Back on study abroad in college, the boys and I went on a two week trip through Iberia. Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Lisbon. This is the first part on Valencia and Las Falles. Enjoy the throwback writing style and content!
So we went to Valencia for Las Fallas, a festival taking place right in the middle of everything, centering around the ayuntamiento. Basically it’s a weeklong festival that incorporates dancing, fire, fireworks, firecrackers, firemen, bottle rockets, beer, rum, mojitos, tequila, and food.
It dates back to the Roman times when one would burn all the old wood and junk from the winter; then it came to symbolize ridding oneself of the past year and starting afresh; then the timber began to symbolize certain figures and became satirical in nature; then Franco came along and squashed any satire; then he died and figures such as Obama were torched in the streets.
There are many, many floats just hanging out in the streets and it seems the only thing preventing people from messing with them is the seriousness of the tradition. (A girl was bawling her eyes out as she lit her Falle. They take this shit seriously.) The awesome timing of this thing cannot be overstated. It ends on March 19 in honor of St. Joseph. It is always five days and ends then.
This meant we got to spend a full weekend in Barcelona, spend an absolutely packed week in Valencia, and still have the full weekend in Seville. There wasn’t a single off day in that 10 day stretch, and only in Lisbon did we calm down. Phenomenal timing as March 19 (really the 20th since it was night time) doesn’t always end on Friday.
It’s pretty hard to describe what they look like, but they’re laid out on astro turf most of them, they have this subdued color palette to them, and they’re all highly characterized. My favorite was a critique on healthcare. It was a nurse with a saw in one hand and a European credit card machine in the other. A patient laid on the table with a piggy bank being emptied out, and an IV with J&B scotch draining into him.
There was also Einstein standing there and staring at the nurse’s chest with his eyes popping out. This scene was above a hospital itself with people trying to get out and doctors with weapons and such. They’re all made with a wooden skeleton and the body is shaped using what looks like Styrofoam. Presumably they’re all spray painted.
Some of the others: a Yellow Submarine themed one, an Alice in Wonderland themed one with a 7-of-hearts sodomizing 3-of-hearts, a How to Train Your Dragon one, a giant light-up dragon that played Coldplay every now and again.
In the city center, right next to the train station is the ayuntamiento where everything was centralized. We originally got off the train here and it wasn’t hard to walk a short distance and get bocadillos right away. There was also this outdoor market thing, essentially just a big canopy but there was walls and structure to it so it wasn’t super cold or anything.
It has here I saw something that boggled my mind. There was 5 little kids messing around on escalators, one of which couldn’t have been older than 3, who was dragging his fingers along the steps meaning he could’ve easily pinched them anywhere. Then they got to “playing soccer.” And by this I mean they would get in a line and one person would slide tackle sticking his leg out, and the other would practice dragging his leg and diving over it. I guess this shit is taught from a young age. Who’d have thunk?
There’s also a giant park that arches around city center and the ayuntamiento. It had greenery everywhere and people playing in it. It kinda went down so there were bridges over it and steps down to it. When the fireworks were going on, we’d generally post up around here and it was super, super pretty. It was a cool design since the park wasn’t in the city but walk in pretty much any direction and you’ll get there. The parks themselves worked their way down south to the beautiful museums and aquarium. We didn’t spend any time at them, but my Lord, they were stunning buildings. I can only imagine what they were like on the inside, but that’ll have to wait for another day.
We also made our way to the Mastalla, the new Valencia CF stadium, and it was absolutely beautiful. Brand spanking new, it was painted all black and orange, signs up everywhere for the players and fans and ads, bats all over. In fact there was bats scattered throughout the city, even worked onto some of the buildings and architecture.
It was around this area we found another tapas place and it was absolutely delicious. We walked in and there was a deli-counter-looking window packed with tapas. Telling us usually people buy stuff in groups of four and try everything, he was a man who drove a hard (read: easy) bargain and thus we indulged in everything the place had to offer. (Truthfully it was so long ago I can’t remember most of what we ate, but there was one fish and creamy cheese one, some pork, some beef. Delicious.)
Side note: there was a cold front in Iberia during this time and so the weather actually wasn’t that nice. I mean it was warmer than any day in Chicago by a country mile, but the two weeks we were there were sandwiched by 70-degree weather, so I guess you win some you lose five in a row. We had one proper beach day that was actually quite cold, and one day in Lisbon was super nice, if not super windy. Oh well. Had a blast regardless.
The best part of the whole festival was how god damn late they stay up. Sure Spaniards like to stay up. We all know this and this surely plays a great part in how poor their economy is. However this happened all midweek and there absolutely, positively NO possible way anybody could sleep. The entire city had to have been out.
Surely the population of the city itself swelled to only God knows what. The music blasted, the people screamed, the fireworks popped, cracked, or boomed. There were block parties across the city—just take your pick. They blocked off a street, set up a DJ, set up a blue tarp since it was raining (what is this, upstate New York?), set up a bar, and the people flocked. It was incredible. You would just dance to raggaeton the entire night, which I love, since as I’ve raved about before is music that belongs to Hispanics; it is the only country I’ve been to that didn’t continuously play American music.
Due to Kevin’s ability to fall in lust, we met up with new friends-of-friends in Valencia, and these girls taught us the joys of perreo (it’s a dance; it means to grind/hump like a dog. Classy.) They were the best. Super down to Earth. Super pretty. Super fun. Easily to laugh with. I love Spain: the people, the food, the culture, the places, the everything. Should’ve learned Spanish not Chinese.
We basically went everywhere in Valencia with them, except one day we took off for the beach. El Saler was the little town we stayed in just south of the city, and our camp ground was not what we expected. It was a fucking trailer park. It reeked. It was dirty. Our cabana smelled like our bathroom. Just no bueno.
We spent one day on the beach, kicked off by us going to the local El Saler shop and ridding them of 11 forties of shitty beer, at about a euro apiece and took them to the beach. It was kinda cool that even from way south of the city you can see why it’s the largest Spanish port city on the Mediterranean. There was (and here’s where I lack nautical jargon) a bunch of port shit.
We just posted up and tanned on a sand dune even though it was damn windy. Couple of forties back and we played a game called Throw a Rock into the Trashcan but Don’t Hit Passersby. That entertained us for way too long, and we definitely crushed that beach day. It was a cool area though with wood all the way down through the dunes and such with a military workout section, which Matty and I fully used (alright, fine, I barely even partially used it) the next day for a workout.
We can stop here for now. It’s probably a good place to end with me throwing rocks at trashcans in a trailer park beach in Valencia.
If you like what you’re reading, definitely check out some other articles on The Spain Chronicles.
Additionally, check out part 2 of this essay on Valencia.