MARDI GRAS 2020

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, baby. Mardi Gras.
Time when all manner of weird shit
cuts loose and parties down.

— Sherrilyn Kenyon

You feel like you are trapped in the chaos, everything is upside down, you are losing your mind, surrounded by thousands of revelers throwing beads at you. You are at Mardi Gras, my friend!

However, for different people, Mardi Gras means different things. For natives, it is a lifestyle, it is in their veins, for some people it is just a day, for others it is a state holiday or an infinite series of parades. Definitely, it is mistaken to think, that it is all about booze and beads.

SO, WHAT IS MARDI GRAS AND HOW DID IT START?

As most holidays and festivals, Mardi Gras is the result of years, if not centuries of creation and evolution. It is said, that Mardi Gras traces its roots to medieval Europe. Historians say that it expanded from Rome and Venice in the 17th – 18th centuries to France. Later, that Carnival celebration appeared in the French colonies. In 1718 the French established the city of New Orleans, and by 1730, Mardi Gras had become an integral part of city’s culture. However, the earliest celebrations of Mardi Gras in New Orleans looked much different, comparing to today’s one.

Nowadays, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, if to translate from French, is known as one of the biggest, mind-blowing events in the United States. Technically, Mardi Gras is the final feasting before Lent and despite all the craziness of the event, it has been a legal holiday in Louisiana since Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act” in 1875.

In 2020, Mardi Gras takes place on Tuesday, February 25. First, you should understand that it is not a one-day celebration. Fat Tuesday is the final day of Carnival season, which begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. So, when you hear that people are going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, it means they go to see many parades and usually they start partying 2 weeks before Mardi Gras itself.

PARADES ARE INSEPARABLE PART OF MARDI GRAS, BUT NOT THE ONLY THING TO ENJOY DURING THE FESTIVAL

Walk around the city, there are lots of highlights to see. The French Quarter is not the best place to walk with children during Carnival season and it might get a bit dangerous after midnight, but you shouldn’t avoid this area. Being in New Orleans and not going to French Quarter to check the most fascinating attractions is a sin. Jackson Square, which is a heart of French Quarter, is a must-see. Here you can take a break from catching beads, take a lot of photos as a memory about New Orleans. You can also visit Ogden Museum of Southern Art with its impressive collections of photography, paintings, and ceramics. There are many walking tours you can take or you can tour the city in an open-top, double-decker bus. One more thing you will like about New Orleans during Mardi Gras is the improvised jazz performances, on the streets of the French Quarter. You can also explore Frenchmen Street, which is one of the favorite locals’ spots, full of top-notch restaurants, jazz bars and plenty more.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

DON’T MISS A CHANCE TO HAVE A TRY OF LOCAL POPULAR DISHES AND DRINKS

The first place you should go to is Café Du Monde, where you will discover one-of-a-kind New Orleans cuisine. Note, that this café is open 24 hours a day. The city’s most famous treat, that locals and visitors just can’t resist, is the beignet. You can eat it as a breakfast, snack or as dessert, it’s perfect for any time of the day. Not far from Café Du Monde is the French Market, where you can find some excellent souvenirs to bring home.

Speaking more about food attractions of the Carnival season, the real symbol and must-try of Mardi Gras was, is, and will always be King Cake. Cakes may have different fillings, but all of them have a toy baby inside. According to the tradition, the person who is given the piece with the baby inside must buy the next cake or throw the next party. Another delight of local cuisine that will make your tummy happy and will make you fall in love with Mardi Gras is the traditional Louisiana sandwich, called Po-Boy.

To wash down all the dishes, some good Sazerac will be essential. It is considered to be a strong drink, so don’t abuse unless you want to have a crawling hangover next morning.

Mardi Gras
Café Du Monde
Mardi Gras
French Market               
Mardi Gras
King Cake         
Mardi Gras
Po-Boy
Mardi Gras
Sazerac

TOP 5 TIPS FOR MARDI GRAS BEGINNER

TIP 1.  If you are planning to go for Mardi Gras, you should definitely come at least 5 days before Fat Tuesday, in order to catch parades of the most popular krewes (organizations that put on a parade or ball for the Carnival season), like Bacchus, Endymion, Zulu, Rex and many others.

