Friday, April 1, 2016

Las Fallas

If I told you to think of a popular celebration full of fireworks, parades, and great food, what would come to mind? I’m sure images of American flags, burgers on the grill, and near-death experiences with roman candles just popped into your head. Well, there’s another celebration across the pond that fits this bill, and within the Valencian community, it’s just as big of a deal. This festival, which takes place on the eastern coast of Spain in the city of Valencia, was my first major Spanish festival, and it was incredible. Las Fallas is a celebration held each spring in Valencia in commemoration of St. Joseph in which fallas, or the monuments built for the festival, are on display. Each neighborhood hosts fundraisers to finance the building of their falla, and a few days before the last day of the celebration, a winner is announced. On this final day, each of the structures is burned as a way of ringing in the spring season, and the winner is the last one to be burned in the main plaza, La Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Each day during Las Fallas, there are also fireworks shows at night, and during the afternoon there is a show called the Mascletà, a near-deafening firecracker show also held in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. In addition to the pyro shows there are parades, religious flower offerings, and a fantastic sample of Valencian food.
I went to Las Fallas alone, so I was really lucky to have met a group of students in the lobby of my hostel. Consisting of four Germans, one Swede, one Swede/Australian, and one American, they study in San Sebastian in the northern Spanish community of the Basque Country. What began as me worriedly asking them if I needed my passport to check in to the hotel (fortunately, I did not) turned into me spending the whole weekend with them. They were all very nice and a lot of fun, and the diversity of the group—at any moment there could be up to four languages being spoken at once—was awesome.
The first two nights of the festival, we watched the Nit del Froc, an unbelievable fireworks show. Thousands of people pack into the Paseo de la Alameda, the spot with the best view of the show, to watch the sky light up. During the show I took a look around and had to appreciate how cool it was that such a large group of people was so enthralled, so focused, on the same thing at once. It was as if everything stopped for those fifteen or twenty minutes and we all just basked in the greatness of things blowing up in the sky. Anyway, here’s a photo:
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Continuing with the theme of things blowing up, I also go the chance to see the Mascletà twice. This is another fireworks show, but it consists mostly of firecrackers, which are set off non-stop for about fifteen minutes. The first time I saw the Mascletà, I was at a bit of a distance, but the second time I made sure to arrive early to get a spot up close. It left me nearly deaf, but was totally worth it for the exhilarating roar of the firecrackers, and the finale during which they are set off so rapidly that it sounds like one continuous, 10-second firecracker. Unbelievable.
Las Fallas wouldn’t be a festival if it didn’t include delicious local food, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I tried a Valencian almond drink, the name of which is escaping me, pastries, and of course the heavenly Valencian paella.This type of paella consists of the usual ingredients plus conejo, or rabbit. I know, most people probably think of the horror of munching on a cute little bunny, but trust me, it’s quite delicious. Walking through the streets, you can see paella being made in giant pans, cooked over a wood fire, slowly simmering, the irresistible smell luring you in…where was I?
During the night on the last day of the Fallas takes place what is called theCremà, or the burning of the structures. Starting around 10 p.m., the smaller structures are burned, and eventually the winning structure is burned in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. While, it’s sad to watch these beautiful statues turn to ash before your eyes, it’s an incredible sight and a hell of a way to ring in the spring season.
On Sunday, when the festival was over, I walked to the City of Arts and Sciences, the poster-child of Valencia, and an amazing architectural sight.
Final note: anyone who’s planning travels in Europe, I highly recommend BlaBlaCar. It’s a ride-sharing service (long-distance carpool) that is highly affordable and a lot of fun because you always meet new people and if you’re learning the language of the area you use it in, it’s also great practice. Be aware that you will be transported by a stranger, and that the other passengers are often strangers, unless you and your friends fill a car. But there are references for each driver on the website, and I’ve had nothing but great experiences with fellow passengers.

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