What is Pop in the City ?
- it let’s you explore a city in a way you’ve never explored it before;
- it let’s you meet the locals, and get a more authentic taste of the given culture and the people that form it;
- it let’s you try activities and see places that aren’t always easy to access on the mainstream tourist trail;
- it challenges you physically, mentally and emotionally;
- it gives you the opportunity to try new things that you’ve never tried before.
For the past five years the race has been solely for women, but this year, for their special 5 year anniversary edition, Pop in the City opened up the race to men. And, by the sound of things, the Pop team seem keen on keeping it that way!
How the race works
There are 30 challenges hidden all over the city (plus numerous bonus challenges), but you don’t know what the challenge is until you arrive at the destination. And to get to the destination? Well, your team (a pair of two) has to solve a riddle, whose answer will tell you where to go (if you solve it correctly, that is!).
You want to complete as many challenges as you can before the official finishing time, so that’s where racing around the city comes in. You can walk, run, hire a bicycle for the day, or even hitch-hike, if that’s your thing.
About the challenges
Challenges are divided into five categories: sport, culture, art, community and extreme.
If the ‘extreme‘ category is already giving you heebie-jeebies, then I’d say that this is warranted! Expect anything from abseiling down a wall, zip lining, breathing fire and jumping from dizzying heights. Sport might be a type of martial arts, pole dancing, or paddle boarding, and art could be pottery, painting, textiles and so on. Culture could be sampling a local food or drink (sauna and fondue, anyone?), working with an artisanal product, or trying out a cultural past time renown to the city. The last category, community, is partaking in a challenge that benefits the local population (which I think is really neat!).
The challenges you’ll be doing are already part of the location’s offering, which is why Pop in the City is such an interesting way of getting an authentic feel of a place.
Last weekend I took part of the Geneva five-year anniversary edition of Pop in the City with my friend, Pauline. As the sun was rising we headed down to Les Bains de Pâquis, where hundreds of other participants had already gathered. After a debrief, a speech from the mayor of Geneva and some warm-up exercises, we were given our maps, score cards and riddle books. The race was officially on!
We started by solving as many of the riddles as possible so that we could map our way around the city more efficiently. Then we got on our hired bicycles and started peddling our way all over Geneva.
The challenges Pauline and I found included judo, jumping into Lac Léman (which I declined and Pauline took for the team), breathing fire (which Pauline declined and I took for the team), pole dancing (which I am not going to share photos of), building IKEA furniture, spray painting, assembling watches (because we were in Switzerland!) and making art.
While the Pop events are officially urban races, Pauline and I were more in the mindset of enjoying the moment, rather than completing the most challenges. But we didn't dilly-dally, either; I felt that we went about our race in a relaxed yet sprightly pace, and when I looked around, I felt that the majority of other participants shared the same spirit.
At the end of the day we headed back to Les Bain de Paquis with about 15 minutes to spare, where the Bon Ju crew greeted us with invigorating shots of wheatgrass and bottles of locally produced green juices. We then had a couple of hours to rest before the after-party.
Hundreds of us – participants, sponsors, volunteers, and Geneva officials – gathered to hear the day's results, and to distribute prizes to winning participants. To our surprise, Pauline and I won not one, but two, prizes, and were the only team to do so! The first prize was for having the most likes on an Instagram photo, and the second prize was for, out of 276 teams and over 500 participants, completing the least amount of challenges. Apparently, by only completing 9 challenges, we had come last in the race. (FYI, for this edition of Pop, 22 was the highest number of challenges completed!)
We got on stage to laughter and enthusiastic applause, shocked and embarrassed. I mean, there was an 80 year old who had participated alongside us, and probably a few pregnant participants, too, and probably another half dozen fighting an October cold. Like, surely we beat them? Apparently not. Thankfully, it didn't take us very long to see the funny side of it all.
You know, you'd think that coming last would dissuade me from participating in Pop in the City again, but, quite the contrary! I'd love to give it another go with my boyfriend, as I think that the race is a unique bonding experience. But, next time, I know to move around a lot faster, because coming last once is one thing, but twice...
Pop in the City 2018
The locations have yet to be announced, but you can subscribe to their newsletter to be informed! The event is open to people around the world (but you'll probably need to make sure that your travel insurance is adequate - perhaps have a chat with the Pop team), so whether you live in Europe or are planning to travel here, a Pop event could be an interesting way for you to experience a city.