Do you travel for food, culture or history? You can find all that and more at a festival, and a website launched this week aims to connect travelers with some of the world’s most unique, exciting and unusual festivals. Fest300 is part practical directory, part inspirational magazine. On the homepage, you’ll find a mix of lists (how about top festivals to enjoy naked?), essays, videos and “festimonial” interviews with participants and performers. Ready to attend something? You can search for festivals by month, location or category (“wild parties” is intriguing).
Throughout Fest300, you’ll also find blog posts and tidbits from founder Chip Conley, a sort of festival “junkie” who founded the Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain and now travels the world in search of the “collective effervescence” experienced at festivals, sharing his on-the-ground experiences. Why 300? Chip explains, “Fortune lists the 500 largest companies, and Forbes the 400 richest people in the world. We chose 300 experiences as the right number to capture the wide diversity and best festivals the world has to offer.” The site is adding more festivals each week, aiming for 270 by the end of year, with the final 30 to be crowd-sourced by the Fest300 community. Also in the works is a “matchmaking” feature to find the best festivals for you based on your interests.
There’s a well-worn tourist trail in Spain: Madrid for the art, Barcelona for the nightlife and the Costa del Sol for the beaches. All of these are great, but there are plenty of other spots that often slip under the radar. Valencia, for example, gets plenty of tourists from Europe yet seems to not get so many Americans. I hardly saw any in the past three days.The Yanks need to reconsider because there’s a huge amount of history and culture to experience. Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast has been a center of industry and the arts for more than 2,000 years. Founded by the Romans in the second century B.C., it soon became one of the leading cities on the Iberian Peninsula. In the Middle Ages it had a diverse population of Christians, Muslims and Jews who managed to get along most of the time despite the near-constant warfare between Muslims and Christians that ravaged the peninsula and made the city change hands several times.
Sad to say, this harmony was not to last. Everyone in the Jewish community was kicked out or forced to convert during a Christian riot in 1391. The success of the Reconquista in 1492 spelled the beginning of the end for the Muslim community. Their legacy lives on in the city’s art and architecture.
Valencia’s historic center is an architectural jewel with its winding medieval streets, old palaces and churches, and countless little shops and cafes. Here you’ll find the 13th century Valencia Cathedral, which claims to have the Holy Grail on display. This little agate cup is said to date to the first century B.C., although the ornamentation around it is clearly medieval. The story goes that St. Peter took it to Rome after the Crucifixion and it was in the possession of the first 23 popes before it was sent to Spain to keep it safe from persecuting Romans.
To see the cup itself, check out the Holy Grail Chapel just to the right of the entrance. It’s displayed in surprisingly modest surroundings although that will change if the current Mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá, has her way. She wants to get UNESCO World Heritage status for the cup, make a large showroom for it, and dub Valencia “the city of the Holy Grail.” Hey, it worked for Turin. Relic hunters will also not want to miss the preserved arm of San Vicente.
You can make a grand entrance to the historic center via one of the two medieval gates, each flanked by a pair of towers. The Torres de Quart are pockmarked by the bombardment they received during the War of Independence against Napoleonic occupation in 1808. The more ornate and less abused Torres de Serranos overlook the Turia riverbed. The river was diverted in the 1950s and now the riverbed is a long, green park that makes for a shaded avenue through the heart of the city.
Summer in Valencia is scorching, so it’s a good idea to take shelter in one of the city’s many museums. Museum junkies will feel at home here. There are dozens of museums on seemingly every subject. The most outstanding one is the City of Arts and Sciences. This ultramodern complex includes the largest marine park in Europe, a huge science museum, concert hall, IMAX cinema and greenhouse.
The Valencian Museum of Enlightenment and Modernity offers a constantly changing set of temporary (and free!) exhibitions. Right now they’re having exhibitions on witchcraft, Siberian shamanism, and photographs from turn-of-the-century Russia. Budget travelers will also want to check out the many other free museums: the Museum of Fine Arts, with its collections of Goya, Sorolla and many other Spanish artists linked with Valencia; the Military Historical Museum; the Prehistoric Museum; and the Ethnographic Museum, among others.
Valencia has a distinct regional culture. Many locals here speak Valencian, which depending on who you ask is either a dialect of Catalan or its own language. It’s sufficiently close to Castilian, in that this Castilian speaker can mostly understand it, although there are occasional words that are completely different. In any case, signs are generally both in Valencian and Castilian, and often in English too.
When not hiding in a beautiful church or interesting museum, you can keep in the shade by wandering the little streets of the historic quarter. There are plenty of little restaurants and cafes to keep you fueled. Eating and drinking in Valencia offers a regional variation on the Spanish theme too, but that deserves an article of its own, so stay tuned for that tomorrow!
The government of Germany has begun construction of a monument to remember the physically and mentally handicapped people killed by the Nazis.
While everyone knows about the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, Hitler’s other victims are often forgotten. They include socialists, Communists, blacks, homosexuals, Gypsies and anyone else who didn’t fit the vision of a pure Aryan society.
Hitler started a program, known as Action T4, to eliminate the mentally and physically disabled in 1939. Surviving documents show at least 70,000 people were killed, but historians estimate the number may actually be as many as 200,000.
The BBC reports that construction is underway on a memorial to these victims next to the Berlin office where the program was managed. The memorial will be a 100-foot glass wall. The city already has monuments to the Jewish, Gypsy and homosexual victims of Hitler’s reign.
This Nazi-era advertisement is typical of the official attitude. It reads: “60000 RM (Reichsmark) this is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the Community of Germans during his lifetime. Fellow Citizen, that is your money, too. Read ‘New People.’ The monthly magazine of the Office for Race Politics of the NSDAP.”
Archaeologists working on a conservation project at Drum Castle near Aberdeen, Scotland, have discovered two secret chambers, one of which includes a medieval toilet complete with its wooden seat.
Drum Castle features a 13th-century castle keep that’s the oldest intact example in Scotland. Besides the hidden toilet, the team found a second secret chamber that’s reputed to have been where one of the men of the clan hid out for three years after the defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The chamber with the toilet was hidden by bookshelves installed in the 19th century, while the second chamber was a real-life safe room for rebellious Scots. Both were found in the medieval keep.
From 1323-1975, Drum Castle was the seat of the Chief of Clan Irvine. In addition to the keep, the property features Jacobean and Victorian additions. It is now open to visitors and is only 10 miles outside Aberdeen. Visitors can see the historic interior and stroll through the surrounding ancient oak woodland, a rare survival of primeval forest that’s been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Now Alabama is getting in on the game. The city of Oxford, Alabama, has approved the destruction of a mound of stones and the hill on which it stands in order to use the dirt as fill for a Sam’s Club site. City mayor Leon Smith says it’s a natural formation and was only used to send smoke signals, but the State Historical Commission disagrees and says it’s about 1,500 years old and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Artificial earthen and stone mounds were common features of prehistoric Native American civilizations and are found in many parts of North America. Some were used for burials while others appear to have been ritual sites. There have already been protests against the destruction.
For more on this issue, check out this article by The Institute for Southern Studies, which includes many links to local newspaper articles and official reports.