TIP 2. Mind, that the parades travel across  New Orleans on different routes. They are all astonishing and indescribably impressive but remember to check times and locations so that you don’t miss the ones you have in your top list to visit. Before you go for Carnival, do a little research about such simple things as proximity to the bathroom and where to rest in order to fully enjoy every single moment of the festival.

TIP 3. Start your preparation for Mardi Gras with getting a costume to blend in with revelers. You can create your unique look at Fifi Mahony’s wig shop in the French Quarter.

TIP 4. Also, you probably heard about beads throwing or doubloons, which is a common feature of every parade. If you are Mardi Gras beginner, here is an advice for you: please, step on doubloons and wait for a moment to pick it up, if you don’t want to have your finger smashed.

TIP 5. Don’t follow stereotypes. Contrary to what many people believe, Mardi Gras Parades are not only for drunken revelers. The city and its parades are for families too (with the exception of French Quarter). Most New Orleans families come there early, bringing blankets and picnic baskets. It is common to see family picnics and BBQs on St. Charles Avenue somewhere between Napoleon Avenue and Lee Circle. If you go into this area, you will find family picnics and barbecues all along the parade route.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is probably one of the GREATEST FREE SHOWS IN THE WORLD! If not the number one. Don’t believe me? Then, come and check. Don’t procrastinate and start planning your trip right now. Time is fast, this massive, bustling, dancing, singing, non-stop celebration is just around the corner. Go and get your own impressions and unforgettable memories from New Orleans’ most joyous and fascinating festival.

Laissez les bons temps rouler! Let the good times roll!

Las Fallas 2020

Las Fallas

The smell of gunpowder, the earsplitting explosions of firecrackers, enormously huge effigies burning in flickering and dancing inferno flames. What is that? The revolution? The apocalypse?  This is the most quirky, glowing and roaring festival in Valencia, Spain – Las Fallas!

THE ROOTS OF LAS FALLAS

The origin of Las Fallas is a bit vague. Some people say that the origin of Las Fallas ( ‘the fires’ from Valencian) originated from pagan rituals and tradition to burn everything old and bad from the past year in order to celebrate the equinox of spring as the symbol of revival and beginning of a new life. Others suggest that the Fallas started in the Middle Ages when Valencian artisans and carpenters used wooden structures called parots, to hang their candles on, in order to illuminate their talleres (workshops) in winter. But with the advent of the spring, parots were no longer needed, so they were burned.

Under the influences of the Church, the date of the burning of parots merged with the festival of San José, the patron saint of carpenters, and that is how las Fallas de San José appeared.

TRADITIONS OF LAS FALLAS

Since those times, the traditions have developed greatly. The parots began to obtain human forms. Therefore nowadays you can see jaw-dropping huge dummies: large puppets called fallas, and smaller puppets, called ninots, which can be found in every neighborhood of Valencia. You will be amazed by the paper-machè and polystyrene towering figures of up to 30 meters. The best carpenters spend the whole year creating the unique statues, depicting satirical scenes, Spanish celebrities, and caricatures of corrupted politicians. Such constructions remind a bit “carri allegorici”, satirical floats at Carnavale di Viareggio, Italy. Both festivals allow people to convey their emotions through art, to be free in expressing yourself and laughing at problems that you face in nowadays world. But there is a significant difference that lies in the culmination of processions. While in Italy they wrap up the celebration with dazzling fireworks, in Valencia the apogee of the festival is the burning of effigies. Although some people say that it is a waste of money to blaze such fabulous and extravagant puppets, don’t you think that there is something very stress-relieving in this burning to ashes of dolls? Nevertheless, before everything is set on fire, there is much to do and see for every visitor.

THINGS TO DO AND SEE ON LAS FALLAS

In 2020 Las Fallas is held from the 15th to 19th of March. Every day you have no choice but to wake up early in the morning at 8 am, thanks to la Despertà, local wake-up-call. Brass bands start to march down the streets playing exhilarating music. In addition, fallers throw firecrackers near people’s windows in order to wake up every one without exception. Another highlight is Mascletá, which takes place in the Plaza Ayuntamiento at 2 pm. It is a boisterous show of simultaneously exploding fireworks, that will give you a feeling of being in the very heart of earthquake.

