Shanxi International Noodle Cultural Festival

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

It isn’t known if Marco Polo stole the secrets of noodle making from China when he traveled the Silk Road, but in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China, during the first week of September of every year, it no longer matters. Chinese noodle makers have been plying their trade for 2,700 years, and at the Shanxi International Noodle Cultural Festival they show off their skills and invite noodle chefs from around the world to do the same.

Besides the wonderful food, noodle chefs in Shanxi are great performers as well. The best noodle restaurants in Taiyuan are willing to give anyone that spends enough money a show, but the first week of September is when they truly shine.

Want to learn more about China’s most delicious noodle festival? Keep reading below.

The Noodle Festival, as the locals call it, is held in restaurants all over the city, as well as along the streets in the city’s center. But most of the focus is on Yingze Park, the huge park in the middle of the city where vendors line the paths giving noodle demonstrations, or on Shi Ping Jie (Food Street), a cramped and colorful alley full of restaurants hawking noodles and other local fare.

Perhaps the best part of the Shanxi Noodle festival is trying the region’s special noodle dishes. Shanxi’s most famous noodle specialty, Dao Xiao Mian (Knife Shaved Noodles) has a very unique history. It is said that during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), people were not allowed to own knives. Ten families would share control of a single knife, and if someone wanted to use it they had to wait their turn. One hungry father, tired of waiting for his dinner, grabbed a thin piece of iron and just started shaving away. Shanxi cooks have been using that method ever since.

Yingze Hotel, one of the better hotels in the city, is located directly between the park and the street that the festival is focused on and enjoys the reputation of having a wonderful noodle restaurant attached as well. Taiyuan has a number of ancient parks and temples, so there are plenty places to visit while waiting for the noodles to digest.

Think you know Chinese food? Think again. Shanxi’s unique noodle festival will surprise and delight food-lovers everywhere. This year’s festival will be held September 10-12.

The Original Running of the Bulls

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

Most people outside of Spain got their first glimpse of los encierros (The Running of the Bulls) thanks to the 1926 Ernest Hemingway novel, The Sun Also Rises. Inspired by Pamplona’s San Fermín festival, his novel in turn has inspired millions to visit, and even participate in, this most unusual and iconic celebration. What few people realize, even in Spain, is that Pamplona is not the only place where los encierros are performed. To experience the most historic of these fiestas with an authentic flair, head inland to Cuéllar.

The small Segovian village of Cuéllar, north of Madrid, has been hosting its own running of the bulls, Los Encierros de Cuéllar, the last week in August every year since 1499 (and possesses historical documentation referencing dates as early as 1215), a celebration which few outsiders have witnessed.

Despite the town’s modest fame, tourism from the surrounding villages can double the town’s small population over the week of the festival, giving a welcome boost to the agricultural economy.

A foreign visitor to Cuéllar, Spain, which is relatively hidden away and known only to those with a family or geographical connection, will find that the town is as interested in them as they are in it and its celebrations, and they will feel welcomed and encouraged to take part.

Want to learn more about this lesser-known Spanish festival? Keep reading below…To kick off the festival, the peñas (groups of friends) convert garages and storage spaces into makeshift dens where they can eat, drink, and gather for the week. The peñas then parade in the town square for the pregón, or opening ceremony, where the guest of honor (usually a minor Spanish celebrity) addresses the crowd and the queen of the fiesta is presented. What ensues is a heady mix of drinking, street parties, tapas (fried pig’s ear is one local specialty, exquisitely prepared by the Las Bolas cafe, Calle de San Pedro, 20), live music, and, of course, the running of the bulls.

It is the locals that make this rural Spanish festival really special and most are more than happy to indulge visitors with stories of the fiesta and the village’s history. One former fiesta queen, Cecilia, now in her late nineties, loves to share stories about strange, inexplicable happenings at the fiesta. In one of her favorites, a local man was cornered and attacked by a bull years ago and left miraculously unharmed, but stark naked.

While Cuéllar may seem like another world, travel there is simple. Daily buses from Madrid’s central station carry passengers from the capitol in 90 minutes, adding accessibility to the charm and wonder of the place known to its residents as “la isla en un mar de pinos,” or “the island in a sea of pine trees.” Want to check out this year’s festivities? Make your way to Spain at the end of August to check out this great Spanish celebration.

