Archive for the ‘Valencia’ tag

Carnaval and the Start of Fallas

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Exams have been and gone, I’ve recovered and become angered by The System, and the Poly is taken over by election fever.  Actually, it isn’t, but the candidates like to think it is, what with electoral debates on UPV TV and all.  One is promising laptops for all and has such a swish election campaign all it achieves is to look tacky.  They’ve both gone web 2.0 with blogs and YouTube clips and twitter and things.  To me it all seems a bit silly, so I’ll leave that topic there.

Currently I’m amused by a sentence on a BBC News story I read today, about the debate over the collapse of bee colonies:

It is believed these chemicals can act like alcohol on humans, disorienting the bees and causing them to get lost on the way home.

So is this implying that all humans get lost on the way home after chugging a pint?

The other amusement is coming from Spanish president of the government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He let slip in a televised statement that there now is, between Spain and Russia, an agreement to “stimulate, to assist, to fuck… to support Russian tourism”. Ooopsie daisy. It’s clear he realises what word has just come out of his mouth, but can you imagine being in that position? Dear oh dear.

The end of February kickstarted the season of celebrations, with Carnaval.  For those in GB that don’t know what it is, here is an article on Wikipedia.  Here in Valencia, it’s taken as an excuse for yet more partying, but this one is unofficial.  Apparently the Carnaval parade in my barrio was stopped by the police, who hosed them down and shot rubber bullets.  Here is a video on YouTube showing the dissolution into trouble. Either way, it was an excuse to dress up in disfraz and to get reduced entry to clubs for the effort.

Before any of the troubles, I managed to capture a video of one part of the parade in Benimaclet, with the human tower troupe.  (In my visit to Taragona there was a museum about it as they say they have the best ones there.)  Basically, people clamber on top of each other in an organised fashion to make this tower.  Check out the YouTube video below (or this link if you’re reading from Facebook and it doesn’t come up).

The first day of March heralded the start of Fallas, Valencia’s very own unique festival which lasts until the 19th of the month.  I’m not sure I can effectively describe it, so here’s yet another pointer to Wikipedia.  Or you can be patient, and as things happen and I take photos or videos and upload them here.

Meanwhile, below you can find are a selection of photos of the Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.  As I described way back in October, a mascletà is essentially a fireworks display but for the sound rather than the visual effects.  It’s five minutes of eardrum-popping body-shaking explosions and lots of smoke.

During the festival, one takes place each day at 2pm prompt, the plaza filled with people and the fallas girls (there must be a name for them) standing on a balcony of the Ayuntamiento with their traditional costume.  Bizarrely, it is also relayed live by the local television and radio stations.

The Fallas girls.  Notice it is before the mascletà, before the smoke.

The Fallas girls. Notice it is before the mascletà, before the smoke.

It begins...

It begins.

 

Now you see it (just about)...

Now you see it (just about)...

...now you don't.

...now you don't.

 

Little puffs of smoke in the sky; sparks and flashes in the plaza.

Little puffs of smoke in the sky; sparks and flashes in the plaza.

 

And it's over...for today.

And it's over...for today.

Looking the other way down a street from the plaza.

Looking the other way down a street from the plaza.

 

Oh, and finally one last photo I’d been meaning to get for ages (actually, thanks go to Samuel for taking the photo). Since the day I twigged what it sounds like when said in English, I can’t now not see it like that. I’ll leave it there on that note.

 

Colon Fluid.  Nothing more need be said.

Colon Fluid. Nothing more need be said.

Written by Benjamin

March 5th, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Oranges, dogs and football.

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I haven’t written for a while, and that’s because nothing has really happened apart from the exams.  Now I am back to normal, still not much has happened.  I went to Tarragona and got rained on (but it was good fun nevertheless) and that’s about it.

I’m outraged at the stripping of the trees that line the streets of their oranges.  (In reality, they were starting to rot and make a mess on the pavement, so it’s for the best.)  No longer can I stand on my balcony, coffee in hand and gaze at the bright orange blobs dotted in the dark green foliage.  On the other hand, I am excited about the appearance and resulting perfume of orange blossom whenever that should arrive.

This morning I walked passed the world’s gayest scene.  As I wandered down the street, I glanced in a hairdresser’s to see (1) a super-camp looking hairdresser guy with super-camp hair and (2) matching tiny palm-sized dog, sitting on the side by where he was working, dressed in very similar attire to its owner and with identical hair.  How cruel to give a dog that gay choppy-hair look.  At least the highlights were natural.

Tonight is the England vs. Spain friendly.  For one day only I’ve developed an interest in the sport.  EEENGEERLAAAAND! (etc.)

Written by Benjamin

February 11th, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Erasmus, Valencia

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Small world

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Interesting fact: John Cabot (actually an Italian, real name Giovanni Caboto) lived in Valencia before living in Bristol.  How’s that for a small world, or at least a strange joined-up history.

All I have to do now is live in Venice (does having been on holiday there count?)  and discover, say, Atlantis.

