Hasta luego

I’ve been staring at a blank post for a few weeks now unable to write. I’ve been bogged down by a few external stresses (writing my master’s thesis, finishing up my internships, moving out, etc.) that have prevented me from getting in front of the computer to write this post. Due to an expired visa, no job contract to renew, no teaching gig, and no money, the only viable option was to return to the United States. As much as I’d like to see my friends and family back home, my heart lies deeply buried in Spain and I do not want to leave. However, sometimes in life, one must do what needs to be done, and in my case, I must walk away from the place I love most. Continue reading

Holidays in Alicante

Christmas and Reyes are now over.  The weather here is still quite nice (haven’t worn a jacket during the day since ‘Nam).  It’s almost always sunny and no one can complain about that. One could complain, however, about the amounts of studying I need to be doing and the paper writing that needs to be completed in the next few weeks.  But after finals in two weeks, I’ll be heading off to Belgium for a week to desconectarme and to just relax.

Christmas this year was probably the most Spanish I could have ever imagined. Continue reading

Amunt Valencia!

Since Britt and I have been in Madrid, all Britt has told me (aside from her wanting to go see some guy charm a snake in Morocco) is that she wants to see a beach. I thought about where to go. Maybe Cádiz? Or Alicante? Or Benidorm? Maybe even a trip to the Canary Islands? But in the end, I figured the best place for us to go would be Valencia because they have the beach but also the Oceanográfic, which is something I’ve always wanted to see.  And it’s a lot cheaper to get to.

I have been to Valencia before but it was only for Las Fallas last year, so I didn’t get to see much of the city since, let’s face it, I went there to party with all of my friends.

I talked to Jeana and her friend Alex beforehand to see if they wanted to come along since they were going to be coming to Madrid around the time that Britt and I wanted to go see Valencia. We all coordinated the trip together. On Thursday morning, we woke up at the crack of dawn and caught the bus out of town to Valencia.

The ride was pretty quick: only 4-hours by bus.

The best part was the arrival. We weren’t sure what to expect of the weather, although Britt thought ahead and all she wanted to do was wear a dress on the beach. And sure enough, the second we stepped off of the bus, the weather was absolutely wonderful! We started stripping off layers it was so hot.

While we waited for the bus to take us to our hostel, we were taking off coats, hoodies, rolling up pants and stripping off our socks, it was that hot. I couldn’t believe that at this time of the year it could be so warm. Britt and I had become so used to the freezing cold in Paris and Madrid that it was almost unfathomable to have enjoyable, sunny, warm weather this time of year. The weather definitely put all of us in a good mood.

We checked into our hostel then wandered around the city a bit to try and go see the Oceanografic, which is Europe’s largest aquarium. The architecture itself is worth seeing: It looks like some futuristic space ship and landing pad. It’s hard to describe, because it’s such an abstract edifice.

Upon arriving, we realized we’d only have about 2 hours to enjoy the place and the entree fee was about 25 euros so we decided we’d put it off for the day. We ended up grabbing some gelatto to take a break and cool off. From there, we grabbed another bus and headed to the beach.

Everyone I talked to (except Agathe, who recommended we go to Valencia) said that the beaches in Valencia were really ugly. I kept this in mind, especially after Britt and I visited my friend Alejandra in El Escorial for an afternoon and she almost yelled at me for taking Britt to see an ugly city and ugly beaches. But everyone was wrong: The beaches were wonderful! We decided that everyone in Spain thinks Valencia’s beaches are ugly is because they are used to actually having beaches. But if you come from landlocked Denver, Colorado or even Madrid, any beach is enjoyable. And we didn’t find anything ugly about the beach or Valencia. We all fell in love!

The beach was very nice. We stuck our feet in the frigid water, collected some seashells, and then once our feet were turning blue and the sky was fading to black, we caught a bus back towards our hostel.

It seems that I cannot escape the parties in Valencia because the instant the bus dropped us off, we saw thousands of people crowding around the street of our hostel for a parade. That’s when I realized that it was January 5 and the following day was the Día de los Reyes Magos, or the Day of the Three Wise Men. January 6 is Spain’s official Christmas. It is becoming more and more popular to celebrate actual Christmas on December 25, but everyone gets their presents on January 6. So all the families were out with their kids to watch the parade. We had to push through hundreds of parade-goers to get to our hostel.

Luckily, we had a terrific view of the parade from above, but it didn’t interest us too much since everything in the parade was religious related. But it was still really interesting to be able to see.

From there, we headed towards the city center for dinner. We stopped by a place that seemed “typical Spanish,” but I’m sure it was designed for tourists. Alex and I shared a big bowl of Paella Valenciana, which after all, Valencia is where Paella originated. Jeana and Britt each got their own meals, and Britt ordered herself a delicious looking membrillo-jamón tapa.

But we didn’t eat in the typical Spanish fashion by taking a few hours to eat, relax, and enjoy. We were a bit pressed for time. Earlier that afternoon, Carlo texted me with some exciting news: That night, Valencia was going to be playing against Sevilla! We all wanted to get tickets but weren’t sure how to go-abouts getting them. Plus, we figured it would be sold out since Sevilla and Valencia are two of the biggest teams in Spain. We asked around all day and the best results we got were: “Nah, it’s probably not sold out,” and “Just go to the stadium an hour before the game and you should be able to get tickets.” So that’s what we did.

