Summer’s almost here, but it’s not quite the height of tourist season. What’s going on in the world that’s worth investigating?
There are a number of festivals, some undiscovered areas to explore, an iconic trip to take and a world famous sporting event. Let’s find out more…
Be right on, Brighton, England
May is a great time to visit Brighton before the entire world descends on the seafront during the peak months of July and August. The city is known for its artsy tendencies, and May is also the time of the Brighton Festival, a three-week celebration that absolutely lives up to that reputation.
It’s been running since 1967, and is the largest annual multi-arts festival in England. Music, art, dance, drama, film, circus arts, debate, literature, crafts and more are all celebrated from 4–26 May in venues all over Brighton and Hove.
Events vary in price, but a great deal are free or under £10, and there’s so much on offer from the highbrow to the downright ridiculous that everyone can find something to tickle their fancy. And anyway, even if you only see a couple of things, Brighton’s a cool place and there’s plenty on offer anyway.
— Brighton Festival (@brightfest) March 14, 2019
Head down to the beach or take a walk along the iconic pier. Browse the area known simply as The Lanes for record shops, cafes, bookshops, art stores and vintage clothing emporiums. The Sea Life Centre has been operating since 1872 and although now very much a 21st-century attraction, you can still see the great Gothic arches of the original Victorian building.
And, for a bit of nostalgia, check out the Toy and Model Museum for over 10,000 items spanning over a century of toys and games: Meccano, toy cars and trains, arcade machines and puppet theatres.
Recreate the Orient Express, Europe
One of literature’s most enduring whodunnits is Agatha Christie’s 1934 classic Murder on the Orient Express, with the route of the famous train managing to supply the book with glamour, exotic place names, and a cast of characters drawn from all corners of the continent and beyond.
Originally running from Paris to Istanbul, the Orient Express was opulent and expensive, and after the service was extended to London with the help of a channel crossing, route variations sprang up, allowing the discerning traveller to be whisked between cities such as Milan, Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Zurich, Belgrade, Athens and more in comfort and style.
There is a private company that still does truncated versions of these routes today for an eye-watering amount of money, but we reckon you can do it more flexibly and for a lot cheaper.
The original, pre-World War I route went via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest, before reaching the Black Sea at Varna in Bulgaria, ending the journey approaching Istanbul by water. The other option is to change direction in Budapest and head almost directly south, passing through Belgrade and finishing in the Greek capital of Athens. Which brings us handily on to…
Dodecanese islands, Greece
When people think of Greece, most probably think of the islands. Vertiginous cliffs spilling down to clear blue seas, whitewashed stone houses seemingly piled on top of each other, separated by veins of winding paths and cobbled streets. Well, boxes: ticked.
The Dodecanese islands are not — despite the name — twelve, but fifteen larger and countless tiny islands speckled around the very eastern part of the Mediterranean, close to the Turkish coastline. The largest of these is Rhodes, and each of them, despite having a number of the well-worn cliches listed above, has a character of its own.
Nisyros is a volcanic rock with a mighty caldera in the centre, home to artists’ communes and thermal springs. Lakki, a town on the tiny island of Leros, has been dubbed the “weirdest town in Greece”. Given over to two Italian architects by Benito Mussolini in order to create a “fascist utopia”, it’s a bizarre mix of modernist, bauhaus, cubist, Venetian and renaissance styles. Or what about Symi, a glamorously old-school island dotted with Michelin-starred restaurants?
Whatever you’re looking for, be it food, history, art, music, or simply one of thousands of beaches to lie on, you’ll find something to your taste.
The speedway and surroundings, Indianapolis, USA
The Indianapolis 500, the self-titled “Greatest Spectacle in Motorsport”, is an event steeped in tradition. Even if you’re not attending the race, there are many events in Indianapolis during May that will keep even the staunchest non-petrolhead happy.
Since the first running of the race in 1911, “the Brickyard”, as the speedway is known colloquially, has seen some of the most famous names in motorsport vie for victory.
Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Al Unser and AJ Foyt are just some of the illustrious drivers who have “drunk the milk” — a reference to the fact that the winner has to down a pint of milk immediately after winning — and the milk is just one of the traditions that are still alive today.
The race happens on Memorial Day weekend (Sunday, 26 May this year), and events in and around the circuit throughout the whole of May include a half-marathon; a huge, free outdoor kids’ festival with circus and dance workshops, painting, music, and racing mini cars.
There’ll also be the “Breakfast at the Brickyard” at which fans can meet racing legends and tour the pitlane and garages; a golf tournament; and a huge parade involving bands, floats, dancers, and all drivers competing in the race, on Saturday, 25 May.
Henry Pun-Off World Championships, Austin, USA
“Shooting film inside a prison often has negative con sequences.”
“There are no intelligent critiques of pasta. Just a fusilli ones.”
If this sort of silly wordplay makes you laugh and groan in equal measure, get yourself to Austin on Saturday, 11 May.
William Sydney Porter — better known by his pen name O. Henry — was an American short story writer. His stories were often playful and witty, with plot twists and surprise endings. So, since 1978, an annual punning contest has been held at the museum to his life and works, in order to celebrate his love of language.
Held in the backyard of the O. Henry Museum in Austin, 64 competitors (chosen by lottery from the many who enter) compete either in pun-based standup comedy (each restricted to a maximum of 90 seconds), or a head-to-head pun-off. They’re judged by both a panel of pundits and by gauging the reaction of the audience — both applause and good-natured groaning at the more laboured word-manglings.
As well as the pun-offs, there’s live music, book sales, auctions and food and drink trucks for spectators. Come along and enjoy the best / worst in tricksy wordplay. In fact, I entered ten jokes one year. I was hoping that at least one would win a prize, but no pun in ten did.
May gives pleasant temperatures before the rainy season starts at the beginning of June, so it’s a great time to explore this small country. Squeezed between Guatemala and Mexico, it’s a mixture of jungle and coastline, and a paradise for the adventurous and those with an interest in the indigenous culture of this part of the world.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest on the planet — after Australia’s, naturally — and this means it’s an awesome place for scuba diving or snorkelling. With over 500 species of tropical fish, as well as sea turtles, whale sharks, and endless rainbow coloured coral, it’s a stunning sight.
The beaches will now be pretty much free of the spring break crowd as well, so you’ll have room to relax, if that’s your thing. For the more adventurous among you, well… what’s not to love? Hiking, horse riding, hacking through the jungle, caving, kayaking, paddle boarding, it’s all here. There’s a wide network of national parks both in the jungle and out, affording animal lovers the chance to see monkeys, iguanas, toucans — even a jaguar if you’re very lucky.
Belize was also home to the ancient and mysterious Maya civilisation. Deep within the jungle you can find excavated tombs and temples, carved with hieroglyphs which were sites of rituals and worship.
It’s a fascinating country, and now could be the perfect time to see it.