Get your bloom on: Flower shows in Europe

Although late summer flower parades are a tradition perhaps most often associated with Belgium and Holland, they are held in several other European countries too. For those residing in Germany, the opportunity to witness the country’s largest presents itself on Aug. 30 in Bad Ems, an attractive spa town along the Lahn River. The city is about an hour’s drive northwest of Wiesbaden.

About 1.5 million dahlia blossoms will embellish some 30 floats, each decorated in accordance with a theme. Inspiration for the décor comes from legends and fairy tales, famous landmarks or contemporary entertainment. Marching and show bands and majorettes also take part to form a procession that stretches over two miles and affords viewers several hours of entertainment. The city’s traditional market and fun fair, the Bartholomäusmarkt, will also be in full swing on the day.

Aug. 28-31: Steampunks in Lincoln, England

While the genre known as Steampunk defies easy description, “science fiction meets the Victorian era” evokes the general idea. Adherents will be easy enough to spot throughout the weekend in Lincoln, England, as the festival called “The Asylum” brings an influx of creative types to this city awash in historical landmarks. The festival runs Aug. 28-31.

Thousands of eccentrically clad steampunks turn out annually to enjoy a festival that combines art, literature, music, fashion, comedy and friendly competition. This year’s edition, which runs over four days and across several venues, offers many curious happenings including participatory folk dancing and a costume parade with prizes awarded for best outfit on Aug. 29; the military inspired Queen’s parade, a simulated flying competition, and a bathing beauties swimming costume contest on Aug. 30; and a jet pack race and a teddy bear “punknik” on Aug. 31. Markets, an exhibition of original creations designed by festival participants themselves, and workshops on topics from floral design to descriptive writing round out a full agenda.

Aug. 29: Zurich's techno party

Each year in August, hundreds of thousands of dance fans from throughout the world flock to Zürich, Switzerland to take part in one of the biggest and brightest techno parties around. The 24th annual edition of Street Parade Zürich takes place on Aug. 29 this year under the theme of “Magic Moments.” The parade is organized three weeks later than usual this year due to a major construction project.

At 1 p.m., some 30 gaily decorated trucks known as Love Vehicles will slowly make their way along the shore of Lake Zurich. The trucks bear massive sound systems, DJs, and throngs of dancing revellers. Seven large stages along the parade route augment the audio assault with live acts, dance shows and more DJs. According to the event website, leading DJs from all over the world are happy to appear here without being paid for their services just to be part of the parade’s unique and electrifying atmosphere.

Aug. 15-21: Street festival fun in Barcelona

Barcelona’s Gràcia barrio is a bohemian neighborhood of winding streets that once stood as a separate village. For a week each year in mid-August, it’s a particularly vibrant and happy place to be, as La Fiesta de Gràcia unfolds.

This much loved festival with the atmosphere of a block party is welcoming to outsiders as well. Residents of the various streets compete to outshine one another with elaborate hanging decorations fashioned around a certain theme, providing a colorful canopy for strollers to admire from below. Websites suggest the best timing for a visit is after darkness falls and the decorations are brought to life through illumination. A plethora of stalls vending street foods ensures no one leaves hungry, while concerts, parades, dances, sporting events and other performances provide the entertainment. Castellers, or human tower builders; correfocs, runs in which fireworks-wielding devils give chase; and sardanas, folk dances, represent some of the distinctly Catalan traditions present here.

Aug. 11-15: Great British Beer Fest

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is an independent, voluntary organization which campaigns for real ale, community pubs, and consumer rights in Britain. In line with its goal to acquaint the public with real (also known as cask) ales and ciders, it also organizes a range of tasting events, the largest of which is The Great British Beer Festival. The festival runs today (Aug. 11) through Saturday, Aug. 15 at the Olympia, an event venue in central London.

What’s billed as the U.K.’s biggest beer festival will offer visitors the chance to explore over 900 real ales, ciders and perries, a beverage similar to cider but made with pears. Over 350 breweries will showcase their wares, from limited edition brews to award-winning specialties. International producers present hail from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition to sampling, visitors can try their hand at long forgotten pub games or peruse stalls selling everything from beer snacks to quirky gifts.

Aug. 10: Feast day in Florence

Many Italian cities mark the feast day of San Lorenzo, or St. Lawrence, on Aug. 10. Florence, the site of a basilica named after the saint, celebrates the day with a traditional fest.

Festivities begin with a historical parade paying homage to the Florentine Republic, which gets underway at 10 a.m. from the Piazzetta di Parte Guelfa. The procession snakes its way through town to arrive at the Basilica di San Lorenzo around 11 a.m. After a slight pause, it makes its way back to its starting point via a different route.

By afternoon, the Piazza San Lorenzo becomes the focus of activity. The market stalls that line the streets by afternoon are gradually packed up to make room for live music performances from about 7 p.m. The highlight of the day for many comes at 9 p.m., when free lasagne and watermelon are distributed.  Learn more at http://tinyurl.com/q5cg2nd

Nowhere near Florence? The Feast day of St. Lawrence is also celebrated in piazzas and wineries throughout Italy under the name of Calici di Stelle, or goblets of stars. Wine tourism authorities collaborate with the association of Italian winemaking cities and producers to organize evenings filled with music, art, regional culinary specialties, and not least, a glass of fine and locally produced wine. Note advance reservations at the participating wine cellars are often required.

Learn more about the initiative and events taking place in your region at http://tinyurl.com/pwfs7qs.

Explore Norway by air

Feeling a bit wilted by the summer heat? The regional airline Widerøe’s “Explore Norway” ticket enables its bearer to see a good chunk of this Nordic land with plenty of territory lying above the Arctic Circle. When you consider the driving distance from the capital city of Oslo to the North Cape is around 1300 miles, a flight pass starts to make all the more sense.

Widerøe flies to over 40 destinations within the country, making it possible to explore the nation’s rugged coastline, fjords, mountains, forests and historical sites in a single trip.

Enjoy open-air opera

Summer vacation plans looking a bit paltry in terms of culture? Perhaps some opera or classical music performances would lend that necessary touch of refinement to one’s upcoming travel agenda. The following list of open-air options is but a tiny sampling of all the summer has to offer.  



July 15-19: Street artists in Tuscany

The Tuscan town of Certaldo, located about 20 miles southwest of Florence, is the site of an annual festival of street arts known as Mercantia. The festival, now in its 28th year, is widely considered to be one of the best festivals of its kind in Europe.

July 15-19, dancers, mimes, musicians, jugglers, street bands, circus acts, human statues, stilt walkers, puppeteers, cabaret artists and other entertainers from around the world will show off their considerable skills in the streets and courtyards of this medieval walled town. Some 100 performances take place each evening in Certaldo Alto, the ancient section of town perched high on a hill. Mercantia means art too; look out for exhibitions and installations crafted of wood, leather, metals and other materials by over 40 artists. The newer, low part of town bursts with an array of stalls selling a hodgepodge of goods, from crafts to herbal remedies.



About the Author

Karen Bradbury has lived and worked in Europe for more than fifteen years. She has called Moscow, Copenhagen, Rome and now a small wine-producing village along the Rhine in Germany home. When she's not working, whatever the season, she's probably traveling.

Email: bradburyk@estripes.osd.mil