We finished our meal and caught the first bus to the stadium. There were people everywhere, and everyone was drinking on the streets. This is typical Spanish.
Afterwards I learned that they don’t sell any alcohol in the stadiums (which would explain why I didn’t see anyone with beer in their hands like you’d see at any sporting event back in the States). I guess the football hooligans get a little too rowdy if they’ve got some drink in them.

After fighting through the crowds, we made it to the Taquilla to buy our tickets. I asked for the four best 10-euro tickets (which were the cheapest) but unfortunately the guy said that all that were left were 30-euro or 40-euro tickets. Dang. That’s killing our budget.

We left the line to think about what we were going to do. We figured we’d just go find a bar and watch the game, but NO! We came all this way, and it was now or never. Let’s go to the game! So we bought 40-euro tickets because that was the only way we could all be seated together. But who cares about the money! This was something they say you have to do. So after living in Spain (on and off) for about 2-years total, I finally made it to my first professional soccer match. Amunt Valencia!

And the best part was, Valencia won! 1 – 0. (Kind of a boring match, really. A bit disappointing.)

Then we went home to sleep.

The next day we went to the Oceanografic, which was very large indeed, but nothing that spectacular. I guess it’s just any old aquarium, but this one is just really big. And again, I can’t put enough emphasis on its incredible architecture, you really have to see it for yourself.

From there, we went back to the hostel to get our things, then headed to the bus station and rode home.

Valencia is a place I could live in, honest. I absolutely loved it. I wish I could have stayed a little bit longer. We all wanted to stay: The weather was perfect, we never got to get day-drunk on the beach, and we really didn’t even get to explore the city center, which was much larger than we realized.  Even the people were incredibly kind to us. I asked for directions, information, etc., and every person I spoke to was very patient and gave us great help. The strange thing to me is that in Valencia they speak Valenciano, which is a dialect of Catalan. But if you go to Catalonia and you ask for help in Spanish, they will respond to you either in Catalan or English regardless of who you are. They are very proud people of their language and despise Spanish (so I’m told.) But the Valenciano’s were all eager to speak to me and there was never an issue with them speaking Valenciano or Spanish. They all treated us the same and were incredibly helpful. I guess that just means that we’ll have to go back. I hope to see Valencia very, very soon.

Write more later,

Graham

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Las Fallas

Living in Spain as an American has made me come to realize many things, but I’d like to address one in particular. The Spanish know how to party. I am personally insulted by the dinky, unimpressive, poor, feeble attempt of a celebration we Americans try to make for the Fourth of July every year. You would think our Independence Day celebration would be of enormous revelry but it is a dry, short, and disappointing display in comparison to Valencia’s fallas. At the Fallas, people throw petardos (firecrackers) and cohetes (rockets) at all hours of the day. Not just during some meek and miserable show of ten minutes of fireworks at 9 at night, but at all hours of the day, from dawn to dusk.  And then some.

We prepared for the biggest party of our lives by partying the night before. Friday night out till 3 am, up Saturday morning by 7, on the bus by 9, in Valencia by 1. Our preparation: packing hang-overs, hunger, and exhaustion. This pattern seemed to never stop.

When we arrived, it sounded like we landed right in the middle of war. There was smoke billowing out from every alleyway and street and the cacophony of crashing and booming explosions from hundreds of fireworks going off made us want to run for cover. We had to walk the streets cautiously, as if we were being hunted by snipers lurking in the buildings high above us. People were tossing fireworks recklessly and carelessly all over the place. Even children were throwing firecrackers at each other.  If you weren’t careful, you’d get a firecracker in the foot, bursting like a land mine.
Valencia was truly stunning: Palm trees, clear blue skies, and perfect sit-on-a-terrace-and-have-a-beer weather.  We all had plans of visiting the beach and seeing the Oceanografic (Europe’s largest aquarium) but after having been there for no more than fifteen minutes, we realized that we weren’t going to do anything other than party, after the first beers were cracked open.

The rest of the night continued how it started that afternoon: wandering, admiring the brightly colored traditional dresses of the local women, drinking beer and tinto de verano, watching fallas burn and chatting with whoever we met.

The fallas (large papier-mâché sculptures of political figures, cartoon characters, etc.) weren’t burnt down until about 11 that night, and the grand finale was at 1 in the morning the next day. The finale was incredible as the largest falla was set to light, erupting in a volcano-like tornado, burning right in the middle of the city surrounded by thousands of on-watchers.  As if the vortex of smoke and fire wasn’t enough, rockets were then launched into the cloud creating a cyclone of brilliant lights and riotous bursts. It was mesmerizing and beautiful, and at the same time, deafening from the cheers of the crowd and the ceaseless barrage of discharging fireworks.
After what seemed like a lifetime of non-stop movimiento, the moment arrived to head back to the bus. We finally made it, mission complete.  Seven in the morning, heading home.  We had survived. But at this point we were defeated, exhausted, drained, and all we wanted to do was sleep. We rode the four dreadful hours back to Madrid where we were finally able to crash. I cannot say how many hours I slept after that trip, but I’m sure it was something close to a world record. I hope to be able to go back to Valencia to actually see the city but one thing is for sure: I’ll be returning for next year’s festivities. Only this time, I’m going to bring sandwiches, water bottles, and a pillow.

Write more later,

Graham

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