two weeks ago three friends and i went on a trip for spring break. here’s what happened*.
the trip started off well enough. we spent two nights in madrid, which was pretty good. good in that i’m glad we were only there for two days; i can check madrid off the “seen” list and i don’t really want to go back. i guess it was just underwhelming for me. the first evening we walked to the “parque del buen retiro”. in one of our travel books it said that they held huge 100-man drum circles on sunday nights. what we found was much less than that. there were tons of people in this park, but not really hundreds of drum players, more like a few groups of ten or fifteen people banging on drums. it was still pretty cool. there were lots of vendors and street performers, so it was fun to walk around, but nothing i would leave the states to come visit you know? later that night we headed to the puerta del sol, the main downtown plaza of the city. and again, underwhelmed. we walked around a long time it seemed, looking for a bar area or even just one bar to sit down and have a coke. but we came on nothing good. the best part of the night came when the four of us played the leg game on a bench on one of the busiest streets in madrid. we faced away from the street, all with one leg crossed over the other, and when pedestrians passed us, we would switch crossed legs in unison. and then kevin and blake held their hats out for euros. the young people usually laughed, old folks usually scowled, and the one group of asians that passed us gave us 1 euro. holler.
the next day we went on a free walking tour of the city. that was nice, cause we knocked out most of the big tourist sites in three hours or so. the most impressive thing we saw was for sure the royal palace. if i was ever to go back to madrid, going inside is about the only thing i’d like to do. underwhelming is the best word i can think of to describe the city. everytime we came on a new building or something, the tour guide was like “you’ve seen the sacré-cœur or notre dame in paris? you’ve seen big ben in london? this is madrid’s version of it.” and none of the things we saw came even close to comparing with the other places he named. but whatever. we saw the city which was good. after the tour, we went and bought some groceries for dinner to cook in the hostel kitchen, then we headed back and took a nap. afterward, we made some ridiculously good spaghetti. highlight. after dinner we went on another search to find a bar area, with slightly better luck than the night before. after celebrating st. patrick’s day for awhile, we headed back to our hostel to make a big decision. our flight to valencia left in the morning at 7:30, and the shuttle that was coming to pick us up was gonna come at 5:00, so we could either go to sleep, and wake up really tired, or just stay up all night and see what happened after that. we went with the latter. terrible decision. we spent the night playing 31, a card game kevin taught us, with this cool portugese girl we met in the hostel. and then we left for the airport at 5. just thinking about how tired i was makes my body ache.
the airport was basically a haze of tiredness. we did get an hour of sleep on the flight though, which was nice. our first order of business upon arrival was to find tyler and then the beach. as soon as we came up into the city from the underground metro, i immediately liked what i saw. there was nothing super special, i just had a better feeling about the city than i had about madrid, or any other spanish city i’ve been in for that matter.
we found tyler, dumped all our stuff minus towels in a locker and headed for the beach. the beach was such a beautiful sight for sore eyes. the sand was so soft and fine, there were hardly any waves, and we were flanked on either end of the beach by mountains. gorgeous. we napped on the beach for a few hours, all woke up with some serious sun, then headed off to find a grocery store for dinner. as soon as we got dinner supplies, we rounded the corner of the grocery store and saw the city of the arts and sciences, the biggest science museum in spain. this is a picture of two of the five buildings that make up this killer museum. i fell in love with this place three years ago when i did a report on it for my first spanish class at iowa. seeing it was so cool too. we ate our dinner right off of the biggest building in the set of five main structure. very cool. then we walked around and i took lots of pictures. it kind of sucked because i sort of felt like we were there just cause i wanted to see it, so i didn’t want to stay too long. it was still way way cool though.
here’s where we ran into a bit of a problem. first off, semana santa is a huge deal in spain, and certain cities have bigger than average celebrations. valencia is one of these cities. the festival they celebrate is called “las fallas”, and it basically consists of building gigantic, elaborate, extravagant cardboard/wooden/paper mache statues and burning them on wednesday night. the first picture is of a man-sized falla, and the second is of the same falla close-up.
since we didn’t start looking for places to stay until two weeks before the break, we ended up not being able to find a hostel. so we were “sin techo” (literally, without a roof) for two nights. not a good situation to be in. it’s such a weird feeling though, knowing that you really don’t have anywhere to go, anywhere to sleep. it’s like all sense of time and schedule are thrown completely out the window. by the time we left the museum it was dark, so that was really when i tried to put on my game face. my main goal at this point was just make it to daylight again. so we started to wander. kevin suggested we hit the wal-mart type store and buy some playing cards. after that, we walked for a long time trying to find the concentrated bar area. again, no luck. we ended up on a street corner by some outdoor party or something. four americans, sunburned and cold, with towels around their heads to keep the wind out, playing cards on a street corner and drinking wine and soda. what a bunch of lowlifes. after we got too cold to keep playing, we decided to keep walking. we ended up finding a huge mass of people, and i’m not just talking like a decent sized crowd, i mean probably thousands of people in this gigantic plaza watching this huge fireworks display in the sky. this wasn’t your average small town fireworks show either, this thing was killer. just like a really concentrated twenty minutes of fireworks. sweet.
