I could'a had a V-8!

Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
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Trip End Oct 18, 2006


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 29-31

They call it Tomatina and its why I ventured a couple of hours south of Barcelona to Valencia. The town in which the festival is held, Bunol (which should hacve one of those squlggly lines over the n, but the keyboards in Germany don't have those charachters, just cool 's and 's and stuff like that), is about 40 minutes by local train. It's so small that they can't handle the influx of people this crazy day brings with it.

Essentially, what happens is the townspeople drive huge dumptrucks full of tomatoes thru the main square, tossing some out to the crowd as they go and then dumping the load in the middle of the action for the revelers to use as amunition in a harmless, if messy, battle. BUt I'm getting ahead of myself.

While still in Barcelona, I talked to a lot of other travelers who were planning to go to the Tomatina as well. MOre than one mentioned to me that they had had a hard time finding a place to stay in Valencia or that they had booked something well in advance. Sure enough, when I looked online, almost everything in town was full; at least for the low-end joints I'd been frequenting. So I ended up booking a room at the Vinci Lys - a 4 star establishment and an option not available to many of the younger folks I've met on the road. It's nice, in a way, to know I've got that out when I need it.

I had started to feel the slightest bit ill my last days in Barcelona, so it was probably a good thing to have a nice place to lay my head for a couple of days. It was also time to lay low in the evenings (although I did get sick of CNN World repeating the same six stories over and over for three days straight - what's up with that Hose?).

Valencia isn't my favorite town in the world. There wasn't a whole lot to see or do as I found out during my habitual stroll around town upon arrival. Except they do have a great and massive park, which I'll come back to.

I had only enjoyed one good paella since arriving in Spain, but wanted more so that first evening I asked the clerk at the hotel where to go. A knockout in a finely tailored, some might say "smart," pant-suit told me without hesitation to head to the beach. "They are a lot of restaurant there for paella. Around here you can get, but ah no so good." She showed me on a map where to catch the bus and which line and off I went. A half hour later I arrived, but it was too early for dinner, only 6:00 or so. I found a little bar on the boardwalk and had a beer and a tapa or two and did some more writing. I was feeling a little melancholly - not exactly homesick, but I think all the alone time was starting to catch up with me a bit (I'd been on the road for about three weeks at this point).

Don't get me wrong. Having time to oneself to think about life, your own life, is great, but this amount of it can take some getting used to. And there had been some pretty heavy-duty self examination over the previous few days, which subsequently has paid some real dividends, I think; decisions made for personal change and new goals set, which I will not go into here. But at this point, a perfect storm of sorts was brewing.

With my beer gone and the wait staff clearing the patio of tables around me (it was now maybe 7:00 - still too early to dine) I took my leave and strolled down the boardwalk. I made my way past the port where they either did or will soon host the America#s Cup sailing race. I couldn't make out the signage to determine which. The path curled to a point where I had a view of the beach back from where I'd come. As the sun slowly set behind me and I watched families enjoying their last hours in the surf and lovers holding hands as they departed the beach, I suddenly felt utterly, completely alone. I popped in my earphones and scrolled through the list on my iPod to find the one man whose music can let me wallow in a feeling like that and make me feel better about it at the same time. Bob Dylan.

Two different renderings of "Its All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" a "Visions of Johanna" a "Desolation Row" and a "Stella Blue" later, I departed the embankment where I'd been seated to see if any decent purveyors of paella had opened their doors yet. I walked the entire length of the boardwalk. Even though some decent looking restaurants were open, they were still very sparsely populated; not what I needed at that particular moment. As I walked, I noticed the unceasing row of young people (who had obviuously been at the be3ach all day) congregated along the boardwalk with cases of beer, bottles of wine or jugs of sangria. All modes clearly not designed for those drinking alone. I yearned for my friends from Chicago and Minneapolis or any of those dispersed around the rest of the States these days. "To have someone to share all this with!" I thought. But no. "Its not that kind of trip," I told myself.

At the end of the boardwalk I turned and made my way back again. I found a place where the menu posted outside indicated they served paella and that also had more than a handful of patrons and so I went inside to request a table. After the typical wait I toldmy wiatress that I wanted the Paella Mixta and she informed me (I lter found this to be the case in many other Spanish restaurants) that they only served paella for two minimum. "Well isn't that just perfect?! Doesn't that just put a cherry on my pity-party Sundae?" I left. Immediately.

