Move over Mickey Mouse: in Japan it’s a giant cuddly fur-ball called Totoro who commands national icon status. This adorable animated creature, star of My Neighbour Totoro, is among the pantheon of characters from the movies of celebrated director Miyazaki Hayao and his colleagues at Studio Ghibli – Japan’s equivalent of Disney.

Just like Walt, Miyazaki had an ambitious vision that his movies could come alive in real life. The result – Ghibli Museum, Mitaka – is an opportunity to step into a world that, true to Miyazaki’s words, “is full of interesting and beautiful things”. On a far more intimate scale than Mickey’s sprawling theme park across Tokyo Bay, this candy-coloured, stained-glass-decorated fantasy on the edge of western Tokyo’s leafy Inokashira Park provides an unparalleled experience – a chance not only to learn about the art of animation but also to glimpse the genius of an Oscar-winning director.

You don’t need to be familiar with Ghibli’s movies, such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, to enjoy the museum. Every little detail has been thought of – from the rivets on the giant robot soldier from Castle in the Sky on the roof to the straws, made of real straw, served with drinks in the Straw Hat Café. Amazingly detailed dioramas and Technicolor displays evoke the many steps needed to make an animated movie, and a child-sized movie theatre screens original short animated features, exclusive to the museum.

To make this charming experience even more special for visitors, only 2400 tickets are available daily, meaning everyone can move around the compact galleries comfortably – and kids won’t feel crowded when romping around the giant cuddly cat bus, reading a book in the library or rummaging through the quirky gift shop.

The Ghibli Museum (www.ghibli-museum.jp/en) is in Mitaka, Tokyo. Book well in advance via the website.

 

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Turn a corner and you’re at one end of a long aisle, its sides lined with stalls selling nothing but chocolate. Turn a different corner and you enter another food-laden aisle, only this time dedicated to cheese, including matured Pecorino wrapped in walnuts, Norwegian Sognefjord geitost and Tcherni Vit green cheese from Bulgaria. There’s no aisle for wine though – rather an entire area with some 2500 different labels to choose between. There’s beer too. And vodka, whisky and a host of local liqueurs it would be rude not to try. And don’t even start on the aroma of coffee wafting through some parts of the hall.

Imagine the world’s largest farmers’ market lasting five days, and you still wouldn’t even be close to the Salone del Gusto (the “Exhibition of Taste”) – the flagship event in Turin by Italy’s Slow Food Movement. Having started as a local campaign to stop a McDonald’s being built near the Spanish Steps in Rome, over the years the Movement has grown into the world’s largest network of independent artisanal food producers. This is their biennial get-together, where you can meet a Tibetan farmer and taste his yak’s cheese; or inhale the intoxicating aromas of Mexican Chinantla vanilla; or get a whiff of the sea with carrageenan jelly from Ireland. Everything you can imagine ever eating or drinking, and much more.

The Salone takes place in October in the Lingotto Fiere, the giant exhibition space created from the former Fiat car factory, and attracts 170,000 gourmets from all over the world. As well as the aisles dedicated to different foodstuffs and national cuisines, there are lectures that are a far cry from those at university. Book yourself in for a talk on the history of Bourbon, and rather than falling asleep at the back you’ll be sampling six different types of whisky while one of New York’s best cocktail barmen explains the story behind such drinks as the mint julep and whiskey sour.

This being the land of the long lunch and seven-course supper, some people still have room for more at the end of a day’s grazing. For an extra fee, you can join them each evening at one of several hosted dinners in restaurants across the city and in castles, country houses and rural trattorie in the surrounding Piedmontese countryside, as some of Italy’s finest chefs prepare their favourite local meals. Add a constant background of music from Cape Verde to Lake Baikal played live throughout the day, the chance to buy as much as you can carry on the train home for Christmas gifts and indulgent treats, and the city of Turin all around if you fancy a stroll around a gallery or two, and you have a recipe to satisfy almost every palate.

Turin has excellent rail connections throughout Europe (see www.bahn.de). Some of the most popular dinners, lectures and tasting events book up months in advance. See www.salonedelgusto.com for more information. For details on Slow Food events in your own region or anywhere in the world, go to www.slowfood.com.

 

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As autumn looms in the north and spring is blossoming in the south, October is a beautiful month around the world. From the last of that European sunshine, to the wacky festivities of Halloween in the USA, here are the best places to visit in October.

Watch nature’s giants, Península Valdés, Argentina

Every year, between mid-June and mid-December, majestic southern right whales come to breed in the waters surrounding Península Valdés in northeastern Patagonia. Weighing up to 50 tonnes and measuring up to 18m in length, these cetaceans were once a favoured target for whalers – they were the “right” whales to harpoon because they are slow, float when killed and yield lots of oil – but are now protected from the moment they enter Argentine waters. October is an ideal time to spot them, as well as elephant seals, penguins and orcas (killer whales).

