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10 Colorful World Locales With Colorful Locals1

By Jojo Balogh

10 Colorful World Locales With Colorful Locals

When traveling to other cities around the world, whether for business or pleasure, most of us try to avoid tourist traps. There may be landmarks and historical points of interest that are must-sees, but if you want an authentic dining experience and a chance to know what the city is really about, hanging out with the locals is essential.

That said, local life might not be for everyone.  You might not appreciate visiting the vibrant city of Buñol, Spain in August only to realize you’re at the center of La Tomatina, the world’s largest tomato food fight.  But if something a little more exciting than cathedral-hopping does intrigue you, then you might want to get some traveling tips from the locals themselves. Try some of the great websites like spottedbylocals.com, a series of blogs written by locals, or “spotters,” that live in the cities they write about. Or visit localyte.com, which brings locals and travelers together to encourage a more authentic experience.

Visiting the Scandinavian capital of Stockholm? Try the relaxed bohemian district of Sodermalm -galleries, vintage shops and contemporary boutiques during the day, electro, rock and reggae club scene at night. If you’re visiting the west coast, you would certainly be drawn to some of the more interesting beach communities like the one featured in the series The Strand: Venice, California. From skate punks to beach bums to street performers, this eclectic city is home to a wide array of offbeat characters and events.

For a short list of some favorite, off-the-wall, locations around the world that will prove both exciting and original, check out these 10 cities that have their own distinct personalities.

The Strand – Episode 1 – 3

1. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

What do you think of when you think of the Dutch? Van Gogh, Rembrandt, the home where Anne Frank was hidden? While many of us know Amsterdam to be the capital of the Netherlands and a cultural hub, it is also known as the most sexually liberal city in the world and is home to the world’s largest red-light district and cannabis coffee shops. If you’re thinking Starbucks, think again. In Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal, “coffeeshops “ are allowed to sell it to their customers, providing they can prove they are over 18 years old. Each November, a Cannnabis Cup competition is held. For a small fee, you can be a judge, and try the best offerings of these coffeeshops. During this event they also hold an induction ceremony for the Counterculture Hall of Fame – previous inductees, include Jack Kerouac, Cheech and Chong, and Bob Marley.

Since 1996, one of the largest gay pride festivals in the world is held annually in Amsterdam. The festival is seen as one of the most successful gay pride events for acquiring social acceptance. The weekend-long event involves concerts, sports tournaments and street parties, highlighted by the Canal Parade, a parade on boats on the canals of Amsterdam. Most museums and art galleries organize special exhibitions with gay and lesbian themes.

2. Pamplona, Spain

Pamplona is located in a mountainous region of northern Spain, with several rivers running through it. It is a city rich in history that did not really expand culturally, socially, economically or technologically until the twentieth century. But there is good reason for this town to make our list, and that is the Fiesta San Fermin, better known to us as The Running of The Bulls. It takes place at 8:00 a.m. each day from July 7th – 14th. The average time of the run, start to finish, is about three minutes. The streets are walled off so the bulls can’t escape. Runners dressed in white with a red handkerchief around their necks pray to San Fermin. Each morning there is a Giants and Big-Heads parade, and each evening a fireworks display. The vast number of people taking part in the Bull Run nowadays adds to the already considerable danger of running alongside wild bulls. The numerous drunken participants have increased the risks of injury and death. Fifteen people have died and over 200 have been seriously injured since 1924. The publication of the Ernest Hemingway novel, “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926 brought world attention to the Bull Run with graphic descriptions of the event. And speaking of Hemingway…

3. Key West, Florida, USA

Located 90 miles from Cuba, and closer to that country than to the mainland U.S., Key West is where you can find the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Hemingway lived and wrote there for ten years. He once wrote of Key West, “It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere – flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms… Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks.” To this day there is an annual Hemingway look-alike contest held at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, one of his old haunts.

Recording artist, author, restaurant owner and “parrot-head” Jimmy Buffett moved to Key West early in his career and began establishing the easy-going beach bum persona for which he is known.
While Key West residents are a laid-back lot, they know how to party, too. During the last week of October each year, since 1979, Fantasy Fest, a grand street party, is held. Originally put on to stimulate the local economy, it now has major corporate sponsorships. Events include a street fair, a pet masquerade, coronation of a Conch King and Queen, and the culmination of the festival, The Fantasy Fest Parade. Another celebration held soon after, is the Pirates in Paradise Festival, which celebrates the rich and colorful maritime heritage of Key West.

4. Kawasaki, Japan

Kawasaki is the ninth most populated city in Japan. Laying between Tokyo and Yokohama is a modern, industrial city with universities and a professional baseball team. Many of us have heard of Kawasaki Motors, which manufactures motorcycles. Sorry, no connection to this city.  This Kawasaki is the home of Kanamari Matsuri, the annual Festival of the Steel Phallus.  The Kanamara Matsuri is centered around a local shrine once popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. A large pink penis, that takes ten to twelve men to carry, is the centerpiece of this fertility festival. Locals carve white radishes into images of the one-eyed snake, preparing to auction them off at an afternoon banquet. Transvestites in red lipstick and hairy legs are joined by grandmothers licking on lollipops in the shape of a… well, by now you know where I’m going with this. Male genitalia form the central theme of the event that is reflected everywhere — from illustrations and candy, to decorations, and of course, a penis parade.