La Tomatina – The Lovely Tomato Festival

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

By the look of its name, “La Tomatina” might make you think of the word tomato, or in Spanish, tomate. That’s because La Tomatina is currently the largest tomato throwing event (as well as the largest food fight) in the world. Each year on the last Wednesday of the month of August, the Spanish city of Bunol erupts with a riot of dancing, drinking, fireworks and plenty of messy tomato-throwing fun. The name Tomatina is the word tomate altered with the ending “–ina” added to it to mean lovely. So La Tomatina is the lovely tomato festival.

The origin of La Tomatina was during another Spanish festival, Gigantes y Cabezudos or Giants and Big Heads in October, 1944. In this festival, people dressed up with giant masks over their heads. A group of kids wanted to join in and entered the area with their masks on. One of the kids somehow tripped and fell over and landed near a street grocery. Thinking some of his friends tripped him, he started to throw tomatoes at them. This started a food fight and soon not only the kids who started the fight were throwing food but also people from the festival as well.

Even Bunol city officials were provoked into the fray. The store owner eventually called police and the people were forced to all pay the grocer for the food they had ruined. The next year, the kids and others returned with their own tomatoes and repeated the fight but instead three weeks before the Gigantes y Cabezudos festival. Every year the festival grew until the entire town was celebrating on the last Wednesday of each August each year.

Want to participate in this one-of-a-kind Spanish food fight? Keep reading below to learn more.

Over time, La Tomatina has grown to a fight of over 30,000 participants, but not without plenty of government interference. In 1950, the regime of Francisco Franco deemed the festival without cultural or social value and labeled it a violent display of public vandalism. But people still tried to keep the Tomatina alive. From 1950-1954, La Tomatina was attempted every year but the police always intervened and fights always ended before everyone had thrown all their tomatoes.

In 1955, the supporters of the Tomatina from Bunol flooded the streets of the city for the Burial of the Tomato or “El Entierro del Tomate.” The people protested the ban of their town festival, which in five years had become an established tradition. They marched down the streets with a giant tomato in a miniature coffin towards the plaza of Bunol where the festival had always begun. It was a real funeral for the Tomatina. Funeral rites and songs were performed. In 1957, the government relented, agreeing to allow the festival only if the Bunol city government supervised the planning and execution of the event. The tradition of La Tomatina was in place.

The first event of La Tomatina is removing a tethered ham from a lard greased wooden pole. It takes many attempts and more than one person to reach the ham. After the ham is freed, the start of the annual fight is signaled by firing water cannons. Bottles and other objects that could injure participants are prohibited in the fight. Trucks full of tomatoes then roll down the roads of Bunol. People ride in the back and shower the people on the streets with ripe tomatoes. People on the streets then hurl the tomatoes among themselves. The tomatoes must be squashed with the hand before throwing them. A rule that is official but hardly ever followed is that clothes cannot be ripped off opponents. Tomatoes and tomato pulp are flung around and the whole area near the Bunol plaza is dyed pink. The fight ends an hour after the first water cannons with another blast.

In 2002, La Tomatina of Bunol was classified as an International Tourist Festival. The event is currently organized every year by two participants of the original Tomatina. La Tomatina really is an expression of freedom and a protest against powers that seem out of common people’s control. Both the powers of the individual and the group importance are enumerated by the event. The greased pole is an obstacle that everyone must help each other to overcome so that the festival can begin. The ham represents the powers that be. It is impossible to climb the pole alone. After the ham is down everyone is free to do mostly what they want with the tomatoes. Every tomato represents a choice and the choice of a person influences how the individual progresses.

The whole event is a symbolic representation of how the collective people have more power than any man, whether king or peasant, and that one man can not fundamentally rise over another permanently. It is a festival that shows that even the most oppressive of governments can never have ultimate control over the hearts and souls of its citizens. La Tomatina is an act of defiance to the powerful because within the fray of the fight, every man is equal, and ultimately, only armed with a tomato.

The Afro-Punk Festival: not your mama’s punk show

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

You think you know what punk is. But you haven’t seen anything until you’ve joined the thousands of head-bangers who make the pilgrimage once a year in June to Brooklyn’s Afro-Punk Festival.

