Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fourth of July X 1000000 = Las Fallas

Hello all!

So, in Spanish there is one fabulous word to describe my blog - fracaso. For those of you who don't have wordreference.com as one of their most visited sites as I do, fracaso = failure. I think I got so wrapped up in trying to make every blog entry amazing that I overwhelmed myself, and then after Spring Break it just wasn't possible to catch myself up again. So here's what I'm going to do. I already have most of the blog done for Las Fallas (from March - yes, I know - two months ago...), and then from there you'll get random snipets. Not exhaustive accounts of every place and every story, but enough to let you know that I'm still alive :)

Megan, Katelyn, and I embarked very early for our adventure to Valencia, Spain for Las Fallas. I'm going to try to give a pretty good overview of the history and everything, but Megan posted this link on her Facebook wall and I think it gives a pretty great description, so I'll attach that at now (so that you can read it, all the while eagerly anticipating my pictures, videos, and personal experience) :) http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/fiestas/lasfallas.asp Sleeping on the bus would have been much more possible if the driver had not decided to play extremely loud techno music at 8:30. When we got to Valencia we obtained a map - in my opinion, THE most important part of arriving in a new city (after using los aseos, of course). We located on the map where we thought our hotel was, and then started off. It was a bit of a walk, but it was a pretty nice day and we're fans of walking anyway. We saw our first falla on the way! I'm putting a picture of it just because it was my first one, and thus very exciting. Basically, a falla is made up of many different ninots, which are made of paper-mache. The big ones are all political/satirical/making fun of famous people. The fallas infantiles were for children, and consequently, I liked them better. I think that I just didn't understand the political fallas, but there isn't much to understand about the children's except how completely cool they are. Spain is having an economic crisis right now, so there are definitely a lot of people/things to satirize this year. But I'm getting ahead of myself. More on that later. We went to the area on the map where we thought our hotel would be, but when we asked an older man, he told us that the hotel we named was outside of the city and we couldn't get there by walking. We were sure he was wrong, so we thanked him and walked on. We found a policeman and asked him for his help. Probably the nicest and most helpful policeman I've met in my entire life. He too, thought it was outside of the city, but he called over his radio to ask for help, looked in his book to find the postal code to look up, and when we called the hotel to ask for directions, he offered to talk for us. Eventually we discovered that it was indeed outside of the city. At that point it started to rain, so he sent us inside a cafe to have a cafe con leche while he hailed us a cab, negotiated a price, and gave the driver directions. It was the start of many helpful and very nice Valencian people. Also...it was interesting because I couldn't read any of the signs - they weren't in Spanish. Apparently they speak a special language called Valencian, and most of the signs were written in that language. However, whenever I spoke to someone, they spoke perfectly clear Spanish and I had no problem whatsoever understanding. We went to our hotel and couldn't check in yet but we put our bags in their secure room so that we didn't have to wander around a city with 3 million people with huge backpacks. The cab driver waited for us and took us close to the city center so that we could make it to the mascleta at 2, which is basically a bunch of explosions, which really explains the entire day pretty well. On our way to the plaza we walked through a market and looked around and also found some more fallas. One warning about a few of the coming pictures: the culture here is very different. It was not odd to walk through and see naked figures. In fact, the children riding on their parents' shoulders would comment about the naked people. One of the many differences I noticed throughout the day. There were many women throughout the day who were dressed up in beautiful dresses with lace and had hair in elaborate buns on the side of their heads. They are the falleras, and there is a competition among the women in any given neighborhood to represent it, and then a huge competition to determine who is the Fallera Mayor. In my mind it's similar to Miss America. They were gorgeous, and also represented in several fallas. We made it to - well, close to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento a little before 2 so that we could see the mescleta, but there were a TON of people there, so we didn't quite make it to the plaza. We were getting pretty excited but also tired of waiting, until the greatest invention known to man came out. Giant beach balls. I mean, what else do you do with a crowd full of people waiting for something to happen? Right around 2 is when the madness started. At first it was nice fireworks, and then it turned into a ton of explosions. It sounded like we were in a war zone! There was a TON of smoke everywhere and everyone was cheering and yelling. Here's a short clip - get your earplugs ready! We walked around the rest of the afternoon - we had planned to go to the Fallera Museum, but ended up running into all sorts of fallas around the city and decided that was better than a museum, so we just walked around and looked at them.

Later in the day we found where a parade was going to start, so we snuck through the barriers and stood behind the chairs. The parade was pretty cool - with an African and Arabic flavor that included camels, dancers, and tons of gorgeous costumes. We decided that we would leave to go find something to eat, and tried to leave, only to discover that we were kind of trapped, and spent the rest of the parade on a tiny curb because there was literally no way to escape. After the parade ended we found a fun little Italian place to eat dinner, and after that walked around a little bit more and tried to find where we wanted to watch the fallas burn. We stopped to get bunuelos for dessert - it's basically fried dough that looks like a donut and of course is covered in sugar and dipped in melted chocolate. There were venders on just about every street corner selling those, and they're very typical of Las Fallas, so we felt that there was no excuse not to get them. It was almost midnight at that point, so we found a smallish falla where we could be at the front of the barrier for prime viewing. It was absolutely not what I expected, and more than I had ever hoped for. I thought it would just burn, but it exploded, complete with fireworks and flames and loud noises. We were just screaming and cheering the whole time. SO exciting :)

We had crazy adventures with having to go to a new hotel, fun taxi rides, and exploring Valencia the next day, including a trip to the Las Fallas museum, and the world famous paella.

One last thought about my failed attempt at blogging. I've been keeping a pretty good travel journal, and I've decided that I'm going to live my life to the fullest while here and then tell everyone about it when I get home rather than missing out on things or stressing myself out to try to keep everyone super up to date. Thanks for hanging in there with me, and I hope to do better in the next two months!

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