Valencia/Las Fallas â€“ Day 3
Today was one of the best days I’ve ever had.
Like, I’m talking Top 5-worthy. There wasn’t any one particular thing that happened that made it so incredible, though; it was more a combination of many things that made for one continuous chunk of time where I was extremely contented.
The stage was set with the most glorious weather you could ask for. Clear blue sky as far as the eyes can see. Sun shining bright. Warm enough to wear a tank top, dry enough that I wasn’t sweating much. Beautiful weather, I think, is a prerequisite to having a ‘best day ever’
I had also pre-decided that today I was going to have my one and only sampling of buÃ±elos, which are basically pieces of fried dough in various shapes, covered in a crapton of sugar. They’re like doughnuts without the cakey inside. All the street vendors at Las Fallas sell them in cones of 6 or 12, so it’s ideal for sharing. But hey, I’m traveling solo and maybe I don’t WANT that many. And oh, I hate wasting food, which often prompts me to finish my food even when I’m no longer hungry (yeah I know, not so good). But! – I made my 6 little fried dough delights last me until dinner. And they were indeed as glorious as I’d been told.
Traveling does strange things to my eating habits. I normally eat so healthfully at home and would never dream of ordering fried foods from a NYC street vendor, but when I travel I indulge in whatever food/drink is considered characteristic of a particular city or country. And that’s enough justification for me to eat fried foods and pastries to my heart’s content. HOWEVER – I always end up losing weight by the end of a trip, despite eating somewhat poorly. I eat a lot less than I normally would, sometimes even forgetting to eat when I get so engrossed in my wanderings. And I walk walk walk, everywhere, all the time, as much as possible. I’m surprised how easily I adjusted to the bizarre Spanish dining hours, where it’s customary to eat dinner after 9pm and lunch up to 5pm. I would busy myself all day with seeing a place and hardly think of food at all.
Today I had planned to check out La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias, an “entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex” in Valencia. I’d seen photos of the amazing buildings that comprise it, and with the clear blue sky I knew I’d have a ball taking photos there. Getting there required a lengthy walk from the old town and through the old riverbed, which has since been turned into a park. It’s not particularly picturesque, but it’s got palm trees and bridges crossing it, and some ponds and fountains, and various sporting courts. You know, typical park-y things.
And then, I got my mind blown by La Ciudad.
Now, I should preface this by saying that if you don’t have a tendency to geek out over cool-looking, modern buildings that have a gaggle of photo ops beckoning, you might not be as taken by it as I was. I could look at pretty things all day long and photograph them to death, as I did with La Ciudad. I felt like I had to thoroughly walk around each building within it and capture every angle with my camera. It just didn’t get old for me. All the lines and shapes, the symmetry, the white against the blue. LOVE IT.
If cool ogling cool buildings isn’t your thing though, you can go inside any of the buildings and check out their museums or shows on offer. You could conceivably devote an entire weekend to this complex and not see everything. I hadn’t intended to partake in any of the attractions – I mean, I’d spent the better part of the afternoon just wandering around in utter contentment. I didn’t NEED to see anything else. But then I got to the aquarium (el Oceanografico) and couldn’t get close enough to its buildings without a ticket. Then I thought about how back in the day I used to be obsessed with fish and sea creatures and seals, and how this was one of the best aquariums around, and wouldn’t it be nice to relive my childhood passions for a couple of hours? (and ok, the thought of walrus porn may have been a slight bonus here – just kidding, kind of).
I stood outside the gates for quite some time contemplating buying a ticket. Sometimes my decision-making process is so agonizing because I want so badly to decide right. I don’t ever want to choose wrong. I have a hard time accepting the fact that sometimes maybe there ISN’T a right or wrong decision, and that I should just go with my gut at the given time and forego all reasoning. So dammit, I bought an obscenely priced ticket and went inside.
And you know what, it was worth it. I went into every building and looked at everything on display. I walked through tunnels where fish and sharks were swimming all around you. I saw cute little penguins swimming around. I witnessed some major sea lion foreplay (though no walrus porn, I’m afraid). I had myself a jolly good time at the aquarium. At the end of the day I went to the dolphin show, which was incredibly cheesy and all in Spanish, but it’s not like you need a narration while dolphins are jumping in the air.
Yeah, my day was pretty amazing. I even got a little bit sunburned(!!), which I generally see as a positive thing, unless the burn is to the point where it hurts and probably did some damage. I even stopped to watch a breakdancing competition in the park on my walk back, which I loooooooved (I love watching dance). And If the day were to have ended here, I would have deemed it stellar and been satisfied.
Oh, but it didn’t. It was really only half done at this point. I got back into town and had a couple hours before I was meeting Natasha, so I caught some more of the Flower Processional. This time I had a front row spot right by the church, which yielded some great photos and videos. Everyone in the parade seemed to think I was legit with my fancy camera, so they would turn to look at me as I was shooting. YES! Love it. I couldn’t get enough of all the native Valencians in their festive attire. And most of them seemed genuinely happy to be taking part, which I find incredibly remarkable. I know I would be none too thrilled if I had to don uncomfortable attire, stand in a line and march through town all night with hundreds of fellow townsmen. Not to mention, uh, devoting a ridiculous portion of my free time throughout the year to preparing for this festival and having to conform to the whole groupthink/team pride thing. Nooooooooo thank you. I’d rather watch the masses take part than actually participate myself!