Get some late summer sun, Crete, Greece

While autumn may be setting in across Europe, it is still possible to catch some late summer sun if you head south. Crete has the longest summers in Greece, and you can still swim in the sea and lounge on the beach well into October. If you’re feeling a bit more energetic then October is also a great time to hike through Crete’s dramatic Samariá Gorge – the arduous but rewarding 16km route takes you past pine forests, abandoned villages, and sheer rock faces.

Samaria Gorge, Crete, Greece

Party hard, Ibiza, Spain

The start of October heralds the end of Ibiza’s elongated summer season and as the hedonists prepare to head home, the clubs like to sign off in style. Highlights of Ibiza’s epic closing parties can be spent with the top resident DJs at the world famous Pacha, with its five rooms of various musical mayhem, and the converted airport hangar club DC10, where 1500 revellers can dance the night (and following morning) away.

Go white-water rafting, Nepal

Nepal is one of the best places in the world to go white-water rafting, with an array of options from easy half-day trips for first-timers to epic, week-long adventures to challenge even expert paddlers. The peak rafting (and kayaking) season is from mid-October to November, when the rapids are exciting but more manageable than during the monsoon. Two highlights are the Bhote Koshi, the steepest and hardest of the country’s raftable rivers, and the Upper Kali Gandaki descent, an exciting route that can easily be added on to a trek in the Annapurna region.

White water rafting, Bhote Kosi River Nepal

Browse and buy leading art, London, UK

The annual October Frieze Art Festival (one-day tickets from £32) in London is the UK’s leading contemporary art fair. Visitors can view – and, if their budgets allow, buy – works by over 1,000 leading artists from around the world. The event, which also features debates, lectures, film screenings and musical performances, coincides with Frieze Masters, a linked event that showcases artworks made before the turn of the year 2000.

See Desierto florido, Chile

Most of the time the semi-desert plains between the town of Vallenar and the city of Copiapó in northern Chile are covered by little more than cacti, sparse patches of shrubs and little else. However, every four to five years or so a transformation takes place and the landscape is briefly covered by an immense carpet of multi-coloured flowers. The phenomenon, known as the desierto florido (“flowering desert”), varies greatly in intensity and is nigh on impossible to predict: it generally takes place from early September to late October in years when there has been an unusually high level of rainfall during the winter.

Flowers bloom on the desert in the Llano desert, Chile

Dress up for Halloween, USA

Halloween isn’t just for kids. The biggest event in New York is in Greenwich Village, with a parade involving tens of thousands of participants in wildly imaginative costumes, plus puppets, circus performers, artists, dancers, and music from around the world. As you might expect, New Orleans also celebrates Halloween with some style – expect raucous parades, ghost tours, huge street parties, costume competitions, and a late, late night.

Celebrate Durga Puja, Kolkata, India

Known elsewhere in India as Dussehra, Durga Puja is the most important festival of the year for Bengali Hindus, and nowhere is it more spectacularly celebrated than Kolkata. It marks the slaying of the buffalo demon Mahisasura by the ten-armed goddess Durga, symbolising more generally the victory of good over evil. The festival climaxes at the end of the fortnight, with thousands of lavish papier-mâché Durga idols parading through the city’s streets before being immersed in the Hooghly River.

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From Hogmanay in Edinburgh to Bonfire Night in Lewes, Britain is home to a whole range of excellent festivals and events throughout the year. If you’re planning a visit anytime soon we recommend you build you trip around one of these memorable parties.

Notting Hill Carnival in London

Carnival Sunday morning and in streets eerily emptied of cars, sound-system guys, still bleary-eyed from the excesses of last night’s warm-up parties, wire up their towering stacks of speakers, while fragrant smoke wafts from the stalls of early-bird jerk chicken chefs. And then a bass line trembles through the morning air, and the trains begin to disgorge crowds of revellers, dressed to impress and brandishing their whistles and horns. Some head straight for the sound systems, spending the entire day moving from one to the other and stopping wherever the music takes them. Streets lined by mansion blocks become canyons of sound, and all you can see is a moving sea of people, jumping and blowing whistles as wave after wave of music ripples through the air.

But the backbone of Carnival is mas, the parade of costumed bands that winds its way through the centre of the event. Crowds line up along the route, and Ladbroke Grove becomes a seething throng of floats and flags, sequins and feathers, as the mas (masquerade) bands cruise along, their revellers dancing up a storm to the tunes bouncing from the music trucks. And for the next two days, the only thing that matters is the delicious, anarchic freedom of dancing on the London streets.

Notting Hill Carnival takes place on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday weekend.

Hogmanay in Edinburgh

Hanover St, Hogmanay Edinburgh 2006

From the cascade of fireworks tipping over the castle rock to uninhibited displays of stranger-kissing as midnight chimes and the sight of the classical pillars of the Royal Scottish Academy being transformed into a giant urinal, Edinburgh consistently throws the world’s most memorable New Year’s Eve party. And it’s a party on a grand scale, with around 80,000 people from around the world joining in.

