Monday, March 28, 2016

La Samana Santa - Easter

This past week I had Thursay - Monday off of school for Easter break.  I was very excited to see how Easter is celebrated in another country.  Here in Valencia, the most Easter activity is at the beach and here it is called, "La Samana Santa Marinera." There isn't much activity in the center of the city except for additional tourists and the Cathedral.  

This week for Easter, my host mom bought me a traditional Spanish Easter goodie called "Mona de Pascua."  It's a sweet bread and then it also had a chocolate egg with a surprise inside. 

Thursday I went to the beach for a little while since we had nice weather to play volleyball.  Thursday night I went over Hannah's house to hang out with her and some friends.  
Friday Christina's friend came from Salamanca (she's studying there) and I went with them around the city.  
Friday night was pretty cool because we went to a procession at the beach.  There were many processions there all of the Holy Week.  The one that we went to Friday night was the burial, which was called, "Procesión General del Santo Entierro."  Watch the video and find out what it was like!  (No, that is not the KKK.) 

Still kinda scary even though it's not the KKK
I looked up where this tradition of wearing the hooded cloaks came from because I was curious. This is what I found:

 Saturday, my friends and I that were around took a day trip to Dénia.  It is a smaller port city that is located south of the City of Valencia, but is still in the Comunitat Valenciana.  It was about an hour and 45 minutes by bus.  I really enjoyed the city and the time that we spent there.  Our day included hiking up a mountain that contains caves, exploring remains of a castle, and hanging out at the beach.  (To me, what else can someone ask for?!) 

Selfie from mountain side while hiking

View from the inside of the cave

After exploring caves we stopped on the mountainside to eat lunch

Medieval-themed marked where we discovered a candy stand

View of mountain from window in castle tower

Castle ruins

Panorama photo of the port from the castle ruins


Sunset at the beach

Crazy statistics according to my FitBit from our trip
Sunday was Easter and my host mom's daughter came over for lunch with her family.  It was really fun to get to see them visit.  It was her daughter, her daughter's husband, and their four children (Javier, Diego, Blanca, and Lucia).  The youngest is Lucia and she's only 7 months old.  
After they left, I Skyped with my family for a little bit before I went to mass at the Cathedral.  

I hope that everyone had a good Easter!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

¡Las Fallas!

Mascletà, Castillos, Discotecas, la Ofrenda, Streets of Lights,  Falleros, Fallas, Buñelos de Calabaza, Música, Fuego, la Cremà

All of those things that I just mentioned are major factors in the celebration of Las Fallas in Valencia.  The celebration begins on the 15th of March and concludes on the 19th, which is Día de San José.  This marks the spring for the city, and therefore it is brought in with a lot of loud noise.  Also, because Saint Joseph was a carpenter, the people used to burn the left over woodwork and that's how the "fallas" came to be burned.   
Read more about Las Fallas at:

The first thing that I did to start out the celebration of Las Fallas was go to the "Exposició del Ninot." This is where all of the ninots that were made are on display and visitors can vote for the ninots in each category that will not be burned on March 19th.  There are two categories:  ninots infantiles and ninots grandes.  The ninots are constructed with wood, paper maché, and other combustible products.  Below are some of my favorites.  
Museu de Ciences Principe Felipe where the Exposició del Ninot was located, City of Arts & Sciences

Ninots Infantiles

Ninot Infantil

Ninot Infantil

Ninot Infantil

Ninot Grande

Ninot Grande

Me & Ninots Grandes

Ninot Grande
Ninot Grande

Also every day at 2pm since March 1st there have been the mascletà in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento.  I didn't start going until this past week because I have a class that goes until 1:15 but I watched them on tv.  The first time I went I realized how much different it is in person.  It's so loud and the ground shakes so much but that makes it so cool.  The video is from the first day that I went and it was after my class so we weren't able to get a good spot.  But I did go again the past three days and was able to see a lot better because I was able to arrive earlier.  

