Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Las Fallas and beyond: Nikki's trip to Valencia and Lisbon

Las Fallas and beyond: Nikki's trip to Valencia and Lisbon

Mar 31st, 2019, 11:17 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Las Fallas and beyond: Nikki's trip to Valencia and Lisbon

If this were a travel article in the newspaper, I would begin by describing the crowd packed into the main plaza, body against body, feeling the firecrackers as they built to one and then another crescendo of sound until the ground was shaking and everybodyís heart was pounding in their chests in time to the explosions.

But this is a personal account of my trip, so instead I will start in 1972, when I first traveled to Valencia. One of my college roommates was studying there for the summer. Another roommate and I had been traveling through France, and we met up with the Valencia roommate in Barcelona. It was an era long before cell phones or e-mail, so in order to ensure that we found each other, we planned to meet on July 28 at 10:00 AM in front of the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona. We all looked at the map of Barcelona and found the museum and promised to be there. And on July 28 we found the meeting point and each other, spent the day, and then took the train to Valencia.

During our short time in Valencia, we went to the beach, got sunburned, ate paella, and saw a festival featuring floats covered in flowers and the best fireworks I had ever seen in my life.

Fast forward to 2019. I am addicted to a travel message board. A participant in this message board lives in Valencia and has suggested that it would be great fun to meet up as a group to experience Las Fallas, a festival in March. A couple of years ago, a small group of participants in the message board had come together for this festival and posted enticing, colorful pictures And there would be fireworks. I remembered the fireworks of 1972 and decided to make the trip.

A Facebook group was created to plan the event. People started researching and making plans to come from all over the US and Canada. Somebody found a great hotel rate almost a year before the trip, figured it must be a mistake that would disappear soon, and suggested we all sign up. I did so, got the rate, and even though it was cancellable, I felt committed to go if I could. Somebody (actually the same somebody, known on this message board as amwosu, whom I now think of as the research ferret) found a deal for airfare from Boston on TAP, the Portuguese airline. You could fly to Valencia via Lisbon and arrange a free stopover in Lisbon. I love Lisbon, hadnít been there for ten years. I presented all this to my husband Alan, and he agreed to come with me.

For months before the event, the Valencia resident, known on this message board as Lincasanova, posted information on Facebook linking to articles and videos about the festival. She planned all sorts of ways for us to enjoy the celebrations. The combination of giant effigies in plazas all over the city, processions in traditional dress for days and days, ground-shaking daytime firecracker events, nighttime fireworks, street food, a fire parade with dancing demons and fire breathing turtles, and a carnival atmosphere beckoned. There would be group meals in wonderful restaurants strategically located to take advantage of the events throughout the city.

And there would be much laughter and friendship among people who have been reading each otherís thoughts about travel and about life for decades.
Nikki is online now  
Mar 31st, 2019, 11:50 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,440
Thanks for writing this, Nikki. I will happily correct any mistakes you make.
~Liz
elberko is offline  
Mar 31st, 2019, 12:11 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
We arrive at the Valencia airport on Thursday, March 14 at around noon. We take a taxi into the city but the driver tells us he cannot take us to the AC Colon, our hotel, because the street is closed off until later in the afternoon. We have been warned that this might be the case, and we decide to have lunch at a quiet location suggested by Lincasanova, so the taxi leaves us at the Westin Hotel, which is outside the closed area and has a lovely outdoor patio for lunch in the sun. We do have a negative experience with the taxi, because the driver charges us over forty euros for the trip, which should have been closer to 20. There is no meter; there is a sheet of paper explaining fares on the window, but it is too complicated to figure out on the fly. We are told later that we should have asked for the driverís name and photographed his cab number, but it is too late now.

The hotel holds our bags while we have a leisurely lunch. There was snow at home in Massachusetts, and itís been quite a while since we could dine outdoors. A woman and her two daughters are also dining here. The youngest is outfitted in an elaborate silk traditional dress of a type that we will see on girls and women for the next week. There is a display of these dresses in the hotel lobby. It is peaceful in the courtyard, but we can hear sounds outside like distant thunder. This is the mascleta, an audio fireworks display that takes place every day at 2:00. We are sheltered here from the madness of the festival, but our hotel is right in the thick of it, which explains the closed road.