The evening starts with a candlelit concert in St Giles Cathedral, the hulking medieval church on the Royal Mile. From then on the tempo rises, with a massive street party on Princes Street and a boisterous ceilidh in the Princes Street Gardens, followed by a large-scale concert. At midnight, the fireworks kick off, and from Calton Hill to Salisbury Crags, from the new town to the old town, from the pubs and from the castle esplanade, the whole city looks skywards and celebrates. Auld Lang Syne is belted out, and any last shreds of Presbyterian reserve are abandoned, as people bound around hugging and kissing each other.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is now a ticketed event, so book ahead at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.

Diwali in Leicester

People mill arround Leicester city centre, closed to traffic to celebrate the popular Hindu festival, Diwali, 'festival of lights'. People decorate their homes with flowers and Diyas (earthen lamps) during Diwali, which celebrates the homecoming of the god Lord Ram after vanquishing the Demon-king Ravana, and also honors the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.

The biggest celebration of Diwali  outside India takes place in Leicester, one of the UK’s most diverse cities. Every autumn, tens of thousands of people – including followers of the Sikh and Jain religions, who also celebrate Diwali – crowd onto Belgrave Road in the heart of the city’s Indian community to take part in the “festival of lights”.

The celebrations start with the switch-on of the Diwali lights: after music, dancing and speeches (in English, Hindi and Gujarati) from local dignitaries, a noisy countdown starts, climaxing at 7.30pm with the switch-on of around 6500 multicoloured lights, an explosion of confetti and a cacophony of cheers. Eventually the crowd works its way down the road – dubbed the “Golden Mile” – to the nearby Cossington Street recreation ground where an extremely loud firework display ensues.

For more information visit www.goleicestershire.com.

Robin Hood Festival in Sherwood Forest

United Kingdom, East Midlands, Nottinghamshire, Sherwood forest also known as Nottingham forest, the Sheriff of Nottingham fighting during the annual Robin Hood Festival, battle re-enacting the adventures of the hero

For the first week of August each year, in celebration of Nottinghamshire’s legendary outlaw, Sherwood Forest is transported back to the thirteenth century. Over a quarter of a century, the Robin Hood Festival has grown into a pop-up village of sorts, with stalls and attractions spread across about a square half-mile of woodland that can be circumnavigated comfortably in an hour or so.

The itinerary changes a little every day but archery lessons are always on offer for a small fee, and most days host high-octane jousting and rather vicious skirmishing between Robin Hood and the evil Sheriff’s men in the shade of the Major Oak, a gargantuan tree said to be over 800 years old, which attracts many visitors in its own right. The festival is a paradise for little boys and girls who have always dreamed of being Robin Hood or Maid Marian. Green felt caps, bows and arrows and garlands of flowers are ubiquitous fancy-dress props, and every day there are opportunities for children to join in theatrical re-enactments of the Robin Hood story, to the hilarity of their parents.

Robin Hood Festival, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire (www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/robinhoodfestival)

Pride in Brighton

The parade during Brighton Pride, the annual Gay Pride event.

Let’s be clear about one thing, fun-lovers: the summertime Pride in Brighton and Hove festival is not the grandest of affairs. Yes, there’s a sequin-sprinkled parade, but don’t roll up expecting miles of elaborate floats and glitzy, Rio-style dance troupes. It’s all much more down to earth than that – think gangs of friends and colleagues in thrown-together fancy dress, waving in time to cheesy pop or giggling their way through sketchy dance routines. And, yes, there’s an all-afternoon dance party in the city’s biggest park – but this isn’t Ibiza.

The one thing which Pride in Brighton and Hove has in spades is inclusiveness. Unlike Sydney, whose more militant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups have been known to spit fire at the thought of non-LGBT revellers muscling in on their Mardi Gras, Brighton is happy for anybody and everybody to join the party. You don’t have to dress up, but if you’d like your photo to grace the galleries that pop up all over the web straight after the event, you most definitely should.

The main events of the Pride in Brighton and Hove summer festival (www.brightonpride.org) are on a Saturday in early July

Edinburgh Fringe

Street entertainers perform on the Royal Mile to promote their shows during in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. This 65th Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festivals in the world, it was established as an alternative to the International Festival also held in August.

The Edinburgh Festival is, strictly speaking, about five festivals. There’s the Book Festival, home to top authors and commentators and set in leafy Charlotte Square; the International Festival, which hosts lush, clever productions of the high arts; the Art Festival, which gathers together special exhibitions and regular galleries; and the Fringe, which is what most people mean when they talk airily of the Festival, bulging with all manner of comedy, theatre and music from pros and amateurs. The glory and terror of the Fringe – which, inevitably, has an unofficial fringe of its own – is that no one decides who becomes a part of it, performers just pay to be included in the programme. You can see students tackle Hamlet or Bouncers for a few quid, watch brilliantly clever or enormously stupid stand-up, check out splendid new work from daring playwrights or stand in a big top and watch a circus reinvent itself.