Las Fallas
La Despertà

However, besides all the festivities that are going on, clearly that all people are looking forward to the Plantà, which occurs traditionally on the night of the 15th of March. It is a time when carpenters gather to complete to the end of the day all the installations, every single ninot, and falla. So, next day, don’t waste your time, get up with the first firecracker of la Despertà and go to explore marvelous creations of carpenters. To see some of the more intricate ones, we advise you to visit the neighborhoods of El Carmen, Ruzafa and Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Las Fallas

Las Fallas

In addition every night from 15th to 19th of the March you can witness the spectacular, colorful fireworks show.  The night on the 18th of March, which draws most of the attention, is called the Nit de Foc (literally “The Night of Fire”). Come to the Paseo de la Alameda and relish the astonishing display of color and light.

Las Fallas
Nit de Foc

Also, having come to Las Fallas, the beautiful city of Valencia, it is a crime not to sample local paella, which is considered to be a Royal dish of Valencianos. If you are born with a sweet tooth, try popular Spanish goodies, like churros and buñuelos with chocolate. Then, if you are not faint-hearted, visit one of the bullfights, but remember that ticket should be bought in advance. In case you do like animals and see nothing fun in teasing poor bull, instead, we advise you to walk around the ancient city with its far-reaching history, socialize with locals and make some new friends.

Besides, Las Fallas is not only about eating, dancing, burning and destroying. This festival contains a religious element. On the 18th of March, you can contemplate  L’Ofrena de flors, an offering of flowers to the Virgin of the Helpless. It is a grandiose parade of falleros (male) and falleras (female) in the fanciest, elegant silk and lace dresses, bringing you somewhere to the period of Renaissance. They march slowly and solemnly to the huge wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, offering bouquets of flowers, which are then properly attached to the effigy.

Las Fallas
L’Ofrena de flors
Las Fallas
The Virgin of the Helpless

Finally, it is the 19th of March on the calendar, which means that the most anticipated day of Las Fallas has come. The climax of the festival is la Cremá. It is the fieriest event of the festival when the giant sculptures are set ablaze. Approximately at 10 pm, they set on fire smaller statues, and at midnight they mercilessly burn larger statues. You will be simply astonished by the scenery. Crowds are chanting, firemen are trying to protect the buildings, while doll-like ninots are ‘dying’ in the hellish fire. But, one ninot is saved from the destruction. This ninot is called the ninot indultat, which means the pardoned puppet. All the statues that ‘survived’, are now exhibited in Museo Fallero, which is a must-go for every tourist.

Las Fallas
La Cremá

Now different thoughts pop up in your mind. Probably, you think that Las Fallas is just a waste of the thousands of euros, and first of all, it is a waste of precious time and efforts of carpenters who poured their heart and soul in those puppets. But Valencianos take everything positively. No sad faces can be found, as this festival is a chance to burn the bridge with the past, to get rid of everything that bothered you through the year. And the approach of the spring, isn’t it a high time to write a new page in your book?

Immerse in the crazy atmosphere of smoky air, crackling firecrackers and night sky filled with infinite fireworks. Experience the freedom of life at one of the hottest and inspiring festivals! Welcome to Las Fallas!

Holi Festival 2020

Holi

Colors speak all languages.

Joseph Addison

India is known to be one of the most fascinating, colourful and bizarre countries around the globe. It is a hub of astonishing traditions, crazy cultural rituals and fabulous religious holidays that have been celebrated through centuries. This country is a country of contrasts, where bright colours, smiles, and happiness merge with dark colours, sorrow, and poverty. Nevertheless, India remains a unique and beautiful country, drawing the attention of many travelers who search for adventures and unforgettable memories.

You can come to India at any time of the year and you will be not disappointed. But in spring, the number one destination in India is Mathura and Vrindavan. There you will have an opportunity to witness one of the most colourful festivals on the globe, called Holi. First of all, Holi is a symbol of the victory of good over evil and the celebration of the advent of spring. But in fact, Holi is widely renowned as the Festival of Colours and Love, as it is a time when people can meet each other, laugh, enjoy the abundance of colours and finally it is a time when people learn to forget and forgive, to begin a new life with the arrival of spring.

As most of Hindu festivals, Holi didn’t start a few years ago, but centuries ago. It is an ancient holiday with a long history. There are numerous mythological stories and legends, revealing the origin of the festival. However, there is one, probably the most reliable legend found in the Sanskrit Manuscript of the 7th century. It tells the story of young Krishna who was very jealous about the fair skin of Radha since he has dark skin. Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda, who advised him to paint Radha’s face in various colours. Therefore, Lord Krishna and his friends decided to go to the Barsana, the village where Radha lived, and to colour Radha’s face as well as the other Gopis ( cow-herding girls) from the village. That is how the Festival of Colour started.

