Sights and customs

By Kim O’Hare

Depending on your interests, November can be a great time to travel. As it’s off season in many parts of the world, airfare and accommodation rates are relatively low and if you pick your spots, there is still a lot to see and do.

Gunpowder, treason and plot pictureOf course the big event in the UK on 5th November is Guy Fawkes night (he’s the shifty-looking one in the beard, pictured). While every town and village has some sort of celebration to observe the ill-fated attempt to assassinate King James I there are some events which truly stand out.

Bridgewater in Somerset takes Guy Fawkes celebrations seriously. The origins are lost in time but journalistic records refer to the event in the 1860s. The Carnival became officially recognised in 1881. The annual squibbing (fireworks) display, is unique to Bridgwater.

The squibs are let off the length of the Bridgwater High Street, when over 140 squibs are let off simultaneously in the air at arms reach, they are held up by carnival club members on a specially built cosh. Originally the squibs were made specially for Bridgwater Carnival. They were known as the Bridgwater Squib, and culminated with a large bang as each squib extinguished.

Unfortunately with the demise of the dangerous outdoor firework it has become difficult to purchase squibs with a bang, so today’s squib has no bang, but the display remains as spectacular as ever. The Glastonbury and Chilkwell Guy Fawkes carnival is one of the three largest illuminated festivals in the world, held on the ancient Isle of Avalon in Somerset it is billed as the Mardi Gras of the Mendips.

As always Google has everything you need to know about Guy Fawkes:

The fun of the fair

With approximately 2.8 million visitors each month, the Hamburg’s tri-annual “Dommarkt” at the Heiligengeistfeld is one of the most impressive festivals in Germany.

With white knuckle rides and attractions such as the newly-built gigantic big wheel, which provides fantastic views over the city, this is certainly the place to seek your adrenalin rush!

The festival runs in three different seasons each with a different theme. This months’ festival is from 3 November - 3 December and features a magical winter wonderland of pure Christmas atmosphere.
The spring festival features a medieval fortress with evil witches lurking around every corner, and in summer it’s a Wild West theme. Read more at

Spectacular harvest festival

La Fugarena Harvest Festival in Italy takes place in the fortress city of Terra del Sole in Emilia Romagna. (Third Sunday in November) The centrepiece of the celebration, instituted in 1970, is a huge bonfire in the main square, lit in ancient times to give thanks to the gods for the harvest.

These days the celebration includes events like cross-country running, children’s art exhibitions, markets, traditional games and performances by local bands.  The many food stalls offer the visitor a chance to savour local delicacies, as well as the new wines of the year. Tasty local specialties include bruschetta, sausages and polenta with ragu.

In celebration of the olive

Spain accounts for about 45 percent of the world’s olive production and the town of Baena in Andalusia plays host to the annual Las Jornadas del Olivar y el Aceite, a three-day day fair dedicated to everything to do with olives and olive oil.

The event falls in November, following the end of the harvest. All aspects of the olive are covered: health, the economy, the industry, culinary uses and more. There are also tastings, cooking and decanting demonstrations - a good olive oil deserves to be treated like a good wine.

Warm yourself up

If the November chill proves too much, visit the Spanish town of Potes from 7th-13th for the annual aguardiente Fiesta del Orujo. Firewater, as it is literally translated, is not exactly renowned for its cooling qualities - at an average 40 per cent alcohol, it’s positively throat-burning.

The spirit, made from grapes, seed or fruit, comes in a variety of flavours from honey to cherry and coffee, but is always strong! On this November weekend the town square is taken over by the traditional stills and methods of distillation from which the local brew is made. It’s referred to as Orujo, but might as well be called moonshine.

For years the brewing of the spirit has been illegal, unless the premises and equipment have been inspected by the local authorities. The weekend offers all manner of tastings for the public and includes a competition for the best brew.

There is a trade dinner for all those who dedicate their life to the distilling of this hardened spirit, a number of culinary tastings of dishes incorporating aguardiente (such as black pudding with aguardiente and apple) and a dance to keep people entertained - all the right ingredients for a good party.

Follow the herd in Thailand... pictureIf you are heading to Thailand in the near future the Elephant Round-up in Surin is one of the most exciting spectacles of the year.

Surin has long been associated with elephants. The folks here are well recognised for their skill in capturing and rounding up wild elephants as well as training and taming them. Surin is often known as the ‘province of elephants’.

Many of Surin’s elephants and their mahouts travel to places like Bangkok to earn money for much of the year. But on the third weekend of November, they all head back to their native province for the big occasion.

The Elephant Round-up displays the amazing grace, strength and intelligence of this huge creature in games of soccer, log carrying, and the tug-of-war against human teams. The talent and playfulness of the pachyderms never fail to draw cheers from the spectators.

The highlight of the show is the mock battle, which best shows the talent and strength of this lovable animal. In times past, elephants played a key role in wars against invading armies.

...or take to the water

Another Thai event worth seeing is the annual boat race in Buriram, the large province situated in northern Thailand. The race is held on 4th November in Satuk, 35km north of the provincial capital on the Mun river.

As well as the races, there are parades, markets, food stalls and even elephant swimming competitions. There’s also the nearby Phanom Rung Historical Park in case you want to include a bit of history in your visit.

Boat racing is itself an old tradition in Thailand, originally held to keep military boat crews in training. The races later became associated with royal ceremonies and Buddhist festivals and are now held to mark religious holidays and to bring the community together - as well as to provide an excuse for festivities. 

Oddest party ever? pictureEver heard of the DB Cooper party in Washington State?  Not many people have, but it is a pretty unusual event. Let’s set the stage. DB Cooper is famous for one, single act - he hijacked a jet in 1971 and parachuted into the Washington night with $200,000 of ransom money tied to his waist.

He disappeared forever, leaving behind a legacy as America’s only unsolved hijacking. On the edge of Lake Merwin is the tiny (population 700) town of Ariel that became, for a time, headquarters for the search team.

Since 1974 the town has held a DB Cooper Party at the Aerial Store to honour their only claim to fame. Two hundred and fifty fans show up each year, with one once coming from as far away as Australia. The party only lasts a day, starting around 1 PM and ending, usually, by midnight.

If the guests are feeling creative, they’ll start a story-telling contest, giving a prize for the best story of what might have happened to old DB. They always have a look-alike contest, with DB Cooper fans showing up dressed as the hijacker was - in a suit with a backpack, a parachute, goggles, and no shoes. Otherwise they just hang around, listening to music, and keeping the story alive.

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