It’s possible to have a fabulous time and see no shows at all, heading instead from temporary bar to venerable pub, nattering with the performers, punters and hangers-on that come here like moths to a month-long flame. But better to feel the heat of the action, wading through the drunks and the dross in the hope of spotting that rare and wonderful beast: genius making a name for itself.

Check www.edfringe.comwww.edinburghartfestival.comwww.eif.co.uk and www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Obby Oss, Cornwall

Accordion Players At The Obby Oss Mayday Celebrations, Padstow, Cornwall,  Britain, UK, Europe

One of the most distinctive May Day festivals in the country, Obby Oss (dialect for hobby horse) is a traditional community celebration that’s been on Padstow’s calendar for centuries.

In a unique ritual generally believed to be some sort of ancient Celtic fertility rite – May Day itself has its origins in the Celtic festival of Beltane – two Osses, monstrous, masked effigies with huge, hooped skirts, are paraded through the streets to the accompaniment of song, accordions and drums. It’s best not to get too hung up on the meaning behind it all, and instead grab a pint and a pasty and get swept away in the festive ambience. Indeed it’s impossible not to get swept away in the tangle of bunting-bedecked streets crammed with revellers.

For general information see www.padstow.com.

Chinese New Year, Liverpool

Chinese New Year celebrations begin in Liverpool, north west England. The city's Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe, with many of the original members of the community arriving as seamen in the nineteenth century.

With the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, and one of the largest in number as well, Liverpool makes an obvious destination to celebrate Chinese New Year without hopping on a plane to Shanghai. The focal point for the celebrations is the city’s magnificent Chinese arch on Nelson Street. Fifty feet tall, it was shipped piece by piece from Shanghai in 2000. With beautifully intricate decorations, including two hundred dragons, it has been positioned in accordance with feng shui principles to bring good luck to the community.

The party starts early in the morning of the first day of the New Year, the date of which changes each year, with stunning lion, unicorn and dragon dances, fireworks galore in a daytime display on St George’s Square, t’ai chi demonstrations and at least 18,000 carnival-goers who bring the centre of Liverpool to a standstill. The lion in particular is not to be missed – its red colouring is believed to bring good luck, hence the prevalence of red in all the decorations. This is a great opportunity to get acquainted with some of the spectacular Chinese street food which is made to commemorate the beginning of a new year.

For information on the events organized see www.visitliverpool.com.

Fowey and Polruan regattas

Polruan and the Fowey Estuary, Cornwall, England, UK, Great Britain taken during Fowey Regatta week.

The week-long calendar kicks off with a carnival that sets the tone for good-humoured silliness. Enthusiastic pub crews, families in themed costumes and semi-professional brass bands all parade noisily down the packed, narrow high street. A local girl, decked in the hydrangeas that flourish in Cornwall in August, is crowned Queen of the Carnival, and the day culminates in partying on the quays and a firework display that fills the estuary with light, noise and smoke.

It’s this estuary, above all, that makes Fowey magic. The little town is scraped along the side of a miniature fjord that’s a fantastic amphitheatre. When bands play or guns go off to announce races, the noises swirl and bounce around. When the big yachts sail in from Falmouth, or the gig boats race, oars swinging madly, or the torchlight boat procession passes on the last night, the boats all parade in full view along the waterfront.

If wholesome homeliness is the draw, consider also visiting the little-known regatta at Polruan, Fowey’s villagey neighbour, which lies a two-minute ferry ride across the water. There’s hymn- and shanty-singing, a sand-castle competition, a tombola in aid of the lifeboat, and a race of bouncing balls along the tiny street that cascades down the hill towards the harbour. It’s like Britain in the 1950s – and none the worse for it.

Fowey Regatta (www.foweyroyalregatta.co.uk) is usually held on the third full week of August.

Bonfire Night in Lewes

If you feel uneasy in crowds, freaked out by fire, scared of the dark or, worst of all, somewhat unsettled by sudden, ear-splitting explosions, don’t even think about coming here – but if you love noise, smoke and fireworks, you’ll be blown away. The town’s seven Bonfire Societies raise funds all year, just to send it all up in smoke. Their Bonfire Boys parade through the streets carrying blazing torches and flaming crosses to the steady beat of drums. Some drag barrels of smouldering tar, others parade huge satirical effigies of public figures, destined to be incinerated at the end of the night. Stirring speeches are read, bangers ricochet across the bonfire sites and, at the climax of proceedings, hundreds of rockets fill the sky.