Written by Benjamin

January 25th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Mascletá en Benimaclet

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Hola a tod@s.  For fear of beginning to sound like a broken record, I will yet again mention the fireworks and firecrackers that the Valencians seem to love so much.  To my surprise, the other evening there was a procession through the streets of Benimaclet, replete with priests, a figure being carried, candle bearers and a brass band.

Procession in Benimaclet

Procession in Benimaclet

A close-up of the shrine or whatever it is, I couldn't really make it out!

If that wasn’t surprising enough, after the procession had done it’s rounds of the streets, it turned up in the park by which I live.  And then the noises, flashes and bangs kicked off once again.  There was about ten minutes of normal fireworks, as seen here:

No smoke without fire

No smoke without fire

Excitingly, I have gone interactive, and you can even watch a video of the mascletá, taken from my balcony. Try to imagine that the noise was so great the ears hurt.  Not just discomfort, I’m talking pain.  The advice is to keep your mouth open.  Not just in awe of the spectacle, but to stop the eardrums rupturing.


Link to the mascletá video

Now something without fireworks, but still with noise.  Last weekend, Valencia hosted the MotoGP so there was a bit of excitement in the city.  Thanks to my flatmate, I got hold of some of the free tickets to a concert hosted by TVE, Spains’s national public broadcaster.  It was pretty good fun, if a bit cold on the hard stone seats of the Plaza de Toros (bullring), and the music was a little dubious too.

TVE MotoGP concert in Valencia Plaza de Toros

TVE MotoGP concert in Valencia Plaza de Toros

I insist you check out this recording of Ragdog, one of the bands playing at the concert, to hear how bad they were.  Another was Amaral, who were an improvement, and here is a video of them at the concert too.

TVE MotoGP concert in Valencia Plaza de Toros

Lots of people

The presenting (it was being recorded for tv) was a bit shambolic too, but overall it was worth seeing…after all, the tickets were free :)

Link to the procession video

Written by Benjamin

October 31st, 2008 at 10:38 pm

The first few weeks

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[If viewing this at ben.corale.co.uk there may be some odd formatting issues.  Please excuse them.]

It’s been a long time coming, but here it is at long last.  As a fairly huge amount of things have happened since the move over to Spain, I’ll try to be concise and keep things in an intelligible order.

First off, initially I attended a language school organised by my university, the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), for two weeks at its campus in Gandía, which is about 60 km from Valencia.  It’s quite a touristy resort on the coast, but was pleasant enough.  I can’t really argue with a daily routine of being up at 8am, taking a swim in the apartments’ pool, going to class until 2pm, eating a MASSIVE lunch (more on the food later), taking a siesta, going to the beach to swim in the sea, going out for a few beers, sleeping and then doing it all over again for two weeks.

Erasmus students in Gandia
Erasmus students in Gandia

Often the evening beer, spent in a bar with temperamental wifi, would be spent alongside a group of elderly women gossiping while playing a board game with many dice.  I couldn’t work out what it was but it looked quite complicated.  Spanish people seem to like playing games at any opportunity.  Old men in bars will play dominoes, young people like to play naipes (a Spanish card game, with a deck comprising four suits of 12 cards) or other card games.  Everyone plays games given the opportunity.

One of the highlights was the sandcastle competition.  My team (“Los Pulpos”, or “The Octopuses”) devised a twist to the traditional sandcastle, combining it with a monster-of-the-deep giant octopus that wrapped its tentacles about a castle that sat atop a mountain.  (See the pictures!)  We came second in the competition (out of twenty or so teams of six) so it wasn’t a bad effort.  What was really pleasing was having people on the beach, ordinary holiday makers and locals, come over to take photos and express their appreciation of our work.  Above all it was a huge amount of fun.

Leaving party at UPV Gandia campus
Leaving party at UPV Gandia campus

Unfortunately, as comfortable as that routine sounds, in all that I had to get to Valencia city to look for a room to live in.  In itself it’s a fairly easy procedure: walk the streets in the area in which you wish to live and look at lamp-posts for notices advertising available rooms.  Make a note of the phone number, call and arrange to view.  Easy enough, but when you have to travel an hour to the city, it turns into a bit of a pain.

Of the flats I viewed, the first two couldn’t be more distinct from each other.  One sounded perfect from the description: “Attic flat in old building, high ceilings, large rooms, well decorated.  Friendly people that like to live together almost as a family.”  It was an honest description at least; the flat was actually somewhere I would’ve liked to have lived.  The downside was that it was basically a hippy commune.  Probably fun for about two weeks, but when reality kicks in probably highly impractical.

The second was its complete opposite.  A dark, gloomy, pokey flat in a completely anonymous-looking block, in dark, blank, characterless streets.  It seemed a bit creepy too.  The guy showing me round (who was 26 but looked 56) kept pointing out that it was a “home, not just a place to sleep”, yet the atmosphere must be kept quiet and studious.  I asked if it would be ok to have friends over for dinner, or a quiet drink (I thought at this point this is not a place for a burn-down-the-house flat party).  Apparently once every couple of weeks maximum would be acceptable, any more would be intrusive.  This launched him into an impenetrable soliloquy as he voiced off (I don’t think it was meant for any audience in particular, he seemed to have stopped noticing that I was there) about his idea of a relaxing home environment.

