March 24, 2013

Guest Post: "I Survived Fallas 2013!"

This year I sat Fallas out, and joined the Valencian vacation exodus, visiting Sevilla. (More on that in future posts to come.) But I didn't want my readers to miss out on the fun here. So I asked Katlyn, an exchange student from Pennsylvania who's staying in Valencia this spring, to take notes about her "first Fallas experience" and write it up for the blog. Here's her account of surviving the whirlwind ride that was Fallas 2013!
20 March 2013

This morning I woke up to the sound of the birds chirping. The streets were clean, not an empty bottle or beer can in sight. However, yesterday, just ONE day ago, the scene was quite the contrary. During the last few days of Las Fallas, I woke up to the sound of people shouting and throwing petardos (the equivalent to fire crackers) and orchestras parading along with hundreds of falleros. The city of Valencia was overflowing with culture, pride, and excitement. If Google Earth were to have taken pictures this past weekend, they would be able to see the city of Valencia illuminated by the hundreds of thousands of fireworks, fires, and lights. I am sure the noise could have been heard from outer space as well. The amount of people in Valencia doubled, and the amount of trash that accumulated in the streets, who knows? But, I’m telling you, while walking to the Plaza de la Virgen today, there was not one empty San Miguel beer can or petardo shell to prove that just a few days ago the biggest fiesta in the world was taking place in this amazing city.

Although the “official” day of Fallas began over two weeks ago with La Cridà, the real Fallas (the date where you really want to be here) begin on March 15th (La Plantá). On this day, the Fallas (a.k.a. HUGE, colorful monuments made out of Styrofoam, wood, and a lot of talent that virtually do not exist anywhere else in the world) were erected in various locations throughout the city. You can tell which barrios have a lot of money because their falla is massive and typically has more detail. Each falla is surrounded by various ninots, which are smaller structures that typically have some sort of political or pop culture connotation that goes along with them.

This was my personal favorite, located in the Plaza del Pilar
The plaza is so small, and this falla is HUGE. It is not far 

from the main public library and is definitely one worth seeing.    

This is the Falla de Convento Jerusalén, and it was nominated as the Mejor Falla de 2013.    

The falla in the center of the Plaza de Ayuntamiento.
Looks like a bunch of stereotypical tourists that you would find in
Valencia on a daily basis. Obviously, I am the blonde
American chick scarfing down the churros con chocolate.

This is a Falla Infantil because it is smaller and directed towards the younger audience.
It depicts the classic family favorite Mary Poppins, or as some Spaniards say “Marí Poppis”.

The ninot indultat of 2013. This precious gem (from Falla Na Jordana) will go
 along with the other ninots indultats in the Museo Fallero. The window in the background
had some sort of operating system that made the snow fall!

The fallas were my absolute favorite part of the entire event. During the nighttime, and after the music was cut off at 4am, many people could still be found in the streets admiring the fallas. It was absolutely admirable to see these pieces of art and to consider the amount of effort, talent, and time that goes into making them possible. It is really heartbreaking (but somewhat enjoyable!) to see them go up in flames at the end.

Some of the light displays that went up in the streets were also really impressive. In my opinion, the best and the most light displays can be found in Russafa.

Everyone was in awe at this globe of bombillas in Calle de Cuba.

I feel like I am at Disney World!

La mascletà is definitely something for those who love really, really loud noises. La mascletà is more for the sound, not for the big fireworks with a lot of colors (those are called castillos). This firework show takes place everyday during las Fallas at 2pm sharp in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. Each day, the pirotécnico changes and the most skilled are saved for the last few days of las Fallas. Towards the last few days, you have to be in the Plaza an hour earlier in order to get a closer spot. I am not going to lie, but you have to prepare yourself to be packed in like a sardine and smell everyone’s body odor. I typically went an hour earlier and got a great spot, but only with a lot of pushing, shoving, and telling people “Mi amigo va a vomitar.” The closer you are, the more impressive the show will be. The mascletà can be seen live on TV, but nothing compares to the sensation of feeling the earthquake that is created by these traca (fireworks stringed along a line) that send pulses through your entire body. It is even more exciting to see the crowd get crazy as the noise becomes so intense that the surrounding buildings shake and your eardrums start ringing!

Probably the closest you will ever find me in a scene from Call of Duty.

