By Christine Potter
Gear Up For The Gathering
Next year, 2013, is the Big One for the Irelands – Northern Ireland and the Republic – when anyone claiming Irish ancestry might feel the tug to attend The Gathering, a year-long festival celebrating Ireland and its people.
Meanwhile, this year, Belfast honours the centennial of the Titanic tragedy. The ship was designed, built and launched in Belfast and exhibitions about the vessel and Belfast’s maritime history can be seen at THE TITANIC QUARTER, a new $160-million visitor attraction. The building resembles the bows of three luxury liners: Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic – all built in Belfast.
The city is also part of the Olympic Games, with the Torch Relay on June 3, beginning its route to more than 60 towns across Northern Ireland, including passing such iconic locales as the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and into Derry-Londonderry (next year’s UK City of Culture).
Dublin, capital of the Republic, is designated European City of Science for 2012, and in July hosts a huge science conference and a number of science-driven events through the year.
While you’re in Dublin, don’t miss a visit to the Guinness factory, Trinity College with its ancient library and the magnificent Book of Kells, and Grafton Street, Dublin’s smartest shopping area. More from www.tourismireland.com.
Floating Buses & Flower Shows
Think Holland, think flowers, think Floriade, the World Horticultural Exposition staged once every 10 years. It runs from April 5 to October 7 in Venlo (near the German and Belgian borders) and complementing the stunning array of plants is a daily program of visual and performing arts, plus sustainable architecture and environmental displays. Another famous Dutch horticulture event is the annual show of flowering bulbs in KEUKENHOF GARDENS, this year from March 22 to May 20 with a Flower Parade April 21. Named the most beautiful spring garden in the world, Keukenhof covers more than 32 hectares with 4.5 million tulips. Its 15 kilometres of footpaths can be explored on foot or by bicycle. (Rentals are available.) And it’s not only about flowers. Keukenhof is also Holland’s largest sculpture park, with art set among thousands of trees.
Passengers with long layovers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will welcome the Floating Dutchman, a boat-bus designed for tourists, daytrippers, and transferring air passengers. The amphibious vehicle embarks at Schiphol Plaza, drives to Amsterdam, and enters the water at the Splash Zone near Nemo Science Centre, continuing its journey as a water launch through the canals. (Check out the YouTube video!) After the trip, the bus returns to the airport. Bookings can be made through www.floatingdutchman.nl and at the airport. More from www.holland.com.
Music & a Marathon
Vienna is in love with Gustav Klimt, especially in this, the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth.
His work made waves around the world, and his best-known piece, The Kiss, resides in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum, home to the world’s largest KLIMT COLLECTION. A series of exhibitions runs through the year. (www.klimt2012.info)
It’s easy to fall in love with Vienna and there’s always so much happening. Current highlights include the 29th Vienna City Marathon on April 15 taking runners through 42 kilometres of favourite sites while some 250,000 fans cheer them on. The Vienna Festival – May 11 to June 17 – draws thousands to City Hall Square for world-class concerts. Standbys like the Vienna Boys Choir or the famed Spanish Riding School with its magnificent Lipizzaner stallions continue to grow in popularity.
Across the rest of the country celebrations include the August Salzburg Festival of classical music and La Strada Street Theatre Festival in Graz, during the first week of August with performers including puppeteers and acrobats.
Graz is also the locale for Steirischer Herbst in early October, a showcase for contemporary art (performing and visual, including drama, film, music and literature) in unusual venues such as abandoned factories, swimming pools, and mine tunnels. More from www.Austria.info.
Alpine Cattle Drive, Historic Hiking
Switzerland is tiny but packs a big punch for year-round tourism with some of the best snow sport locations in the world and charming summer attractions.
Check out HISTORIC HIKING ROUTES (put together in a neat website package) like the hike from the Rhine in Basel to the Hungfraujoch or “Top of Europe.”
You might catch an Alpine cattle drive in summer, or one of many open-air performances around the country. You might help celebrate the centenary of the amazing Jungfraujoch railway spiralling into the mountains.
Lucerne is known as a city of festivals and offers a year-round program rich in culture and cuisine and this year plays host to the World Cup Final of International Rowing (May 25 to 27).
