“Luce! Luce!” I shout, staring down at my feet while in Valencia’s Plaza del Ayuntamiento. My amigaHeather has already jetted across the street, looking back at me confused as I whip my camera out to snap shots of the ground.
“It’s Luce!” I say as I run to meet her, pointing out stickers scattered all along the marble sidewalks. Heather quickly catches on. After all, she’s no stranger to my over-the-top enthusiasm for Valencia street art.
Only about six months ago, I dragged her all over the city so that I could do research on its top artists for an article I wrote for Off Track Planet. In doing so, I became a semi-expert on spotting urban masterpieces in Spain’s third largest city, developing an eye for favorites like Hyuro, Julieta and of course Escif (whose art I even happened upon in the streets of San Francisco). Now, wandering around Valencia I feel like I’m on a secret scavenger hunt to find nuggets of genius street art expression hiding in the most unexpected places.
And on this most recent trip, I did just that, discovering a jackpot of work by the artist Luce. He breaks urban art molds by going rather untraditional; from stickers splashed across city sidewalks to wood installations pegged to exposed building beams.
He also takes an unconventional and, in my opinion, refreshing approach to tagging. Instead of lazily scrawled letters littering every imaginable town corner, he opts for a simple monochrome block font. Always strategically placed, his name just seems to fit in. The big bold script compliments its surroundings instead of tainting them.
After many return visits, Valencia has become a sort of playground for me, filled with more than just sunny terrazas, flower-boxed balconies, and paella-serving restaurants. The city breathes art, which evolves, changes and gets swapped out with new surprises as quickly as the seasons. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll discover on my next visit.
I’ve got a little secret to share: a little place called Jávea in the province of Alicante. I probably shouldn’t be telling you about this secret, but you’ll just keep it between you and me, right?
Located on the eastern coast of Spain, the beach town of 30,000 people stands out among the hundreds of other coastal pueblos. I can’t quite put my finger on just one thing – perhaps it’s the manicured and well-kept streets, or maybe the attractive quintessentially Spanish homes, or even the white-pebbled beaches. Then of course you can’t avoid falling in love with the rocky hillsides that jet out of the lush vineyard-covered valleys. Somehow, little Jávea blends the classy charm of Northern Spain and the laid-back vibe of the South.
I was hypnotized. And hardly taking any pictures. Guilty as charged.
We stayed at a friend’s sprawling vacation home that hangs on the hillside facing the sea. From there, we watched as sail boats swirled around in the bay. The next day, we were on one of those sailboats, jumping off the back into the salty Mediterranean waters, spying blue- and silver-tinted fish under the sea, and noshing on fried almonds.
It was horrible. Horribly horrible. I wouldn’t recommend it. Forget that I told you about any of this.
I went to Valencia last weekend to experience Spain’s famous fire-filled festival – Las Fallas. Forget Fallas, though – the fire part anyway. I think there are more important subjects to discuss here, like the abundance of churros con chocolate. You knew I’d find a way to make this about the food, didn’t you?
Us Americans (or Californians at least) have grown up with some version of the Mexican churro – that crispy but chewy fried stick of dough rolled in layers of cinnamon and sugar. Sure, those are pretty darn good, but they aren’t the churros I’m talking about here. Spanish churros, like their Mexican counterparts, are also made of fried batter, but are instead shaped like a looped raindrop. And while they don’t come with a dousing of sugar, they do come with a side of hot chocolate, which, let’s be honest, totally beats those amateur wannabes that we eat in the US. The hot chocolate is a treat unto itself – it’s dense and somehow light (to taste anyway), and ready to be dipped, drank or downed.
So what has this got to do with Valencia and Las Fallas? Well, it just so happens that during this festival (and many of Spain’s festivals for that matter), Valencia converts into a churros and chocolate wonderland. Halelueia! For every falla (the structures errected throughout the city and burned at the week’s end), there certainly must be at least one or two churros stands just ready and waiting to serve the hungry (translation: drunk) masses at all hours of the day.
These stands don’t just stop at serving the typical churros and hot chocolate – they also tempt us with their chocolate covered churros, and ginormous churro-y tubes stuffed with something (who cares what, really) and then topped off with sprinkles (SOLD!). Then there are the porras – a fatter, less attractive version of the churro, but equally delicious.
