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Special Travel Issue | Fiesta forever

Live at the Forum

Side Trips: Travel Tips, Trends and Tools

March 21, 2004|Renee Vogel

The Catalonians are party extremists, but this time they've outdone themselves. On May 9, the cosmopolitan Spanish city of Barcelona kicks off the madre of all fiestas, the Universal Forum of Cultures, a 141-day extravaganza celebrating world culture, development and peace. The festivities, being billed as an "intellectual Olympiad," include more than 1,500 events -- concerts, circuses, plays, puppet shows, pocket operas, exhibits, sports and seminars. The eclectic diversions run the gamut from a display of terra-cotta warriors from Xi'an, China, to the largest gathering of tall ships ever assembled in the Mediterranean to a daily parade of giant marching insects.

Even more impressive than the 2,000 artists and performers on the guest list is the event's location, a 70-plus-acre waterfront complex that includes the triangular Forum Building that is the city's newest architectural icon, the world's second-largest public plaza, a convention center, a beach with saltwater bathing pools, a man-made island accessible only to swimmers, a marina and two amphitheaters.

The project, which reclaimed an area of the so-called Costa Brava that was formerly a Mediterranean cesspool has become a model urban renewal effort. The Forum is more innovative and bigger than the Olympic village the city created when it hosted the 1992 Summer Games. Trains running on biodiesel transport people from one venue to the next and a solar-paneled pergola doubles as shade and a power source. Organizers are expecting a good turnout; as many as 35,000 people per day will visit the Forum site. And, because a party must have food, vendors are preparing to provide 12,000 meals per hour.

Attending a fiesta of this magnitude requires stamina; organizers estimate it will take 16 hours to explore the entire Forum site, and, of course, there are new events daily.

Universal Forum of Cultures -- Barcelona 2004, C/Llull 95-97, planta 6ยช 08005 Barcelona, Spain; 011-34-93-320-9010, www.barcelona2004.org. The event runs May 9 through Sept. 26. One-day admission is about $27 for adults, about $20 for visitors 17-25, and about $16 for children 7-16. Three-day and season passes are also available.

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