Thursday, March 22, 2012

Las Fallas!! Valencia

Saturday 3/17:
7am-3pm bus ride to Gandia, a town right outside of Valencia where we were staying. We were told that it was a hotel right on the beach 30 minutes outside of Valencia, sounds perfect right?  It wasn't. Our two star hotel was 2 miles from the beach or in other words more than a 30 minute bus ride, and over an hour and a half from where we needed to be in Valencia. Also upon arrival we were handed a program of the events of Las Fallas and I immediately pointed out to our coordinator that the cremá (the burning) was midnight on Monday night, not Sunday night. slightly problematic. So we went to the beach for a couple of hours while it was still warm and walked around in our bathing suits until it was time for us to head into Valencia.  The change of plans was to see if we could keep the bus for an extra day and just return right after la cremá Tuesday morning because we didn't have a hotel to sleep in.  HOWEVER, 6 or 7 of us (including myself) had midterms on Tuesday at 8:30am.  So he told us he would talk to our professors and take all the heat for it (which he never did.) and we would miss our midterms (25% of my grade).  Putting all that aside because there was nothing I could do about it at that point, we finally arrived on the outside of Valencia at 8pm.  Lost, without a clue where this giant festival was because our bus dropped us off 45 minutes outside of where we needed to be... we finally stumbled our way into the festivities.  Our group dispersed (thank goodness) and Casey and I walked around to take it all in and find a place to eat because we were starving.  It was so incredibly crowded that the entire weekend we had to hold hands to keep from getting separated (we call it the elephant, when we link to each other in crowds--people respect the elephant.)  We finally found a buffet place that had just opened so there was a table for us to sit at and the food was amazing, we were so lucky to find this place because everyone else ended up going to burger king :P 
OH taking a step back here, for those who do not know what Las Fallas are (pronounced fayas), its a celebration in the name of St. Joseph who was a carpenter and so to symbolize the burning of scrap wood, people make these giant artworks (cartoons, satirical, political, Hollywood, etc) 50 to 70ft tall and on the last day at midnight they burn them all (over 700 including the little ones).  Its kind of like there spring celebration too, starting over because in the Mediterranean fire represents purification. There are a ton of fireworks and firecrackers too and people just walk around throwing them everywhere. It's very very very loud (and slightly dangerous...)
So, after dinner we watched some really cool break dancing performances and other street performers and walked around to explore the different Fallas.  The streets were filled with people and merchants stands, selling food, churros, Fallas bandannas, firecrackers, everything.  It was a little terrifying walking around and having children lighting firecrackers and throwing them at each other.  For example, within a few minutes of our being there, someone put a firecracker inside a glass bottle and it exploded just 50ft from us, really safe.  But we made our way through and the Fallas were amazing.  They were so huge and each one of them had different meanings (that we couldn't understand because it was in Valenciano, not even Spanish) and so many details that it was impossible to see it all.  As we were walking around we stumbled upon streets with rows and rows of lights and in the center was a big Eiffel tower all lit up.  The amount of people was unbelievable and as soon as we walked right under the tower, a light show started.  They were blasting music and turning the lights on and off in coordination with the music.  Somehow the crowd increased, as if that were possible, but we enjoyed a lovely light show of the Eiffel tower.  Around 12:30am we received a phone call saying that the train was leaving in ten minutes, so we ran so fast through the crowds and asked for directions to the station, made it just in time, loaded onto the platform and found out that the train was full.  Just our luck.  So we had to wait at the platform for an hour for the next train, made some Spanish friends to keep us busy and finally took a train back to Gandia where we had to walk back to our hotel.  We made it to our room at 3am, but the festivities continued in Gandia as well so there was far too much noise for any real sleep.

Sunday 3/18:
Because of our changes of plans from Sunday to Monday night at midnight, we had a lot of extra time.  Casey and I spent the whole day in Gandia because it would be way to much to go into Valencia for 3 nights in a row.  We spent the morning at the beach in the sun, relaxing and napping a little because it was much quieter here, even though there were firecrackers every now and again.  We had lunch together as a group at a restaurant near the beach.  It was a 7 course meal: bread, different types of ham, salad with fruits in it, calamari, baked brie with blueberry jam, paella, and flan for desert.  Needless to say, it was wonderful.  We went to a couple of the shops to look for some things to do on the beach because we would be at another beach the next weekend, and decided to buy some paddles.  Everyone on the beach played paddle ball so it seemed like a good idea :)  We spent the afternoon playing paddle ball and pictionary in the sand, very relaxing.  That night we went into the center of Gandia to find that there were a lot of Fallas there too.  Some of them were just as impressive as the ones in Valencia and we walked around all night because it wasn't nearly as crowded and our hotel was just a half hour walk away.  

