There’s something incredible about attending a world-wide known festival you’ve read about for several years but never quite imagined you would be able to attend. In this case, I’m talking about Las Fallas.
Late last week, I decided to take an unexpected trip to Valencia, one of Spain’s major coastal cities. Valencia is already known for its City of Arts and Sciences center – the ridiculously large park and music center (among many other things) – along with its beautiful coastal hot-spot especially popular amongst Madrid’s residents, but it is renowned for its Fallas festival that takes place every March. During the annual event, the city comes alive with fireworks, firecrackers and people parading the streets all day (and all night). The event takes place over several days – even weeks, on an informal level – and involves daily parades with locals dressed in traditional outfits, multiple fireworks a day, and possibly the most well-known aspect of the festival – large caricature-like statues depicting societal problems in an often humorous way.
With some of these statues, also known as Fallas (the same as the holiday), it was a little difficult to grasp the concept behind them. I wasn’t exactly sure what to take away from many of them, but some were as clear as day, and quite clever. One thing I was honestly taken aback by was the amount of nudity found in the statues, but later realized it must have been my own cultural context that made them feel weird. For the locals, they were probably as normal as the sky, but you can’t really change how you feel when you’ve been brought up with different ideals you hold true for yourself.
Regardless, the event was spectacular. The constant noise was unsettling at the start, but became easy to adapt to, and almost a joy to hear. Having lived in Madrid for several months now, it was a breath of fresh air to experience a real Spanish tradition focused on local culture. As travellers who come in hopes of seeing true Spanish events, it makes everything worthwhile.
Besides the beautiful street lights, breathtaking Fallas statues, great parades, fireworks, authentic paella, and lively atmosphere, Valencia itself was a beautiful sight to see. Being a fan of coastal cities, I took in the beach and felt recharged by its soothing sounds and curious opening into the Balearic sea – one of the three out of four different ocean/sea types I’ve seen thus far here in the Iberian Peninsula. It was also great to visit the City of Arts and Sciences, to hear the music being produced and performed, to take in Valencia’s coastal architecture, and speak to some really friendly locals who put Madrid’s big-city feel to shame. Another great thing to see was how Valencia’s local language – Valencian – is promoted everywhere, sometimes even without translations into Castellano. The influence Valencian has over the local accent is interesting, and more than anything, beautiful.
Valencia is a city that I will, no doubt, have to return to one day – maybe one day when it’s not filled with millions of visitors for Fallas, but most definitely to experience the real, constant vibe of the city. With all of that said and done, though, it’s hard not to love Valencia. That’s more than 5 major Spanish cities checked off the list! Next on the list? Barcelona next week. Watch this space.