Once upon a time, there was a girl named Kasey who was in a Spanish class at Purdue. One day she had to do a project about Las Fallas de Valencia and present it to her entire class. After researching this enormous festival and doing the presentation, she was so enthralled that she vowed she would one day see the Fallas in person. This is that story…
Last weekend, Lauren and I traveled to Valencia for Las Fallas, a giant festival held there every March to welcome the change of seasons and to honor Saint Joseph. It was more incredible than I ever could have imagined!
On Friday, we boarded our bus to begin the 4.5 hour journey. We were so excited; we had everything booked since January and were looking forward to taking part in the celebrations. However, all our excitement was dashed when I texted our AirBnb host to let him know what time we’d be arriving. “I’m happy you’re coming to Valencia,” he said, “But I didn’t know you were staying at my place.”
Though I had continually gotten emails from AirBnb saying the place was confirmed, he claimed he had never been notified about it. I immediately went into panic mode. With thousands of people flocking to Valencia for the weekend, nearly everything (hostels, hotels, and AirBnbs) was booked, and whatever was left was insanely expensive. Lauren looked over at my messages and I just told her, “Don’t look,” because I had to figure something out. No use in two people worrying!
So, while en route to Valencia, I had to call AirBnb, who were very accommodating and helpful. In the meantime, while they were trying to figure out how to reimburse me, I had to scramble to find a new place. I checked the hostel prices and saw it would be way too expensive so I tried AirBnb again. And suddenly I heard a chorus of angels as a room appeared on the app, hosted by 3 girls living right in the center of all the action. I was wary because they had no reviews, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I booked the place. It turned out to be the best decision ever; our hosts were the sweetest girls ever! They had just decided to open up the room that day and had never hosted before, but they were so accommodating. They met us at the tourist center to show us how to get through the crowds and find the apartment and gave us all kinds of helpful suggestions. Their place was so clean too, and they were very friendly. We were so thankful for them and their place, and were of course relieved to have a place to lay our heads at night!
Our first impression of Valencia? It was beautiful, but it was so loud. Because of the Fallas, there were so many people. The crowds were insane and it was nearly impossible to get around. Plus, people were setting off firecrackers every 5 minutes which made us jump every time. And, there was a constant procession of parades going around and of course, it was right outside our room, so we heard everything. It was crazy!
That first evening, Lauren and I went to the Fallas museum to check out the ninots that had been pardoned from the burning each year since the 1930s. We then walked around outside near the giant aquarium and checked out the gorgeous architecture in the area. We finished the night with dinner; I really wanted to order the paella, a rice dish typical of the area, but they said they could only make it for two people and Lauren isn’t a fan. I decided I would order it later on in our trip, but you will soon find out the fiasco that was…
On our way back to our apartment, we checked out La Ofrenda, which is where all the people from the fallas associations brought flowers for the Virgin and put them in the wooden frame of the giant statue to make her robes. It was so beautiful and impressive; there were people who climbed halfway up the frame and people on the ground who were throwing flowers up to them to place them. This went on for 2 days until about 2 in the morning! Surprisingly, we were able to sleep well, despite the loud noises all around us.
On Saturday, we started the morning with a fallas tour to learn more about the festival. It was really interesting to learn about the traditions and some fun facts as we walked around checking out some of the fallas in the neighborhoods. Some things we learned:
- There were 381 fallas associations that built fallas this year!
- Each association raises money throughout the year with dinners etc. to build the fallas. Plus, each member has to pay an association fee.
- The fallas are separated into different groups based on how much they cost so they can win different awards. The limit is 200,000 euros, but before that, there was a falla that cost 900,000 euros!
- The fallas are generally made of Styrofoam nowadays.
- The builders used to learn the trade of designing/building fallas from their fathers and it was passed down, but now the university in Valencia even has a degree where you can learn it.
- Each association has a Fallera Mayor, which is basically the pageant queen of the association. The Falleras Mayores of each association then compete to become the Fallera Mayor of the entire festival. These women wear a traditional Valencian dress for this festival, including a dress, apron, and veil. They even have their hair twisted into an elaborate design (rodetes), which we learned was only half real; throughout the year, when a girl got her hair cut, the hairdresser would save the cut hair and then create the design for the girl to attach to her head for the Fallas!
