Valencia – It’s A Wrap

In case you were wondering, we’re back. We flew home a week ago Monday. Our flight was early…7:30 am…which meant getting up before dawn, double checking our packing, checking out of the hotel and catching a cab to the airport.

We flew from Valencia to Paris where we caught the overseas flight back to Houston. As it turned out, our flight to Paris was delayed and we found ourselves running through the Charles de Gaulle Airport fairly certain we would miss our connection. STRESS! Bleh! We worried for naught, though. They held the flight and we made it in plenty of time.

Valencia was a spectacular city. It’s hard to figure out why Rick Steves has not covered it in any of his extensive European travels. The Holy Grail, The City of Arts and Sciences, the museums, the beaches. Those things alone make it a worthy place to visit. Add the Las Fallas Festival and you have the trip of a lifetime.

Prior to departure Cynthia had lost her voice. This was a concern because her Spanish language skills really come in handy and, not only that, she has more fun when she can speak the language. Fortunately she had mostly recovered in time for the trip and it was not an issue.

The festival was really something. Throughout the time we were there we wandered the city to check out the fallas. There were literally hundreds around the city and we only managed to see a small percentage of them.

We also took in the other sites and just enjoyed the festival atmosphere. It was hugely crowded, especially on the last day, but we managed very well. Fireworks started about 8:00 am each day and detonated all over the city all day long and culminated in a spectacular display at 1:30 each morning. Not only that, but individuals had their own fireworks which they set off all over the place. I even had my own “petardos” to splode when the mood struck me.

The noise, the crowds and the scheduled events all combined to make the overall trip an adventure in sleep deprivation. We capitalized on the afternoon siestas and strategically planned our meals to minimize wait times.

My social networking experiment paid off big time. I contacted Manel via Flickr and Twitter and when we got to Valencia we made contact. He came out one day and give us an insider tour of the city for a few hours on the final day of the festival. He couldn’t hang out too long as his family had their own fallas celebration he needed to attend. After our tour he suggested driving us to Peñíscola on our last day to see the Templar Castle.

Manel didn’t speak much English so it was mostly him talking to Cynthia and her translating. I got the gist of most of the conversation. I can understand more than I can speak. There were times though that he was talking tech in Spanish and it was actually me doing the translation from Spanish geek to English geek so Cynthia could understand.

It’s hard to describe the whole experience. To boil it down it was noise, crowds, fires, explosions and really good food and company. As foreigners much was lost on us in regards to the cultural and historical significance of the various events, but it was fantastic to witness none the less.

Photographically, this was my best outing ever. The tripod and the 30mm Sigma f/1.4 lens were of the greatest benefit in the evenings, but the Tamron 17-50mm was the true workhorse overall. The Sony 70-300G came in handy, but ultimately saw little use and the Sony 11-18mm was an excellent wide angle standby. The gallery is up here. If you want context you should view the commentary under the blog topic Las Fallas – Valencia.

My best/favorite picture from the trip has to be this one of La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia:

That being said, the fire parade shots which I shot with the Sigma and the shots of La Crema which were taken with the Tamron are real highlights for me.

I doubt it’s something we’d ever do again, but we are sure as heck glad to have done it once. As Cynthia says, it’s a big world and time and money are short. Repeating a trip is never as fun as going on a totally new adventure so we’re in search of the next one.

Thanks to everyone who followed along and made comments via this blog, Flickr, Twitter and even Facebook. It was awesome having an audience to share the experience with.


For our last day in Valencia Manel agreed to pick us up at the hotel and drive us the 120 kilometers (75 miles) to Peñíscola which is a beautiful city located on the coast and is topped by a castle that was once home to the Knights Templar and Benedict XIII (an Antipope). It was also the filming locations for the movie El Cid.

When you climb to the top of the castle you have a pretty spectacular view of the beaches and surrounding city.

The full sized version of the panoramic image can be seen by clicking here.

We had a fun time climbing around in the castle and shooting pictures.

