Reputation of Las Fallas preceded the event itself. We’d heard talk of the largest Valencian festival and were told that our time in Valencia thus far were to prepare for these five loud, sleepless days. Though preparations occur throughout the year, the end of February/beginning of March marks the official start and from March 15 to 19, every year, the entire city celebrates all at once. This year, the official kick-off was the last Sunday in February. At 2 pm in the Plaza Adjuntamiento (the government plaza in the historic city center) the first of many “mascletas” was held. This consisted of consecutively setting off hundreds of deafening, smoky firecrackers for several minutes. We managed to worm our way to the front and resisted the temptation to cover our ears at the screeching explosions. This would be held every day at 2 pm in this plaza until the end of Fallas. Right after the mascleta ended, several “falleras” (girls chosen to represent each neighborhood) waved to the crowd from a central balcony. These girls, with their ornate, colorful dresses and elaborate up-dos would be a common sight across the city from then on. Later that night was “la Crida”, held at the Torre de Serranos, which involved a beautiful fireworks show. Unable to meet up with people I knew because of the crowd, I randomly inserted myself into a group of random internationals I found – it sounds super creepy, but pretty much all the Erasmus students are friendly and randomly talking to people has led to some interesting conversations and friendships.
As mid-March drew closer, we still didn’t know quite what to expect, yet signs of the upcoming festivities popped up sporadically. We awoke one morning to find our street adorned with plastic flags, while another we were greeted by glitzy lights. Parts of massive paper-mache floats called “fallas” soon appeared in quartered off areas of the streets. Our favorite addition to the cityscape was the “churrerias” (churro stands) that popped up left and right, perpetually tempting us with sugary, fried goods. In the name of cultural immersion, we were obliged to indulge several times in churros, bunelos, and thick, syrupy chocolate. Right.
Fallas this year fell from Friday to Tuesday. We had that Monday and Wednesday off from school and most businesses shut down during the festival (and often a day or two after, to “recover” – oh boy). The week before Fallas began, I went one night to see the two most lit-up streets, Calles Sueca and Cuba, in a neighborhood called Russafa. Sueca, which won second prize for its decorations, was a giant lighted replica of the London Bridge. We made it in time for the daily 8 pm lighting, accompanied by a musical light show, following which we wandered down the illuminated street, amongst tourists, locals, and vendors and marveled at the lights above our heads and the huge falla at the end of the street. The fallas, made by each neighborhood, are all extremely elaborate and are often several stories high and cost thousands of euro. They take the entire year to build and often are satirical in theme. We did the same at Cuba half an hour later, where a giant castle-structure with a massive sphere inside composed the year’s winning light display.
The next night, we kicked off falls a bit early with a “botellon” in the Turia, the dried up riverbed-turned-park that bisects the city. A botellon is essentially a party outside, with the only rule being BYOB. It was fun meeting more students, both from Valencia or simply visiting for Fallas. We were extremely classy with our wine juice boxes, both red and white.
Day 1 • Friday
The general schedule during the five days of Fallas was as follows:
8 am: “Despierta” – bands would march through the streets, loudly playing music, making it impossible for most people to stay asleep.
2 pm: “Mascleta” – in the city center and elsewhere (e.g., right down the street from us), firecrackers would be set off for about 10 minutes. From inside, it sounded like an air raid. (Seriously, the best time to invade Valencia would be in the midst of Fallas – the whole city is drunk and firecrackers of some sort are set off every few seconds)
Midnight/1 am: “Els Castells” Fireworks! Each display is more elaborate than the last, and the last day’s display is called “La Nit del Foc.”
What happened in between, you ask? Well during the day, we were immensely unproductive, sleeping until afternoon and then just lazing around until we met up for dinner and then roamed the streets for the night. Classy.
During the week preceding/starting Fallas, Maddie’s old friend Dan was visiting during his spring break. Friday night, he, Maddie, and Alyssa went to a bull show, so I chilled instead with a handful of the German and Austrian guys. Martin had a friend with a rooftop terrace, so we ended up there, from where we enjoyed a magnificent fireworks show at midnight. Laurin and I had to sit back and let it just sink in afterwards. We walked around for a bit afterwards before hanging out at Valentin’s and then heading home “early” – around 5 or 6 am – as we didn’t want to wear ourselves out just yet.