When we finish lunch, we retrieve our bags and the hotel calls us a taxi. The mascleta is over, so the road is open and we drive up to the AC Colon with no problems and check into the hotel. Our room overlooks a school yard. There are children lined up in groups, playing instruments, shouting and chanting, putting on their own Las Fallas celebration. I hear them singing a song that I recognize from a video I have watched about the festival. I start telling Alan about it and then realize he is asleep. Looks like a good idea, and I follow him.
Nikki is online now  
Mar 31st, 2019, 01:27 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Later we go down to the lobby and meet some of the other people who are staying here for the get-together. We get several taxis and go out to the suburbs, where Lincasanova has invited us to her home for snacks and drinks. I see people here whom I have known for years and others whose posts I have read but never met, as well as a few whom I have met once or twice at get-togethers in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Vermont. It is a festive gathering. When we have finished all the food and drink and conversation (well, maybe thereís a little bit of all of that left over), we get into more taxis and ride to the site of one of the largest fallas to get a look at the final assembly process and watch artists put on the finishing touches.

The fallas are monumental structures of wood, papier mache, and styrofoam, constructed in plazas throughout the city. Many have satirical themes and poke fun at politicians and popular culture, none of which is obvious to the casual observer (that would be me), but it is very enjoyable to look at these complex constructions from many angles. In the following days, there will be judging, prizes will be awarded, and the winning falla will end up with a part of it preserved in a museum. At the end of the week, all the rest will be burned.




The one we see tonight is enormous and very complex. After I spend some time photographing it, a friend tells me not to miss seeing it from the rear. And it is astonishing; when viewed from the other side it takes on a completely different aspect. From the front one sees a complex assembly of figures, dolls, caricatures, toys. From the back you see that the entire structure rests on the back of a gigantic robot.





I have no idea what it means.
Nikki is online now  
Mar 31st, 2019, 05:32 PM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Friday, March 15 we meet other members of our group at the San Nicolas Church. This Gothic style building is completely covered on the inside with Baroque frescoes, earning it the nickname of the Spanish Sistine Chapel. For the price of admission, we get an audioguide in English and admission to the silk museum, which we will visit another day.









We catch up with some members of our group at a cafe, where we order drinks and freshly squeezed orange juice while others tour La Lonja, a building involved in Valenciaís silk trade that is a World Heritage site. I decide not to tour the building at this time because we are running short on time before the next event, thinking we will get back another day, but we donít. I regret this, but you canít do everything.

The plan is to tour the central market before the mascleta, but Alan and I become separated from the group and donít see how to get into the market. This is too bad, because the market will close for most of the week. But we hear from those who did walk through that it is so crowded it is difficult to see anything, and people have to rush through the market, so I donít regret missing that experience. Instead, we go ahead to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the central plaza with the city hall, for the mascleta. We are all to meet at the bar of a hotel on the plaza, but there are no tables inside, so I park myself outside on a bench, just around the corner from the main action. Alan joins the mob standing around the square.

People start to arrive, and the police cordon off the walkway in which I am sitting, but they donít make me move, so I donít relinquish my seat. It is getting very crowded on the other side of the barrier. Just before the mascleta begins, the police remove the barriers, and I understand the principle of closing it off. They have left an open way for people to walk after the fireworks end, so as to prevent gridlock.





The explosions begin. I can hear them quite loudly where I am, but apparently they are more intense the closer you get, so people are pressing to get into the plaza. The air becomes thick with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. Iím thinking this would not be a good place for anyone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Having read descriptions, I have been somewhat worried about damaging my eardrums (as a musician, I have earplugs to wear when the brass players behind me have high, loud passages to play), but it is not so loud where I am that I am concerned. I can duck into the hotel if it becomes unpleasant, but it never does.

It lasts only ten minutes or so, and then the crowds file out of the plaza. Our group waits for the sidewalks to clear and then we walk to the restaurant Tago Mago, where we have a reservation. Lunch is a leisurely, delicious three hour affair. I have the best grilled octopus Iíve ever eaten and then share a pan of fideua, noodles prepared with the spices of paella and seafood.

We are a happy lot after all of that, and I believe it is time for a nap.




Nikki is online now  
Mar 31st, 2019, 06:50 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 4,132
So sorry I missed this gtg. I enjoyed it through everyone's pictures and can feel the same through your trip report. Hope to write my own trip report about it someday!
kwren is offline  
Apr 1st, 2019, 01:31 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Here are pictures of fallas we pass as we walk around this afternoon:

















Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 01:40 AM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
We have arranged to meet a few friends for dinner at El Pederniz, a restaurant near the apartment rented by AGMCapeCod and her husband. It is nearly the prime Spanish dining hour of 9:30 when we get there. As soon as we walk in, we know this is the right kind of place. It looks and feels warm and friendly, and the menu is bursting with things I would like to try.





