With family and friends told, the commitment was made and there was no turning back. But then I found out about Las Fallas, and the more I learned about this festival, the more I started to wonder if Valencia maybe wasn't for me after all. This is a festival like no other in the world. It's full of fireworks and loud bangs; two things I really, really don’t like. A party atmosphere descends upon the whole city for a month; this I do like. It's akin to a family friendly Carnaval, with lots of unnecessary sugary snacks and booze. The festival kicks off with a wicked fireworks show in late February. Then from 1st March until the 19th, there are constant fireworks and gut-rumbling bangs. Seriously, constant.
Every day at 2pm there is the Mascleta in the main plaza in town, where different clubs set off fireworks that are more about the volume than the visual. It is the loudest thing I have ever heard. No-one was wearing ear plugs except the health and safety conscious Brits. I found this unbelievable considering the noise. I'm glad I haven't been to war or I would have been triggered as fuck. In my case, it just reminded me of some of my favourite war films. The vibration, noise, and atmosphere are impossible to imagine. Luckily for you, I took my 360 camera so you don't need to imagine. You can have a look at it right now. I recommend watching with a VR headset. The final ninety seconds are intense!
There are several "proper" fireworks displays throughout the festival as well. You know, the kind you have at night so you can see them, rather than during siesta time. Well, the guys in Valencia know how to put on a pyrotechnic show. I watched all the major ones and they were phenomenal. I tried my best to capture what I could but my videos don't do it justice. I'd like to say you have to be there but I actually think that in a few years, a camera will exist that renders that mantra untrue!
Not only are there official fireworks and bangers, there is also seemingly a relaxation on all laws to do with noise. Anyone can set off firecrackers at any time. I never thought I'd see two year olds throw firecrackers that were big enough to actually scare me. But they do it constantly, while their parents watch on with increasing inebriation.
It's a fantastic part of Valencian culture that is difficult to describe. From as young as two years old, kids and teenagers test their nerve with these loud firecrackers, which range in size from loud to Big Bang loud. They throw them at each other, at strangers, and at themselves. It is mad! I can't actually believe how much fun these kids have. Maybe I wouldn’t have such a fear of bangs if we had a similar celebration in the UK. “We have bonfire night!” I hear you cry! But trust me, it is nothing like this. For example, outside our apartment for six hours straight, four kids threw firecrackers every twenty seconds. Their parents didn't even watch over them. It's legal, it's probably unsafe, it's damaging to your ears, but it's also fun as hell when you're seven years old.
One of my students was really keen to induct me into the world of firecrackers, and it was all we talked about in our classes for weeks! Eventually I conceded and let him take me to a pyro shop to buy some. These shops started popping up from early March, ready for the official selling period to open; these firecrackers can only legally be sold and used in the city during this festival. The shops have strict rules about how many people can be in there at any given point, so we stood outside to study the catalogue for a while. There were fireworks like the ones we have back home for bonfire night, and these ranged in price and size quite dramatically. But what I was really interested in were the firecrackers. We don’t have these in the UK so I had no idea what to expect.
The most innocuous ones were actually familiar – you know those paper balls you’d get in a box of sawdust, that make a tiny bang when you throw them at the pavement? Well those are the absolute most basic Fallas paraphernalia available, and they come in three sizes, the largest of which already reaches some significant decibels. Then there are the ones you have to light before throwing. I’m not going to bore you by trying to describe the different levels of bang that they create, but I bought the smallest, and second smallest ones available. Each came in a box of 100, which was far too many! They were so cheap and there were so many deals on that I could have bought 600 of the things for €6. They basically look like tiny sticks of dynamite, which I suppose they are. The bangs were loud enough to give me a bit of a fright and I was too chicken to test them out with my student in the middle of the day! Dave had fun throwing a few one evening, but the novelty soon wore off.
Then there are ones that shoot up like rockets, whizz around the pavement, shoot sparks, scream or simply let off a blinding stream of light…and no matter the type, they always end with a huge BANG! The firecrackers I bought were shockingly tiny compared to some that were available, and the photo below shows the smallest one I got, compared to a really huge one, knows as a borracho, which behaves like this when lit:
|My tiny 2cm microcracker next to a 12cm borracho!|
The fireworks and firecrackers are scary, mesmerising, bizarre and like nothing we’ve experienced before. But Fallas isn't just a festival of loud bangs. Oh no, that's only half the story. The official public holiday begins on 15th March and over the following five days, the parties really start! But that’s another tale for another blog...
|Opening ceremony fireworks and light display|
|Scorch marks on the street from all the firecrackers!|
|One of the many paella cook-offs on the streets during Fallas|