Day 2 • Saturday
Woke up at a reasonable hour to go to the mascleta in the city center with my German friend, Christian. Aside from the massive, colorful fallas and churrerias, the streets were filled with stalls selling crafts and food. I picked up a few scarves for a euro a piece – Maddie’s scarf obsession is clearly infectious. Returning home, I made Mexican lentil soup and chicken lime rice. Originally, it was for only two or three people, but somehow our table ended up including Maddie, Alyssa, Michael, Madeline, and 3 of her friends (2 Americans, 1 German) – the more the merrier! We ate up, chatted merrily, and made our way to a botellon in Plaza Cedro, then off to Alameda bridge to watch the night’s fireworks. Somehow, I got separated from the group I was originally with, but ended up chilling with Sarah and Felix (a Canadian I creeped on at the grocery store… remember what I said about talking to randos? Yuuup, that). We met up with Francesco and Christian and planned to make our way to La Tres, a local club. Taxis, however, are conducive to 4 but not 5 people; Sarah, Felix, and Francesco took the first cab we found, and Christian and I were unable to find a cab for the next half an hour or so, so just spent a few hours walking around in the city enjoying the atmosphere. The entire city, young and old, poured out into the streets and roamed around talking and drinking. I later found out that for most of my friends, this ended up being the craziest night of Fallas. Cool. Cool cool cool.
Day 3 • Sunday
Started off the night by heading to Martin’s, and got some rather depressing news en route. Matt (aka pretty much my favorite person ever, and no, I’m not just saying that because he’s creepily reading every word of what I post) was supposed to be in Valencia the next day and spend the week there, but got to O’Hare only to find that his passport had expired, so he couldn’t get on the flight. I was quite devastated and didn’t really feel like going out after that, but stayed, seeing as I was already out of the house. From Martin’s, I went to Brendan and Nick’s for a bit, then back to Alameda bridge for the fireworks, before wandering the streets with Martin, Laurin, Adrian (Martin’s French roommate), and a gaggle of Italian people they knew. We wandered to Russafa and then Plaza de la Virgen to see the huge, gorgeous Virgen statue, with her wooden-frame dress, which was slowly and steadily being filled with an offering of thousands of crimson and white flowers from the fall eras.
Day 4 • Monday
I spent the day in the city center once more, this time meandering the crowded streets with Maddie and Alyssa, perusing trinkets and fallas and the steady stream of falleras and falleros (some of whom were just babies!) parading through the streets. Had to stay hydrated, so grabbed a beer and, later, some mojito sorbet – delicious. On our way back, we bought a big box of fire crackers (50 for 3 euro!) and matches, seeing as it was pretty much a rite of passage to set of at least one obnoxious noisemaker during Fallas. Spent the evening with the girls (Maddie, Madeline, and Alyssa) and later that night, we gathered with several others to watch the last firework display. As we walked there, we saw a firework accidentally explode in the street, showering lights everywhere. Luckily, no one was hurt, and we made it to the huge, “La Nit de Foc” show on time. This shall heretofore be known as the fireworks to ruin all other fireworks – over 30 minutes of chinese lanterns and fairies and all sorts of other ethereal configurations exploded overhead, as bits of debris gently rained down on us. Following this, we walked around and entered one of the many large white tents that had sprung up throughout the city. Every neighborhood had at least one, and we only gained entrance because someone in our group knew a local – otherwise, they’re rather exclusive. We surrounded ourselves in live music and dancing for the night and then hung out in the streets for a bit, chatting.
Day 5 • Tuesday
The last day of Fallas both crept up on us and seemed long-awaited. We met several people from the Gandia course in the city center in the early evening for the fire parade – which was exactly what its name promised. Dancers, performers, falleras, and even a giant metal turtle paraded through the streets, brandishing fire or unleashing fireworks as they passed. We were lucky enough to get there early enough to get spots at the front, so we could see the performers, and not just bursts of flames spurting into the sky at random (still a pretty cool sight, I was told). We headed to Plaza de Reina and split up a bit to get “dinner” – in my case, frozen yogurt from Llao Llao and fries from Mickey D’s – then regrouped near the small falla there (about 2 meters tall). This was the night of “la Crema” – the night where all the fallas are successively burnt. The order was: small fallas, the winner of the small fallas, the small fall in Plaza Adjuntamiento, and then the same order with the larger fallas. Fire, fire, fiiiiiire! (I was pretty excited, if you can’t tell). Once more, we made our way to the front for the burning of the smaller falla and it was HOT – much hotter than we had imagined. The falla had also been wrapped in a string of fireworks that exploded as the figure burned. Excited, we walked towards one of the larger fallas, choosing one that was a giant Trojan horse. For the incineration of the larger fallas, the city recruited firefighters from several surrounding towns to spray trees and buildings near the fallas with water to prevent them from catching on fire. Watching the huge horse alight was very cool, but it was crazy to think of the time and money that was burning. Yay, fire! We then made our way to Plaza Adjuntamiento to watch, with thousands of other people, the massive falla depicting like tourists from different countries turn to ashes. Purely awesome. We grabbed or last batch of fallas churros and bunuelos and went back to hear Alyssa’s to stuff our faces and set off the last of our box of firecrackers. Walking back home, the streets were deserted, even though it was only roughly 2 hours since the last crema. This was a strange deviation from the previous nights and we realized that the end of Fallas really meant the end to this crazy, wonderful experience.
– from May 8