It turns out that the already over-the-top selection of sweets mentioned above just isn’t quite enough for this festival of flames, fireworks and apparently fried foods. There is one more detail you might notice at these stands – it’s the hanging pumpkins (which naturally got my American attention, causing visions of Halloween and pumpkin pie to dance in my head). This is because Valencia happens to specialize in buñuelos de calabaza (basically pumpkin donuts).
Before you get all geeked out about the pumpkin part (like I did), let me clarify – these pastries taste nothing like pumpkin. Tear, I know. The good news is that they are basically the most amazing donut-like concoctions on the planet. Fresh out of the fryer, they throw them into a bag with sugar, shake them up, and hand them over so that you may commence with your heart attack. You can imagine my disappointment when I accidentally ordered a bulging bag of twelve…
I realize this begs the question – where is a picture of these pumpkin-y treats? I would have taken one, but I was kinda busy eating. Priorities.
*Have I left you longing to learn more about Las Fallas?? Stay tuned – in the coming days Gogobot will be featuring a blog of mine about the festival (I will post a link here once it is up). You can also see pictures on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.
I used to like to ski. I started when I was just a little tike – my dad would leave me at the kiddy ski-school where I would practice my pie-slice formation as I slowly worked my way down the miniature hills of the bunny slopes. When I hit about 20-years-old, I decided to reignite my “passion” for ski (stop laughing). I bought myself a season pass, some awesome ski pants, and was seriously entertaining the idea of getting some skis. Then I went skiing and it occurred to me that not only did the idea of careening down a steep incline on slippery sticks seem like a terribly bad idea, but I absolutely hated being cold. Really, really hated being cold. I haven’t gone skiing since.
So this brings me to last Saturday’s scuba adventure when I sat submerged under ten meters of freezing cold, murky water while I got sloshed around like I was in the laundry cycle. Wrapped up like a sausage in my dive suit, all I could hear was the sound of my oxygen mask and my really loud thoughts saying “didn’t we agree, Tortuga Viajera, that all activities involving being cold truly suck!?? Oh, look, there’s a fish. Oooooh, hello fishy. But back to the point, Tortuga, what the heck are you doing!?!?” This was nothing like diving in Thailand where the weather was toasty and the water was crystal clear. Talk about false advertising.
This was the first of what should have been four dives in the Mediterranean off the coast of Murcia. I was there to get scuba diving certified so that Jacobo and I could go diving in Tenerife this coming December (which, gosh darn it, better be warm or else the only place I’ll be diving is in a jacuzzi). Our dives were cut short, however, presumably because they realized, after the first three dives, that it was a miracle that none of us drowned or went into hypothermic shock. So, with that, we were faced with the option of staying in Murcia, a region of Spain seemingly covered in plastic due to its countryside being full of covered vegetable crops, or check out some place new. The idea of staying in Murcia at our bizarre hotel was indeed tempting – at first I thought it was the worst hotel on the planet, but then I found myself relishing in finding new tacky animal figurines nestled in peculiar corners of the building (plus, I really do appreciate how they’ve embraced Halloween like no other Spaniards have). I would go into more detail about the strangeness of this establishment, but will refrain for fear that I might offend someone who happens to really like excessive amounts of animal figurines. (But Mom, seriously, I think you should consider getting rid of that weird stone rabbit in the backyard. The turtle, however, can stay, for obvious reasons.)
The idea of possibly better weather elsewhere was the deal breaker, so we hit the road and headed north to the community of Valencia. We were wrong, the weather was still horrible (and by horrible, I mean below 75℉), but at least I wasn’t haunted in my sleep by stone troll statues coming to life. For this second part of our journey we stayed in the coastal town of Altea, where we spent the day traversing its hillside streets, and stopping for drinks, coffee and tea in just about every spot in town. The highlight was surely our coffee on the terrace of the restaurant La Claudia where we were able to savor a full view of the Mediterranean and city below us. Not having had enough, we returned there later for a spectacular dinner, which was hardly Spanish, but rather a bit more San Francisco-ish (fusion cuisine versus large traditional dishes). Each dish was perfect, and made a break from my cherished Spanish cuisine a sacrifice worth making. My life is so rough.
Now I’m back in Madrid and still not a certified diver. I’m only certifiably insane for subjecting myself to an experience that can only most closely be compared to that of a stranded Titanic passenger. Let’s just hope that Tenerife can turn my scuba-frown upside down.
This post is a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa carnival in which travel bloggers share some of their most regrettable trips. Head over to The Turkish Life to read more.
*As usual, pictures of the trip can be found on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page. Don’t get too excited – there aren’t any of me in my super attractive, full body scuba gear.