Lewes’ Bonfire Society parades take place on the night of November 5; for details, see www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk.

 

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From synchronised swimming to same-sex dancing, the World Outgames is an Olympic-style competition with a difference – it’s one of two sporting competitions held by the world’s gay community. In August Antwerp played host to the third ever World Outgames, and Rough Guides writer Michael Turnbull went along to discover more about the city’s LGBT community.

The Belgian city of Antwerp proved to be the perfect location for this event, which is still emerging from the shadows of the Gay Games. Having two LGBT Olympic-style events might seem greedy, but it all comes down to a small tête à tête a few years back.

In 2006 the Gay Games were due to take place in Montréal – that was until the FGG (Federation of the Gay Games) and Montréal’s committee were unable to agree on the size of the event. Consequently the FGG declared the city unfit to host. Refusing to be discouraged, Montréal carried on with proceedings and as a final gesture to the FGG, simply changed the name of the event to World Outgames. So we now have two competitions.

Synchronized swimmers at the World Outgames Montréal

The first event of the third World Outgames was appropriately enough Mr Gay World. It might be easy to dismiss the event as simply a pageant, but as the guidelines point out “the Mr Gay World Organisation was founded in the hope of creating a more positive image for gay people, particularly gay men, to make a ‘difference’ and be accepted as human beings with equal importance and rights as straight people. MGW also seeks to fight discrimination and stigma within the gay community, empowering and raising the visibility of optimistic gay men as well as breaking down barriers created by discriminative individuals and groups.” Something that is much needed, I think we can all agree.

Ultimately Mr Gay World must compete “in a variety of categories including leadership, sports, swimwear modelling and knowledge of LGBT world affairs” and after taking home a number of the category wins, this year’s Mr Gay World was Christopher Olwage, representing New Zealand.

But besides Mr Gay World, there were over 30 other sports to compete in with over 5000 athletes taking part. Although it is arranged by an LGBT committee the event is all about inclusivity and welcomes anyone regardless of their gender or sexuality.

Christopher Olwage, New Zealand Mr Gay World 2013

One of the most liberating things was seeing gender stereotypes being challenged when it came to the various sports. Football, for example, was big with the female crowd, while same sex ballroom dancing proved very popular with the men. In fact, seeing two men dance together so intimately and competitively, in a sport that is so traditionally made up of a male/female pairing, was especially heart-warming.

But the World Outgames was not only about competing. It was also an opportunity to hold a Human Rights Conference for example, which featured talks from key speakers like Dr. Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Health and Research at the World Health Organization, and Jón Gnarr, Mayor of Iceland’s capital, who recently announced plans to formally revise ties with Russia over Putin’s anti-homosexuality propaganda ruling.

The whole event culminated in Antwerp’s Gay Pride festival with floats parading around the city and headliners including Loreen and Boy George flying in to perform.

Although the World Outgames may be over, the city still has so much to investigate. Famous for its fashion, Antwerp has seen many famous faces graduate from its Royal Academy of Fine Arts including Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dries Van Noten. You can take a look at the Mode Museum or have a more hands-on experience and go shopping in one of the many boutiques the Nationalestraat has to offer.

As Belgium is famous for its chocolate, make sure you leave time (and room in your belly) for a visit to The Chocolate Line, the laboratory of Belgium’s famous chocolatier Dominique Persoone. As well as rich, luxurious dark chocolate, Dominique also specialises in more unconventional flavours like sun dried tomato, roast beef and watermelon. He also made a contraption especially for The Rolling Stones that allows them to rack up and snort lines of cocoa.

Photograph © Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres, by Jan Crab

If you’re after a night out on the LGBT scene then Antwerp has a range of bars to choose from. There are bars like Hessenhuis that are straight during the day and gay at night, gay pop bars like The Cabin and leather bars like Oink Oink and The Boots. If it’s a dance you’re after then you’re probably best off heading for Red and Blue, one of the most popular gay clubs in town, where the DJ plays a good mixture of RnB and dance hits.

It’s easy to see why Antwerp was chosen as the destination for the 2013 World Outgames, so next up is Miami Beach for the 2017 Games.

Discover more of Antwerp and Belgium with our Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, book hostels for your trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. For more information on Antwerp, see www.visitflanders.co.uk. Featured image © Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres, by Dave Van Laere

OK, it’s now time for Rough Guides to get a little, er….rough. On 29th September, over 400,000 men, women, masters, slaves, subs, bears, dominatrixes and more will all descend on San Francisco for the city’s annual Folsom Street Fair.

Arguably the world’s most famous fetish fair, the event is about to celebrate its 30th year of debauchery. Demetri Moshoyannis, Executive Director, says “Folsom Street Events is anticipating one of the biggest and best fair and events seasons to date. We are looking forward to a massive blowout for our ‘XXX’ celebration.”