I am from the United States, and just like most Americans, I love seeing the fireworks on July 4th. NOTHING can compare to the fireworks that I have seen this past week. There are fireworks to be seen every night during las Fallas. Again, if you want a good spot, you have to plan on arriving at your desired location an hour before. I preferred sitting near one of the bridges farther away (el Puente de Aragón) to be able to see the entire show and to avoid the massive surf of people leaving el Puente de Exposición. The environment before the castillos could be compared to a tailgate party. The majority of the young people could be found haciendo botellón, while the future pyros could be found with their parents throwing petardos. The most impressive show happened at 1:30 am during La Nit del Foc (March 18th). To put this spectacular show into perspective, imagine the grand finale of a firework show that lasts for 20 minutes. ¡Increíble!

... Some pics (and a video) of the AWESOME fireworks from La Nit del Foc ...

This is the last two minutes of the show from La Nit del Foc

I really could have used a pair of sunglasses and earplugs towards the end.

If you are interested in seeing una Corrida de Toros, there are many opportunities to see one during the week of Fallas. I was able to go to one, and it was quite the experience. If you want to see the traditional, what-you-had-pictured-in-your-mind corrida de toros, you have to purchase tickets for the corrida, not los recortes. They are two separate events, and almost always the corrida happens at night. Everyone will have his or her own opinions about this subject. However, I feel that there is a need to respect what is and has been a part of the Spanish culture for many years. I think my favorite part of the evening was when a group of young guys blew up an inflatable "doll” and tossed it down to the arena, expecting the matador to throw it back towards the crowd. And he did. 

The verbenas are definitely something that the Spaniards look forward to during Fallas. A verbena is an outdoor concert or DJ where everyone catches up with friends, drinks a couple (or a few more!) beers, and dances the night way. I was able to go to two verbenas, and both have gone into the “Things I don’t tell Grandma” region of the memory. My friends and I were able to find verbenas directed towards younger crowds, but there were many throughout the entire city. At one point, we ended up in a verbena that had a lovely mosh pit and some melodic dubstep. We didn’t stay there for too long. Other than that, the atmosphere was fantastic, and everyone was having a blast. By law, music had to be cut off by 4am, but the crowd doesn’t clear until well after sunrise. I called it a “morning” at around 6:30 am, but my fellow Spaniards kept chugging along and went to see some fallas and got breakfast. 

The aftermath of a great verbena! I always feel so bad for the limpiadores after I see sights like this.

As I mentioned before, parades could be heard (and seen) throughout the entire day. There were three parades that I was able to witness. On March 16th, I saw La Gran Parada Mora. This parade is very small in comparison to the others, but it is totally worth seeing. The costumes are amazing, and from what I saw, it seemed that they were worth a lot of money. In previous years, there were camels that participated in the parade, but this year the only animal was a horse that cantered and behaved very well. If you want to sit in one of the white lawn chairs, you have to pay five euros. But, you can perfectly see the parade from the street. I was lucky enough to be able to sit between two dumpsters! :-) 

Before the night of La Cremà, I recommend going to Calle Colón to see La Cabalgata del Fuego. Women dressed in traditional outfits from different parts of Spain (and Europe) led the procession, flaunting their gorgeous dresses. Then, the fun part came. Men dressed like devils were riding on bicycles that were spewing fire into the crowd. People on stilts were whipping around fireballs. Fireworks were being let off in the middle of the street. It was an awesome sight that pepped everyone up for the “burning events” of the following evening.

Could you imagine what the sidewalks of Valencia would be like if all of the Valenbisis did this?   

Definitely did not expect that!

Perhaps the most emotional part of Fallas is La Ofrenda a la Virgen. Thousands and thousands of bouquets of flowers were carried to the Plaza de la Virgen by the falleros. A week ago, a wooden structure was mounted in the Plaza with the heads of Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. I had no idea that a week later (and TWO days of parading falleros), it would become a grandiose statue of thousands upon thousands of white, red, and yellow flowers that brought tears to the eyes. The Plaza is still covered in flowers and it is definitely an impressive, moving sight. 

La Virgen all decked out with thousands of beautiful flowers.

The back of her dress. It still amazes me that this can be done with flowers.