Back at the hostel, it was â‚¬1 sangria night. Yes, one euro. Absurd! I mean, why not sit in the lounge, responding to emails with a cheap delicious drink in one hand? That’s perfectly fine, right? I should also mention that I ran into my two hot Italian roommates back at our room and they invited me to come out to see the fireworks with them tonight. Oh man, I can only imagine the trouble I’d get into with them. Or should I say, the trouble they’d *try* to get me into, that I would resist because I’m a superhuman machine of high moral character ;D They were already mixing vodka and redbull and filling a bunch of empty water bottles to take with them for the night. Wowzers.
(I should also mention that this is standard protocol at Las Fallas. You see people chugging cheap mixed drinks from bottles all over the place!)
Natasha finally got to my hostel around 10:30pm, accompanied by someone she’d met at her hostel (Matt, 29, from NZ, living in London), and together we set off into town. Our sole goals were to avoid the parade route and find *somewhere* to eat/drink. Go figure that *somewhere* ended up being El Laboratorio, the same bar I’d been to last night. We were lured in by the mojitos that these guys let us sample just outside. At first I figured they worked there and were trying to win our business, but I think they may have been just random festival-goers being super friendly. Regardless, those mojitos kicked some serious butt and we were sold. Though I ended up getting a glass of wine instead – for â‚¬1.50, mind you. That’s like $2.25 for a top-notch wine. Abbbbbbsurd.
The only free space in the place was at – yes, go figure, again – the same spot I’d been sitting in last night, at this low table in the corner by the door that had small stools and a couch around it. A Spanish couple was already sitting there but invited us to join them. We spent the next few hours hanging out with them and exchanging cultural bits. I just loved Marina – she was so friendly and full of life and so unbelievably excited to hear about America from me. That, and she was a willing model for my camera, pretty much begging me to take her picture. I only wish we’d had more time to do a proper photoshoot!
I have to brag about one thing – Marina said my Spanish pronunciation was very good! I almost didn’t believe her, ’cause I’ve always been so self conscious about speaking other languages. I always figured I must sound like a 5 year old trying to speak it. But apparently not? I wish my language skills were up to par, but it’s been too long. Matt, on the other hand, took the liberty of making fun of my American accent, likening it to that of a pirate. How embarrassing! I’ve been told by non-American friends that I have a very hard accent, specifically with the way I say my R’s… which I suppose is where Matt got the pirate accent from (arrrrrgh, matey!). It’s so funny. I could talk about language and culture all day, every day. So fascinating!
I was very much enjoying our night there, but I think Natasha wanted to catch the 1am fireworks so we kind of dragged everyone out with us. Unfortunately we lost the Spanish crew and it was back to just the 3 of us again. The fireworks were stellar as usual, but it was the 3rd straight night of them so maybe it wasn’t quite as exhilarating as before. (Gosh, I’m so jaded)
When they concluded around 2am, we were once again met with the question of where to go next. And once again, the answer was “some bar”, which was fine by me. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to wander and witness the shenanigans. Walking by all the random vendors BBQing on the streets, we were all kinda craving some meat (ha), but the prices seemed to be a wee bit much for us cheapskates. We tried our hand at bargaining and found a British guy who gave Natasha and I a small bacon sandwich for free. Win! Poor Matt didn’t get anything for free ’cause he’s not a young girl like we are Even the club he tried to get us into wouldn’t let him in without paying the â‚¬8 cover charge (they were fine letting Natasha and I in for free, though!). Too funny. Poor Matt!
By that hour, restaurants had spilled out onto the streets with little stands set up in the doorways selling cans of beer for a couple of euros. I mean why not – at this hour, people are looking to drink, not have a sit-down meal. Natasha and Matt indulged, while I bought a bottle of the cheapest red wine I could find at a shop nearby. The poor cashier stuck working was this little Asian girl who couldn’t speak much English, so we had to mime a few things, including asking her to open the bottle. She did it all with a sad, sour look on her face. Not the typical angsty, eye-rolling, ugh-you’re-so-lame look, but more a… *this is my fate and it sucks, but I’m gonna deal with you obnoxious anglicans because I have to* -look. I think I might have preferred the former look, for her sake.
And then we did something unheard of in NYC – we openly drank on the street, no brown bags needed. It was quite invigorating, actually. I really wanted to document this momentous occasion with a photo of me and the wine bottle in front of a falla, but we were interrupted by The Grossest Group Of Spaniards In Existence.
Unfortunately that’s no exaggeration. These guys were just… not only gross looking (as in dirty, unattractive, dressed shabbily) but real creepsters. They tried to strike up conversation with us and roped Matt in, while an Indian guy walking around selling beer cans out of a plastic bag pounced on Natasha (she’s of Indian descent, while being British). That left a couple of creepsters to bother me. They kept making this weird hand motion, like wiggling their thumb and pinky and tilting upward as if motioning to drink. So I’d drink straight from my bottle to see if that was what they were getting at, but it didn’t seem to appease them. One guy kept calling me antipatica (which means ‘mean’). Finally I realized that they wanted me to share my wine with them. At first I resisted, but then I thought hey, I’m not going to finish this myself anyway, and MAYBE they’ll back off if I give them a taste. So I poured a bit into each of their mouths. No way was I letting their lips touch my bottle. But they just wanted more. Ugh. SO GROSS!!
I was beyond relieved when we were able to escape, and we called it a night around 4am or so.