But going back to the story of Krishna and Radha, we should mention one more fact, the Gopis in response to Krishna’s joke, beat them with Lathis (sticks). The tradition passed the test of time and is still celebrated as Lathmar Holi at Barsana.  Lathmar Holi is probably the only chance for women to beat men, even just in a playful manner. In any case, men come prepared and usually protect themselves with shields, so nobody gets hurt. This is a very spirited and animated event, which we highly recommend to visit as a part of Holi celebration. Traditionally Lathmar Holi is held seven days before the Holi officially starts. Barsana is situated 115 kilometers from Delhi and only 50 kilometers from Mathura. The easiest way to get to the village is to hire a cab.

Holi

Another event, you shouldn’t miss is Phoolon wali holi, which is celebrated on the Ekadashi before Holi at the Banke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan. Phoolon means flower, therefore the main peculiarity of the event is that instead of dry and wet colours, people use flowers. The temple gates are open around 4 pm after which for 15-20 minutes priests throw various colourful flowers on the devotees. This is a charming, yet short event, so in order not to miss it and capture beautiful pictures of ‘flower rain’, you should come early, just when the gates open.

Holi

To continue the parade of events that take place before and during Holi Festival, if you arrive at Vrindavan early, visit Widow’s Holi. You probably heard many horrible stories about the life of women in India. In the 21st century, it is hard to even imagine, how little rights Indian women have. Speaking of widows, for years they lived a difficult life without earthly pleasures, chained by some preposterous rules, traditions, and superstitions. Widows were isolated and forced to live in Ashrams in Varanasi and Vrindavan during the Holi Festival. Participation in celebration of colours was strictly prohibited for them. But all the rules are made to be broken. So, a few years ago women managed to break this rule and to play with colours as equals. This kind of a new tradition nowadays slowly but confidently gains popularity. More and more travelers come to Pagal Baba Widow Ashram, Vrindavan, to witness this unique celebration of colours, as the embodiment of freedom of expression of Indian Women.

Holi

Next must-go is Holi at Banke Bihari Temple, which is held on the day before the main Holi Festival. It starts in the morning and finishes in the afternoon, around 1.30 pm. The Banke Bihari Temple gates open and welcome every visitor without exception to play colours with Lord himself. The priests throw colours and holy water at people. Crowds are singing, falling in the euphoric and exhilarating atmosphere of colours. Although it is a very bright event, that may seem the friendliest event ever, be aware that celebration may become a bit uncontrolled and even a bit dangerous for women.

Holi

Around 2 pm, the Holi festivities in Vrindavan come to the end. We recommend you not to lose time and move straight to Mathura, to relish splendid Holi procession. You will see myriads of children dressed up as Radha Krishna and about ten vehicles decorated with flowers. The location looks like the battlefield of colours, all the people around play dry and wet Holi with each other and we advise you not to stand aside, but join the crowds, become a part of festivity and colour yourself completely. Let yourself be free, paint your memories in a variety of colours, make your white t-shirt a colourful masterpiece.

On the 9th of March, the evening after the Holi procession is the time for Holika Dahan, the burning of the huge effigy of Holika at the Holi Gate. People gather around the fire, sing, and dance, celebrating the victory of good over evil.

Holi

Finally, the day of the largest Holi Festival comes. In 2020 it takes place on the 10th of March at the majestic Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura. As soon as gates open, hundreds of local men and tourists, armored with dry colours, water balloons filled with colour water, water guns (pichkaris), swarm the Temple and began the “Colourful fight”. Also, people simply chill out, dancing and singing to the drumbeats. While playing colours with people, you can also try some traditional dishes, like gujiya (sweet dumpling), mathri (traditional  Indian crispy cracker), malpuas (rich, soft pancakes, soaked in saffron flavored syrup) and other delicacies. The men usually drink some beverages based on local intoxicating herbs. Bhang is known as the most popular cannabis drink in India. That is actually the reason why you will not see a lot of women at the festival. You can also try bhang, but of course, we advise not to abuse. There is much more fun, being sober and conscious sometimes. Do not experiment with your body.

