THE QUIRKY DOZEN

Barry Oliver presents a 2008 cal­en­dar of odd events, from toe wrestling to tomato fights

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

JAN­UARY Bris­bane WILL Lord of the Drains emerge vic­to­ri­ous? Will Osama Bin Liner rule again? What bet­ter way to cel­e­brate Aus­tralia Day on Jan­uary 26 than cock­roach rac­ing? Bris­bane’s Story Bridge Ho­tel has been host­ing the world cham­pi­onships for 26 years. BYO bug or you can buy one at the venue (‘‘We do all the nec­es­sary train­ing,’’ says ho­tel owner Richard Deery.) The event — 14 races, in­clud­ing steeplechases, each with at least 20 con­tes­tants — at­tracts thou­sands of spectators. Last year al­most $10,000 for the Mater Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal was raised. www.sto­ry­bridge­ho­tel.com.au. FE­BRU­ARY Brazil CAR­NI­VAL in Rio de Janeiro is recog­nised as the daddy of all fes­ti­vals. Brazil­ians know how to party with style and more than 500,000 for­eign vis­i­tors also pour in to join this wild four-day samba cel­e­bra­tion. It be­gins with the crown­ing of the Fat King, who is pre­sented with a gi­ant sil­ver and gold key by the city mayor. Then it’s on with pa­rades, par­ties and fun, fun, fun in the streets and squares, bars, clubs and cafes. Best of all, it’s free. This year the ac­tion starts on Fe­bru­ary 2. www.rio-car­ni­val.net. MARCH Ja­pan CHERRY blos­som time is cel­e­brated across Ja­pan with hanami par­ties un­der the bloom­ing trees. There are dozens of cherry va­ri­eties, most of which flower for just a cou­ple of days in spring. In some places the blos­soms are lit up in the evening. Hanami can just mean a stroll in the park but it tra­di­tion­ally in­volves a pic­nic. Fa­mous view­ing ar­eas can get crowded and the best spots are highly con­tested (think: Syd­ney’s Opera in the Park). Typ­i­cal tac­tics are to spread a pic­nic blan­ket early in the morn­ing and ei­ther mark it with a name and start time or have some­one stand guard un­til the rest of the group ar­rives. View­ing times can vary from Jan­uary to the end of April ac­cord­ing to the area and sea­son. www.ja­pan-guide.com/e/e2011.html. APRIL Thai­land A SOAK­ING is guar­an­teed for vis­i­tors dur­ing the Songkran Wa­ter Fes­ti­val from April 13 to 15. Hoses, buck­ets, su­per soak­ers and garbage bins are the favoured weapons of wa­ter war­riors in­tent on drench­ing any­one within cooee. The fes­tiv­i­ties started cen­turies ago in a more re­strained man­ner, with wa­ter sprin­kled from bowls. It has de­vel­oped into an all-out wa­ter war, though most peo­ple ap­par­ently take it in the right spirit. It’s Thai­land’s hottest month, so a cool­ing is usu­ally wel­come. www.thai­land.net.au. MAY Eng­land COOPER’S Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake takes place in Glouces­ter on the last Mon­day in May, a pub­lic hol­i­day in Bri­tain. Dozens of com­peti­tors race down a one-in-two gra­di­ent in pur­suit of a 4kg dou­ble Glouces­ter cheese. It’s a dan­ger­ous busi­ness: in 2004, 21 run­ners were in­jured. There are five down­hill races — one for women— and some up­hill ones too (don’t ask). The win­ner gets to keep the cheese. The wake, if you won­dered, takes place in the pub af­ter­wards. www.cheese-rolling.co.uk. JUNE Eng­land IT’S a shock to learn toe wrestling was re­jected as an Olympic sport but com­fort­ing to know it’s still alive and well at Wet­ton in Der­byshire, where a pub hosts the world cham­pi­onships on June 22 ev­ery year. Two con­tes­tants sit at the so-called toedium, lock their big toes to­gether and at­tempt to force their op­po­nent’s foot to the ground. Pre­vi­ous champs have claimed the toem­i­na­tor ti­tle. Pro­ceeds go to char­ity. www.vis­itbri­tain.com.au. JULY