Dia de la Comunidad de Valencia

Another month, another huge festival in Valencia. We should be used to this by now but we're not. Valencia Day commemorates when King Jaime expelled the Moors from the city and took back power in 1238. It is a day that has apparently been celebrated every year since then, so it's a pretty long tradition! It also coincides with the day of San Dionisio, traditionally considered Valencia's patron saint of lovers.

Every year celebrations are held on 9th October, a day that starts like all holidays in Valencia; there's an enormous fireworks display at midnight. This year it was a sight to behold and makes it into my top three favourite fireworks displays that I've seen in Valencia. That might not sound like much, but let's not forget the epic displays during Las Fallas, as well as the fireworks that seen to go off here every week for one reason or another.

This was our second time experiencing Valencia Day, so the next few paragraphs merge what we did over the two celebrations, into one mega description!

The patron saint of lovers part of the festival involves the men giving their sweethearts a silk scarf wrapped around a delicious assortment of sweet marzipan, shaped into brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. This tradition is known as Mocaorà. We did not take part because I am not one for romance and Katie is not one for marzipan. The tradition did look beautiful though and we both enjoyed the visual treats in every baker's window. It was a no-sugar day though, besides which we have given up junk food as part of Sober October, so a double reason to not have any almondy goodness.

Once this first procession ended, we were left with a Mascleta to enjoy. I'm sure you know by now, but to remind you, a Mascleta is an extremely loud firework/firecracker display that is very common in Valencia - we hear at least one a week. Community groups put them on to celebrate certain events, and the main square (Plaza de Ayuntamiento) hosts several big ones throughout the year, such as for this one, and those during Las Fallas. We even saw coloured smoke in this one, which was a new sight. We were positioned brilliantly and our 360 recording is as good as you've come to expect from us. We still didn't see anyone wearing hearing protection though! I guess ears are just made differently here and don’t suffer from the same damage that ours do.

After the fireworks, we explored the medieval market, which was set but all around the Torres de Serranos and across the lovely old bridge opposite. This kind of market pops up a few times a year, and we enjoyed people watching and choosing what food to eat while trying to imagine what life was like back then.

The final parade of the day was the big one, with groups dressed as Christians and Moors marching through the city. King Jaime (aka James) the First seized power in the city over 800 years ago, freeing it from the Moors and returning it to Christian rule. This is celebrated in fine style, as people in intricate outfits, dancers, horses, camels, and some tastefully decorated floats make their way around the old town. It was awesome to watch and really showed off the commitment of Valencians to brass bands and festivals. They truly love it here!

We outstayed our welcome though and watched/filmed the parade in the rain for hours until our feet grew tired. We really weren't expecting it to last as long as it did…but nonetheless it was another wonderful day in the city of Valencia and a great time to visit, if you are so inclined. If not, watch our 360 VR experience of the day to learn more about the day and enjoy it all from the comfort of your headset. Until next time!

Seville Bullfights and Feria

I never finished telling you all the wonderful, and sometimes bloody things we did in Seville. We'll get to the wonderful shortly, but let's start with the bloody. I don’t like to stay away from controversy and if a culture accepts extreme violence towards animals, in the name of sport, I'd be damned if I weren't to watch it. I'm referring to the bullfighting, La Corrida, which involves matadors, barbed sticks (banderillas) and the slaughter of several bulls during an evening.

I had so far managed to widely ignore what goes on inside these bullrings that look so beautiful from the outside, despite the prevalence of bullfights on TV. Who uses TV when there's Netflix and YouTube? I think part of me likes surprises and I knew I wanted my first time to be in the flesh. For example, going into the experience, I did not know whether the bull definitely dies in the ring… I left Seville's bullring knowing that they most certainly are killed (except in rare circumstances) and they are toyed with beforehand.

What is brutal by today's standards, probably was fairly pedestrian back in the pre-Roman times when the tradition started along the Mediterranean coast. It really has a rich history going back millennia and that makes it particularly difficult to stop. I'm not convinced it should be stopped. 

