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Edinburgh plans August celebrations

Sunday, July 14, 2002

By David Bear, Post-Gazette Travel Editor

Edinburgh, the ancient and once-again capital of Scotland, has always ranked high on my list of favorite cities, a standing I reconfirmed during a weekend visit in early May.

Taking advantage of the unusually sunny weather, I hiked the charming hills and dales of its Old Town and New Town, clambered through its landmark castle, breezed through several museums, joined a literary pub tour, toured the royal yacht Britannia, enjoyed a drive out to the golf course at Muirfield (where the British Open will be played this week), even caught a European NFL game between the Scottish Claymores and Frankfurt Galaxy.

All in all, it was a wonderfully active weekend, but I was a few months too early to take part in Edinburgh's most famous event.

Every August, Edinburgh becomes celebration central, as five major international festivals compete for the attention of both the local audience and thousands of visitors. Here's a quick preview of the attractions.

For starters, there's the Military Tattoo, the famous, floodlit display of bagpipe pomp and circumstance staged on the broad esplanade at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Up to a thousand musicians, representatives from a dozen military regiments, both Scottish and foreign, march in their full regalia, strutting their stuff for the thousands of spectators who pack the bleachers erected for the event. The stirring, two-hour-long presentations are a tidal wave of pipes and drums, rifle fire and fireworks that fill the air with sound and light. Local promoters claim it is the most spectacular show in the world. From Aug. 2 to 24, a tattoo is held each weekday at 9 p.m., with two presentations on Saturdays, at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. There's no show on Sundays. Tickets range from $12 to $40. For information on the Web: www.edintattoo.co.uk.

The Edinburgh International Festival is the second major draw. Billed modestly as the world's largest celebration of classical theater, dance and music, it begins on Aug. 11 and presents nearly 250 major performances over its three-week run. There are nine operas, eight plays, five ballets, a dozen dance presentations, concerts by 10 international symphony orchestras and shows by more than 30 performers. A complete schedule of events and ticket reservations can be found at www.eif.co.uk.

Then there are the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Edinburgh International Film Festival, which run simultaneously from Aug 11 to 25.

The book festival, held in Charlotte Square Garden, features some 550 authors and wordsmiths, including Alan Bennett, Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter, Germaine Greer, Garrison Keillor, Joyce Carol Oates, Doris Lessing and Seamus Heaney. For information: www.edbookfest.co.uk.

With this, its 56th edition, the Edinburgh International Film Festival ranks as the longest continuously running film festival. Known widely as a showcase for new and independent films from around the world, the festival attracts numerous luminaries and premieres dozens of films during its run. Information and schedule of films: www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

Finally, there's the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a celebration of unsanctioned, sometimes outrageous artistic events. What began 56 years ago as an antidote to the International's classical seriousness has grown into the world's largest arts festival. From Aug. 4 to 26, the Fringe will present up to 500 performances and exhibitions every day. That's a total of 20,342 presentations of 1,491 shows in 183 different venues. Talk about cultural overkill! This year's lineup reaffirms the Fringe's reputation as a completely open platform for artistic debate and expression. Information and tickets can be found at www.edfringe.com.

Festival month in Edinburgh will culminate in a fireworks display and outdoor concert in Princes Garden on Aug. 31. With all that activity, making decisions about what to see and do becomes a real problem.

Finding accommodations in or around Edinburgh at this late date will be difficult, but I can recommend the Caledonian Hilton, also on Princes Street. During my May stay, I found it to be a wonderful base for explorations, combining the classic elegance of a century-old, grand railway hotel with the timeless hospitality for which the Scots are famous.

Readers can send e-mail to dbear@post-gazette.com.

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