In winter, take advantage of a SnowCard package, saving up to 30 per cent on ski passes and accommodation in 13 ski areas. Find out more from www.myswitzerland.com.
Bagpipes & Blindness
The Czech Republic resounds with music, especially in summer. Prague Spring is one of the country’s top music events and this year the line-up features 50 concerts with guest performers from around the world. (May 12 to June 3.)
Smetana’s Litomysl international opera festival runs from June 14 to July 8 and the renowned International Music Festival in Cesky Krumlov, the picturesque UNESCO town, brings in top-line artists to the historical setting. (July 20 to August 25.)
Other events range from costumed medieval festivals – like Cesky’s FIVE-PETAL ROSE FESTIVAL (June 17 to 19) with knights, jesters, and costumed nobles – to an international bagpipe festival (August 23 to 26 in Strakonice) which, they say, overcomes all language barriers.
A unique show in Prague is the Invisible Exhibition running through April 1, 2013. It’s an interactive journey into an invisible world where your guides are blind or partially sighted. It’s intended to give sighted people an understanding into the world of the blind. (neviditelna.cz/en)
For more information go to www.czechtourism.com.
ABBA & Strindberg
In Sweden, you can now explore Stockholm with the ABBA City Walk, following in the 1970s footsteps of the dynamically popular group.
The entire country commemorates the 100th anniversary of August Strindberg’s death, the writer known as the father of modern Swedish literature. Sixty plays and more than 30 works of fiction bear his name, and the Strindberg Museum in Stockholm has a wealth of information: about the man, the writer, and the social activist.
This year Stockholm’s TEKNISKA MUSEET (National Museum of Science and Technology) stages its biggest exhibition to date: 100 Most Important Innovations showing the greatest change-making events of all time. (www.visitsweden.com)
Easter is definitely different in Norway’s north, where the Sami people celebrate with World Championship reindeer races. Dress in warm layers and watch the Sami “cowboys” prepare their reindeer. It’s an adventure seen this year from April 4 to 8.
Norway’s patron saint St. Hallvard (May 15) is commemorated with folkloric concerts and family entertainment throughout the country. In Henningsvar, Codstock (May 25 to 27) has nothing to do with fish but is a blues festival with a big following.
Extreme Sports get their own festival and competition in Voss, when Extremsportveko (June 24 to July 1) showcases skydiving, rafting, kayaking, hang gliding…you get the picture.
A maritime nation like Norway naturally celebrates the bounty of the sea, and the narrow, cobbled streets of Mandal are filled with long tables of shellfish, cray fish, and other ocean delicacies from August 9 to 12, accompanied by lively entertainment. Finally in December, along with the Christmas markets, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo from December 10 to 12. (www.visitnorway.com)
Any visitor to Finland would be remiss not to try out the famed sauna. It’s the social thing to do, and they do it clothed. In some cases, you’ll eat herring roasted on the coals as you bake alongside. Even in summer. Finns love the outdoors and you can find out about the many national events from www.visitfinland.com.
Golden Days, Magic Nights
Another royal jubilee, this time in Denmark where Queen Margrethe II celebrates 40 years on the throne. Marking the occasion is an art exhibition by Her Majesty at Arken Art Museum until July 1.
Copenhagen resonates with the taste, smell and sounds of cooking from August 19 to September 4 when NORDIC CUISINE takes the stage. Food expos, street kitchens, classes and reduced prices at some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants are on the agenda.
Thousands descend on Horsens in Jutland August 24 and 25 for the European Medieval Festival and the following month sees Golden Days in Copenhagen, focusing on the city’s history.
In late October, the 10-day Ting Festival in Cophenhagen spotlights Nordic Culture with performers, filmmakers, and writers.
If you happen to be in Denmark during November and December don’t miss Tivoli Gardens. It’s magic. So is the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market in his home town of Odense in Funen. (www.visitdenmark.com)
Snow Or No Snow
Hikers, birdwatchers, nature lovers and those who are merely curious are drawn to Iceland where thermal springs provide heat and fun all year round.
Iceland Airwaves cranks up plenty of heat of its own from October 31 to November 4 in Reykjavik. It began as a showcase for local DJs but is now a full-blown international music festival.
