Part 2: Spain - Valencia & Las Falles

Las Falles is... incredible! And impossible to "sum up," but I will give it a go. I shared a few posts on Instagram along the way (there's one linked later in this post), and the hashtag #falles2019 (or #fallas2019) are pretty great.

Las Falles is the biggest celebration in Valencia, held annually March 1-19 in commemoration of Saint Joseph... and/or spring. What it actually has to do with Saint Joseph and how/what this spectacle actually commemorates/relates is beyond me.

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It's a party! Pure and simple. And it has many facets, not the least of which is noise and fire. It's a slow build, hitting a crescendo during the last five days/nights. That's when the falles appear.

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Valencia is comprised of many communities, also known as falles, and each one constructs two sculptures every year of papier mache (or, as I've been told, more recently of polystyrene).

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Guess which image was blocked on Instagram?

Each community has a large sculpture (sometimes enormous), often political or satirical in nature, and another smaller one for children (infantil). We had the chance to page through a publication about each community's design inspiration, designers, falleras, and cost -- there were something like 395 of them! Times 2. And some costing in the neighborhood of €300,000.

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The detail is incredible.

The events during Falles, according to Wikipedia (which is a pretty good article) are such:

  • La Despertà
    • "The wake-up call" each morning at 8 am when bands play and firecrackers are set off. I heard bands, but never at 8 am... and the firecrackers were going off 24/7. I wouldn't have believed it if someone told me that fireworks & firecrackers would become "background noise," but it most definitely does.

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Crowd gathering for the final mascletà, as seen (and heard) from our perch at the Plaza de Toros.

  • La Mascletà
    • This is an explosive, percussive, coordinated display of firecrackers and fireworks, almost choreographed, that occurs every afternoon in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This also seems to build each day, and pyrotechnics compete for the honor of providing the final mascletà. The crowds are huge, and I never saw this happen, but I certainly did hear it and see the smoke.

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This was the major winner. It was in a distant community, so we took a bus to see it. Do you see Bo Peep?

  • La Plantà
    • All of the falles are to be finished by March 15th in order to be judged for the competition.
  • L'Ofrena de flors
    • All day long on March 17 & 18, falleros and falleras make their way to a large wooden frame in the shape of the Virgin Mary with an offering of flowers. These flowers are added to and arranged on the frame to fill in the "dress."

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  • Els Castells and La Nit del Foc
    • We missed some of the earlier displays, but we definitely made our way to one of the bridges spanning Turia Park for La Nit del Foc ("The Night of Fire"), which began at 1:30 am. Wow. Seriously, Valencia during Las Falles is a pyrotechnics dream.
  • Cavalcada del Foc
    • I didn't see this, but that's okay...

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Notice the flower bouquets for the Virgin Mary's dress.

  • Traditional Dressing
    • The traditional dress and costumes worn by the fallero and falleras is colorful and quite pretty. And they're all ages -- from infants (see the stroller, above, but I saw even younger) to their grandparents. I don't know the historical significance of it all, but there's a hierarchy to it all and almost nothing happens during Las Falles unless there's a fallera present to strike the match or give the signal to begin.

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  • La Cremà
    • On this, the last night of the celebration, all of the falles are burned. The falla infantil are all burned first, at around 10 p.m. There are fireworks going off here and there. There's usually some sort of small mascletà and/or ground display around the falla, which are strung and stuffed with fireworks. A fallera lights the fuse and... stand back. We saw one infantil burn. The main ones begin to burn around midnight. In addition to each neighborhood's falles, there is a large "city" one in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This year it was a nearly 9-story tall, traditional wood & papier mache structure in the shape of a seated woman, decorated with graffiti. It was quite beautiful. This one was to burn around 1 am.

Instead of watching any of the larger neighborhood falla burn, we made our way to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento for the burning of the main "city" falla. Annie knew someone who knew someone, and for €25 each, we found ourselves on a 2nd story balcony with a fabulous view, unlimited snacks & beer & wine, and arguably one of the best spots in the city.

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This is part of the crowd gathered for the event.

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It was very dramatic, as all the lights went out (the illuminated building in the rear is the post office!).

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Then the fireworks began... it was incredible. There are a few video clips in the embedded IG post, below.

Queue the dramatic music... I'm not sure what it was, possibly the Spanish national anthem, or maybe an important Valencian piece. It was dramatic with the flames, pieces falling off, everything...

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We were probably 100' from the inferno -- and I mean inferno. We all had to vacate the balcony, and I thought my forehead was going to have blisters.

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The clean-up crew was standing by. Katie & I were walking down there the next day and you would never have known that a 9-story tall lady statue burned there the night before.