Something similar to the mascletà that began on the night of March 15 was the fireworks at night that are also known as the "castillo de fuego" that were presented over the river park.  These fireworks were really spectacular and it was cool because we were so close to them.  The fireworks were every night on the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th, each night getting better and better.    

During the nights after the fireworks there were plenty of things to do such as buy foods from food tents in the streets and even go to outside discotecas with cool music.  There were also rock concerts with live bands and I'm not one to stay out late but I really enjoyed all of this after the fireworks. 

One afternoon I went out with my friend Megan to wander around the city and see fallas and eat some buñuelos and chocolate.  Buñuelos are similar to churros (a type of fried dough which are also very popular here) and they are made with pumpkin in them also.  They taste the best if they are fresh and hot and are eaten by dipping them in a cup of hot chocolate (which is thicker than hot chocolate in the US).  Meg and I bought a dozen and put down six each!  There were stands all around the city that were selling these, churros, and other sweets.  

Also on our walk we saw some of the fallas that were on the streets around the center of the city.  

Falla in Plaza de Ayuntamiento

On the night of Thursday, March 17, Christina and I went to see some of the Ofrenda de flores.  Falleras and falleros (men, women, and children) are dressed up in traditional Valencian dress and have a procession through the city bringing flowers to the Virgin Mary in the Plaza de la Virgen.  The falleros are also followed by a band playing Fallas music.  This procession lasts from 3:30pm until almost midnight on March 17th and March 18th.  There is a wooden structure in the plaza in which people place the flowers on and make a beautiful design as her dress.  I wish I was able to record the smell of all the flowers in the plaza as I walked through it because it was so nice and beautiful! Also all of the dresses of the falleras were so beautiful and there were so many of them!

Ofrenda in Plaza de la Virgen with the placing of the flowers on the Virgin

Procession of young falleras during the Ofrenda
On Friday, March 18th I went to my first bull fight in Plaza de los Toros.  They only have bull fights in Valencia during the week of Las Fallas so we took this opportunity to go.  Bull fighting began in the south of Spain and when one were to think of Spain, one of the first symbols of the culture that would come to their head would be a bull fight.  
It was a very exciting experience and it was fun to experience the art and culture it.  Unfortunately, six bulls were killed that evening by two matadores.  

Plaza de los Toros, Valencia

Bull Ring
Banderillo "flagman" - a type of assistant to the matador

Matador - "El Juli"

Picador (

Matador "López Simón"

"López Simón"
That night I also went out with my friends Christina and Jackie to see the lights in Russafa.  They are really pretty and the two main streets also have light shows with music which were really amazing.  The streets were so packed that there was zero personal space watching the light show.  

Light Show

Tower of Lights
Other street with lights and show
Saturday, March 19th, Día de San José is the last day of Las Fallas and the day when all of the fallas and their ninots get burned.  That afternoon I went to the last mascletà and then went home to eat lunch and take a rest before the night of burning began.  After my nap I went to meet up with the rest of my friends at Leo's apartment and we played games all evening until it was time to go out and see the buring, also known as "La Cremà."  When we left her house we went to see a small falla be burned.  It was neat because first they shoot off fireworks, which were really close so we were right underneath them, and then they light a rope that has some fireworks attached and then the fire continues down the rope and lights the falla on fire.  So cool!  After the little one we kept walking to find a big one being burned a little later.  It is the same process.  The large falla got go hot that we had to move backwards and there were so many people I had people right on top of me and no personal space whatsoever.  This was scary but fun at the same time.  

