's go to Canada. They're not as silly. Right? Well, here's a bit of backstory. In 1755, the British attempted to remove the Acadians from British North America in the great deportation, also known as the Expulsion of the Acadians. It was a horrific event that saw approximately 10,000 Acadians deported between 1755 and 1763. Attracted by the French language, many found their way to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. A few escaped deportation and eventually gathered in Caracat the unofficial capital of Acadia. in New Brunswick, Canada on the Atlantic coast is a festival celebrating the Acadian survival, with concerts, the blessing of the local fishing fleet, decorating the town, and dozens of other events. On August 15 at 6pm Everyone in town parades up and down the main street, making as much noise as possible for full hour: drums and horns, pots and pans and noisemakers of all sorts. People shout and sing and sport the colors of the Canadian flag. "We are still here!" I attended this noisy celebration a few years ago and suggest if you do, wear earplugs. 

The largest festival in France is in Bayonne in the northern Basque Country. The opening ceremony has been a 10pm on a Wednesday night since 1932. From then for five days until Sunday, the whole town wears white with a red scarf and party's hard. You've heard of my son's escapades in Episode 16, running with the bulls at the festival  for men in Pamplona, Spain. In Bayonne, cows are used, making it a lot less dangerous. At midday every day when the king of the festival Leon awakens, festivities begin and continue throughout the day. With traditional bands, floral processions, and parades of giant paper mache figures and floats, everyone wearing white and red ,and crowded bars, restaurants and stalls lining the river Neve, revelers swarm all through the night.

Lea Lane  04:51

Now this is a scary one. The International Highline meeting festival is one of the most terrifying and daring anywhere -- and don't try this if you're a restless sleeper. Fearless sleepers suspended above the Italian Alps every September-- in just a hammock. They call themselves slackers. Because of the flatlines they're suspended across, this sport differs from tightrope walking, as the rope is slightly flattened head has more slack than a tight rope, meaning it can move side to side or bounce. Yikes. These guys may spend their days and nights defying death, suspended hundreds of feet above the Italian Dolomites. 

Far below this a normal festival. Festa dos Tabuleiros in Tomar, Portugal is the festival of the trays, and takes place every four years. The next one is in July 2023. The procession of the tabular arrows is heralded by pipers and fireworks, and is led by the banner of the Holy Ghost, followed by girls carrying the trays on their heads in the rear, or cartloads, or bread, meat and wine pulled by the symbolic sacrificial oxen with golden horns and sashes. The girls who carry the trays wear long white dresses with a colored sash and held by boys who also wear a formal costume. The tray headdress, which must be the same height as the girl, is made up of 30 loaves of bread, specially shaped and threaded on five or six canes which are tied to a wicker basket. At the top there's a crown completed by paper flowers, greenery. The blessing of the trays, the street decorations, the quilts in the windows and the throwing of flowers over the procession of the trays, carried on the heads of hundreds of young girls is an unforgettable sight. 

In June, another Portuguese Summer Festival, the Festa de Sao Zhao, has been celebrated in Porto for more than six centuries. It looks pretty wild. Participants jump traditional bonfires, and revelers roam the city hitting each other on the heads with plastic hammers. On window sills potted basil plants are set out with traditional verses from Portuguese literature. And on June 23, at midnight, boats crowd the Douro River, and people line the north and south banks to watch spectacular fireworks. Those bonfire jumpers had enough fireworks I guess. 

There are lots of art festivals in summer. But at the annual World Body Painting Festival in Siebert in Austria, artists use scantily clad bodies as their campuses. Techniques include brushes, sponges and air brushes. I guess they have to airbrush the naughty parts. I've been to Finland in winter. And aside from going into the sauna, ice fishing and drinking, there's not much to do so the Finns celebrate summer, big time. And what could be more enjoyable than lazily floating down a river on a summer's day, with a cold one safely in hand? During this floating beer event, the well-watered participants quite literally float along on the Vontobel River. With the starting point at the southern Finnish city Avanta, the fourth-most populated city in Finland, the route comes to an end at a beach. In the Finnish capital Helsinki, people jump and scramble aboard makeshift, often tiny rubber rafts, as well as slightly larger paddle boats loaded with stacks of beer. Paddles and oars are optional, although they may be useful for navigation. Anyway, most of those taking part by the end of their beer soaked journey don't care much where they are. 

l Kalanchoe. Known as the baby jumping festival, is a traditional Spanish holiday that started in 1620 in Burgos, Spain, I happened to be in Burgos at another time of year or I assure you I would not have missed this one. Men dressed as the devil, wearing red and yellow jumpsuits, jumped over babies born during the previous 12 months, to cleanse them of original sin and to guard them against illnesses and evil spirits. It also could give them bad dreams for life. 

