LAS FALLAS-BONFIRES, NOISE & CELEBRATIONS
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
323Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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We said goodbye at 8am to our lovely host, Blanca in Granada, and wandered into the streets to hail a taxi. As usual we had plenty of time so we found a corner, with the traffic heading in the right direction and waited; not for long and we were soon on our way to the bus station and our next adventure.
We had booked online, early enough to get front seats which gave us a good view of the countryside for the drive to Valencia. The bus was close to full; we guessed that Valencia was everyone's destination because of the festival, "Las Fallas" that culminates this coming Monday, although quite a few disembarked at the coastal town of Alicante, a lovely seaside holiday town.
The scenery was interesting with rocky hillsides, red dirt and towns dotted about. There were great expanses of land given over to olives, almonds, but mostly orange orchards. Along the Mediterranean Highway we got glimpses of beaches, resorts and the ocean. It was a beautiful sunny day and the 8 hour journey was comfortable and passed quickly.
We were delighted to learn that we would be arriving in Valencia at around 6.00pm rather than the 7.30pm but wondered how the traffic into the city be on this busy Friday of “Las Fallas”. We sent a text message to our host, Mirek with the new time and he was waiting for us at the bus station and yes, the traffic was very congested because the police had barricaded all entries into the city for the festival.
Now let’s try to describe this Valencian event: it is communities building structures on wooden stands that are erected and displayed in plazas and avenues that will be burned on March 19 in huge bonfires accompanied by fireworks. The flammable structures are like three dimensional cartoons, political, satirising celebrities and under the crisis conditions lots of finger poking at the cuts to wages and retirement conditions. There are more than 350 Fallas throughout the city and
barrios. Tonight they gather for paella in the streets to celebrate their success.
Communities compete to win the best fallas each year and some fallas are estimated to cost close to $1million euros. They employ artists and we notice that some artists win often so are in demand. The origins seem to date back hundreds of years to when carpenters and other tradesmen used to get rid of their leftover wood and rubbish before summer in large bonfires.
So for 5 days around March 19, the city closes down to traffic and everyone wanders the streets to visit the different effigies/fallas; the winning one is huge on a large site and is constantly crowded.
Let’s mention the noise-24/7 the fire crackers are exploding, seems everyone in Valencia has a mountain of them and throw and explode them as they make their way through the streets.
Bullfights are scheduled and are still popular- we didn't go!
Not to mention the official “mascletas”, deafening explosions that happen daily at 2pm and compete for the biggest and loudest.
Each night a fireworks display happens at 1am and the party lasts until around dawn when then the “falleros” parade the streets playing music; the first ones in the morning are known as the “despertadores” which translates to the wakening ones. Exhausting and exciting, everyone takes part.
Now back to our arrival in Valencia at 6pm on Friday 16. Mirek led us through the busy streets and we were challenged with our suitcases in the crowds but after 10 minutes we arrived at Pinzon Street, right in the middle of the action- bars, cafes and crowds.
Mirek’s apartment was on floor 3 and we had our own balcony overlooking the street, good and bad; good for viewing the action, bad because there was no chance of sleeping with the firecrackers, crowds, and marching bands.
We were unexpectedly 8 persons and 2 cats sharing the apartment for Las Fallas- 3 “couch surfers” from Sweden, Mirek’s flatmate Monika and her friend Monika from 50kms away and with one bathroom/toilet facilities were stretched but everyone was patient and friendly.
We loved the Monikas, both from Poland, working and studying in Spain. We talked a lot and Sheila showed them the Australian Govt. website for immigration requirements as they were interested in going there, as opportunities in Europe are pretty dismal at present. We meet a lot of young Europeans interested in researching Australian job opportunities.
Our host Mirek, from Czheckoslovakia , running his web business from Spain for 2 years (and in Valencia for 1 year) and obviously enjoying life as an expatriate with friends from all over the world filled our heads with information and city must-sees!.
Before venturing out we joined the group in the kitchen to prepare some food- Kath felt like she was back in youth hostels from long ago! Everyone discussing what they knew about Las Fallas and stories of getting here and the joy of travelling.
Quart Street around the corner is a maze of bars, nightclubs and cafes and was thumping for the whole party, closing up around 6am.
We wove our way through the crowds and found ourselves in the Plaza of the Virgin, where this huge frame and statue was at the early stages of decoration with flowers; we discovered that the Virgin is not burned like the other statues but after a week is stripped of her flowers and stored until next year.
Tired but with enough energy to catch sight of the curious Fallas we wandered the city like all Valencianos until the early hours and despite the noise and activities fell asleep, awoken at 8am by a number of fire crackers in our street followed by the parade of women, with flowers for the virgin and bands.
On the last day the Falleros gather around their Fallas and have a mascleta…so imagine the city from 2:00pm onwards all you hear is a “permanent mascleta” pounding the city! It’s quite amazing, and deafening…bang, bang, bang!
We agreed that sleep was off the agenda and joined the party. We were thrilled when Mirek and the Monikas invited us to an apartment in the city with a bird’s eye view of the burning of one of the biggest fallas. We joined an international crowd of young people at this party- English, Turkish, Syrian, Hungarian, Polish, a Texan and German etc and had fun.
Mirek impatient for the bonfires to begin led a group of us into the streets to witness several bonfires of the fallas. They start burning the Fallas from 10:00pm; and due to the fact that they have to have fire fighters nearby, to ensure the fire doesn’t spread it takes until about 2:00am for the last Fallas to go up in flames.
Our fallas was ready to go when we returned and there was a fireworks display and then the bonfire began; apparently the bonfires are scheduled by the firemen who have to stand by in case of mishap. The noise and the fires were deafening and Kath wondered if that is what war sounds like.
The air in the city was smoky and acrid and strangely, just as the last fallas was burning the rain came and washed away the ash, smoke and people; it rained heavily from 2am which cleared the streets and closed the bars. Actually it rained all through the night and all of Tuesday and temperatures dropped to around 6 degrees in contrast to the warm sunny days of the festival.
This festival seems inappropriate in times of monetary crisis and environmental issues but it is mass entertainment and distraction in tough times and who are we to judge.
Summing up, Valencia was all about Las Fallas for us and on Tuesday we filled in the gaps in our knowledge at the Fallas Museum..
We did get to visit the incredible City of Arts and Sciences, just out of the city centre but our day to go to a few sights including the beach was Tuesday and it poured with rain all day and dropped to 6 degrees, so we jumped onto the Tourist Bus and went around the city with glimpses of special places through the rain. The city was very different with traffic back on the roads and life back to normal.
Valencia has a population of 900,000 and as with most of Spain there are many different influences on architecture and ambience. It is famous for paella but we didn’t get to try a really good one during our stay. Another interesting fact is that Catalan is spoken by many and quite different from Spanish, but too difficult a political issue to go into here on the blog.
This was another positive experience and we enjoyed Mirek’s apartment and the festival and mostly the wonderful people we met.