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Every neighborhood had a mess to clean up! And they did. It was just one more amazing part of this whole mind-blowing thing we witnessed.

I think that's as good as it's going to get. There might be one more quick post about Valencia... stay tuned!


Part 1: Spain - Galicia

Let the recap begin! I may test the limits of both Typepad and my readers with the number of photos in these posts!

Our vacation was basically in three parts: Quiet - Crazy - Quiet.

  • Part 1 was arriving in Valencia and immediately vacating for a quick trip to Galicia, aka, the Atlantic Northwest.
  • Part 2 was returning to Valencia for the insane craziness that is Las Fallas.
  • Part 3 was a few days in Cornwall... to decompress.

Right off the bat, we were delayed about 5-6 hours when there were issues in Chicago... something about the jet bridge bumping into the plane, leaving a 1mm dent in the fuselage, and though everyone (ground crew, etc.) was OK with it, someone didn't want to sign off, so it ending up requiring approval from HQ in Toulouse, France (where it was the middle of the night, of course). So stupid -- and something that should never have happened in the first place. We were all lined up and ready to board... then we all sat down (thank god for knitting) and then the vouchers appeared. Finally underway, we missed our connecting flight in Madrid. Thankfully, we were fairly quickly booked on a train; re-bookings didn't appear to be going smoothly for everyone on our flight. We had to make our way to the Atocha Station, and I was really glad that I'd been there/done that before! I haven't been in too many train stations, but Atocha has to be among the most beautiful!

We finally made it to Valencia, hailing a cab from the train station to Ann & Brian's apartment. We all immediately ran out to look at some of the falla being constructed and to get some food & drink. Firecrackers were going off all around us -- all around the city -- day and night! Incredibly (I wouldn't have believed it), after a while, it all just becomes background noise. Anyway, much more on Las Fallas later.

Oh, Galicia!

We'd made the majority of basic plans & bookings during the holidays when we were together. Originally, we'd hoped to visit Bilbao and Santander, but flight schedules didn't work very well, so we shifted to westward... as far west as we could! We flew into Santiago de Compostela on Thursday, rented cars, and drove out to Cabo Touriñán -- it's the most northwestern point in Spain!

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We stopped at Restaurante Leandro in Santa Comba, along the way, for lunch. Ann is a big fan of both TripAdvisor and anyplace with a menu del dia (menu of the day). Typically, it's offered for the mid-day meal, generous servings at a very reasonable price, and includes a few choices for each course, along with dessert and wine (or water). We had a very fine meal on this day, which concluded with this stellar Flan de Queso! It set the dessert bar very high for the entire trip (never quite to be reached).

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This was the view from our Airbnb. Oh, what a joy that was! There's a small group of sheep right in the middle of that photo (perhaps if you click, it'll will enlarge enough to see them). Rusty couldn't stand it, and immediately took off to explore the shore!

Maria and her daughter, Alba, were our hosts. Maria greeted us, not speaking a word of English, and my Duolingo lessons didn't really get us too far! Ann & Brian were a bit behind us, for some reason... never mind, somehow we communicated the important stuff! Alba spoke a little bit of English, and the boys are quite good with Spanish these days (Ann & Brian, too, but the boys even more). I got comfy and decided to try out some of my Spanish words, Ann es mi hermana. And then I tried to say something about Brian being Ann's esposo, which garnered laughter from everyone, so I'm sure I didn't do that right... heh.

We settled right in... some following Rusty's lead, others heading into town for provisions.

We observed some very interesting things at this house in the north of Spain.

  • I don't know how typical it is, but there was an entire room -- bedroom-sized -- strung with clothesline for indoor drying. What is typical is the lack of dryers. Every place I've been in Europe/UK has had a washing machine -- usually small, tucked under a kitchen counter or in a small adjoining area, though I've yet to spot a dryer. Usually there are drying racks/lines outside of windows -- laundry is easy to spot! If the Atlantic Northwest is anything like the Pacific Northwest... well, there you have it! Genius, really.
  • The other thing was the bedding. First, there was one long pillow encased in one long pillowcase, spanning the entire width of the bed, whether twin or double. I like my pillow a bit firmer than Rusty does, and I'm also a bit of a scruncher. There was no scrunching! We weren't really fans of that situation. Second, fleece sheets! This is a step beyond flannel, people! I'd never heard of fleece sheets before, but they seem readily available on several sites, including Amazon!

On Friday, we hopped in cars and did a bit of exploring. This part of the trip was a big question because Ann & fam don't usually do "road trip" vacations, mainly because the boys get antsy and sometimes Mack suffers a bit of carsickness. Luckily, we weren't going too far!

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First we headed up to Muxía. There was a street market happening, so we just parked and got out to explore. There were lots of rocks to climb on, and treasures to be found.