Spreading itself over thirteen blocks of the city, more than 200 stall owners will be setting up shop preparing to tease, tempt, discipline and dominate you. You can be a voyeur or get a little more hands-on, whatever tickles your fancy.

Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco

As well as street performers, there will be DJs, musicians and drag queens performing for all your aural pleasures, with house/dance act Hercules and Love Affair headlining this year’s musical entertainment, as well as DJ Tony Moran and Miss Suppositori Spelling who will be on hostess duties.

On hand to greet you will be the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a collective that uses drag and religious imagery as a way of protest and to perform charitable work. Sister Mora Lee D’Klined (say it again quicker) explains it better: “As a 21st century order of queer drag nuns whose mission is to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt, we can think of no greater way to accomplish this than greeting fair goers to the largest kink and alternative lifestyle fair ever. The Sisters will be there to welcome you with open arms and to accept donations at the gate, which go towards the multitude of organisations we support.  Come dressed to kill or just to people watch, but most importantly come to have a kinky good time!”

As Sister Mora rightfully points out, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that whether you’re fresh out the gate or a seasoned pro, Folsom welcomes everyone and encourages you to wear whatever makes you feel good – even if that’s nothing at all. Yes, San Francisco may have had its nudity laws clamped down upon recently, but that all gets forgotten at events like Folsom. So if you want to be chained up in a gimp suit or just prefer to let it all hang free, the choice is all yours. Unless you’re a slave of course…

Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco

Given the theme of the event you’d be forgiven for thinking this all begins in the early evening and rolls on late into the night. But no, things kick off bright and breezy at 11am and heat up from there. The fair itself closes at 6:30pm and  things move behind closed doors and into the clubs for the closing parties.

But even if you’re travelling to San Francisco out of Folsom season, the city still has a lot to offer. Known for being one of the gay capitals of the world, so much has happened here that it’s a great place to discover the LGBT Community’s history. The first place to head to is the GLBT History Museum which documents not only the queer history of San Francisco but also the rest of the world. Exhibits like Harvey Milk’s megaphone are especially moving and once you’ve finished there you can move up to his camera shop where he started most of his campaigns. He famously used this as his base before becoming the first openly gay person in public office in California, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Directors before being assassinated ten months later.

The fact that San Francisco has such a strong LGBT history means it also has an equally strong community that welcomes you with its big strong manly open arms, and the Castro is famously where it’s at. You’ll see young LGBT couples holding hands, same sex parents out with their kids, or men in their 80s meeting for their evening sherry at Twin Peaks. If you’re an LGBT traveller, San Francisco really offers you everything and more. You can get freaky at Folsom, discover the LGBT history and feel part of that close-knit family too. Like the song says, we definitely left our hearts in San Francisco and we’ll be returning to pick them up very soon.

Explore more of San Francisco and this part of the USA with the Rough Guide to California. Book a hostel in San Francisco here, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you jet off.

The player leaps like a basketball star through a crowd of desperate opponents and flailing sticks. Barely visible to the naked eye, the arcing ball somehow lodges in his upstretched palm. Dropping to the ground, he shimmies his way out of trouble, the ball now delicately balanced on the flat end of his hurley, then bang! With a graceful, scything pull, he slots the ball through the narrow uprights, seventy yards away.

Such is the stuff of Irish boyhood dreams, an idealized sequence of hurling on continual rewind. With similarities to lacrosse and hockey – though it’s not really like either – hurling is a thrilling mix of athleticism, timing, outrageous bravery and sublime skill. Said to be the fastest team game in the world, it can be readily enjoyed by anyone with an eye for sport.

The best place to watch a match is Dublin’s vast Croke Park, the iconic headquarters of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). In this magnificent, 80,000-seater stadium, you’ll experience all the colour, banter and passion of inter-county rivalry. And before the game, you can visit the excellent GAA Museum to get up to speed on hurling and its younger brother, Gaelic football, ancient sports whose renaissance was entwined with the struggle for Irish independence. Here, you’ll learn about the first Bloody Sunday in 1920, when British troops opened fire on a match at this very ground, killing twelve spectators and one of the players. You’ll be introduced to the modern-day descendants of Cúchulain, the greatest warrior-hero of Irish mythology, who is said to have invented hurling: star players of the last century including flat-capped Christy Ring of Cork and more recent icons such as Kilkenny’s D.J. Carey. And finally, you can attempt to hit a hurling ball yourself – after a few fresh-air shots, you’ll soon appreciate the intricate skills the game requires.

For information about matches and museum entry, go to www.crokepark.ie or www.gaa.ie.

 

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With sublime sushi, soaring skyscrapers and vending machines that churn out everything from eggs to ice cream, Tokyo is the planet’s most mind-boggling metropolis.

Wandering its neon-lit streets can easily eat up your time, and put serious pressure on your wallet. But as this round up of the free things to do in Tokyo shows, a trip to the Japanese capital needn’t be stressful or expensive.

