Location: Rynek Glówny, Krakow, Poland


Dates: Thursday after Corpus Christi

 According to Polish legend, when the head of Krakow’s defensive raftsmen defeated a Tatar marauder in the 13th century, he slipped into the Mongolian’s robes and triumphantly rode into the city. The folkloric myth has been celebrated for more than 200 years with the procession of ‘Lajkonik’ through the Gothic city.

Clad in Mongol robes, the fairy-tale figure rides a hobbyhorse topped with peacock feathers, accompanied by the Mlaskoty musical troupe. The pageant proceeds from the Premonstratensian Convent in the suburb of Zwierzyniec to the main square, where the mayor greets Lajkonik and presents him with a symbolic ransom and a goblet of wine. En route, the energetic larrikin dances, jumps, greets passers-by, pops into cafés, collects donations and strikes people with his mace (it’s said to bring good luck).

 Another bizarre tradition, the abruptly ending hejnal trumpet call from a church tower in Rynek Glówny, commemorates the trumpeter who received a Tatar arrow to the throat as he tried to warn medieval Krakow of the approaching threat.


Local Attractions: With its basement bars, Krakow’s nightlife is like Prague’s with less stag parties. If you prefer to swot up on Lajkonik, head to the Historical Museum to see the hobbyhorse that was used in the early 20th century. Covered in leather, caparison, nearly a thousand pearls and coral beads, it weighs about 40kg.


More Info: www.krakow.pl/en




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Location: Grande Piazza, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

Dates: Penultimate Saturday in June and first Sunday in September


Taking the baton from Siena’s Il Palio, Arezzo’s medieval jousting tournament is like taking a ride in a time machine to the days of knights and maidens. Churches are decorated with pictures of 12th-century crusaders and the streets fill with costumes from an era predating even Giorgio Vasari, the Renaissance heavyweight who grew up here.


Following a blessing by the bishop on the steps on the 13th-century cathedral, the parade ends in the Grande Piazza, the venue for the afternoon’s archaic fun. Proceedings are begun by the sbandieratori (flag wavers), touting the standards so loved by territorial medieval types. The jousters and their horses sport the colours and symbols of Arezzo’s four districts, which are all hoping to win the Golden Lance. Rather than aiming their lances at each other, contestants score points by hitting a wooden target held by a carving of a Saracen (Islamic) king.

The tradition possibly derives from a jousting display held to honour a knight in the late 13th century, and was certainly going strong by the early 19th century.


Essentials: Wear a doublet or tunic for that heraldic look. 


Local Attractions: Arezzo was bombed heavily in WWII but many Renaissance and Gothic buildings still stand. The Chiesa di San Francesco contains frescoes by Piero della Francesca.


More Info: www.lagiostradelsaracino.it in Italian




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