At this point I tried to make an escape with excuses of meeting friends.  This didn’t seem to work as he roused from his little tirade to wave me back to being sat down.  Leaving was impossible.  I began at this point to scan the room for any weapons…what if he was some kind of psychopath and was about to slit my throat and put me in a chest freezer?  I had to get out.  In the end it was only by forcibly saying that I had to go and heading for the door that I could leave, only to find myself on a dark corridor with no sign of the lift or the stairs.

After some scrambling and this man asking why I had to leave so suddenly I found the lift call, willing it to arrive.  The doors parted open, I dived in and hit the buttons; at this point I didn’t care which floor, just any but this one.

Eventually, and with the help of my student mentor who had a friend that had a free room, I came across a good enough place.  It’s super-cheap but comfortable, in an excellent location and with a set of very agreeable flatmates.  The three guys are all from the Valencia region, and so speak Valencian as their first language.  When I’m around they switch to Castillian.  Still, it’s an excellent way to learn the language through total immersion, particularly when attempting the change the orientation of the door of a new fridge-freezer.  It’s times like those that you pick up a heap of new and useful words (like drill, screwdriver, and when the instructions aren’t exactly clear, “useless piece of crap”).

Incidentally, alongside “bufanda” (“scarf”) I now have a new favourite Spanish word.  I say favourite, the word is actually pretty horrible, but it’s the fact that it exists that I like it.  “Desnucarse” means to kill oneself instantly by breaking the bit where the neck joins the head.  How specific.

Hopefully noone "se ha desnucado" here...
Hopefully noone “se ha desnucado” here…

A bit of a change of subject, but I said I would discuss food.  Food is important here, very important.  Life is fitted around meals, which should comprise a coffee and maybe a little snack for breakfast; a pre-lunch snack; lunch itself (a main meal); a late afternoon snack (if needed), and finally an evening meal.  Lunch in one of the multitude of university cafeterias consists of salad, a first course (rice/pasta/paella), a second course (something meaty with fries), a dessert, bread, and beer/wine/water to drink.  And how much?  Just 4€.  It’s not bad food either, and in a quantity that leaves you full for several hours.

Other excitements that have happened here include the state of pre-emergency (yellow level) when some seriously torrential rain had been sweeping the country.  In one town in the region some 40-odd centimetres of rain fell in an hour.  (It seems impossible, but that was what was quoted.)  Valencia was to be on standby; in the end it was only a few light showers.

Another curious observation has been the parking habits.  The system in the city, with it’s overcrowded streets and sparse parking, gives a new flavour to the process.  Double-parking is perfectly acceptable here, but with the proviso that you leave the handbrake off.  You park up alongside the kerbside-parked cars, get out, lock up and go.  Then if someone parked next to the kerb needs to get out, they push your car forwards or backwards out of the way and drive off.  If they need to move more than one double-parked car, so be it.  So curious to witness the first few times.
I also found out that as a result of the sheer volume of new foreign students arriving in Valencia they ran out of mobile phone numbers, and a delay occurred while new ones were allocated by the authorities.  This prompted me to do a bit of digging to find out just how many students there are here.  On the language course in Gandía there were 300, and it turns out in UPV there are 3000.  Add to that the other universities in Valencia and that’s a lot of Erasmus students.  A heck of a lot.

Apparently I have written some 1000 words, so I think this is a good place to leave off.  Hopefully what I’ve noted down so far gives some flavour to the life here, and now I’ve caught up more or less to the present the entries from now on will be a bit more directed.  Obviously I haven’t regaled everything that has happened, but if I remember anything of note, it’ll be added later.  Actually, already I need to write about the Spanish phenomenon of botellón, but that will arrive soon enough.

Valencia.  City of the future.  Or something.
Valencia. City of the future. Or something.

¡Hasta luego!

Written by Benjamin

October 4th, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Posted in Erasmus, Valencia

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He llegado en Valencia

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Hola a todos.  Just a quick post to say I’m alive, and have arrived in Valencia, with it’s wonderful Heron City entertainment complex, and cafés that give out lucky cards that have landed me a pair of green flipflops.  Awesome.

It wasn’t entirely painless getting here, though.  My 36kg of bags were over the weight limit, so I wasn’t sure if they’d be nice and just let me take it anyway; after all, it’s not the busiest of flights.  But no, I have to pay (although, thankfully, not for the whole excess amount!).  And this is where things suddenly turned a bit sour.  It transpires that my “Iberia” flight was in fact a code-share for their budget airline, ClickAir.  It would’ve been useful to know this little bit of information before.

We all know budget airline means uh-oh for excess baggage, and uh-oh it was.  Eighty quid it was.  With Iberia, it should’ve been 50€, i.e. considerably less.  I feel a bit conned by this…surely I should’ve been told when I booked the flight it wasn’t Iberia operating?  The price I paid too for the ticket in the first place wasn’t that of a budget airline.  It feels like fraud!

Anyway, I am here and that’s good.  Tomorrow it’s more travelling with a train journey to the town where I’m attending language school.

Buenos noches.

Written by Benjamin

September 6th, 2008 at 11:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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