We hopped in the car again and drove down to Fisterra on Cape Finisterre (Land's End). Most of our stops in Galicia are points along the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James).

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These markers show the way... this one happens to be the 0 km marker at Finisterre.

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We found some refreshment at the cape:

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And food in Finisterre. Ann had O Pirata on her list and we were not disappointed!

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Everything was super fresh, well prepared, and so tasty!! We basically had a customized menu del dia, made just for us. Plus, some of the best bread any of us have had in a while. It was cool to see a fisherman come in with his bucket o' fish to sell.

Another interesting thing we saw in Galicia were these:

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They're everywhere -- in the villages, in the country -- all long and narrow, on "mushroom stilts" (that's what we called them), with ornaments at each gable end, one of them always a cross. Some were higher, lower, older, newer...

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They're corn cribs!

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Stunningly beautiful corn cribs. That's the light from the lighthouse visible at just right of center, above.

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We all went out to the lighthouse at various times, on foot or by car. It was peaceful and lovely.

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I'd definitely return... there's so much more to explore!

Santiago de Compostela was our destination on Saturday, but first we made another quick run up to Muxía. I remembered that there was a church site there that I'd wanted to visit!

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Nosa Señora da Barca (Our Lady of the Boat) is sited beautifully. The church was nearly destroyed in a fire several years ago; the structure has been restored, but the interior is "representational" -- a large photo backdrop of the altar. It was the entire site the intrigued me... the church, the unusual stones (the boys really enjoyed climbing), and the sculpture.

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A Ferida ("The Wound") by artist Alberto Bañuelos is in remembrance of the Prestige oil spill that poured nearly 18 million gallons of oil into the ocean off the coast of Muxía in 2002. We could still see evidence of oil on coastal rocks... that doesn't ever wash away.

We had just a quick overnight stop in Santiago -- mainly to visit the Cathedral, which was a nice walking distance from our Airbnb.

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A 5-year-long restoration of the exterior was completed last summer.

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Now happening on the interior! There wasn't much to see, but it was still quite fascinating and... GOLD! Very gold. Even with all the scaffolding and draping, it GLOWS! This will continue for the next year, all to be complete in time for the Holy Year 2021.

We returned cars and flew back to Valencia on Sunday!

If you'd like the CliffNotes version...

...here's our "entire" vacation in 2 minutes and 37 seconds!

Stay tuned for the spectacle that is Las Fallas -- Part 2 to come!


15

Hola!! Popping in to say that all is well, we're having an amazing time! Off to Cornwall tomorrow for a few days before returning home on Monday (I'm pretty sure... the days are getting fuzzy).

I have managed, by pure luck, to unintentionally knock a few things off my bucket list here... such as, I never have to see another fireworks display in my life (if I don't want to), because nothing is going to top what I have seen (heard & felt) here!

There are some posts on Insta & FB... I am never going to be able to share it all!!

Anyway, I can't let my 15th Blogiversary/1st Day of Spring pass without a post, also a quick mention of the 14th anniversary of The Quit a few days ago.

The crescendo of Las Fallas happened last night with fireworks/mascleta and the burning of this nearly 9-stories tall falle. We had a balcony view and I am pretty sure my face would have melted off if we'd stayed out there the entire time. It was flipping amazing!!

Thanks for reading and for your comments and for coming along on these crazy trips of all sorts, whether in Spain or my own back yard! xo

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The Final Countdown

Ha. Here's what's on my calendar today:

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It'll be that way for a while! "Wherever" is currently Amsterdam for a few hours' layover on the way to Valencia.

I was in low-key vacation prep all weekend, and it's going pretty well! I've crossed quite a few more things off this list since I snapped this photo.

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I am more relaxed than I think I've ever been!

Things were going well enough that I took some time to dye yarn on Saturday morning, and then cleaned up my studio on Sunday morning. And when Ali brought the kids over for a visit on Saturday night, the big kids ended up staying overnight!

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That started with a bath and ended with a slumber party in the living room. Ginny fell asleep against my shoulder before we were half-way through the first bed-time book!

They're playing together better these days -- if not always together, then at least side-by-side. They both know how to push the other's buttons, though!

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We did a little craft project in the morning (also some Spirograph doodles) and then it was time to go! I didn't mention anything about our going away or not seeing them for a while because Junah was pretty upset about it the last time... not so much that we were going, but that he wasn't! He wants to go to Spain, too... RIGHT NOW!!

I gave them a subscription to Little Passports at Christmas and he is certainly interested. With good reason, I suppose, having family living or visiting in Spain, New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Scotland!

Final laundry and packing will happen this evening, and we're off in the morning!