This two-day celebration of music, skating, and film has become a Mecca for the burgeoning movement of Afro-Punk, a collection of African-American bands, fans, and misfits who are embracing hardcore rock culture and making it their own. Launched in the summer of 2005, the festival was the brainchild of record executive Matthew Morgan and filmmaker James Spooner, who wanted to give voice to the growing popularity of indie and punk rock in traditionally urban communities. It has ever since been a focal point of musical and cultural cross-pollination, fueled by an audience as diverse as the music itself.

Each day of the festival features bands ranging from eclectic rockers like Houston-based American Fangs to genre-bending artists like crooner Janelle Monae, that by turns, awe and electrify the crowd. Afro-Punk is the wild, weird alternate universe where anything is possible (I personally will never forget seeing bass guitarist Ahmed of Brooklyn’s Game Rebellion strut onstage sporting a fan of giant peacock feathers). Want to learn more about the Afro-Punk Festival? Keep reading below…

For first-timers, the Afro-Punk mashup of grunge guitar and streetwise swagger can be overwhelming. But have no fear: punk is a contact sport, and no one can stand still for long. Crowd surfing is encouraged, from the tiniest faux-hawked kindergartener to the heaviest thrasher, so dive away! And if you yearn for the days of good ole-fashioned moshing, you’ll have no trouble finding a scrum for a little full-body ping-pong.

Other thrill-seekers can get their kicks on the festival’s custom-built skate park. The dizzying array of jumps, ramps and rails is also the battleground for the annual URBANX skate and BMX competitions, where pro-skaters and bikers defy gravity and common sense for a coveted $5,000 prize.

Listen for the distinctive clink and hiss of spray cans and you’ll also find a one-of-a-kind outdoor art exhibit. At Afro-Punk, graffiti is king, and true to form, the artists work at lightning speed, to the delight of onlookers, tagging a rich tableaux of original pieces along a 30-foot wall of wooden panels.

On Sunday, the festival closes with a block party featuring live DJ’s, fashion, and food. But before you go, take a moment to enjoy the greatest spectacle on display: the crowd itself. Revel in being someplace where piercings outnumber iPhones two-to-one, and ‘business casual’ means keeping your shirt on. There are few places on Earth where dreadlocks and leather chokers so seamlessly co-exist. Afro-Punk is the center of a movement that defies definition. In the end, what could be more punk than that?

The 2010 Afro-Punk Festival hits New York June 26th and 27th, and will this year open in two new cities: Chicago and Atlanta. Check out for dates and updated details.

The Berlin Love Parade

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

The Berlin Love Parade has been described as the Mardi Gras of Germany. It is a festival that started in 1989, four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first year’s theme, “Peace, Joy and Pancakes” echoed a time of intense change and excitement, with hope for a bright future.

Though many have looked at the Love Parade in recent years as a massive rave party with scantily-clad dancers lining the streets, it was really started as more than that – a political movement to bring a sense of unity to a divided country that was about to rise up again in the western world.

As 150 people gathered in Wittenbergplatz, the parade began in West Berlin and became a celebration of cross-cultural unity, while maintaining individual identity. Twenty-one years later, it is a mega-event that brings nearly 2 million participants. The individual identities they sought to preserve remain strong as visitors walk down the streets of the Kurfuerstendamm and hear musical genres from every walk of life, each one louder and more exciting than the one before.

Dancers and visitors to the Love Parade can dress however they like; lavish costumes add to the exhilaration and ambiance. Germans and visitors alike of all ages come and, though it’s more racy than some traditional German festivities, its exciting for the whole family with floats and decorations and, of course, good ol’ German Beer.

Although it was briefly canceled in 2003 due to the lack of sponsors, it was brought back by popular demand in 2006 and has now developed into a huge “the world’s largest dance festival” with many different themes co-existing. Although it is no longer held in Berlin, it is now known simply as “Love Parade” and is held in different regions each year throughout Germany. Parties are even held in cities across the globe to celebrate Love Parade’s theme and message of love, joy and hope, from Tel Aviv to San Francisco.

The 2010 Love Parade is scheduled to be held in Duisberg, Germany, on July 24th. Fans from every corner of the world will be packing their neon leggings as they anxiously await the start of the “World’s Largest Dance Festival” to kick off once again this Summer.