La Cremà is considered the closing ceremony of Las Fallas. At midnight, all of the fallas (with the exception of the falla in la Plaza de Ayuntamiento) were engulfed by flames. Before heading out, you have to choose which falla was your favorite, or the one that you think will be worth seeing burn down. We chose to see Na Jordana (aka HUGE Trojan horse). At first, I was expecting a huge explosion and I stood behind a larger man, obviously so that he could be my shrapnel shield. But, it was not like an explosion from an action film. Fireworks (Yes, more fireworks!) set off at once and the falla went up in flames. It was so HOT because it was like a giant bonfire, and the huge crowd of hundreds of people stuffed into a small plaza did not help either. But, I managed to keep my eyebrows! 


... After

Directly after the burning of Na Jordana, we headed over to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. We then watched the burning of the falla with the all of those tourists. Just when we thought the fireworks were over and done with, the sky, once again, filled with castillos. I teared up because that signified the end of what came to be the biggest fiesta of my life. Valencia sure does know how to party!

The last hoorah of Fallas 2013   :-(

I hope everyone has enjoyed reading my post. I had an AMAZING time during Fallas, and I feel that I was able to make the most of my experience. Everyone needs to experience las Fallas at least ONCE in his or her lifetime. Here are some pointers for those of you who will be here next year:

    • Forget about public transportation. The buses cut their routes, certain streets are blocked off, and the amount of people is just insane. The fastest way to get from place to place is definitely by walking.
     • You will not look like a tourist if you wear the blue/white tartan pañuelo. The majority of the people wear them, and it is really interesting to see the various ways that people rock them. Plus, they are really cheap, and in some bars, you might be able to get one for FREE with a beer logo on it. Do not pay more than 1 euro for it if you find someone selling them in the streets!
    • Plan to not sleep. You have to try to see as much as you can. You never know if you are going to be back for the Fallas. But, taking naps between 2:30-6 will definitely help you survive through the week. 
    • The majority (if not all) stores close on March 19th (the celebration of San José). If you need to purchase food or beverages from the market, make sure to do it the day before. If not, El Corte Inglés is there to be your saving grace.
    • Keep your mouth open during la mascletà. If not, there is the chance that your eardrums will ache for the remainder of the day!
    • Be sure to eat a lot of buñuelos and 
chocolate con churros! Live it up! Try to see and do everything that you possibly can! #YOLO

Kat, wearing the Fallas pañuelo, in fiesta mode!

Happy to say that I survived Fallas 2013! I cannot wait to do it again in the future!



For 91 Days Travel Blog said...

Looks like Fallas has a new fan! Love the write up and I think you couldn't have experienced a bit more of Fallas!

We were in Valencia for the first couple of days around La Crida. We were kind of sad to leave right before the main days. But reading this made me feel like I was there too... felt that happy Fallas giddiness while reading!

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi For 91 Days (a.k.a. Hola Valencia)! I'm glad Kat's post could help you at least get a taste of the festivities this year. It was really fun hearing from her all about it, and I never get tired of hearing an America fallas newbie say, in so many words, "I had no idea" how incredible/elaborate/crazy/intense it would be. So true!

One of these days you and I are going to have to coordinate a Fallas experience _together_. It's written in the stars.

Nieves said...

Thanks to Kat for the post, it will very useful if I finally make up my mind to go one year!

Mr Grumpy said...

Congratulations Kat, glad you enjoyed it (... and hope you regain your sense of hearing in time for the Summer)

Ana Isabel Navarro said...

Hello! I have found you through the blog "Sangría, Sol y Siesta" the Nieves´s blog.
I like you had enjoyed in Valencia with the Fallas.
I´m from Seville (Spain),but I haven´t know at the moment this celebration. I have been there in summer and have visited a museum where they keep the reprieved sculpture of each year.
Have a good weekend!

Laura @Travelocafe said...

This year, Las Fallas was really great.

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi Nieves! Glad to see you are still following the blog. You should definitely visit for Fallas sometime. It's a (wild) experience.

Mr. Grumpy, I hope you were able to find shelter during the chaos.

Hi Ana, thank you for reading. Nieves's blog is excellent, as are her readers. So I'm happy to have a few visit from there from time to time. As you can see, I went to Seville this year during Fallas, and think your city is beautiful.

Hi Laura! Good to hear from you, and glad you had fun with Fallas. Hopefully we can get together for another VLC blogger's meeting sometime soon.

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