Peek at the latest gadgets

Rising high above the gleaming department stores of Ginza, the ritziest district in Tokyo, is the sleek Sony Building. Ignore its high-end shops and restaurants and head straight for the free showroom, where you can get a sneak peek of Sony’s latest gadgets, including robots, laptops and high-definition TVs. 

Visit Tsukiji Fish Market

Unless you’re especially squeamish (or vegetarian), consider an early morning trip to Tsukiji Fish Market, which buzzes with traders and tourists from as early as 4am. It’s the world’s biggest wholesale fish market, and where most of the city’s Japanese restaurants source their sashimi.

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Wander by The Imperial Palace

A short walk from Tokyo Station is the Imperial Palace, home to the current emperor of Japan. Surrounded by moats, cherry trees and solid stone walls, the palace buildings are rarely open to the public, but it costs nothing to wander through the peaceful and meticulously kept East Garden, which bursts into colour during spring.

Explore Asakusa for free

Tourists often pay a rickshaw driver to take them through Asakusa, the old entertainment district surrounding Sens?-ji, one of the city’s most important Buddhist temples. Our advice is to stay on foot, following wafts of sweet, smoky incense down towards the shrine. Alternatively, look out for the free, panda-shaped buses that cut through the district en route to the 634-metre-high Skytree building.

Asakusa, Tokyo

Get a taste for modern Japanese art

Art lovers looking for free things to do in Tokyo will be pleased to hear there’s no cost to mooch around the first-floor gallery of the glass-and-steel Spiral Building, where young Japanese artists exhibit avant-garde collections. In the adjoining café, beer and wine are both cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Prepare for disaster

The Life Safety Learning Center, run by the Tokyo Fire Department, is a free “disaster museum” educating people on what to do when the ground starts shaking. Visitors can learn first aid skills, step inside an earthquake simulator and even try to escape from a smoke-filled building.

Visit the Sumo Museum

With artefacts covering several centuries of sumo’s 2000-year-old history, the free Sumo Museum is located at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium, which hosts major tournaments.

Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Tokyo

Explore Tokyo on two wheels

On Sundays, the Palace Cycling Course lends out 250 bicycles – from mountain bikes to tandems – on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s free, and visitors have until 3pm to explore a designated route running around the outside of the Imperial Palace.

See Tokyo from above

For free, Lost in Translation-style nightscapes, head up to one of the two observation decks at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No 1, the tallest skyscraper in Shinjuku.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No 1

Take a free guided tour

Staffed by volunteers and designed to help promote intercultural understanding, Tokyo Free Guide gives visitors the chance to take a free tour of the city, guided by a resident. The only thing guests have to cover is the guide’s expenses.

Have you got any top tips for enjoying Tokyo for free – or even on the cheap? Let us know below.

With Diego El Cigala cleaning up at the Grammys, Catalan gypsy-punks Ojos de Brujo scooping a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award and Enrique Morente jamming with Sonic Youth in Valencia, the socio-musico-cultural phenomenon that is Spanish flamenco has never been hotter. Like any improvisational art form (particularly jazz, with which it often shares a platform), it’s most effective in the raw, on stage, as hands and heels thwack in virile syncopation, a guitar bleeds unfathomable flurries of notes and the dancer flaunts her disdain with a flourish of ruffled silk.

Those who are in serious search of the elusive duende may find themselves faced with a surfeit of touristy options, but genuine flamenco is almost always out there if you look hard enough. Madrid is home to producer extraodinaire Javier Limón and his Casa Limón label, and the capital city boasts such famous tablaos as Casa Patas, Corral de la Morería and El Corral de la Pacheca, where Hollywood actors are as ubiquitous as the tiles and white linen. Less pricey and more accommodating to the spirit of the juerga (spontaneous session) is the wonderful La Soleá, where both local and out-of-town enthusiasts test their mettle. Festivals to look out for include the annual Flamenco Pa’Tos charity bash and the Suma Flamenca event that farms out shows to Madrid’s wider communidad.

One of Spain’s biggest festivals is Seville’s La Bienal de Flamenco, an award-winning event held from mid-September to mid-October. In the city itself, Los Gallos is one of the oldest tablaos, but it’s worth scouring the cobbled backstreets for La Carbonería, a former coal merchants where free flamenco pulls in a volubly appreciative scrum of locals and tourists, or heading to the old gyspy quarter of Triana where barrio hangouts like Casa Anselma exult in Seville’s home-grown form, the “Sevillana”.

In Madrid: Corral de la Morería c/Moreriacutea 17; El Corral de la Pacheca c/Juan Ramón Jiménez 26; La Soleá c/Cava Baja 34. In Seville: Los Gallos Plaza de Santa Cruz; La Carbonería c/Levíes 18; Casa Anselma c/Pagés del Corro 49.