It was all very interesting to learn about! When the tour concluded, we got some gelato and made our way to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento to watch the Mascletà! This is a tradition that occurs every day of the festival at 2:00 pm where a bunch of firecrackers are let off. It should have some kind of rhythm, and we learned that if it’s good, everyone claps at the end. If not, everyone is silent! There were so many people that we couldn’t get that close to the Plaza and instead were packed among the other spectators, but we could still hear the booms perfectly. And everyone clapped at the end! It was really neat!
Lauren and I had some pasta for lunch and then headed over to the Bioparc, which was a really big zoo. It was amazing! The animals were in big, wide enclosures and you could get really close to them! Some of the animals we saw were giraffes, elephants, lions, chimps, alligators, and so many more.
When we left, we decided to go paddle boating in the little pond near the Bioparc just for the heck of it. We rode in a duck boat and paddled around at sunset (how romantic) and then headed back to the center of the city for dinner, which quickly became the worst restaurant experience I’ve ever had.
First, we had to wait for forever to get a table (understandable, given the busyness of the festival), and when we finally got a table, it took a long time for a server to come. We wanted to order mac & cheese but were told they ran out. So instead I ordered paella, even though it said it was for two people. I decided I’d just eat half of it and could take the rest home. Nearly 45 minutes later, the server said they had run out of the paella I had ordered, so would I like the seafood paella? I really didn’t, but I couldn’t leave Valencia without having paella, so I reluctantly agreed. Finally we got our food which was mediocre at best. Then we ordered more drinks and the server said they had ran out of one of the types of juices used, so it was a little different. Then when we got the bill, they had charged us double for the paella (since it was for 2 people) even though the menu didn’t explain the charge was per person. We were frustrated that nothing we ordered had been right, so Lauren talked to the server and asked if there was some way he could compensate for all the issues we’d had. He really couldn’t care less about our problems and nobody the entire night was that apologetic, so the only thing he could do was to give us a free shot, which is often free after meals in Spain anyway. It was so annoying. But the night was salvaged when we got to watch the Nit de Foc, aka the biggest firework show of the festival, at 1:30 am. It looked really cool!
Sunday was the biggest and final day of the festival, so we started it off by relaxing on the Malvarrosa beach. It was too cold to get in the water, but the sun felt nice, so we laid out for a couple hours. We got some delicious pizza for dinner and then went over to one of the plazas early to prepare to watch the main event: la Cremà! We watched people poke holes through the falla in various places and pour lighter fluid all over it, as well as lace it with fireworks.
Then, midnight finally rolled around, and after a quick firework show, the falla was lit, literally and figuratively. The chain of fireworks sparked and a little flame caught the edge of the falla. At first, it was pretty unimpressive. However, within minutes, the flames had grown to incredible heights. Piece after piece of the falla caught fire, accompanied by gasps from the crowd, until the entire structure was ablaze. We could feel the heat radiating off it and had to back away and shield our skin because it was so hot. Yet at the same time, we couldn’t look away. What was once a beautiful, carefully constructed sculpture was now disintegrating before our eyes, and the ashes were floating down all around us. It was beautiful and horrific at the same time.
Before long, the falla was just a pile of ashes and the firefighters doused it with water to put it out. Everyone clapped and began to disperse. We then made our way over to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento to watch the main falla burn at 1:00 am. This falla was a very tall structure, so even though we again couldn’t get into the actual plaza, we could easily see it burn from a side street. It started with fireworks coming out the sides and before long, it too was completely on fire.
Words can not even describe just how amazing the entire experience was. I had waited to see this for so long, and it by far exceeded my expectations. The way the entire town came together for such a large and well-organized festival mesmerized me, and I lamented at the fact that there is no such festival like it in the US. I would definitely go back, and if anyone has the opportunity to go, I would not hesitate in recommending it!!!
The next morning, Lauren and I caught the bus back to Madrid, where I got to meet up with my grandparents and sister! Stay tuned for that post coming soon :).