Valencia/Las Fallas – Day 1
I had originally planned on spending a 3rd day in Madrid and most likely using it for a day trip to Toledo or Segovia. But with the crapalicious weather this week, it didn’t make sense to trek out knowing I’d be walking around outdoors all day. There was actually snow forecasted in Segovia – yikes! So I waited til the last minute to decide, and the determining factor ended up being that the hostel i’d been staying in was full that night. Well ok then, I guess I’m going to Valencia a day early! (I had a bed already booked there anyway, I just wasn’t planning on using it – they had a 4 night minimum stay).
Down the street, I stopped in what I’ll call a deli, though it’s not quite that. It’s one of those places where they have big things of ham hanging from the ceiling, a counter where you can buy meats, and a bar where you can order drinks and sandwiches. I found it hilarious that I could walk up and buy a sandwich and coffee while the guy next to me had a beer on tap. At 11am on a Wednesday, mind you. That’s just how they roll in Madrid.
The bus down to Valencia took about 4.5 hrs with a 30min stop. It was raining for most of the ride, which further validated my decision to leave Madrid and head south for better weather. Once we got into Valencia, however, I waited almost one whole hour for the damn bus to take us into town. It was absurd how late it was. People were undoubtedly cursing in Spanish as we all waited. I was sitting at the busstop next to a red headed girl who appeared to be reading a book in English, so I was pretty sure she was American. Only after we finally boarded the bus did we start talking. Turns out her name was Rachel, and she was from California but studying abroad in Granada. We spent the bus ride sharing her headphones and squealing in excitement whenever we passed a Falla. Turns out we were even staying in the same hostel (Purple Nest) but she was meeting friends there. We were gonna hang out that week but unfortunately we never saw each other again. That’s just what happens when you’re traveling (and especially staying in hostels) – you come into contact with so many different people, only a few of which you ever talk to again after the initial encounter. You just get so caught up in your own travels that it’s tough.
I was so overwhelmed when I first arrived! I usually am whenever I visit someplace new because I just want to see and do everything right away. Throw on top of it a massive festival and party scene and it’s like ahhhhhhhh. Overload!
My hostel room had 3 bunkbeds, one of which was occupied by a pair of Italians. I think referring to them as the ‘Italian Stallions’ would be extremely appropriate in this case, because I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. They were clearly here to party hard. I didn’t see them return to the hostel the first two nights AT ALL, which is quite a feat. Also, these guys were objectively hot. It’s not even up for argument. One of them was exceptionally friendly and touchy-feely with me and I can’t say I minded all that much I would run into them daily at the hostel in-between bouts of partying and ask them about what they’d been up to, and they’d laugh and smile and say something vague about their escapades, which I’m sure their recollection of is more than a bit fuzzy, based on the amount of alcohol I saw them consume in our room each evening.
So the first thing I did was email Natasha and another person I knew, Ed, was also in Valencia to let them know I was here. I was assuming that they wouldn’t be regularly checking email or sitting at a computer too often with everything that was going on. And I didn’t have a phone so it made instant contact impossible. God, is this how it was before the age of cell phones, where you’d agree to meet someone at an exact time and place beforehand? ’cause i’ve gotta say, I might be on board with that. Maybe people would be more accountable if they couldn’t easily back out of plans at the last minute with a quick call or text.
The second thing I did was walk into town, look at a big-ass falla, get lost in the crowd, and wander back. And to my surprise, Ed had written back and, after an hour or so of exchanging emails and setting a plan, I met him at his hostel and we got some dinner at a restaurant in town. We ordered the dinner menu of the day, which as usual resulted in a bunch of surprise plates being placed in front of me, most of which included ham, eggs, or potatoes. I pretty much wolfed my food and downed my wine, having not consumed anything all afternoon, and Ed and I got to know each other. He actually lives in NYC too and travels all over photo documenting festivals around the world, then sells his footage to various contacts he has overseas. How cool is that!
So obbbbbviously two photographers absolutely had to run around the festival with their cameras. Ed had been in Valencia all week checking out the prep process and had seen most of the big Fallas, so he essentially gave me a tour of them.
I suppose that begs the question: what the heck is Las Fallas? In short, an homage to St. Joseph where each neighborhood in Valencia bands together to construct gigantic farcical statues made of styrofoam and wood. They basically plan for the event all year and put countless hours into preparing for 5 days of festivities. There are processions and music and fireworks, and then on the last night all of the Fallas are set on fire. Fire and noise is what the whole thing’s about.
So Ed and I were wandering around til about 3am. I was just taking it all in. I’d never seen or experienced anything like this festival before, and it was only the first night! I marveled at all the massive statues of people and characters in costume (some Fallas can be up to 5 stories high!) and tried to make sense of every scene. Some were just beyond absurd or grossly inappropriate – which I suppose is why there is usually an accompanying children’s Falla of a more PG-nature.
It really was a lot to take in, but I loved every second of it. We would make our way through crowds of people hanging out on the streets, eating drinking and socializing (and occasionally puking), passing by these big white tents that were blasting music and housing dance parties for the falleros belonging to that particular neighborhood. We ran into a massive concert on the streets around 2am, tucked into a square that I don’t think I was ever able to relocate during the rest of my time in Valencia. There was a big stage with a band and a crowd of people in front rocking out or hanging out. For the first time in my life, I felt kind of old because it seemed like everyone around me was so young. When did that happen?!
At one point in the night, we came across a random marching band churning out music as they walked down some random side streets. We couldn’t help but follow them, and soon found ourselves in the middle of a massive crowd of costumed people – people dressed as cowboys, jesters, even pills! It was completely nuts, and felt a bit like Halloween. It was like they were organizing their own neighborhood parade just for kicks at midnight.
We managed to catch the fireworks on the river at 1am. Actually it’s a riverbed that’s been turned into a sort of park. There was much less of a crowd on the opposite side of the park, but the view was pretty distant so maybe that’s why. I didn’t really care because there would be fireworks every night and I’d be sure to grab a better spot next time. Ed was more concerned with shooting the people as they were watching the fireworks rather than watching them himself.