I lay in bed at 3AM on Sunday morning staring straight at the ceiling of my hotel room in Valencia contemplating whether the horns and chanting would ever end. Would they stop at daylight? Sometime the next day? Maybe a week from now? “Yo soy español, español, español” , “a por ellos, oé, oé, oé”….and then at some point I started hearing “Go bananas, B.A.N.A.N.A.S.” and realized that I was no longer actually hearing people outside, but had officially lost my mind after hours of unrelenting horns and cheers celebrating Spain’s World Cup win.
That night my friend Heather had brilliantly reserved us a table for dinner at an outdoor terraza with big screen TVs. In the warm, sticky Valencia evening weather, we watched the game with hundreds of strangers, who felt more like family given how we all rallied behind our team (except for the random Dutch folk who were proudly bedecked in orange). Every few minutes, our small crowd would begin chanting, and when the game was finally won, we all flew out of our seats cheering and knowing that this was only the beginning of the celebration. We headed down to town hall square where what must have been thousands of people gathered, all covered head to toe in red and yellow and fanatically waving Spanish flags of all sizes.
If Valencia was wild, then Madrid would be pure pandemonium. A part of me was sad that I missed being at home with all the madrileños to celebrate the big win. Fortunately, with the team’s return home on Monday, the excitement of the win would be as electric the following night, if not more so, considering the players would be parading through the Madrid streets.
On Monday evening Jacobo and I headed downtown, parking just outside of the city center and then cabbing it about a mile or so to where the parade would be passing. We eagerly sped walked past the famous Puerta de Alcalá and down the middle of the street where we were greeted by the expansive view of the people-filled Plaza de Cibeles and junction of Gran Vía and Alcalá. Walking in the middle of the usually chaotic Madrid streets and seeing those same streets overtaken by more than one million people in red and yellow was nothing short of emotional. I couldn’t help but wonder what in the US could ever possibly unite us in such a way, patriotically or otherwise? All of these people, so proud of their country, so proud to be Spanish…I felt just a little jealous that we don’t come together that way back in the States. Hmm, maybe we need a little more fútbol in our lives.
We weaved our way to the Cibeles fountain (my favorite in Madrid) where the Goddess Cibeles brightened up her outfit of stone with a Spanish flag cape. It is there that we managed to stake out a spot in front of a police van and then devise our plan – when the team’s bus arrived, I’d hop up on Jacobo’s shoulders, bracing myself on the van, and capture it all on video. Genius!
We waited for an hour during which time our friends Manu and Tito arrived and joined us. They came on their motorbikes (the only way to really get around Madrid efficiently), but not without a hitch – Tito’s beloved Spanish flag got jammed in the spokes of his tire, delaying their arrival. Fortunately, Manu was able to represent though – below is a video that Tito valiantly took of Manu during their drive into the city. Thankfully, Manu’s flag didn’t see the same tragic fate as Tito’s.
Despite the wait, the crowd was so full of enthusiasm that the buzz of excitement kept my adrenalin at full throttle the entire time. We watched the junction of Gran Vía and Alcalá carefully, waiting to see when the onlookers would begin to grow more animated, signaling the arrival of the team. Right as we started to see the first police cars parting the crowd, seven fighter jets flew overhead trailing red and yellow smoke behind them. What an introduction!
As the team approached, I climbed (ungracefully) up onto Jacobo’s shoulders and took it all in. The crowd continued cheering, fireworks went off, and confetti burst into the air showering the already red and yellow crowd with flecks of patriotic paper. My heart raced as I balanced filming, keeping my red dress down, and not completely falling over onto the van behind me. Before we knew it the team had passed and the crowd began to separate. Below is the wobbly video I took as I nervously juggled filming vs. tumbling down, or God forbid, flashing everyone.
Back at our house about a half an hour later, we watched the remainder of the parade (which lasted six hours in total!!!) hardly able to believe our eyes even though we’d seen it all for ourselves.
Today, the Wednesday after the game, Spanish flags still hang from everyone’s balconies (I can count 12 just looking out from my apartment!), and stream from the windows of people’s cars. They are proud to be “campeones,” but even more proud to be Spaniards. I’m so lucky to share in it all.
As many of you may know, I will be getting married to my very own Spaniard next week. My father arrives tomorrow, followed by the trickling in of another 40 American guests. My guess is that I will be signing off for now, although I hope to start posting again from our honeymoon in Southeast Asia. So, until then, adiós and wish me luck! Oh, and que viva España!!!