On a somewhat related family subject on the third Sunday of July, 1000s of Romanians dress in traditional clothes and gather at a mountain, hoping to meet that special someone. The Maidens Fair at Mount Gaynor was a place where families used to bring their adolescent children and arrange weddings. The festival is always opened by women dressed in folk costume who play the wooden Alpin horn. The celebration can be explained by the fact that the inhabitants of these mountains are scattered, and their homes are far apart divided by mountains. The mountains have also kept them together for all these years.

Lea Lane  09:42

So the legend of the Maidens Fair says that a magic hen, a gaynor in Romanian, who laid golden eggs was brought to the mountains by fairies. Once a year young couples that really loved each other received one of these magic eggs as a present. So locals still believe that a couple can be happy only if their wedding is done on Mount Gaynor. 

Let's go to South Korea, where for two weeks every July, 1000s flock to Borya young, a small town on the western coast, for the mud fest. Mud wrestling, mud sliding and mud swimming have made this the number one and dirtiest Korean festival. There are mud pits, mud fountains, mud pools, mud massage zones and even a mud prison. All of which are guaranteed to have you looking like a mud monster by the day's end. If you're looking for a cleaner time, the Sinchon Water Gun festival is held in July in Seoul, South Korea, a wet and wild way to escape the summer heat bringing memories of childhood summers. The streets of Sinchon normally filled with college students, closes off for a parade of shenanigans -- split up between two days is an umbrella performance water concert, and even a water gun wedding. I mean, who wouldn't want to say they got married at a water gun wedding? And of course the highlight of each day is the water gun fight itself. 

Let's get away from mud and water and go to Kenya, a two-day, late August festival celebrating dromedaries, the camels with double humps. It attracts international competitors participating in the annual race put on by the Samburu tribe. I watched a camel race in Abu Dhabi with the one hump beasts. My favorite memory is of the fake jockeys bobbing on the camel's Hump. There also were races pitting camels against people, the camels won. 

The biggest traditional festival held in Ulaan Bator, the Mongolian capital: Each July men compete in Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery in the city's National Stadium. And today, women also participate in archery games, and girls in horse racing. The festival might not be as quirky as some of the others.

This next festival is quirky. Furano, located in the heart of Hokkaido, Japan is known for its lavender fields and ski resort, but also for the Belly- Button Festival, first celebrated in 1969. During this two day navel-gazing celebration in July, 1000s of dancers compete for prizes with their bellies painted with funny faces such as mustachioed clowns, animals, and Japanese characters. To take part, you need to draw a funny face on your stomach and cover your real face with a straw hat or something similar. The festival committee will provide a belly button dance outfit free of charge. And I'm not sure if it helps whether you're an "innie" or an "outie." 

The  annual 15 day festival in Kandy, Sri Lanka, venerating Buddha's tooth, is significant because it symbolizes the introduction of Buddhism to this small island nation nearly 2000 years ago. Every night is a parade of elephants accompanied by performers and musicians. The festivities culminate with a procession of over 1000 performers and 100 elephants. The larger elephants have their tusks capped in gold and draped with silk tassels, and some even wear ankle bracelets. Animal rights activists won't like this, but it is a sight to behold. 

Are you a blonde? Do you like blondes? Then check out the Blonde Festival in Riga, Latvia, an annual event organized by the Latvian association of blondes. Fair-haired women dressed in pink, parade down the streets of Riga to promote economic growth and to spread cheer. The parade also has become a tourist attraction for people interested in more than just the city's fine Art Nouveau architecture, and has become the biggest blondes festival in the world. Yes, there are more than one. There's a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest and a Harley Davidson bike parade, concluded with an all-night party. In this case, blonds really do have more fun. And there are festivals for another kind of blonde: Golden Retrievers. In July, Goldens and their owners from around the world travel to the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland, appropriately held at the ancestral home of the breed. The festival began in 2006 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the organization. Hundreds of dogs attend the event along with their humans, and of course there's a best of show.