this is where things got a bit out of hand for me. most of the tons and tons of people in the crowd were drinking at this point, and quite a few of them had fireworks. fireworks and alcohol do not mix well to me. the next hour or so was us sitting around, watching people recklessly handle fireworks. it was actually decently scary. and exciting. the picture here is blake goofing off, just before someone let a firework go that flew through the crowd and hit the girl right next to me in the chest. she was fine. but that was about all i wanted to deal with. so blake and i decided we had had enough of drunks with fireworks so we walked around the city for like an hour looking for a metro stop. we ended up meeting tyler and kevin back at the beach around 6 am or so, and kevin greeted us with the news that beach patrol was out and we couldn’t sleep on the beach until daybreak, for about another hour and a half. that was terrible news. plus it was cold. like way colder than we were expecting. so the other guys hid/slept in shadows, and the cold prevented me from sleep so i sat and watched the sunrise over the beach. it was actually really pretty/miserable. around 7 or so, blake woke up and we decided to go ride the above-ground metro to get warm again. this ended up being a genius idea because it was free and warm and we were undisturbed for a good two hours. we probably rode the whole metro route in a big circle like three or four times. around 9 or so, we headed back to the beach and slept. this was phenomenal sleep for me. i woke up around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, tanned and rested better than i would’ve thought.
we all woke up crazy hungry, so we headed off in the direction of the grocery store. we got there and found it was closed since wednesday was the biggest day of las fallas celebration. horrible. luckily, there was a burger king around the corner which was open. that was one of the best double bacon cheese burgers i’ve ever had in my life. it was right around this time that the bombs started going off around town to herald the start of the big las fallas finale day. right outside burger king while we ate, someone set off like a million fireworks that basically just turned to smoke and totally surrounded the restaurant. it was crazy to see, looking out the window it looked like we were in a war zone. crazy.
after burger king, we walked around the city of the arts and sciences once more, and then we walked through the city up the big dried up riverbed turned huge walkway/city park. it was very cool. we ended up finding the city center, where they had the biggest falla statue. it was a gigantic genie looking thing; reminded me of exactly of Genie from aladdin when jafar has control of him. all gigantic and sad looking. pretty intense. by this time it was around 6 or 7 in the evening so we wandered a bit before finding another burger king and deciding to park it there while we played some more cards and killed a bit of time. the gigantic end finale burning of the genie started at 1 am so we had the evening to get through. after burger king we found a bar close by another big falla statue, and we stayed there until they set this smaller statue on fire. and it was awesome. when it was finally lit up, there was a big crowd really close by, and as soon as it really caught on fire, huge heat waves just radiated out into the crowd and we all moved backward together, it was awesome. after seeing this one go up in flames, we found our way through the intensely packed crowd to our new positions to see the colossal genie burn. it was crazy too, once the crowd really got packed in, there was absolutely no movement possible. like literally, we were shoulder to shoulder close. and we had to wait like that for almost an hour before the genie burned. but once it did, wow. they started off with fireworks shot into the sky, and then once that thing went up in flames, oh man it got so hot. i just realized i have no good pictures of the actual burning of any fallas, only videos. as soon as i figure out how, i will post as many of my videos on facebook as i can.
so that was the end of las fallas. we headed back to the bus station to collect our things and then i went with two of the other guys to the train station for me to wait for six hours for my train to leave and for the other guys to try and find train tickets back to oviedo. by the end of the six hours, blake and eric had gone back to the bus station (there were no available trains that day) and i was left for the last hour and a half before my train left. i started by journaling a little and then when i realized there was no way my eyes would stay open i walked around as much as i could. i explored the whole train station and then walked around the neighborhood since the sun had risen. around twenty minutes until my train boarded, i tried to sit down and my eyes immediately closed and my brain shut down so i had to stay standing up so as not to fall asleep and miss my train. but i made it on, slept the four hours to madrid, navigated the metro to the bus station, got on my bus and slept for another five hours back to oviedo. and then i slept that night for almost twelve hours. completely phenom. it was the perfect ending to this long, long trip.
so madrid kind of sucked, valencia was great, homelessness is awful, and i don’t like partying. and fire is dangerous. it was a good trip, a very good experience for me to have, and i’m glad it’s over now. today marks the start of my first real week of school since break started. two weeks off is nice, but it wrecks havoc on my productivity. but you’ve gotta start somewhere. come on monday, let’s do this.
* possibly the worst blog intro i’ve written yet.