Semester in Europe Part Two – Weekend de los Locos

“Does the smell of gunpowder excite you? Does the sight of flames make you smile? Do you secretly harbor pyrotechnic urges that are only socially acceptable on the Fourth of July? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Las Fallas of Valencia is your kind of event--a loud, smoky, high-spirited fiesta where the whole town is literally set ablaze!” (http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/fiestas/lasfallas.asp)
That is what I just found as a description of the festival I attended in Valencia, Spain during my Semester In Europe. My friends and I did NOT read about Las Fallas before we went (of course, I would TOTALLY have wanted to go if I had) but we not only didn’t read up beforehand – we had no idea the festival was going on.

Like many adventures in my life, I was kind of along for the ride. I don’t remember who decided what cities we’d visit or where we planned to stay. But I do know someone wanted to see the coastal town of Valencia. And what we got when we arrived was a surprise. To say the least.

Because of the festival, there were NO hotel rooms – anywhere. The first night, we were driving around in our Renault Elf –

If you’ve never seen an Elf, it’s roughly the size of a Matchbox car. There were four of us in one.
And we end up getting in some questionable parts of the city and the only male in our car suggests we just park and sleep in the car.

I quickly convinced everyone otherwise.

So the first thing that popped into my mind? The airport.

I have no idea why, but I just figured that was a place that was well-lit, had security, and would let us crash all night without asking questions.

So we spent the first night sleeping in an airport.

We went back into the city the next morning and entered the CRAZIEST street fest I’ve ever experienced in my life. All the towns around Valencia build these GIANT paper-mache statues like this:

And for a week, the whole town PARTIES. IT. UP. And not necessarily in a Mardis Gras debaucherous way, but just like – all hours of the day and
night people are on the streets. Dancing, tossing around firecrackers, riding carnival rides, etc.

There were families out all night and little girls in grandiose traditional dresses.

And at the end of the week-long fest?

They set all the statues on fire. Yessss.

The spirit was contagious. Our little homeless, Elf-stuffed group of four was already starting to tread on each other's nerves but once we entered that scene, it was like -Freedom. We quickly started riding the rides, joining the dances, and talking to the locals.

I remember one store owner fell in LOVE with us and forced us to take these little ceramic Owls with us, even though we hadn’t bought anything from her. She was so excited at our little naïve American faces that she was GIGGLING while handing us those owls and telling us they were “good luck! “good luck!”

We got back out on the streets and got Las Fallas bandanas.

Everyone had one so we loved wearing ours and mingling with the crowds while dodging smoke every little bit from random firecrackers. Exhilarating. I have no clue when we finally went to bed. But I do know –

We still had no bed.

So while we stayed in the airport the first night, the second night –

We stayed on the beach.

Well, two of us did. The other two slept inside Elf. And before we got to that point, we had to “get ready for bed” –

In a public bathroom with a broken door in a restaurant .

I distinctly remembering TAKING OUT MY CONTACT LENSES over a dirty sink while pushing the door against an intruder and probably yelling “occupado!” I felt like such a nomad. (And kinda loved it)

But the best part was, when we parked at the beach, it was dark. Two of our group just found some sand and went to bed. By morning –

The entire beach was filled with other sleepers.

Apparently we weren’t the only crazies who hadn’t planned ahead for lodging.

That was an amazing part of my semester. But that was just one weekend.

Next time, I'll tell you about our weekend in Ireland and our 10 Day Backpacking Trip Around Europe.