Kattenstoet (which I wrote about more in-depth last year), is the (in)famous Belgian Cat Festival that occurs every three years on the second Sunday of May in the city of Ypres. The unusual gathering was borne out of the cruel medieval practice of throwing cats off of a bell tower, but in modern times has transformed into a spectacle celebrating cat culture through the ages.
The festival just celebrated its 43rd annual run this past Sunday, and longtime Catsparella reader Kathy was lucky enough to attend. She sent over an on the ground report from the parade route, and gives us a firsthand look at what happens when Belgium goes cat crazy!
Kathy and her adorable daughter!
(Click on any image to enlarge)
My husband and our girl and I went to Ypres to see the Cat Festival (Kattenstoet). It was great fun and as an added bonus, the weather cooperated and it was warm and sunny all weekend. We took the Channel Tunnel early Saturday morning, stayed overnight for the festival and came back late on Sunday.
One of the helpers with the children's events. Notice his eyes!
The atmosphere in Ypres was wonderful. We stayed in the old part of the city, near the parade route and did some exploring on Saturday. It has a lot of history about the First World War (memorials, museums) and the city is, in itself, very beautiful with a huge wall and moat around part of it. They put on some games for the children and you could see many of the kids with cat-painted faces.
A cat-shaped bun our girl had for breakfast
Electronic cat at the Cloth Hall that 'Meows'. These were all over the main square.
Many of the shops had displays with cats in them and the Groote Market (main square) had plastic cats with speakers in their feet and they were fastened to the buildings. As you passed them there was a loud 'Meeooww' to be heard.
Our hotel was full of Japanese tourists of every age group. We saw some beautiful ladies in kimonos that were made of cat print material and had cats embroidered on the obi. Several wore cat ears (as our girl did all weekend) and had whiskers penciled on. I suppose coming from the land of Hello Kitty, they really got into the spirit of the event!
Cat from Japan (but not actually mentioned as Hello Kitty - but we all know who they mean!)
The actual parade started at 15:00 but for about an hour before that there was an advertising parade where local companies (car dealerships, radio stations, garden centres) advertised their services.
The one I found most amusing was the company that had pole dancers dressed as cats. I was so surprised that I absolutely can't remember WHAT they were supposed to be selling!
Chocolate shop window display
The people in the pre-parade threw sweets into the crowd and you had to be very careful otherwise you'd get hit in the head.
From the musical "Cats"
Celtic cat - these were very impressive
Death of the Fat Cat
Then the parade started in earnest. There were lots of children, dancers, jugglers, marching bands and even fire breathers! It was very jolly and you could tell that they enjoyed putting on this show. The parade started off with naughty mice and they threw cheese into the crowd. There were several floats that represented cats from different countries, cats in language and legend, and cats through the ages. Parts of it was definitely not Disney and some of the floats were positively gruesome. There were witches, mice beheading cats, devil cats and other mayhem.
Beautiful Minneke Poes
The parade went for on two and a half hours, ending with the Cat King (Cieper) and Queen (Minneke Poes). The Queen was BEAUTIFUL. But, at the very end came the Jester. He was mean and terrible and he was the one who threw the plush cats from the Cloth Hall tower. We left early and couldn't watch. I was also happy to get away because after the throwing of the cats, they were going to burn a witch. I supposed this was not going to be for real, but I was worried that they might make it a bit dramatic and cause permanent trauma to our girl!
We had a great time - a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Special thanks to Kathy for sharing her Kattenstoet adventure with us! I feel like I was right there with her, and can't wait to book my ticket for 2015!
Do you know of any cat-themed travel destinations, or have some cool kitty vacation pics you'd like to share? Drop me a line at email@example.com!