The owner, a US-educated physician who operates the restaurant as an act of love, comes to our table to describe the offerings. We start with an assortment of tapas: wild mushrooms and truffles in scrambled eggs, prawns boiled in oil and garlic, grilled scallops in green herb sauce, Galician style octopus on a bed of pureed potatoes, meat balls made of pork, beef, and pine nuts, and quail stuffed with foie gras in a sweet raisin sauce. Then out comes the grilled sea bass with grilled vegetables.

For dessert there is sacher cake, my favorite, and pannacotta with rose water and honey, as well as manchego cheese flan. By the time we finish this (and have made our reservations to come back with a larger group tomorrow), the owner comes around with complimentary small glasses of sweet wine to finish off the meal. I glance at Alan, as this is guaranteed to leave him loving a restaurant, and he looks very happy indeed, as do we all.





It is midnight when we take a taxi back to our hotel, and we see fireworks going off in the plaza to cap off a glorious night.
Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 01:55 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 3,774
Hi Nikki! Thank you for posting this TR. I had never attended a GTG before and I must say that this will not be our last. It was a true pleasure meeting you and Alan (as well as all the others!).
~ Maristella
marigross is offline  
Apr 1st, 2019, 02:35 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,624
Hi Nikki - Sounds like you had a great time. Your photos are amazing. I'm so sorry I missed it. I just returned from Valencia last night. When I planned my trip last fall I had read about the festival but decided I'd rather see the city with less crowds - I enjoy festivals but also like to see cities 'as is'. By the time I knew about the get-together (and read more about the festival itself) it was too late to change plane, ferry, and hotels. I will say I absolutely loved Valencia this past week but would have enjoyed seeing you again. And your photos look great - I may need to 'borrow' some (with your permission, and credit given of course) when I write up my trip report on my blog. Anyway, looking forward to the rest of your report.
isabel is offline  
Apr 1st, 2019, 04:19 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 2,000
Hi Nikki, I was so sorry I couldnít attend this GTG as I knew I would miss a fabulous time. Youíre report is wonderful so far.
jerseysusan is offline  
Apr 1st, 2019, 06:48 AM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Thank you for following along and leaving such nice comments. The get-together was wonderful, I really enjoyed meeting so many familiar voices and putting faces to them. I’m sorry not to have seen those of you who couldn’t make it.

Isabel, I am sure your photos reflect an entirely different Valencia than the one I saw during Las Fallas. Of course you may use my photos, I am honored by the request. And if you stick around till I get to Lisbon, you may meet some old friends.
Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 07:13 AM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Saturday we go to the beach. When I was last here, in 1972, I got a sunburn. But it was July, and this is March. It is a beautiful spring day, and there are indeed a few people out on the sand in bathing suits, but mostly people are walking, riding bikes and scooters, and gathering in the beachside restaurants for paella.














After soaking in the beautiful sunshine and people watching, we join up with the rest of our group at líEstimat, one of the restaurants that line the promenade. We are here for the paella. Valencia is known for its paella. When I was here in 1972, my friends and I went out to a restaurant that was supposed to have the best. Or the best that a bare-bones student travel budget would allow. The menu listed all sorts of paella, but our friend who was studying in Valencia said we should get the one called paella Valenciana. Turns out that at least in that restaurant, on that menu, that was the one that was just rice and vegetables, without any of the added fish or meat that all the others listed. I was very disappointed. I have been disappointed for forty-even years. I have been waiting a long time for this meal.





Our meal includes two kinds of paella, one with chicken (or rabbit or both) with a scattering of snails in their shells on top, and one with seafood. Definitely more satisfying than the 1972 version. We learn that the one with chicken, rabbit, and snails is the true paella Valenciana. Finally.





The meal is accompanied by a salad including tuna, and a wonderful shrimp dish that takes a lot of effort to peel and eat but is so worth it that I wonít let the waiter remove the dish when he thinks we have finished with it. We are sitting with a vegetarian, and she is presented with a large plate of grilled vegetables and a whole vegetarian paella for herself. There is fresh fruit and ice cream for dessert.





While some people explore the marina next to the beach, I head back to the hotel for a rest. We have plans to watch the midnight fireworks, and I am feeling increasingly sleep deprived without a good siesta.



Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 07:32 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 2,652
Loving your report. We will be there in just over a month, as part of a five-week road/train journey, and I'm really getting amped reading all of your posts. Thank you!
scdreamer is offline  
Apr 1st, 2019, 11:01 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 988
Love your photos, especially the ones of Las Fallas. That's an amazing parade!
KarenWoo is offline  
Apr 1st, 2019, 11:12 AM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Originally Posted by KarenWoo View Post
Love your photos, especially the ones of Las Fallas. That's an amazing parade!