La Cremà of small Falla

At La Cremà

Large falla that we watched get burned

Burning of large Falla
Look at all the smoke!
The last thing for the night was going to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento to see the fireworks and watch them burn the large falla there.  The problem was that because there was so many people we did not arrive early enough where we could see the falla be burned but we still saw the fireworks and were there for the burning.  It was so packed that I was leaning on everyone and everyone was leaning on me.  I think every inch of all the streets going into the plaza was covered with people. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Madrid - Spain's Capital

This past weekend I took a trip via bus with Christina to Spain's capital of Madrid.  The bus ride from Valencia is about 3 and a half hours and we were in Madrid Friday through Sunday.  
What was really neat was that our room at the hostel is located in Plaza Mayor and we were about to go out onto the balcony and look out into the plaza below.  

Plaza Mayor

After we settled into our room, we ate lunch that we had brought with us from home.  Then after we ate, I was looking out on the balcony after I was ready to go out and saw that people were gathering for a free tour so I told Christina and we ran down to catch it.  On this tour we learned a lot about the history of Spain, especially about the kings and what they were known for.  We also saw the oldest restaurant in the world.  Other stops along the way included the cathedral and the royal palace.  

Almudena Cathedral 

In front of the Royal Palace of Madrid

Felipe IV in front of Royal Palace

Plaza de Isabel II and the Opera

Our tour ended in front of the Opera in Plaza de Isabel II.  
After our tour we decided to walk around and see what we could find for ourselves in Madrid.  That's when we stumbled upon the largest doughnut that we have ever seen and decided that we had to buy it and try it.  (It wasn't as good as I hoped it to be.)  
We wandered around for the rest of the day and got dinner in Plaza Mayor where the waiter was really cool.  

The next morning we got up fairly early so that we could get to the Museo de Prado before it got too busy.  Unfortunately they do not allow photos so I don't have any of the inside of the building.  Inside I saw sculptures from Roman and Greek time, and paintings by Velázquez, Sorolla, El Greco, and Goya.  I have studied these pieces and given presentations on them so it was really cool to actually get to see them in person.  I was really impressed by the size of these paintings because when I went to the Louvre I was astonished by how small the Mona Lisa actually is.  

Museo del Prado
After lunch we did a little more wandering around and found a nice cafe to have lunch where we sat down for a while and relaxed.  On our wandering we came across some important things to see while in Madrid such as Las Cibeles, the Ayuntamiento building, and Puerta de Alcalá.  

Las Cibeles

Ayuntamiento de Madrid

Puerta de Alcalá

After lunch we wanted to explore Parque del Retiro where we found some really interesting trees (that look like broccoli to me), the lake where people can rent boats and row around, Palacio de Cristal, and Palacio de Velázquez. I thought it was pretty cool that inside of the Palacio de Cristal that they had a collection of fossil bones hanging from the ceiling.  

While we were wandering around the city it started getting dark and we were lucky enough to have ended up outside of the Royal Palace in front of the gardens to see the sunset.  I think that was one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend.  (In my picture I was able to capture the picturesque sunset along with the palace, its gardens, the moon, and a little bit of the city behind the palace.)  

Another view of the palace from the gardens during sunset
After the sun set we were in search of a place to eat dinner and we ended up going to a really cool restaurant that was lit up in green lights right next to the river.  On the way, we saw this view that I thought was really cool of the palace and cathedral from across the river.  

The next morning we were off to see the Temple of Debod.  This was really neat to see because this temple was a gift to Spain that originally was in Egypt.  Inside there are hieroglyphics on the walls and I was able to explore various rooms.  Behind the temple there was a really cool view of the city.  

Our last few hours that we had left we continued to walk around the city and we found Plaza de España.  And before we left, we finally found the bear and tree statue, which is the official symbol of Madrid.  We didn't know but we passed it a couple times in Puerta del Sol. 

At the fountain in Plaza de España

This weekend I tried two very typical foods of Madrid, which are Calamari sandwiches and candies that are shaped and taste like violets.  

This week begins Las Fallas in Valencia, which is a huge celebration in honor of St. Joseph.  This will include a lot of fireworks, parades, food, and fires.  I can't wait to share all my experiences during this celebration in my next blog next week!