Lea Lane  14:39

The breed by the way, was created in the 1800s by landowner Lord Tweedmouth. Other Golden celebrations are in Golden Colorado, of course, and in Jacksonville, Florida. And don't feel left out if you have a Chihuahua. There are lots of other doggie festivals around the world. 

The most famous food fight in the world is La Tomatina Festival in Spain. Late August marks the beginning of the famous annua La Tomatina, held in the Valencian town of Buenel. The colorful and messy festival involves participants throwing 1000s and 1000s of overripe tomatoes at each other. Every year approximately 40,000 tomato enthusiasts descend on the tiny town to pelt each other, come 10am. On the day of Tomatina, a slice of ham is hung on the top of a greasy pole in the already crowded town square. The goal is to climb and retrieve this slice of ham with a crowd chanting and singing and encouraging, while being showered by water hoses. The moment the slice of ham is dropped from the pole,  a loud signal goes off, trucks loaded with tomatoes enter, and then begins the chaos. Once the fight ends, firefighters wash the streets and people down with hoses. Surprisingly enough, the village streets look quite clean with the acidity of the tomato acting as a disinfectant. There have been various recreations of the festival in Nevada, Chicago, Costa Rica and Colombia, but the original is the biggest and most tomatoey of all. 

And if you feel thirsty after thinking of all that tomato sauce, consider the wine fight at the Batalla del Vino battle of wine in Spain. 1000s of locals throw as much as 34,000 gallons of wine at each other on June 29, the day of the patron saint San Pedro. The festival also includes wine drinking competitions; if you haven't swallowed enough, more throwing and maybe some throwing up I'm afraid is in Australia at the Throwing of the Grape Festival to celebrate the first wine harvest: wine tasting, grape-stomping, live music, and of course, grape- throwing in a fenced-off area. Activities include a sangria tent, water dunking tanks, face painting, inflatable, gladiator jousting in sumo suits. And grape squashing is a group event where teams of four race against the clock to see who can squash the most grapes in their wine barrel. 

And ended with maybe the wackiest festival of all, back to those beer drinking Finns who like to celebrate short summers. In Soca Jarvey Finland male competitors throw their wives or female teammates over their backs to see who can make it through an arduous obstacle course and cross the finish line. The lucky winner of the Wife Carrying World Championships gets a supply of beer equal to his wife's weight. Cheers. And here's to wacky summer fun. 

The name of the podcast is Places I Remember. One summer festival I remember most is the duct tape festival near Cleveland, in Avon Ohio. The three-day event celebrates one thing and one thing only: tape. Avon is home of the maker of the duct tape brand duct tape. So Duct Tape festival is not just a clever name. I knew that tape was useful, but I never knew how useful: I remember floats made entirely of duct tape, clothes from duct tape, and sculptures. The festival is probably the only place where you can see a giant duct tape Empire State Building next to a 350 pound duct-tape cheeseburger. The festival draws more than 50,000 attendees each year. Admission is free and if you're looking for a reason to attend, the first 500 visitors each day receive a free roll of duct tape. I still have mine on a shelf. Perhaps my favorite travel memento. 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about a few of the quirkiest summer festivals you can enjoy around the world. And there are so many more. Next time you plan on traveling look up when a festival occurs that piques your interest, and try to go during that time. If you don't mind the crowds, and usually getting a bit messed up in one way or another. Thank you for sharing this time with me alone. And I encourage you to share this travel podcast with friends and family who love traveling. And if you have a comment or question about the podcast or your own favorite travel memory, which I may read on an upcoming episode, contact me at my website or at my email address, All my links are in the show notes for each episode and on my website. Until next week's podcast episode, go out and travel stay safe and have fun.


Lea Lane  19:39

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

USA festivals
Acadian Festival in Canada
Eight European Festivals
South Korean Festivals
Kenya and Mongolia Celebrations
Japan and Sri Lanka Fun
Blonde Festivals, Latvia and Scotland
La Tomatina and Wine in Spain
Throwing Grapes and Throwing Women
Favorite Memory: Duct Tape