Valencia, Spain

Trip Start Feb 27, 2008
Trip End May 28, 2008

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Still day 11
We arrived in Valencia at mid day with no reservations. The old town is surrounded by a dried-up river bed that has been converted into a large park. We stayed for 3 days in Valencia and never did leave old town. There is plenty to do in the center of the city.
We realized almost as we were on the way there that Valencia was preparing for it's biggest annual party "Las Fallas" this is like Carnival to Rio or Paddy's day to Ireland. All of the neighborhoods in the city decorate their streets with lights and build giant floats that symbolize an iconic moment from the previous year. For 5 days (March 14-19) they stay up all night and drink and party and light fireworks and have a good time. At the end of a parade, they light all of the floats on fire and watch the airbrushed plywood and paper mache burn to cinders. This is symbolic of leaving the old year behind and starting over again. Even though we weren't there for the official festival, there were still Pre-fallas activities going on and we got enough of the experience without paying the primo hotel prices.
In the afternoon we strolled through the streets and enjoyed the decorations. We also toured the Cathedral in the city center. This cathedral is awesome by itself, a mixture of Gothic and Neo-classical architecture. It also has paintings by Goya, one of the larges gold processionals in the world and, is also the keeper of the Holy Grail that is recognized by the Vatican as the cup that Christ drank from at the last supper. Whether or not it actually IS the Holy Grail doesn't matter, it still brings in 1,000s of visitors a year.
I stayed up late that night working on my blog, I was terribly behind and had to work for hours to catch up. It seems a little daunting trying to keep up with everything we're doing but I'm determined to do it, even if I fall behind.

Day 12 - Fireworks and Bullfighting
We slept in a bit and enjoyed every minute of it. We wandered down to the center of town and had lunch while we waited for the big activity of the day. Fireworks! Every day in the week leading up to Las Fallas, a different pyrotechnician is featured in the city square. At 2 o'clock they have a fireworks display and it's like nothing I've ever seen before. Chinese fireworks are all about the looks, flashes of color and showers of sparks. These fireworks are primarily Loud bangs and whistles, set off in a particular order to make audible art. There are some sparks and things that shoot off in the air but there's definitely more focus on how it sounds rather than how it looks. After the fireworks show we walked down and bought tickets to see a bullfight. Another Spanish tradition and a popular event during Las Fallas, there is a fight every evening during the festival. We were surprised to find that tickets to these events can range from around 10 euros up to 2000 euros for the most popular seats close to the action. We were initially attacked by scalpers (which Karla fought off with vigor), and we bought some cheap seats from the box office for 12 euros. They were in the sun, but the bull ring is round (obviously) and there really wasn't a bad seat in the house. I know that most of you PETA people in Eugene are wincing and foaming at the mouth and thinking up nasty things to write in response, but before you do that, consider this. The bulls that are entered into the bullfight are selected from a group for their ferocity, strength, endurance, and bravery. Those not selected are sent directly to the butchers; do not pass go, do not collect $200. Those who ARE chosen are branded and sent back to the ranch where they get to live and breed for three years before they fight. I know the process may be cruel and albeit, strange. But from beginning to end it really doesn't last that long. If you're in PETA, just skip to the next day's entry. I don't care if meat is murder...
A bull fight works like this....
The bull is introduced into the ring and "tested". The matadors assistants wave capes around and aggravate the bull while the matador watches it's strength and speed.  Round 1 begins when two men on horseback enter the ring and stab the bull in the neck to weaken it's neck muscles. The bull doesn't just sit and let this happen though, it usually charges the man on horseback and SLAMS into the horse at full speed attempting to gore it. The horse and rider are protected with a layer of armor to protect it from the bull and the horse is blindfolded so it doesn't see the bull coming. This is what seemed so strange to me. The horses, though blindfolded, just stood there and let the bull root its horns underneath it, attempting to disembowel it (until the 1900's there was no protection for the horse and it usually died from the bull's attack). The horse was surprisingly calm through this whole endeavor. It looked just slightly annoyed by the automobile sized thing with horns slamming into it at full speed.
After this, round two: three men run past the bull and stick decorated barbs into the bulls shoulders to lower it's head and loosen it's neck muscles further. This may or may not protect the matador from a surprise upward thrust, a goring waiting to happen.
Round three: The matador brings out his red cape (muleta) and begins the fight. This is the most important and dangerous part of the process. The matador taunts the bull with the cape, getting it to charge very close to him. For years I thought it was the color of the cape that aggravated the bull, but that is not true. Bulls are color blind. The cape is traditionally colored red so that it doesn't get visibly stained with blood during the fight. I don't understand much about this part of the bullfight but apparently the bull fighter is judged by the crowd based on his courageousness during the fight. A matador may do a number of things to prove his courage to the crowd: place the cape behind his back, strike elaborate poses, turn his back on the bull and walk away without looking, present himself to the bull first before the cape, get on one knee while leading the bull past. We even saw one matador toss his cape and fall to his knees displaying his chest to the bull, challenging it to charge. I couldn't believe my eyes, these guys are just plain crazy. After the matador leads the bull for a time, he takes a sword from the side and plunges it into the bulls heart from its neck. This is very difficult because the bull has only a small area where the sword can enter between the shoulder blades and if a matador doesn't get this on the first try it's considered bad form and the crowd is generally displeased. After a particularly good fight, the crows will stand and cheer while the matador takes a victory lap. Women will throw roses and men will toss their caps if it's a particularly courageous fight. Immediately following the fight the bull id drug out of the ring by horses and immediately dressed and quartered in the butcher shop that sits behind most bull fighting rings. I heard from a local that all of the meat is donated to feed the hungry so I guess there is something benevolent behind the strange and gruesome sport. It was neat to see the traditional clothing and all the guys dressed up in sequins and funny hats, and I'm really glad I went, although unless I was going with someone who had never been before I doubt I would go again. After the fight we ate dinner and retuned to the hostel where we laid low for the evening. Karla wrote in her journal and I updated my blog a little more. It's better now that I had some decent internet and didn't have to sit out in the cold to get it. We had a 6 bedroom dorm in that particular hostel but there were no other people in our room. The privacy was nice because we could leave our shoes on the floor and not pick up after ourselves and sleep in late without being disturbed.

Day 13 - Travel
Today was filled with sitting, and waiting. We caught the train from Valencia to Barcelona in the morning. Three hours on the train passed easily, in the early afternoon we arrived in Barcelona and to the underground to the bus line. The bus to the Gerona airport took another hour. We arrived at the airport a full 6 hours before our flight so we sat in some very uncomfortable seats and read to pass the time. When we arrived in dublin we rode the airbus to where our hostel was and checked in. I was so tired from doing nothing that I couldn't even go out that night. It's amazing how sitting around all day can make you tired.
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