Katie (who didn't go to the fight) and I get into quite a rich conversation about it in our 360 experience, where we discuss the life of the bull compared to an average cow. You also get to experience the atmosphere inside a bullring, getting up close and personal with the grim climax, as the bullfight advances through the various tercios (stages). It's a more nuanced topic than I would have thought at first glance.

Right, that's enough violence for one post. Let's go back to Seville and the reason why these bullfights were happening in the first place. We visited during their biggest celebration of the year, their Feria de Abril (April Fair), and it was magical. Everyone dresses in their best attire - men in suits and women in the most extravagant flamenco-inspired dresses Euros can buy. They all head to a section of town that is taken over by casetas - private marquees belonging to different social clubs and organisations. Hundreds of clubs throw private parties in this festival area. It's an odd collection of marquees that are sectioned off from one another with doormen at every entrance, ensuring that no trespassers with 360 cameras can enter…

Inside the casetas, everyone is drinking Rebujito to stay hydrated. Rebujito is a dry white sherry called manzanilla that is mixed with Sprite. Delicious, refreshing and not too strong, which is good because you need to stay hydrated! A big part of the feria is the dancing, and people all over the place were spinning, clapping and twirling in a style called sevillana. It's not too dissimilar to flamenco (though there are a few differences) and it was really fun to watch. People in Seville learn this dance when they are kids and people of all ages were getting up and joining in the fun.

As well as dancing from place to place, people take a horse and carriage, which is very traditional and reminds me of an old school western. The issue with horses is the smell that comes with them. With a dusty floor and this distinct odour in the air, the Feria really is a Spanish cowboy festival!

It's a great festival to visit, and with clothing fashions changing and the grand entrance way into the festival site designed anew each year, I can see why people would flock to Seville year after year. The only downside for a tourist is that much of the festival is off-limits, as the casetas are nearly all private celebrations. There are a few public casetas but they don’t seem have the heart and atmosphere of the private ones. The sense we got was that tourists were welcome but not encouraged. And that's okay. This is a festival for Seville and an Andalusian holiday, and we still got pretty close to the authentic experience… Just like you can in the 360 experience!

And that about wraps up Seville. What a city! From the buildings, to the culture and the atmosphere, we were blown away. It's definitely one of our favourite cities in Spain and that's saying something because Spain is pretty damn awesome. Thanks for reading, enjoy the photos, and see you next time.

Seville Bullring - Home to a violent tradition


And gruesome!

Welcome to Feria!
Full of horses...


More horses...


and rebujito!

Where Next with the Blog?

Hogueras de San Juan, Alicante

Hello dear reader. It's been a while since I sat down and thought about writing a blog post. Katie and I have had a crazy summer, and I'm using crazy in the frat party kind of way and not in the mental disturbance kind of way (the amount of this has remained reliably constant). We've had a pretty excellent time with lots of travels, including the following:

  • We drove south from Valencia to Alicante and spent time with Katie's uncle Graeme - a lovely chap who has started his new “life in flip-flops” in Spain. I love the sentiment but I frankly find flip-flops too uncomfortable to be spending my life in them.
  • We spent a wonderful ten days in Norway with midnight sun, stunning landscapes, and a family reunion in a beautiful rural village.
  • We had a lovely week in the Lake District in the UK celebrating Katie's Massi (aunt) turning 50!
  • We did a four week roadtrip around northern Spain (plus Andorra and a bit of France) exploring and capturing this wonderful part of the world in 360.
  • And while we were in London we filmed a 360 3D short film, Living in Sim, that is hopefully coming to a film festival near you.
It's been the best kind of madness but left me little time to update the blog posts that were accompanying each 360 video we released. Katie and I, as well as everyone else involved in the various VR projects we have going on, are working hard to make our business profitable and something that can sustain and grow, and as a result, the blog has taken a back seat.

We started the blog in 2011 as a way of keeping our family and friends informed of what we were up to in Korea. It soon became our attempt at chronicling our adventures for our future selves, as well as providing hopefully useful information to other travellers. These (hopefully) funny and curious blogs lost something when they became an addition to the 360 travel vlogs we are making. I felt forced into writing a weekly post and keeping it on the topic of travel. This blog has always been a place for me to work out and communicate ideas. Thinking and writing something publicly, even if only five people read it, means I take more care in forming my thoughts. In a world where a tweet from eight years ago can be brought back to ruin a career, writing regular posts about things you are trying to understand is more dangerous than beneficial.