 

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As the Northern Hemisphere is getting colder in November, below the equator things are hotting up as spring gets ready to give way to summer. The cooling temperatures aren’t all bad however, as the temperature in Egypt and India becomes far more bearable, and autumn in South Korea is a sight to behold. Check out these best places to go in November.

 

Surf in Senegal

Quieter than the beaches of Morocco and with more reliable surf, Dakar, on Senegal’s west coast, offers surfers a chance to ride the days away while soaking up sunshine, unique culture, beautiful scenery, fresh seafood and awesome waves – all in one fell swoop. November is the beginning of the winter season, when the waves still start small, but have a larger range (0.5–3m) – good for surfers of all levels. If you want to learn from scratch, improve your skills or just fancy staying somewhere sociable with other surfers, you could try one of the surf camps around Dakar’s northern beaches, or hop over to one of the nearby islands for some bigger waves, such as the tiny NGor Island. Less than a kilometre away from the mainland, NGor is far enough from Dakar for some peace and quiet, but close enough that you can jump on a boat back the city for the evening, if you’re in the mood for something a bit livelier.

Six epic surfing spots >

Explore a national park in South Korea

Naejangsan National Park, in the mountains of Jeolla-do province, transforms into a burst of fiery colours in the autumn. The foliage – mostly maple trees, but also elm, ash, oak, dogwood and hornbeam, amongst others – flares up into a magnificent scene of crimson, green, yellow, and everything in between. About three hours from Seoul by bus, the park makes for a beautiful day-retreat, with waterfalls and lakes, 1880 different species of wildlife, several pagodas and temples, and an expansive peaked area ­– 76,032 square kilometres – to explore.

Naejangsan National Park

Party for Diwali in Jaipur, India

Jaipur, the “Pink City”, is one of the most thrilling places to celebrate Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights, which runs November 3–7 this year. The whole city comes out to celebrate, and you’d be hard pushed to find a dark spot on any of the streets, as you bathe in the glow of the seemingly infinite numbers of neon lights dangled over the buildings, and the fireworks exploding over your head. Tuck into some delicious, tooth-wrenching Indian sweets while you’re at it.

Ski in the French Alps

Can’t wait till Christmas? Or fancy getting to grips with some guaranteed snow on a cheap(er) ski pass and quiet slopes? The high-altitude French alpine resorts of Tignes and Les Deux Alpes start their seasons in November. With altitudes of up to 3200m, these are the first resorts to get the winter snows. But if, in these unpredictable days of European weather, that doesn’t work out, you can make your way up to the glaciers, where you can ski to your heart’s content – whatever the weather.

Celebrate Thanksgiving in NYC

The most widely celebrated American festival, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season in the US. Most people spend this day, right at the end of November, with their families, but New York offers plenty to keep travellers entertained too. There’s the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to dazzle you in the morning, a range of cafés and restaurants – such as Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village and The Red Cat in Chelsea – offering traditional Thanksgiving meals (as well as tempting alternatives for those who’d rather opt out of the seasonally popular big bird), before you work it off with a skate round the ice rink at Bryant Park, or spend a more leisurely few hours immersed in the plethora of arts, crafts and jewellery at Union Square Holiday Market.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City

Learn to kitesurf, Egypt

The feeling of the wind powering your kite and hurtling you over the open ocean at breakneck speed is like no other. If you’re after the thrill and fun of kitesurfing, Hurghada, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, is the place to try it. It barely ever rains, it’s almost always sunny and there’s plenty of wind – perfect conditions for this sport. There are also shallow areas for beginners, and, with average highs of 26°C in November, it’s an ideal place to escape the cold, late-autumnal drizzles and get to grips with a new adventure sport. Although, learning to kitesurf doesn’t come cheap; an eighteen-hour course, which will usually be split over three or four days, will set you back about £420 ($660).

Loads more Egypt trip ideas >

Round up elephants in Surin, Thailand

Ever noticed that a map of Thailand looks oddly like an elephant’s head? Perhaps it’s time you joined the hundreds of elephants marching through the city of Surin, on the border with Cambodia, as they make their annual procession on the third weekend of November towards a feast of giant proportions: the “elephant breakfast”. The following day, the elephants perform a show in the aptly named Elephant Stadium, where they re-enact battles of the past. Frankly, it would be odd if the map didn’t look like an elephant.

Melbourne Cup, Melbourne, Australia

For more than 150 years, over 110,000 spectators have come to watch “the race that stops a nation” on the first Tuesday in November, as thoroughbred horses dash round 3.2km of turf track. Don’t underestimate the popularity of the Melbourne Cup – not even the world wars stopped it from going ahead. If you don’t manage to get to the race itself, there’ll be plenty of parties going on in the city, where it’s a public holiday. Make sure to pre-book accommodation (very) well in advance.

For more travel inspiration, try our Inspire Me page. Find hostels for your November trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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