I caught a bus back to the center of town - starving. Thirty or forty minutes later I was back near my hotel and I saw a place with huge bottles of water for sale in a cooler near the doorway. I was parched as well, so I went in to buy one and saw three humongous platters of paella on the counter. A woman behins the counter was dishing up a serving for another young man - to go! Perfect. "I'll take one of the mixta," I told her and for three and a half euro I acquired my sustanence. I went back to my room where I sat on the bed enjoying my dinner and watching a pay perview screening of "Pride and Predjudice." The selection was very thin. I was just glad to listen to people speaking English - who weren't discussing Iran's nuclear ambitions and the UN's response - for a couple of hours.

Oh, I almost forgot. For some reason this hotel in Spain also received MTV Germany. It was great fun trying to harken back to my high school and college classes to try to understand what they were saying. And every so often, there would be a program in English with German subtitles. I never in my life thought I would watch a documentary (and I use the term loosely) on Christina Aguilera, but...

The next day I had planned to get up early to catch a train to Bunol for the Tomantino, but I just needed more sleep. As it happened, a later train was fine because all there would have been to do beforehand is drink and I was in no shape/mood for that. The platform was packed, but the front car of the train had plenty of space. I met some cool Ausies and we chatted throughout the 40 minute ride.

Once there, I wended my my way with thousands of others down the substantail hill towards the action. As we got close, quarters became more and more cramped until it was a veritable shoving match to move an inch. The scene of the crime was nothing like I'd expected. The "square" where the tomato war was heppening was really nothing more thana three-way intersection. It was absolute mayhem. Aside from the revelers throwing tomatoes, the townspeople in the buildings lining the streets were either dumping buckets of water from two or three stories above us or spraying us with hoses. (helpful to clean-up with afterwards, but unexpected at first).

It was one of the crazist things I've ever taken part in. I was glad that on my down the hill I'd investedthe three euro in a pari of swimming goggles to protect my eyes from the acidic juice flying everywhere. I have no pictures of the craziness. I took nothing with me (except some cash), especially not my camera. Turns out that was a good move.

After an hour of mayhem I was drenched in seeds and juice and bits of tomato skins. It was pure fun. I didn't know that once the cannon went off signaling the end of the battle that it was tradition to rip the shirts off of the girls who had been part of the melee. This was a bit distressing as some of them clearly were not into it (oblivious to the tradition as well I guess). An unfortunate affect of too much early partying (the tomato throwing began at 11:00 AM, but clearly many of the participants had arrived much earlier for the pre-party).

I managed to find a townie with a hose washing people off and ditched the t-shirt I had been wearing in favor of a Tomatino shirt I purchased to commemorate the event. The train back was packed! I was lucky to even get a place to stand, but an hour later I was back in civilizatzion and the whole thing seemed a blur. The entire time in the pit I kept thinking how much fun the boys from MN & Chicago would have with this and how this might not be my last Tomatino.

The next day I decided to do the one museum that was highly recommended in my guidebook, the Museu de Belle Arts de Valencia, and it was good, but there are only so many medevial depictions of the nativity and passion one can take at a time. After, I went to the park that I mentioned earlier.

It is built on an old river bed (they diverted the river for some reason)and at the south end they've built a series of impressive building (see posted pics) to house a modern art museum, which unfortunately was being renovated, and an oceanareum and an Imax theater, etc. The whole length of the park was gorgeous though, with pools and fountains and shady groves. T spent hours there. Twice just lying down to alternately read and nap.

That night I gave in to my dark craving for some American food and went to Fosater's Hollywood American Restaurant. Big mistake. Just where in Philadelphia, I ask you, can one find a cheese-steak seerved on a pita? I'll tell you. No where. But that's how good ol' Foster's served it up. They also claimed on their menu, according to the New York Times no less, to have the world's best onion rings. I do believe I have a bone to pick with whomever they were quoting. And to top it off, at THIS of all places in town, the waitstaff spoke no English. Astounding. It was like pulling teeth to get some mustard for my soggy think onion rings. Oh well. That's it. No more American style food until I'm back in America.

And so that was my Valencia experience and the Tomatina. My next destination (two actually) came as recommendations from my dear friend Colleen; Sevilla and Granada. And I was glad for the tip...
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