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Trip Report Spain: Las Fallas in Valencia to Madrid: True Travellers Tales #4.2

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Day 2 : March 16th (Warning - this is a full chapter. Did I mention my sister's b-day was the 16th? This trip was kind of a b-day present to her.)

Jeezs - is that my alarm? The iPhone goes off at 11. I know it’s very late morning, but what can you do after being out till 4? I hit snooze. Wake up even later and hurry through showers and what not, getting wifi to work, checking email, orienting on maps, confirming times, etc. My brother *mentions* that firecrackers kept going off intermittently through the night and kept him up. Most were small, but some were powerful - M40 powerful. My sister was dead asleep. We’ve got to make it to the GTG by 1pm. How do the Spaniards get up in time for work after partying to the wee hours of morning? From what I’ve read, they do this All The Time. Now I understand Siesta. But still, the mind boggles.

We hurry out to the GTG ( admittedly a little late). On the way there, we notice that the crowd was even bigger, denser and more excited. We squirm past people, and walk by the first of many Starbucks (they are ubiquitous, aren’t they); my sister pined for coffee, but I march relentlessly onwards, like the White Rabbit. Yup, the crowds were getting thick - we had to slice through the crowd like Jordan to the hoop to make it to the rendezvous hotel lobby.

Lincasanova was already there with her family and friends - I have no idea how she figured out who we were - her ‘tourist’ radar must be quite acute. Introductions all around - her husband Vicente, daughter Elisa with good friend Linburgh, and Anja(sp?) staying with the Casaovas (who also happened to be from Germany). We said our hearty hellos and made small talk and a few awkward pauses (what do you say to a person you’ve only met over the internet after Hello, how was your trip?), we went into the crowd at Plaza Ayuntamiento (town hall square). We joined tens of thousands of celebrants (I’m not exaggerating) waiting for Mascletas. Google it up. I’ve posted a video on Flickr: xxxx .

Mascletas can be described, but it cannot be understood - unless you experience it yourself. World class pyrotechnicians use fireworks/mondo-firecrackers/sticks of dynamite (i swear) to beat out a rhythmic cacophony of explosions that is music! The sound reverberates through the city and can be heard miles away. For us in the Plaza, it causes our clothes to tremble, our bodies to vibrate; you can Feel the Air being compressed and blown past you; it’s like being inside a giant drum while a rhythmic Flamenco dancer pounds on it with all her power.

The explosions start slowly, reaching peaks and valleys in amplitude and tempo that is the art of the pyrotechnician. The volume and tempo builds until the crowd is screaming, shouting along, adding to the noise until it reaches a climax (yes, I mean climax in every sense) and cathartic release - and with a great roar, me and tens of thousands of humans cheer in joyous unity.
Holy Moly - what an introduction to Mascletas. I look around to see if any windows were broken. You. Must. Go.

Gathering our wits and ourselves back at the rendezvous, smiles all around. The natives immediately dissect the performance and it’s agreed that it was Very Good. They’ve heard more melodic, lyrical interpretations before, but nevertheless - the whistle screams, rhythms, booming build up and rousing ending of this one was Very Very Good. As a first timer, I thought it was incredible, fantastic, and literally blew me away - no amount of YouTube video watching can prepare you for the real thing, live and shaking your bones. You. Must. Go.

Lincasanova had arranged a lunch for us at a nearby bistro. Sorry to say, I have no recollection of the name - but it was great! The chef served traditional Valencian fare, but with a modern twist and humor. I had a seafood rice dish - with a giant buggy shrimp which looked like a cross between a centipede and a lobster, which I really liked. Valencians love their rice and seafood - being Asian, that works for me! The presentation was particularly whimsical, with one traditional tapa (I think) served as a patty in a restaurant baked hamburger bun, complete with take-out container. Here, I began my vacation love-affair with Clara con Limon- no, not a tart girl, but a refreshing combination of beer and Lemon Fanta that is now one of my favorite drinks. It’s like the much-derided Shanty, only much better and thirst quenching. Only much better in Spain.

After the great lunch, Lincasanova led the way to a traditional, favorite cafe for Horchata - a rice/milk much loved across Spain. It was much better than the Horchata’s I’ve had in burrito joints back at home. Smoother and milkier, not too sweet, but with good body (characteristics many of us prefer in our loves). I had signed us up for a walking tour, so after dessert, lincasanova even dropped us off at the tourist office. I gotta say - she was sooo good to us. We felt right welcome and comfortable. With a promise to meet the next day for Mascletas, she and her family bid farewell.

I’ll admit that when I’m new to a place, I’m more of a tourist than a traveller. So I like to sign up for tours to get oriented to new environs and culture. This was a walking tour of 7 of the Major Fallas in the Special section - i.e. the big important ones. The tour also promised to give us a little history, cultural background and even into the inner sanctum of three of the major Fallas, past the barricades that kept us riff-raff a safe distance away. Prime for me was a chance to throw on traditional Fallas clothes for a cheesy photo-op, which sadly they cancelled for that day.

What I’d missed, though, was that it was a FIVE HOUR walking tour. FIVE HOURS on our feet. Non-stop. There were no breaks at quaint cafes to soothe our feet, no chances to rest our fat tookus on chairs. Our energetic guide was a very nice, articulate Valencian who was well spoken and knew her stuff. She was also like a Soviet Ice Breaker through the crowds, holding her “follow me” sign up high so we could keep track of her. Which was a good thing because she was on the small side, and could easily have ditched us hapless tourists in the middle of some very very thick crowds. For most of the time, these crowds were THICK - where a little body contact was all part of the fun. Think New York Eve crowds at Times Square. Lemmings heading to the beach. Apple Fans crowding the store on the first day of a new iPad. Shinjuku at rush hour, only twice as crowded. It was like that, especially on the “Viva la Paris” street which had TONS of pretty light bridges which spanned above and across the street. There was even a kind of light show where the twinkling lights flashed and faded and lit up in time to the music. Lous Armstrong sang “What a Wonderful World” - and for a few minutes, yes it was.

She led us through what now is a blur of beautiful Fallas, satirical Fallas, uproariously hilarious Fallas and serious Social Commentary Fallas. All were great - even the small ones, put together by small associations and tucked away in corners. I don;t know of any other place where neighborhoods work together for pride and Joy and tradition like Las Fallas. Enough talk. Just go to Flickr, type in “Las Fallas” and see some amazing images of Fallas. Five exhausting hours later, we were back in Plaza Ayuntamiento.
Where is the nearest bar where we can sit and get a Clara con Limon?