In between trips again though I do have a quick work trip to New York next week and hope that I can hit the Texas State Fair next weekend before it closes for the year. Can’t believe how fast the year has flown by already so I started thinking about some fun past festival trips we have done. My husband, Steve, complains a lot about crowds, He hates huge crowds of people, he can’t stand waiting in line more than 5-10 minutes and usually just mentioning someplace that is likely to have hordes of people gets a sneer from him. That being said, we put a lot of things on our bucket list that included some of the world’s biggest parties. We haven’t been to everything on the list yet but here are some of the big ones we have made it to so far and what we thought.
Oktoberfest in Munich
Loved, loved, loved Oktoberfest. It was fun, it was clean, people were nice, super friendly and in a great mood (seriously, I never saw one angry drunk here) and the tents were a blast and well organized with great music and squeaky clean bathrooms. I was expecting complete drunken chaos but Germans do not allow chaos. Drunk, yes. Chaos, no. We arrived for the opening weekend of Oktoberfest in mid-September (the fest starts in September and runs for a few weeks into early October) and hit the Spaten beer tent on the first Saturday right when it opened at 10am. You do have to be there when the fairgrounds open to get a decent seat in any tent, especially on the weekends.
It’s a bit of a mad rush when they open the gates but if you are there by 11am, you should be able to find a spot pretty easily in any tent (and we had a group of 6 – would be even easier if just 2 people). Yes, we were drinking huge beers (one liter each) at 10am. Just get a pretzel and some wursts and don’t think about that. Also, while the food is typical heavy German fare, it’s actually very good at the fairgrounds and very fresh! When you get tired of the beer tents, there is plenty to see and do in Munich, which is a lovely city and many day trips available. We split our time between Munich and Prague and loved it. Unfortunately all of my photos were on my old, old camera that wasn’t even digital so I can’t include any of them but needless to say we had an absolute blast at Oktoberfest and would love to go back again. It’s like attending a big state fair but with an emphasis on beer. Oh, and if you don’t like beer, they have a wine tent too!!
Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Love Mardi Gras too. Mardi Gras actually occurs over a two week period in February or March so there are two main weekends to it. The first weekend is called “FamilyGras” by the locals b/c it’s the more family friendly weekend – smaller parades, smaller crowds and less drunkenness. The second weekend is known as the Super Weekend with the huge parades like Bacchus and Orpheus rolling. Personally, we like the first weekend because you still get the fun of the parades – marching bands, music, tons of beads and throws, but without Mr. College Frat Guy throwing up on your shoes later and the French Quarter is more bearable in terms of crowds. Actually, the Super Weekend isn’t that bad if you plan well but it is a lot more crowded and rowdy. There really are more families the first weekend and it’s fun watching the kids get worked up over getting beads and throws and you can still find plenty of places to grab a seat at the bar throughout the French Quarter. We had to skip Mardi Gras this year due to work schedules but if you have ever debated it – just go!
The French Quarter is lively the first weekend but not uncomfortably crowded. Best of all, the first weekend has the dog parade, called Barkus (play on Bacchus) which is a really fun walking parade through the French Quarter and everyone dresses up their dogs and makes their own mini floats. Most parades roll down St. Charles Avenue through the Garden District and Business District and only skirt the Quarter on Canal Street for a short distance. We love Mardi Gras as it’s a great community event and really brings out the best of New Orleans.
The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona
One and done with this one. Don’t get me wrong – I adore Spain as a country but the Running of the Bulls was one big nasty fest in my opinion. I hate to stereotype or generalize but let’s just say that the Spanish didn’t seem nearly as concerned with law, order and cleanliness as the Germans did at Oktoberfest. First, Pamplona is a lovely town that becomes an overcrowded cesspool during San Fermin – we’re talking vomit and pee everywhere and people literally passed out all over the place. I had to carry my luggage over people passed out in the middle of the streets. Steve compared Pamplona to a beautiful woman who decides to become a dirty whore for just one week.
Also, you have to rent a balcony to get a good view of the Running unless you know someone. The balcony rental is pricey, you have to be there no later than 6am in the morning because they close the streets down and they tend to cram you onto the small balconies because the tour operators that control the rentals are trying to make a buck. The Running itself is over in about 2 or 3 minutes – the bulls go by so fast you can barely photograph them. The only reason I got these photos of the bulls is because they got confused, turned around and ran the wrong direction and had to be corraled again.
Another surprise was that there are very few decent places to eat during the festival and the halfway decent tapas bars are overrun. Most good restaurants simply board up and close shop during the Running and the owners leave town because it’s such a madhouse. What’s left are some crappy places on the main plaza, bar food and some fairgrounds that are dicey in terms of food hygiene and of very poor quality. Lastly, other than sangria, the popular drink during San Fermin is called Kalimoxto. What is it? It’s a mix of red wine and coca-cola. You read that correct – it’s 1/2 red wine and 1/2 coca-cola and it’s as nasty as it sounds.
Other festivals on our “to do” list? I would love to visit Rio during Carnival and attend the huge Samba parade but we’ll probably wait until Rio seems a little safer. I’d also like to visit Napa or Sonoma during the grape harvest or the Bottle Rock music festival – they usually have a big harvest festival in September. Finally, I would love to visit one big music fest – either Coachella in Palm Springs or Jazz Fest in New Orleans depending on the line up. I have also read about an artichoke festival in Tuscany that sounds lovely.