Monday 3/19:
We left our hotel in the morning and packed all our stuff onto the bus that we would be sleeping on later that night.  It drove us into Valencia and we said goodbye to our things that we would not be seeing again until 2 o'clock in the morning. We were dropped off at a science museum/aquarium called la Ciutat de las Ciencas (en Valenciano) and spent 4 hours in the oceanografico (aquarium section) which was absolutely amazing.  It was made up of 8 or 9 buildings that were built with very modern architecture in cool shapes and designs.  There were all sorts of different themes to each building too.  Like there were the wetlands, which was a caged circle that had all sorts of wetland fish, and birds flying around on the inside, a tropical zone building, Mediterranean, Antartic, shark zone, etc etc. They had the longest underwater tunnel in all of Europe, which was very impressive but by far my favorite part was the shark tunnel.  There were these two big rooms that were surrounded by water and connected by a tunnel filled with fish, sharks, and stingrays.  It was the coolest place I have ever stood.  They had so many different types of sharks, rays and fish and they would just swim right over you.  We liked it so much that we ended up just sitting down for almost an hour because we had so much time just to enjoy the tunnel.  We also went to a dolphin show before we moved on to the science part of the museum.  We were exhausted by the time we went to the science museum and it wasn't nearly as impressive as the aquarium but there were some cool hands on experiments as in every science museum that we amused ourselves with for a couple hours.  Finally we finished up at the ciutat de las ciencias and head into the center of Valencia.  It was about 8pm and we wondered around some more to look at all the Fallas but we ended up stumbling upon the burning of one of the little ones rather early.  We didn't know what to expect but they lined the whole thing with firecrackers and a fuse and lit it on fire.  It was quite exciting and it went up in flames really fast.  Because its a celebration we figured people would be cheering and clapping but it turned out that a couple of the younger kids that I'm assuming had constructed this one, were sobbing. It was actually kind of sad, because if you think about it these things are magnificent pieces of art that they just burn a week later.  The winner of all of the Fallas however, does not get burned, it gets sent to a museum somewhere but we never saw it anyways.  For dinner we decided to try some of the stand foods because its like being at a fair, you need to get the full experience.  So we bought some fried pumpkins donuts, and this really awesome baked potato where they had all sorts of toppings that they just put into it.  It was sooooo good, and pretty healthy too surprisingly.  They started fencing the streets off pretty early so we tried to get back to the main square where we were told we had to be for the big fireworks show and one of the burnings.  It was really difficult to make our way back but we finally did through all the crowds and blockades and picked out a little spot to stand for the big show.  we had to wait two hours but we made some more friends with this older couple and a bunch of students from Madrid that were so nice and looked out for us the whole time we were there. It was absolutely freezing outside too, but at midnight they lit two of the Fallas on either side of us and the flames were huge!!! We could feel the heat from where we were standing on the other end of the street.  Before every lighting they set of fireworks to let people know that it was about to happen.  For the big one there was a giant fireworks show where they basically set off fireworks and gunpowder for 6 minutes straight.  It was insane. Finally they set of the very last Falla in the main square in front of their town hall.  The flames were so giant that it lit the palm trees around it on fire.  The firemen were there the whole time keeping the flames kind of under control but it was insane how high the fire went.   We were covered in ashes but luckily we had bandannas over our faces so that we wouldn't inhale too much of it (because ironically enough they aren't made out of wood, they're made out of styrofoam!!) It was incredible, there are no words to describe it.  After it was all over we went to our meeting place, but my feet hurt so bad and we were so cold that it took us a while to walk there and when we finally made it there, it started pouring.  I guess that was a good thing because it put out any of the remaining fires but it was so strange because it was immediately after everything had finished.  On our way home too we stopped at a rest stop at 5:30am because we couldn't keep driving because it had started snowing.  We drove through the snow storm, but it really just seemed like an apocalypse. Fire, rain, snow.  Incredible. 

Tuesday 3/20:
We made it home by 10am, missed our midterm exams, and went straight to bed until 3 in the afternoon.
Some weekend. :D

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