HOLI TIPS

  •  Be ready for the colour attack, as you are going to go to the epicenter of “a colourful downpour”;
  •  If you want to take beautiful shots of Holi Festival  and save your camera, waterproof plastic covers will come in handy;
  •  Wear old clothes, as it will be destroyed after festival anyway;
  •  Being the woman you need to be extremely careful, in order not to get into trouble ( remember that most of the men take bhang);
  • Wear a cap in order to protect your hair from complete damage.
  • If you are allergic, be careful, as nowadays many water and powder colours are made from chemicals, not from plants, like it used to be. Consult a doctor as soon as you see some skin irritation.

If you don’t mind literally becoming a walking canvas, go to Holi, and bring colours into your life!

Welcome to the Festival of Infinite Colours!

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival 2020

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival

The advent of the Spring. Nature takes up a new look. We wake up slowly from long winter dream. We free ourselves from choking scarfs and heavy sweaters like an armor. Spring – a time when we unlock our feelings, desires, when we open our eyes widely, breathe in the fresh air and simply enjoy every single moment of our life. Drunk with a fragrance of cherry blossom and overwhelmed by feelings we walk through the park, so alive, probably like never before, catching the ray of sunshine and smiling at each other…That is how I can try to describe the feeling you can experience during one of the most charming festivals in Seoul, South Korea as well as in the whole world, known as Yeouido Spring Flower Festival.

THINGS TO DO ON YEOUIDO SPRING FLOWER FESTIVAL

This celebration is an excellent opportunity to run away from hustle and bustle of grey gloomy cities and to relish the cherry blossom in the company of your family, friends or the person you are in love with. Yeouido Spring Flower Festival is very young, probably not so advertised and world-known as Hanami in Japan or the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. The festival was celebrated for the first time in 2005. In 2020 it will be traditionally held during the first or second week of April when all around is in blossom. The easiest way to get to the location of the festival is a subway. Firstly, get to the National Assembly Station (Subway Line 9), Exit 1 or 6, then walk straight for 300m (about 5 minutes). And here you are at one of the most romantic festivals on the planet.

As it is Flower Festival, the first thing you should do is take your time and enjoy to the fullest the beauty of cherry trees in full bloom and some other flowers that you can find at the festival, such as azalea, forsythia, royal azaleas, bridal wreath spirea, deutzia.  Very soon you will blend in with people walking to and fro, chatting and taking selfies. But, of course, this festival doesn’t end after you took a selfie and walked around for 10 minutes. Another thing that will capture your attention is myriads of food trucks full of finger-licking street snacks. You will see a lot of people with mats and tents eating fried chicken and drinking beer, you can do the same, borrow or rent a tent, or simply join people and make new friends. You can order some food or come to any of street vendors.

No doubts, when you think about the festival, street food is a must. Try something exotic, for example, beodengi, street food made with silkworm pupae. If you like spicy food, try also tteokbokki that comes with orange or bright red sauce called gochujang. Another flavorsome street snack is jwipo, a traditional Korean pressed fish jerky, traditionally served hot. To continue the top list of mouth-watering delectable Korean street food, it is recommended for every visitor to try odeng (easy-to-eat fishcakes on a skewer), savory and sweet at the same time gyeranppang (egg muffins) and many other street snacks you that you will find at the festival.

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
Beodengi

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
Tteokbokki

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival
Gyeranppang

Apart from stuffing your stomach, you can enjoy a photo exhibition, street performances of acrobats, singing contest, traditional Korean percussion music. Also at the festival, you will see some tents where visitors can try on and take a photo in traditional clothes, called Hanbok. If you are with children they can have some fun at the temporary roller skating rink. For couples, there is nothing more romantic than riding a tandem bicycle. The culmination of the celebration is the breath-taking fireworks along Hangang River.

Yeouido Spring Flower Festival

If you lack something romantic in your life, or if you simply want to spend some time with your dear people, Yeouido Spring Flower Festival is more than perfect. Besides, the atmosphere of cherry blossom and cheerful people around is, probably, the best cure for those, who are tired of sitting in the office in front of the laptop whole day and whole night, drowning in the daily routine, thinking about billions of problems that invade their heads every day and every hour.

How little we need sometimes to feel alive again and wake up happy next day.

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