The City on Fire (Valencia)

Three days after I came back from Paris, I repacked my bags (who am I kidding I never unpacked in the first place) and hopped on a plane to Valencia, Spain.  I went with my friend Karishma, and we stayed with her friend, Belén.  Karishma did a 2 week exchange program back in high school and Belén lived with her in the US for two weeks, and then Karishma stayed in Valencia for 2 weeks.  Belén was nice enough to host us for the 3 days we were in Valencia for Las Fallas.

Valencia itself is a beautiful place.  It is very very different from Sevilla because most of them speak Valenciano, which is it’s own language similar to Catalan (spoken in Barcelona and other places in Catalunya).  Luckily, Belén also knows Castellano, the Spanish I am familiar with.  Staying in Belén’s apartment was an incredible experience because I was forced to speak Spanish the entire time with her and her friends, it was great practice.  It’s crazy how different the Castellano Spanish is in Valencia vs. Sevilla.  As I’ve said before, Sevillano Spanish has a thick accent and is very, very quick.  Sevillanos omit the “s” at the end of words and tend to cut almost every word in half.  In Valencia, the Spanish is clear and they pronounce every letter of every word, what a pleasant surprise.

Las Fallas is a huge celebration in Valencia.  Each neighborhood in the city is organized into groups with a head fallero or fallera, the person in charge of planning for the celebration.  Each fallero produces a “falla” which is a huge piece made of cardboard and paper mache.  They are cartoons that tell a story, and usually involve political figures.  Also, a lot of them have no mercy when it comes to censoring, because almost all of them display women with exaggerated features and curses (in Valenciano) and really aggressive political cartoons.  Artists, sculptors, and painters spend all year constructing the fallas.

Las Fallas is a week long, and on the last day (March 19), they burn all of the fallas. There are hundreds.  In the days leading up to the “Nit del Foc” (night of fire in Valenciano) they have other events, the most intense known as Mascletas.  Every day (for 20 days) at 2pm, they have the Mascletas, aka the loudest explosives you will ever hear in your life.  Right in front of the Ayuntamiento (city hall) they set up a labyrinth of explosives and at 2pm they light it.  Before it started, plenty of people told me to keep my mouth open.  I never understood why, until it started.  The mascletas are so loud your mouth automatically drops at the sound.  Good luck trying to talk to a friend during the show.  Thousands of people flock to city hall to see the mascletas.  Fortunately for us, one of Belén’s friends mothers works in an office building right across from the Ayuntamiento, so we got to watch the fireworks from her office window, instead of in a claustrophobic crowd.IMG_4853

Later that night we went to a radio concert. My first Spanish concert woo!!  It was tons of fun even though they played some American music too.  But, when the Spanish music came on I felt like a true Spaniard (sorta).  I also fell in love with a Spanish boy band…  Anyways the concert was right near the museum of arts and sciences, the most beautiful view in Valencia.IMG_4867 IMG_4872

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Karishma and I before the concert

The next day we wandered around and looked at as many Fallas as we could.  The artwork and detail were truly incredible.  I could spend hours looking at one piece and would constantly find new details I hadn’t noticed.  I was almost upset that they would all be set on fire later that night.  The artists spend a year on the Fallas, just to display them for 3 days and then burn them.  But hey, that’s the holiday.  Here are some pictures of awesome Fallas.

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My favorite because it was all about food that came to life hehe

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Another must see part of Las Fallas is the Virgin Mary, as la Señora de los Desamparados (Lady of the Abandoned).  Each falla brings an offering of flowers to her, and she herself is a huge statue made of flowers, absolutely beautiful.IMG_4906 IMG_4913 IMG_4915

Belén, Karishma, and I in front of all the flowers

That evening we went to a light show.  Tons of people filled the streets to watch the light show and listen to Spanish music.  It was so cool to be smack in the middle of all these cultural experiences.  One thing I wasn’t a fan of was the fact that all of the little kids buy little firecrackers, bombas (literally bombs) and set them off all over the street with little to no warning.  Every few minutes something would explode in the corner of my eye.  I felt like a PTSD patient after the war.  My anxiety was at an all time high and I panicked every time I saw a little kid in the street.  These things were LOUD.  And there were 5 year olds setting them off!  When I was 5 I was terrified of fireworks and loud noises in general.  I guess that’s just how these kids are raised??? I could’ve done without them.

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Light show 🙂

So, Spaniards are known for having a late start with pretty much everything.  Las Fallas was no different.  The Nit del Foc didn’t start until midnight.  This is when they start burning all of the Fallas.  People flock to all of them, especially if their neighborhood (pueblo) has their own falla.  The main one that people go to is in front of the Ayuntamiento.  The Falla changes every year and this year it was a lion.  Unfortunately, I never got around to seeing it from the front during the daytime, because there were always tons of people there, but here’s a picture from the internet so you get the idea.

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Luckily I got to see it being set on fire…

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It was pretty crazy to witness this huge statue completely on fire.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and the pictures don’t do it justice.  As soon as it caught fire, the Valencia anthem started playing and everyone around me sang along.  Overall, Las Fallas really opened my eyes.  Before coming to Spain I lived in an American bubble.  I celebrated the American holidays and the Jewish holidays, never realizing that all of these incredible events and holidays were happening all over the world.  Valencianos look forward to Las Fallas all year, and if I hadn’t been in Spain, I would probably never learn about it or even know it exists.

The next day we went out with Belén’s parents for some authentic Valencia food.  Valencia is the home of Paella.  If you’re ever in Madrid or Barcelona or other touristy places in Spain and they try to sell you little souvenirs with paella on them (yes, they make paella magnets), DON’T FALL FOR IT.  Valencia = paella. Everywhere else wishes they were known for their paella.  Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint.

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This was traditional paella Valenciana with vegetables, chicken, and rabbit (yes you read that correctly)

After sawing through 2 trays of paella, we were told we had to try Orxata (Valenciano spelling)/Orchata (Castellano spelling) which is a traditional drink of Valencia.  I had no clue what to expect but I was excited.  Belén’s family told us we had to try it with fartons, basically glazed donut sticks.  Orchata is similar to almond milk and it comes from a tiger nut.  It was delicioso, especially with fresh, warm fartons.  Don’t worry I laughed at the name too.  With full stomachs and very tight fitting pants, we got on the plane back to Sevilla.

I am so glad I took this little trip to Valencia.  It was such a cool cultural experience and a great way to practice my Spanish.  After being in Sevilla for so long, it’s easy to feel like my spanish had stopped improving. I went through a period of intense learning, and at this point I thought I had hit a low point.  The Sevillano accent seems to be getting stronger and more difficult to understand.  Going to Valencia where they speak clearly was a nice reminder that I actually do understand Spanish.  Not saying I am fluent, nor am I anywhere close, but I am definitely way better than I was when I first stepped off the plane in January.

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