Fire, Felonies, and Las Fallas

Graduating college, everyone was nervous about entering the “real world.” Well, if I am living in this so-called, scary “real world,” then it actually isn’t too bad at all. Maybe I didn’t spend last weekend watching drunk frat boys play dizzy bat on a crowded Key West beach during spring break like I was last year, but instead, I witnessed a festival I had read about in Spanish class for years right in front of me. That festival was Las Fallas and three of us headed to the city of Valencia to take part in the action.

Let me give you some background on the festival. There are a lot of facets to this five day party but the main attraction are the huge fallas, monuments each neighborhood spends all year making to ultimately be burned on the final day. Meanwhile, there are lots of fireworks that go off in the streets and different processions. We wanted to catch the celebration on the last day also known as La Cremá to see the notorious burning.

Our journey began early Friday morning when we hopped on a bus. Four hours later we arrived to the city. Thankfully, our friend Bridget studied abroad in the city so knew her way around. She led us through the city streets and along the way we ran into falla after falla, each more interesting than the last.

One of my favorites

Later, we walked to one of Valencia’s main attractions- Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias which I had visited on my first trip to Valencia in 2009.

Anna and the beautiful buildings

From there, we grabbed a spot to watch the Parade of Fire. It started off calmly with the royal court and  traditional music but quickly turned into something out of a nightmare- people in devil costumes flinging fire around. It was very cool but a tad frightening.

Needless to say we were covered in ashes

Afterwards I hate to say things took a turn for the worse. Unfortunately while eating dinner Bridget had her entire backpack stolen, losing everything from her passport and camera to all her money and Kindle.  That led us to logging in an hour at the police station so that she could file a report to ensure she could make our bus ride home without an ID. We made it out just in time to see one falla burn down.

Definitely the biggest fire I have ever seen

Watching the huge figures falling to the ground brought on some mixed emotions. It is clear a ton of effort went into these works and then they turn to ashes in a matter of minutes! But alas, it is just another Spanish tradition I think you just have to be “in” on to really understand. Nevertheless, I am happy I went and even happier I came back with my hearing intact after all the explosions.

Basque-ing in Bilbao

March has arrived and in Madrid it feels as if spring has sprung a bit early this year.
With so much sun, last week I was walking around in t-shirts and even felt compelled to buy a pair of bright yellow pants which I wore to the dismay of my co-workers. Seems as if they are a pretty bold fashion statement for the folks in Estremera. Anyways, I’m excited March is here because, along with the change of seasons, comes many visitors from overseas and exciting happenings! Before all that though, me and Gabe decided to head up north to the Basque Country for the weekend to take in the refreshing sea breeze and discover new places.

We arrived Friday afternoon in Bilbao and the green hills and humid air immediately
signaled we were no longer in Madrid. After checking into our hostel located smack dab
in the center of the old town, we took a tram to the top of a hill overlooking the city.
Unfortunately the fog got in the way of the supposedly great view.

The city is down there somewhere

The city is known for pintxos, the Basque form of tapas, so for dinner, we did a txikitea, or pintxo crawl, up and down the streets. We tried everything from tortilla made of morcilla to all kinds of fresh seafood on toast. The whole custom is quite crazy. All of the bars set delicious platters on the bar and you are free to take what you want (with each costing 1-3
Euros), order a drink (I fell in love with the city’s white wine called txakoli) and chow down
until you are ready to move onto the next one. I went to bed a full and happy camper.

The next morning we took a stroll to  el Mercado de la Ribera, the largest indoor food market in all of Europe. Although it was mainly a place for locals to pick up fresh fish and meats to prepare what I can only imagine are delicious meals, it was cool to see. After that, we made our way to the notorious Guggeheim Museum, the main sight of the city. Not only was the building’s architecture truly inspiring, I really appreciated all the modern
paintings, sculpture and art found inside. One of the coolest parts? The audio guide
was free! (You can argue it came with the ticket price but I’m still giving them props).
Sometimes it’s the little things.

With stomach’s rumbling, we made our way to El Globo for some of my favorite bites
of the trip including a banana wrapped in bacon (proving once again bacon goes with
anything), and tempura fried stuffed artichoke. This city was a food photogs dream.

Beautiful tuna concoction

Bilbao is known to be rainy this time of year but we got lucky and were able to take a
break in the park and later, made our way to a beach that was equally relaxing. We took
it easy that evening with a nice Italian din before crashing.

Sunday morning we grabbed a bus for a one hour trip to the coastal town of San
Sebastian. I have heard great things about it’s beach and, of course, pintxos. We
enjoyed a tasty lunch of just that before soaking in our final views of the beach. We both agreed its a place we’d love to come back to when it is prime beach season.

You could call these next few days the calm before the storm. Some friends from UM
come in this week followed by a trip from my lil’ bro on Sunday. This are gonna get
crazy.

Here are a few more pics of the trip!

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