The inhabitants of Barcelona's Gracia neighbourhood are bracing themselves for their annual week-long fiesta marathon. Not to be confused with siestas (which there will be none of) as bands, dancers, processions and fringe- theatre acts take to the streets. The Fiesta de Gracia is a fancy-dress carnival with a difference; instead of the people, it is the streets that dress up. Residents spend the rest of the year in preparation, staging scenes of anything from the lunar eclipse to the Amazonian jungle complete with vines and crocodiles, competing with neighbouring streets for the most original street costume. Feasts and live acts begin the nightly festivities which continue on well into the next morning, when everyone goes for traditional churros (doughnuts dipped in hot chocolate sauce).
The Sienese thrash out their centuries-old rivalries in the second Palio horse race of the year. Although the race itself lasts for only a minute, the hair-raising violence with which the bare-back riders tear around the dirt-packed arena is breathtaking if not downright terrifying. The festivities and historical pageants that surround the race put the enchanting city of Siena in its element.
Heralded as the most splendid spectacle in Sri Lanka, and one of Asia's most famous events, the Esala Perahera which honours the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, is a procession which runs for 10 consecutive nights through the streets of Kandy. The celebration, which is 1,500 years old, has accumulated centuries-worth of elaborate tradition and grandeur, with the 10 days of festivities culminating in a parade of thousands of dancers and drummers and up to 100 elephants. One particular elephant, the Maligawa Tusker, is especially grand. Born and bred for the feat and by far the most glamorously attired of its breed, the Maligawa Tusker carries a replica of the Sacred Tooth over a carpet of white linen (less its frock gets spoilt) along the route of the procession. There are similar smaller processions elsewhere on the island, although the Esala Perahera cannot be beaten for its colour and exuberance, and sheer scale.
For five days the craftsmen of Hungary converge around the historical Buda Royal Palace in Budapest to sell their wares, demonstrate their skills and compete for the title of `Master of the Year'. This veritable folkloric extravaganza, now in its 13th year, celebrates Hungary's artisan heritage with stages of singers, dancers, folk groups, theatre, puppet shows and a dance house. Spectators are encouraged to try their hand at everything, and what you make you keep. On Sunday the folk craftsmen march to the Matthias Church for a ceremonial blessing of the bread. This is to celebrate their Saint, St Istayan, the first Catholic King of Hungary and founder of the modern nation.
The Grachtenfestival in Amsterdam offers over 70 classical music concerts, to backdrops of the city palaces built by the city's merchants during its Golden Age. There will also be canal tours, home, garden and roof concerts, and on Saturday the good folk of Amsterdam open up their canalhouses to young talented musicians and the public. Thousands will flock to the festival's highlight - the Prinsengrachtconcert, which takes place in the open air, outside the Pulitzer Hotel and includes a recital of Le Carnaval des Animaux de Saint-Saens by celebrated French pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque.
Mallorca has entered a rival bid against Ibiza for possession of the Balearic rave scene, by staging the island's first three-day international music festival. Musica Mallorca '99 promises a smooth blend of live acts such as Courtney Pine, with a DJ line-up from Mad Professor to Talking Loud's 4 Hero. Meanwhile, sizzling latin band Jazzanova will be providing music to move to in the Spanish sunshine. The campsite accommodates 3,000, with tents provided for those who arrive early. (Hotline: tel: 0141 402 9616. Website www.musicamallorca.com).
20 AUGUST-6 SEPTEMBER
Preparation is underway again for the curious mixture of spectacles, exhibits and shows that is the Canadian National Exhibition, the largest of its kind in the world. Its origin as an agricultural show which began in 1879 is still visible in the livestock and horticultural exhibits which sit alongside the live bands, technological exhibits, beauty contests and genuinely fear-inducing fairground rides.
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight has long since traded in the tie-dye and music-in-a- field festivals which made it famous, for an event with a different kind of flavour. Over 17,000 people are expected to flock to the Garlic Festival, now in its 15th year in the village of Newchurch, where visitors are invited to sample the dubious delights of everything from garlic fudge to garlic lemonade as well as the more traditional garlic foods such as seafood and sausage. And it does not stop there; kids can enjoy a garlic ice cream while they marvel at the stunts of the MAD Mountainbike Daredevils, or the acrobatics of the Beechmen's Circus. For adults, there is a country fair and nostalgic Sixties pop music for when the effects of the garlic beer and wine tasting set in. Meanwhile record-breaking strongman, John Evans, will be demonstrating that what spinach did for Popeye, garlic has done for him.
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