(March 17-19) The weekend went up in flames, literally, and I’m still recovering. On that Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early at 6:30 a.m. to meet my friend at the bus stop at 7:30. From there, Taylor and I met with our friends Alejandra and Angela to catch another bus to go to Valencia for this huge festival called Las Fallas. When we got to the University Circle, we were taken back by the crowds and crowds of people waiting to board more than 50 buses that were going to the same place we were. Having done the math, there were 2,500 or more university students going, including ourselves. Talk about young enthusiasm. This festival brings people from all over Europe, and the excitement was evident. We drove for a couple hours when all 50 buses stopped and bombarded a rest stop. It was pure unadulterated savagery. People were pushing and shoving to get to the bathroom or to buy food, and the side of the road was lined with people “using the facilities” in a field. We had forty-five minutes to stop and just barely had time to do our business and buy a prepackaged sandwich to scarf down before hopping back on the bus. The driver insisted that there would be no food or drinks allowed on his bus. When we arrived in Valencia, the bus dropped us off at the heart of the city. We spent about 3 hours trying to find where we were staying, before caving and taking a taxi. Thankfully, it only cost us 15 euros in total but a whole lot of frustration. The apartment was just outside the city, but the contrast was incredibly evident. In the city, there was nothing but noise, people talking and hustling and bustling to get to their destinations, but in our little pueblo, there was a complete tranquil silence. The old cliche that you could hear a pin drop certainly applied to that situation, and it was a nice reprieve from the earlier stress of our day. The area was very secluded and thick clusters of trees ran along side the road. Right outside the apartment building was the elusive yellow bus stop that we had been searching for all day through the advice of random people we asked on the streets. At very least, we now knew how to get back into the center of Valencia. Our apartment, itself, was two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom. The living room had two midsized sofas that were worn so you could feel some of the springs. Overall, it was a cute little place to stay and cheap when split between the eight or more of us who ended up sleeping there. After a very short nap, we found ourselves starving and rushed into the city to find food. The streets were thick with people and we fought our way into a small pizzeria where we ordered two family-sized pizzas and two liters of pop. We huddled together in the corner without any chairs and successfully managed to finish everything between the four of us. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t eat all day! After that, we wandered around the city to look at the actual fallas, or huge statues made of wood that is meant to fulfill some sort of theme. Usually, one falla has many different parts to it, each as finely detailed as the next, and there can be as many as thirty or more different figures per falla. They soar above you, forcing you to crane your neck to see it all, and you have to walk around the entire falla to truly take it all in. There was at least one falla every two blocks for an overall total of about 400 fallas, some bigger than others. After talking with one of the falleros, we found out that some of the midsized fallas costs upwards of 20,000 euros to make!
One of my favorite fallas was of a man dipping a woman while engaged in a dance. Around them were various other figures, but the colors were so vivid and the dancers were by far the biggest figures I ever saw. At the entrance of this one falla was an overhead arch of lights that formed a tunnel to lead up to the falla. At the opposite end of this tunnel was a huge life-like replica of El Torre Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) that was illuminated in florescent glowing lights. It was incredible and I felt like I was in Paris, so even if I don’t make it there, at least I have that memory 🙂 Another major part of Las Fallas is the fireworks. If this festival had a soundtrack, it would be constant BOOMS. Little children in the streets lit one every other minute and then smirk at the loud noise that made all the passersby jump. At the end of our first night there, the falleros had an extensive firework display that we got to watch from the roof of the apartment of one of our friend’s friends. From there, we walked the street, still crowded at 3 a.m. with people dancing and singing and drinking in the streets. Bands played both Spanish and English music and we stayed out all night just talking and eating churros. We decided to catch an early morning bus home and instead of actually sleeping, we went grocery shopping for food for the beach. After a quick stop home, we spent all day on the beach eating ham and cheese sandwiches and playing frisbee. I ended up falling asleep with a hoodie on and getting a line across my back from the sun; my legs were bright red by the time we left. From there, we showered, napped, went into town to eat and went to bed early! We planned out all of Monday before we slept and were out of the house by 10 a.m. with our backpacks. It was our last day there, and we wanted to make the most out of it. We first stopped off at the bus station to rent a locker and ditch our bags. From there, we saw the first-place falla, which was a huge representation of Michaelangelo looking down disapprovingly in the world. It was quite frightening. After that, we went to the Oceanografic, where we saw Nemo, dolphins and sea lions! I brushed up a bit on my sea animal Spanish vocabulary and took pictures of myself underwater. Included in our ticket was entrance to the Science Museum, where we got to do random things like row a boat, smell different scents, look at ourselves in special-effect mirrors and climb on top of the hulk. After that, we headed back into Valencia to see the most important part Las Fallas–the burning. Oh, maybe I forgot to mention that after putting in a year’s worth of work into creating these beautiful structures and displaying them for the world to see, the falleros strike a match and watch their beautiful masterpieces burn, all 399 of them. The first-place winner is fortunate enough to have their falla moved to the Falla museum, but the rest of them burn on the Monday after the week-long celebration to symbolize the end of that season and the start of a new one. We went to one falla and waited out in front of it to see them burn it, when one of the people working caught our attention. He let us come behind the barriers and explore the falla first-hand, even cutting a hole in the yogurt and letting us climb up inside of it! At the end, he let me keep a small token of the falla– a small sign written in Valenciano that the replica of President Obama was holding. I felt so proud to be from New York! Unfortunately, they weren’t planning on burning that particular falla until after 1 a.m., so we could stay to watch them burn it; our bus left at 3 a.m. Instead, we moved to a bigger falla and watched the flames engulf it. Firemen surrounded it, keeping the blaze in check with hoses. People cheered in celebration and it was a beautiful site to see, though sad to see it destroyed. The fallero we talked to told us that the burning was meant to be something to be proud of. The work they put into them is worth it in the end, even if the falla doesn’t live forever. We also asked him if they had any control methods other than hoses for these blazes, to which he smiled and replied, “We’re valenciano, we don’t control anything.” We caught our bus at three a.m., made it back to Madrid by 7:30, and I was back in my house by 9. That gave me just enough time to shower and go to class…without sleeping at all. But as the Spanish say, “Merece la pena.”