5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The second largest city in Brazil and the third largest metropolitan area in South America is better known simply as Rio.  Rio is known as the World Capital for Plastic Surgery, as well as for bronzed bikini bods and the body-hair removal system named after the country of its origin – the Brazilian Bikini Wax. Let’s not forget the Samba, the Bossa Nova and the magnificent beaches. If that wasn’t enough, Rio de Janeiro is set to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the first South American city to host the event, as well as the final match for 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The fun doesn’t stop there, because we haven’t even mentioned Carnival, one of the biggest events in the world. Carnival roots trace back to the ancient Romans and Greeks celebrating the rites of spring. Europeans gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets, and Carnival is a modern day evolution of those concepts. It is now a wild four-day celebration that starts on Saturday and finishes on Fat Tuesday, before Lent. Music and dance are a major part of the celebration. Social clubs represent their neighborhoods. Samba schools create pageants for the Samba Parade. The schools choose themes, write music and lyrics, make costumes and floats and practice year round. The Sambadrome is a purpose-built venue for the samba schools and the parade, which of course, is central to this enormous celebration.

6. Roswell, New Mexico, USA

If you don’t know what Roswell is famous for, you must be living on another planet. A small city in Southeastern New Mexico and the home of Demi Moore, John Denver, and the spirit-channeling JZ Knight, aka “Ramtha,” Roswell was popularized by what is now called The Roswell UFO Incident. The subject of intense controversy that involved the alleged recovery of alien corpses and debris from an object that crashed there in 1947, the incident has become a cultural phenomenon, making the name Roswell synonymous with UFOs and aliens.

Outside of being the home to one of the world’s largest mozzarella cheese factories, UFOlogy seems to be the main industry in Roswell these days. It is the home of the Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center and the Roswell UFO Festival. In fact, many of the businesses there have signs welcoming aliens.

7. Moscow, Russia

Moscow is the most expensive city in the world and according to one poll, the unfriendliest, too. It is the most populous city in all of Europe and a major world economic center. It is the Russian seat of power and the home of the Kremlin. Sounding like a party so far? That’s because I haven’t told you about Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is a wintertime event also known as Pancake Week, but it’s also a religious and folk holiday celebrated during the last week before Lent (like Carnival). There are concerts and cooking and clowns, but what makes this a candidate for a colorful locale? In order to commemorate Russian military history, men beat the crap out of each other with their fists on the 4th day of Maslenitsa. The only rule is: never hit a man when he’s down (which leaves eye-poking, shots to the crotch, and direct hits to any area, even the face, as fair game). There are sled rides, trained bears that imitate women putting on makeup, and on the last day they burn a large figure, usually made of straw and dressed as a woman, to say goodbye to the cold, and welcome in spring. Drink a shot of vodka before this one and during it too. It may help to lessen the pain should you get hit by a flying punch.

8. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

No list of colorful towns with colorful folk would be complete without New Orleans. We all know the story and watched in horror as hurricane Katrina devastated the city by flooding eighty percent of it, leaving some parts of New Orleans under fifteen feet of water. 1,836 people were killed making it the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. It could not, however, kill the spirit of the proud people who chose to return after being evacuated and displaced. Five years later, thanks to federal and philanthropic investments, the people of this great city have worked tirelessly to reinvent the metropolitan area. The city known for its musical legacy, culinary treats and Mardi Gras festivities, now has a new title to add… Super Bowl Champs. For the first time in their 43 year history, the Saints took home the 2010 Vince Lombardi trophy.

Sandra Bullock purchased a home there and plans to raise her newly adopted son Louis in The Big Easy. Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” organization vowed to do just that, and continues to make good on its promise by building 150 new green homes for displaced families. The street musicians are playing again, the French Quarter is thriving again, and the biggest celebration of all, Mardi Gras continues (the Carnival-like festival with a Cajun slant). There is still much work to be done, but as rockstar and French Quarter resident Lenny Kravitz says, “There’s certain things in life that I love. One is architecture. And music, culture, food, people. New Orleans has all of that.”

9. Leipzig, Germany

While Leipzig is ranked 35th in the world for cultural, economic and social innovation, and has been home to some the great minds in music and thought such as, Bach, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Goethe, none of those are the reason it’s on the list. Leipzig is home to the Wave Gottik Treffen, a combination music and gothic festival, the world’s largest gathering for those into the “dark arts.” As this movement has grown, Leipzig has become the capital for goth, steampunk and Harajuku-inspired fashion. This year nearly 200 music groups such as Kitty in a Casket and Alien Sex Fiend performed.

10. Big Major Cay, Exuma Cays, Bahamas

This group of private islands in the Bahamas is not as commercialized as some of the bigger islands. That‘s why stars such as Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage and David Copperfield have all purchased their own pieces of paradise in the Exuma Cays. One would expect to see locals fishing and basking in the hot sun on afternoons, but on Big Major Cay the natives have snouts and curly tails. The southernmost beach on this island is called Pig Beach. No one seems to know how these pigs ended up there, but when they hear the sound of a boat’s engine approaching, these pigs will swim out to greet you. You’d better have snacks at the ready, as they expect to be fed. Any trip to the Bahamas would be wonderful, but this would make the price of the trip even more worthwhile!

The Strand – Episode 4

The Strand – Episode 5

The Strand – Episode 6

Jojo Balogh is something of a pop culture legend in her own mind, and those of her friends. She was number one on their lists of people to use as phone-a-friends on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. In addition to her now defunct personal blog, she also wrote training materials for recruiters and headhunters, as well as love letters, and emails to school teachers and administrators regarding her teenage son in an effort to encourage them not to charge him with truancy.

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Must Reads 7/24/2014