Spain PAM­PLONA’S tra­di­tional seven-day run­ning of the bulls makes head­lines each year, usu­ally through peo­ple be­ing tram­pled or gored as they ac­com­pany the an­i­mals through the nar­row cob­bled streets to the bull ring. It’s a fran­tic two-minute 875m dash that of­ten ends in tears: in­juries to the but­tocks are com­mon. Thou­sands of vis­i­tors flood into the town for the seven-day fi­esta, which runs from July 7 to 14. www.spain.info. AU­GUST Spain IT’S one of the world’s big­gest food fights. On Au­gust 27 each year, the streets of Bun­yol are the bat­tle­ground for the fes­ti­val of La Tomatina. Trucks dump 40,000kg of toma­toes in the main square for res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to pelt at each other. The fun be­gins at 11am with the launch­ing of five tomato-packed rock­ets. Then, for the next two hours, it’s one huge tomato fight (it’s eti­quette to squash them be­fore throw­ing). Then ev­ery­one washes and changes, the streets are hosed and La Tomatina con­tin­ues with wine, mu­sic and feast­ing. Toma­toes, pre­sum­ably, are off the menu. www.latomatina.org. SEPTEM­BER Ger­many BEER fes­ti­vals don’t come any big­ger than Mu­nich’s 16-day Ok­to­ber­fest, where there’s more leder­ho­sen than you could poke a stick at. Last year 6.2 mil­lion peo­ple dropped in, con­sum­ing 6.7 mil­lion one-litre tankards of beer, called Ma, along with 104 oxen and an un­think­able amount of sausage and sauer­kraut. Septem­ber 20 is the start date for this year’s cel­e­bra­tion, the 175th. Pro­ceed­ings al­ways start with a keg of Ok­to­ber­fest beer, spe­cially brewed for the oc­ca­sion, tapped by the mayor of Mu­nich. Lo­cal brew­eries serve the beer in a bierzelt , a beer tent that holds thou­sands of happy drinkers. www.ok­to­ber­fest.de. OC­TO­BER Canada ROCK, pa­per, scis­sors might never make the Olympics but it’s a se­ri­ous busi­ness in Toronto, which hosts the world cham­pi­onships each Oc­to­ber. Con­tes­tants from as far afield as Scot­land, Ger­many and Aus­tralia head for the city to com­pete for about $10,000 in prize money. An Amer­i­can took the ti­tle for the first time last year when An­drea Fa­rina of Syra­cuse, New York, de­feated David Arnold of Wash­ing­ton, DC. www.rp­schamps.com. NOVEM­BER In­dia THE Pushkar Camel Fair draws buy­ers and sell­ers from across north­west In­dia as well as thou­sands of curious on­look­ers. Daz­zling cos­tumes and lav­ish jew­ellery make this an­nual event a pho­tog­ra­pher’s dream. Pushkar’s pop­u­la­tion swells from 14,000 to about 200,000 dur­ing the fes­ti­val, where don­keys, cat­tle and horses are also traded along with about 50,000 camels that are dec­o­rated, shaved and raced. The spec­ta­cle lasts for a week (Novem­ber 7-13 this year). www.pushkar-camel-fair.com. DE­CEM­BER Scot­land THE Scots are ac­knowl­edged ex­perts when it comes to cel­e­brat­ing the ar­rival of an­other year. They even have their own name for this time. Hog­manay cel­e­bra­tions start on De­cem­ber 29 and con­tinue to Jan­uary 2, a pub­lic hol­i­day. About 100,000 peo­ple joined the mas­sive street party in Ed­in­burgh last year with live mu­sic on three stages, fire­works, in­clud­ing a gi­ant bon­fire where a Vik­ing long­boat was burned, and a torch­light pro­ces­sion. A mass swim in the Firth of Forth on Jan­uary 1 is a guar­an­teed hang­over cure. There are also dog sled races, a bi­cy­cle triathlon and down­hill fun run. www.ed­in­burghshog­manay.org.

Trad­ing places: A face in the crowd at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Ra­jasthan where up to 50,000 camels and cat­tle are bought and sold

Cut and run: Cock­roach rac­ing at Story Bridge Ho­tel

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