We live in strange times and I want to continue to blog, despite the blogosphere being a shadow of its former self. It's for selfish reasons mainly, as the Morning Calm Blog Book is one of my most prized possessions. In an ever changing world full of technology, endless outrage, and higher living standards than ever before, I want to use this blog to clarify my thoughts and point out the absurdities and contradictions of culture at home, on the web, and on our travels. I’ll continue to try and be humorous when pointing out things and I want future Dave to look back at present Dave's stupidity and laugh.

The blog posts will still be based around travel and we have a lot to talk about, as we have been exploring and learning about Spain at a rate that can only be done by young people with limited work commitments. This privileged life is something worth writing about. And hopefully worth reading about too.

Churches and Parks in Seville

There's still so much to tell you about Seville! This time we're going to talk about some beautiful churches, the UNESCO World Heritage cathedral, an odd religious experience, and some stunning areas of greenery and open spaces!
We have two 360 videos for you this week, one about the religious buildings and another about the parks.

Let’s start at the UNESCO World Heritage cathedral in the centre of the city, which may well be the main tourist spot in Seville and something you simply can’t miss if you ever visit. This huge cathedral is the centrepiece of the city and is magnificent from every angle.
When they were planning the design, the city elders supposedly said, “Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it finished will think we are mad.” I think they nailed it!
The cathedral took over a century to build, finishing in 1506. Imagine being involved in the construction at the beginning, knowing that you and your children were unlikely to see it finished. There’s something incredibly noble about these buildings that spanned the generations. I can’t even imagine working on one project for longer than a few months without changing to something new. The modern condition is almost the opposite of these generational construction projects.
Originally a mosque stood in the same spot, but it was knocked down to make room for the world’s third biggest cathedral (although some argue it is the biggest!!)
42 meters high and with over 80 chapels, this truly is a beast of a religious building and was so intricate and beautiful, it touched our hearts. We spent so much time walking around it, sitting by it to eat or drink, and just marvelling at its beauty. You can’t miss it when you’re in Seville, and why would you?!
Besides the cathedral, there are over 100 churches in Seville of all different styles and designs. Mudéjar architecture (a Moorish design) is lovely and there were many fine examples across the city. The main stand-out church for me was the Church of St Louis of France, a Jesuit church, which is no longer in use as a religious building. It’s run by the municipality and is free to enter on a Sunday afternoon. With an amazing facade and beautiful altars, it’s well worth the trip.

I mentioned at the beginning that we had an odd religious experience. This encounter involved buying biscuits from a nun. Although it doesn’t sound that strange, we did not actually see the nun, and had to place the order through a sort of lazy Susan, revolving door, type thing. It was very strange and interesting...The biscuits weren’t half bad either!

On the other side of that hatch is the nun with her biscuits! Very mysterious.
Now let's move on to the parks. Another absolute must in Seville is the stunning Plaza de España, built in 1928. This is a truly sublime area situated within the Maria Luisa park. The Plaza de España complex is a huge semi-circle with buildings running around the edge, accessible over the moat by bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. In the centre is the Vicente Traver fountain. By the walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.
This is a shining example of why 360 is perfect for seeing a place virtually. The panorama was incredible to behold and this is one of the most breath-taking man-made places we've seen in Spain (and that's saying a lot!)
We'd also really recommend a visit to the world's largest wooden structure, called the Metropol Parasol. This structure is beautiful from street level, looking like giant mushrooms, which is why it's known locally as "Las Setas" (the mushrooms).
It's well worth paying a few euros to go to the top, as you get a magnificent view of the city and you can see the intricate design of the Metropol Parasol in all its wooden glory.
That’s about that for this weeks. We had such a good time in Seville and we’ll be back next week to talk about bullfighting!
Here are a few more photos, and don’t forget to watch the 360 experiences!

One of the many chapels in the cathedral

This is the church where the secret biscuit nuns live!