The first day of summer is celebrated on April 19 across the country – that’s according to the old Icelandic calendar – with parades and plenty of fun events. Whether it snows or not. And June 25 to July 1 is the Icelandic Horse competition in Landsmot, where the sturdy creatures compete in a variety of events. (www.visiticeland.com)
Calypso & The Church
Malta and her sister islands Gozo and Comino (car free and carefree) offer variety, sunshine, a plethora of festivals, and loads of history.
Myth suggests Gozo is Calypso’s isle of Homer’s Odyssey. Baroque churches, historic forts, and a well-preserved temple can be seen on this tiny green land.
Malta’s religious festivals celebrate the Roman Catholic calendar and are colourful and frequent. You’ll also find plenty of secular events, such as the Fontana Fireworks Festival June 16. The year-round re-enactment of an historic fort inspection in Valletta (In Guardia Parades) happens every Sunday except in August. The 40-minute show features a costumed garrison of 70 showing off a range of military drills from the past. (www.visitmalta.com)
It’s The Wine
Cyprus, off the Turkish coast (divided between Greek Cyprus in the south and Turkish Cyprus in the north) has a wealth of archaeological sites, a contagious joie de vivre (especially when sampling mezzes, a tapas-style platter of 10 to 20 dishes, washed down with Cyprian wine) and some of the best beaches in the Med.
Flower Festival (Anthestiria) on May 12, 13 and 20 covers the island with blooms and is celebrated with parades and chariot races. On June 4, the Flood Festival (Kataklysmos) commemorates the Greek myth of Deukalion and the biblical flood. Ceremonies last several days with games, folk dances and boat races.
Cyprian wines come to the fore from August 30 to September 9 with free-flowing vintages poured free of charge each evening. (www.visitcyprus.com)
One Huge Museum
It’s no surprise that Turkey has become one of the world’s most popular destinations. Visitors bring home tales of magnificent buildings like Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, of an East-meets-West ambience, of mouth-watering cuisine, ancient ruins like Ephesus and Hierapolis, and extraordinary topography like the surreal desert formations of Cappadocia and the travertine terraces of Pamukkale.
The country boasts beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean and Black seas, and the Taurus Mountains are loved by hikers.
Today’s Turkey also embraces health tourism, focusing on its HOT SPRINGS, healing waters and rich muds.
It’s a secular country but Islamic holidays are celebrated, such as Ramadan (July 20 to August 18) when it can be somewhat difficult to find meals during daylight hours, except in resorts and the capital. In the evening, banquets reign.
Among the non-religious events is Instancool, May 25 to 27. The festival focuses on film, literature, fashion, and design and this year’s speakers include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and Academy Award winning director Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate). Another event for movie lovers is Golden Saffron Film Festival – featuring national and international documentaries – held each September in the UNESCO town of Sefranbolu in Northern Turkey. (www.Goturkey.com)
Toss A Cat, Race A Duck
Good things to eat and quirky festivals await travellers to Belgium, its capital Brussels, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – two tiny countries with a big impact.
It’s Belgium’s Year of Gastronomy showcasing Brussels and Wallonia as foodie destinations. Dine as you sightsee from the Food Tramway, enjoy a taste magician as he roams the streets concocting spontaneous dishes, or eat eggs in the Giant Omelette Celebration of Malmedy.
This, too, is the year to see the massive flower carpet covering Grand-Place, from August 15 to 19. It’s worth spending three Euros to access the Town Hall balcony for a panoramic view.
It’s also time for the Throwing of the Cats, a May festival occurring every three years. Happily live cats are no longer chucked from the highest Ypres belfries and fun fake ones have taken their place. It’s a major event with parades, medieval costume and pageantry and it all began when cats were used to control rodents in the Cloth Hall. Once the cloth was sold, the cats were superfluous and met this gruesome end until 1817.
Personal stories of ordinary people in and after the First World War are part of the expanded museum In Flanders Fields opening in Ypres this June. It’s one of a series of projects preparing for the 1914-18 war centennial. (www.visitbelgium.com)
In Luxembourg, 10,000 numbered rubber duckies are raced on April 21 and the winner’s owner wins a car. Less tongue in cheek is Summer in the City from June 21 to September 8. (www.visitluxembourg.com)