Last weekend I went to Valencia with three friends for Las Fallas. What’s that you might ask? To put it simply, Valencia’s crazy fire festival. Because mi chico is Valenciano, there’s always a good excuse to go. I had gone last year with three different friends and had a blast (one of them, now back in the States, said it was her favorite trip from her entire year in Spain), so I decided to return.
This year, however, was a little different, in part because two-thirds of my friends, clearly not too well-informed on the subject, decided, shortly after arrival, that they didn’t really like Fallas. What’s not to like some might ask? Well, I’ll give you 10 reasons why you may not like Fallas. I was a huge fan after last year. This year, I decided it partly has to do with the company. But, in general, I would say it is almost impossible not to have a good time.1. Don’t go if you don’t like fried food. Valencia in Fallas is like a fried food convention. Every corner has a vendor selling some fried goodness: the typical churros and porras and the more special (and more delicious in my opinion) buñuelos: fried rings of moist, chewy dough made with pumpkin and sprinkled with sugar. All of the above are to be taken with chocolate, por favor.
2. Don’t go if you have a problem with loud noises. One of the biggest parts of Fallas is the petardos (firecrackers). Virtually every child, adult, and grandparent is armed with these suckers and a mischievous grin. They’ll throw them at your feet, in a crowd, anywhere. My friends have compared this phenomenon to being in a war where everyone’s happy. But you won’t be happy if loud booms bother you a lot.
3. Don’t go if you don’t like being around lots of people and sometimes in huge crowds where you feel like you can’t move. Valencia’s population of 1 million doubles during Fallas. People are everywhere, which to me makes the city seem livelier than normal. But it can overwhelm.
4. Don’t go if you don’t like to go around looking at huge papier-maché statues that are often political or social satires. If you think that’s boring, stay home! Many of these statues are amazingly detailed and are trying to make a statement. There are special artistas falleros who literally work all year creating them–only for them to be lit on fire at the end of it all.
5. Don’t go if you don’t like fire: playing with it or being near it. As I said earlier, even the tiniest children are armed with lighters and a box of firecrackers, so there are plenty of flames and sparks around. Not to mention that the climax of the festival is the cremá, or the “burning”–every single falla in the city is lit on fire and burned (don’t worry, they wait ’til the firefighters are there ready with hoses).
6. Don’t go if you don’t like fireworks. On the last four nights leading up to the cremá, there is a huge fireworks display known as El Castillo (the Castle) in the old river bed in the center of town. They tend to be quite good. If you like fireworks, that is.
7. Don’t go if you don’t like paella. Valencia’s typical saffron-colored rice dish with meat and veggies is on every menú del dia all over the city during Fallas. There’s also a huge quantity of paella being cooked over wood fires on the streets every evening. If you go, you will have a hard time not eating it.8. Don’t go if you don’t like to drink and dance in the street. To me, this is one of the essences of Fallas, the verbenas: outdoor bars often accompanied by a stage with live music or a DJ and, if you’re lucky, a scantily clad young lady dancing up there and shaking her thang. This last bit has shocked many of my friends. All I can say to you is that the Spaniards are very open people when it comes to bodies.
9. Don’t go if you don’t like gunpowder. Every day during Fallas, there’s a huge firecracker display called the mascletá, in which a group of pyrotechnics commissioned by the city release hundred of kilos of gunpowder in an intense aural display that will have your insides vibrating. It lasts about five minutes and is extremely loud. But if you listen closely you’ll hear that the pyrotechnics have rhythm: this year we heard one that sounded like a train approaching.10. Don’t go if you don’t like seeing people in old-fashioned and very elaborate dress. Falleros and Falleras and their dressed-up children are one of the highlights of the whole shindig. The embroidered dresses, lace shawls, fancy shoes, and Princess Leia-like hair-dos make great street entertainment.