Thank you. I might be misinterpreting your comment, but the fallas are stationary, they are far too big to put in a parade. There are parades ahead, however.

Last edited by Nikki; Apr 1st, 2019 at 11:19 AM.
Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 11:18 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Many hours later we head out to dinner for the second night at El Pederniz. We are a somewhat larger group tonight, but they have put together a table for us, and we are in a festive mood. We repeat some of last nightís more popular tapas choices and add fried fresh anchovies, fried tiny squid, foie gras with sweet wine sauce. We follow this with plates of grilled swordfish, a grilled fillet of another fish we donít recognize, and a beautiful grilled steak. We donít mean to order the steak as rare as it comes, so it is a bit too rare even for me, but I manage anyway.










After dinner we have to hurry to walk to AGMCapeCodís rented apartment to watch the fireworks from their rooftop terrace. We make it just in time. We have a great view of the fireworks, which go on for a long time. And then we see and hear fireworks from all parts of the city, as every neighborhood joins in with its own celebration.
Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 11:28 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 931
Nikki, what a fantastic report. I’m so enjoying it! But now you have me curious. My husband and I were eyeing Spain for March of 2021, and while we were eying return visits to Madrid and Sevilla, you have piqued my interest in Valencia and Las Fallas.

How did the crowds affect your enjoyment? Were some of the regular sights in Valencia closed during the festival? Was it hard to make dining reservations? Las Fallas looks like it would be really interesting to experience; I just know we wouldn’t enjoy a constant “mob” if you know what I mean.
indyhiker is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 12:19 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Indyhiker, it was very possible to get away from the mobs if you didn't mind being away from the center of the action. Dining reservations were made for our large group far ahead of the event. However, we had no trouble making reservations for other meals away from the center for smaller groups. I am sure some regular attractions were closed; for instance the central market closed for several days. And streets were closed in the center of the city.

I highly recommend experiencing this festival since you are going to be in Spain in March. It is an amazing civic undertaking, and while it has attracted many tourists, it is still produced, participated in, and enjoyed by a communal effort of the whole city.
Nikki is online now  
Apr 1st, 2019, 12:39 PM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,576
Sunday morning we walk outside the hotel and see a parade assembling on our doorstep. Women and girls of all ages are wearing gorgeous traditional dresses, the fallera outfit. These are made of silk and follow a strict set of design rules, with appropriate accessories and shoes made to order from the same fabric. The hair style is prescribed and elaborate, involving specific hair ornaments and round, pre-braided hair additions attached over the ears, Princess Leah style.








People assemble with their local falla clubs. These are the neighborhood associations that assemble the fallas, raising money and planning for the big event throughout the year. There are around three hundred fifty such clubs, and their parade through the city lasts two days. This year there are around 170,000 people participating in the parade. Each group is accompanied by a small marching band. I am pleased to see many young people playing in these bands, which speaks well for the state of music education in Spain. On the other hand, I wonder whether the girl playing the saxophone in her black and white band outfit would rather be wearing a fallera dress. Thinking back, I would have rather been marching with the band. But I think my daughters would have craved those dresses. The daughter of the owner of the restaurant where we ate the past two nights is a fallera and marching today.





The boys and men are dressed in outfits that are reminiscent of Halloween pirate costumes. I assume they are much less expensive than the dresses. When the clubs are not participating in the procession, they have large tents erected in their neighborhoods, where they gather and party throughout the day and night.














The parade is known as the ofrenda, the offering. It snakes through the city and terminates at the Plaza de la Virgen outside the cathedral, where a huge wooden structure is erected. Every fallera carries a bouquet of carnations. As she approaches the structure, she takes a deep breath from her bouquet and hands it to someone who tosses it up to people on the structure who are attaching all the flowers to it. This appears to be a very emotional moment, as many of the girls and women wipe away tears and hug each other. This goes on over the course of two days until 1:00 AM. We do not make it to the cathedral to see this but we do watch on TV, and over the course of the next two days we see the structure transformed into a statue of the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken) covered in a flowered robe.

During the procession, our group assembles for lunch at a restaurant along the route, Agricultura. While attempting to get there, we are blocked along our route by people assembling for todayís mascleta. We detour around the crowds and hear the explosions from a few blocks away, then proceed to the restaurant.

This is another festive three hour lunch, consisting of seafood rice and duck confit. One of the couples in our group has invited the entire group to their rented apartment for an evening get-together, but we decide we might just be partied out, so we return to the hotel. Alan goes out to see the fireworks near where they are being set off, on the old riverbed that surrounds the city at 1:00 AM. I am content to watch them out the window, over the tops of the buildings.
Nikki is online now  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:29 PM.