This past year of 2020 has been (we hope) an aberration, never to be duplicated when it comes to the world of travel. Flights canceled, borders closed, events of many types- all canceled as well. Every country in the world has been affected, and events that have endured for decades- centuries- were bypassed in 2020. That includes one of the world’s most memorable celebrations from Valencia Spain, known as Las Fallas-the Fires.
Our first few days in Valencia were lovely; walking the streets, visiting the coffee houses, and enjoying the amazing pastries. We had to keep pinching ourselves that we really, truly, made the move, and here we were, living in a foreign country. Quiet, peaceful, mellow…or so we thought. We never heard of Las Fallas, but when we landed in Valencia on Feb 18, 2019, we had no idea that just one week later all hell would break loose! That started on our first Sunday morning at 08.00 as we were awakened with the stir of what sounded like bombs and fireworks exploding. Looking out the window we could see the smoke from downtown and asked our AirBNB hostess what was going on.
She was surprised that we never heard of Las Fallas and assumed that we came specifically for that event, since the whole world converges on Valencia for 30 days at the end of February. The event is in honor of St. Joseph, the Father of their Country, and also to celebrate the beginning of spring. All well and good, but no one told us about the daily fireworks, people everywhere and the most amazing works of art unfolding on every street corner.
As we walked down the city street, we found many were closed off to traffic and open to a gathering of paella cooks! In many places throughout town, corners and streets were converted to makeshift kitchens as cooking fires burned (using orange and lemon wood we discovered), with pans of paella boiling atop them.
Every afternoon at 2:00 p.m. fireworks erupted from a large plaza downtown. It drew a crowd every day and all the adjoining streets were closed to traffic. NOT a town you would want to drive in during these times! On most street corners throughout the city were colorful ninots, which are giant paper-mâché and Styrofoam figures, some over 50 feet tall. Over 300 were placed throughout city street corners and some reminded me of portable Rose Bowl floats as they involved spectacular craftsmanship and construction.
They stayed under wraps for several weeks and slowly got revealed as the construction process was completed. The figures satirized political figures, celebrities and soap opera stars, or more exotic creatures from the movies, along with what appeared to be cartoon characters, musical instruments, and objects from someone’s very vivid imagination. All this while kids of all ages toss firecrackers on every sidewalk you visit.
And there is another thing unique about Las Fallas and the ninotes: on the last night of the Festival they get torched in the streets by igniting fuses connected to streams of firecrackers and incendiary material. The fire department moves from one block to the next, and this continues until very late that night. They water down the surroundings and keep everyone safe.
The entire town is in a festive mood, street vendors of every sort abound and it’s wild without being disorderly, which I commend them for! It’s not the kind of thing I would want to do every year, and we were very lucky that we picked the last year it was held. We can only hope that 2021 brings the return of some normalcy and the return of travel and all the events to draw travelers in. In the event that Las Fallas is postponed again, add it to your calendar for 2022 since you owe it to yourself to visit at least once.
PS: Even aside from the Las Fallas festival, Valencia is an amazing town to visit. It has some of the most jaw dropping architecture in the area called the City of Arts and Sciences, which houses six different attractions, including the Valencia Institute of Modern Art, which is a visual delight!
The Oceanogràfic aquarium is, hands down, the most impressive aquarium I have ever seen, and the Bioparc is 25 acres of wild animals in their replicated natural environments. They are especially known for their collection of African wildlife.
Aside from animal exhibits and architecture, there are also cathedrals and churches and ancient gates dating back 600 years.
And, for the foodies out there, a “must visit” spot is the Mercado Central, which offers a collection of 1300 stalls offering produce, seafood, plus amazingly affordable restaurants. The building itself, build in 1928, is inviting as well as the content inside!
Norm Bour left the USA permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to travel the world six weeks at a time, which he did, and wrote two books about his experiences. Over 14 months he visited 23 countries along with taking 36 plane trips. He is now hunkered down in Mexico, which has been a way to get back to writing and waiting for the world to open up again. Norm’s inspiration has been the Millennial generation who make travel look so easy, so he teaches fellow Boomers how to "travel like a Millennial." You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com along with his Facebook blog by the same name.