Eventually we climbed back down and walked the beach for a bit for some lunch and then headed back to Valencia with a stop at a Horchatería where Manel introduced us to horchata which is a traditional Valencian beverage and quite tasty.

We’re very grateful to Manel for all of his kindness and hospitality and we could not have had a better send off!

Life Is A Beach

Friday was the first day after the official end of the Las Fallas Festival. We needed something peaceful and easy going after a solid week of late nights, loud noises and huge crowds so we decided to hop the bus and head to the nearby beach.

I forget sometimes what a beach with clear blue water and light colored sand looks like. Valencia is right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and it is a magnificent beach.

We just spent the day walking along the paseo from one end to the other. We came across this cool fountain which we’d seen pictures of previously

The beach was not overly crowded, but there were a number of people out. Some were walking like we were, others were sunning themselves on the beach or fishing. Some were running and launching themselves into the air

Around 2 pm we headed to an area on the beach that was lined with upscale restaurants and took a seat on the patio to enjoy some sangria and world famous Valencian paella.

Everyone we knew who has been to Valencia said the paella was fantastic, and they were right. It was a tasty tasty meal!

After a bit more walking we headed back to the bus stop and made our way back to the hotel.

It was a great day!

La Crema

The main event. Midnight is the time all the fallas are burned.

We decided the above falla would be the one we watched burn. It was within easy walking distance of the hotel and was facing a wide open area along the dry riverbed so we would not be crammed into a small space by the throngs of onlookers.

We got there an hour before the burning time which was midnight. The crowd was very large and enthusiastic. Once the firemen cleared the electric lights and lowered the fire screens that protected the nearby buildings a series of fireworks detonated and the falla began to burn. At one point the fire was so hot we could feel it on our faces. It’s a wonder the people up close were not injured. I suspect there’s more than few eyebrow-less festival-goers after this.

It burned to the ground in about 10-15 minutes.

By the time we got back to the hotel there were plumes of black smoke all over the city, billowing into the Firework were going off everywhere. Within a few hours the entire city was covered in a haze of smoke.

The next day, silence….

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

The fire parade was a must see. It started just after sunset and was not too far from the hotel so we headed out early to stake out a spot for an unobstructed view. After the crowd filled in there was a reconfiguration of the barricade that actually put us behind some people. Most unfortunate, but not as bad as it could of been.

The parade started on time and at the beginning it was peaceful and really rather tame. The dancing girls moved along the parade route followed by a live band.

They were followed by a slow procession of Falleras (the women in traditional costume seen in my previous post. Apparently only a select few. Probably award winners from the champion fallas.

Then the main event.

Men and children dressed in flame retardant devil costumes with all manner of fireworks in tubes, on sticks and as part of elaborate constructs that looked like engines of war. The ran up and down the street and at points in the parade we were showered in sparkling fire embers. It was kind of scary. Cynthia thought we would be set on fire as she huddled behind me. I shielded myself as best I could and took some pretty satisfying photos.

This is only a small sample of the photos. Check out this Flickr slide show to see the entire collection

Last Day of Las Fallas

Thursday, the final day of the Las Fallas festival. I will tell you this, we are tired. VERY VERY tired. Late nights, huge crowds and lots of noise.

Fireworks are constant. It literally sounds like a war is being waged all around us. Starting around 8 am and going and going and going. It’s not horrible, it’s just the background noise to this festival and it somehow fits. Being the last day the crowds are HUGE. I think a lot of people come just for this day.

This was the day we were to meet up with Manel. Manel is the person I reached out to on Twitter to see about making a local connection during our trip. Manel was a fellow twitterer and flickrer and seemed like a nice guy.

As it turned out, he didn’t speak much English, but fortunately Cynthia speaks pretty good Spanish.

We met up in the morning and he took us around the city and we had an awesome time. He offered to drive us to Peniscula on Sunday which will be very cool!

A success for social networking!

The last night of Las Fallas is the night of the fire parade and La Crema. Post about those coming soon.