Category Archives: Guest Contribution

Blog Takeover Part 2: Valencia on Fire

Alexandra Calukovic-Deck

In case you missed it, I’ve taken over this blog (temporarily) to share my adventures from a recent trip to Spain. My hubby and I started in Barcelona, and after three relatively tame days, it was time to kick things up with the Las Fallas de Valencia, or what I coined, the let’s light the city on fire festival.

You won’t find any Valencia oranges in the post (well, other than this photo)

It just so happened that this four-day festival was taking place during our vacation. After reading up on it, I had to go. Basically, it always takes place on the 15th – 19th of March and is centered around these floats (fallas). The general idea is everyone spends each day partying until the very last day, known as Le Crema. That is when the city  chooses the winning fallas and the remaining floats are lit on fire.   

We left Barcelona early Sunday morning and three hours later (via high-speed train), we were in Valencia. It was about noon when we started to walk to our Airbnb. With each block that passed, the aroma of gunpowder intensified. What the fuck did I just sign up for?!? As we hit the main drag, the street opened to a sea of people, performers and random eruptions of fireworks.

Photo of Las Fallas Festival de Valencia

We hooked up with our host who showed us around the baller apartment. The best part of it was arguably the terrace which directly overlooked a large fallas. After about ten minutes of instructions in broken English, we gathered a few critical details:

  1.    At 11 PM the city will light the fallas that we see in front of us
  2.    If we didn’t mind, could we please move anything flammable into the apartment so that it doesn’t catch on fire
  3. Oh, and have fun! It’s going to be a long and loud night

Gabe enjoying our gorgeous (and potentially flammable) terrace

The view from our terrace overlooking the fallas

We said adios to our host, grabbed a six-pack of Amstels, and headed out to see the fallas before they turned to ash. The vibe in the city felt like the calm before the tsunami. The locals are burnt out from the three days of partying and most are saving their energy for the main event – La Crema, after the city names the winning fallas. The losing floats are stuffed with fireworks and from 10PM to 1AM randomly ignited to meet a fiery death.  

They didn’t win, but these fallas get my vote for most bad-ass

The sun was starting to set (as were the effects of our six-pack). It was a little after eight when we met some Americans while buying our second 6-pack. That’s when we noticed the silence which was immediately followed by pandemonium. Apparently that meant the first fallas was getting lit up somewhere.

Now, there isn’t an exact order, but we found out that they burn the small fallas first and work their way up to the mac daddy of fallas – a massive phallic looking structure that shoots out fireworks. Since you don’t know exactly which fallas will be burnt down next, you kind of have to be in the right place at the right time, or be prepared to chase the after the sounds of hundreds of fireworks among thousands of people. And that pretty accurately describes how the next few hours of our night went.

Shit! It was almost 11. Time to get up to the terrace. We watched as the crowd started to gather. Once we saw the firefighters in position, we knew it was time for this float to meet its fate.

First, they lit a string of fireworks that was connected to the fallas. There was a slight pause followed by a series of massive pops then a few loud booms. The fire quickly started to build and you could feel the heat even from our four-story balcony. As I’m panning around in my Instagram video, I realized that ash and embers were flying all around us. They weren’t kidding about moving those cushions inside!

It was midnight and after a quick bite of shawarma, we made our way to the city’s center square. Everyone was pushing their way to the front of the crowd, but based on our last experience, we were content with our safe vantage point. Once that lone firefighter was in position (dude, you drew the short straw didn’t you?), you knew it was go time. And because there really aren’t any words to describe it, here’s a timelapse video that should give you the full scope of the grand finale.

Las Fallas is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m SOOO happy we decided to go all in. My only regret is not buying these dope bandanas before I inhaled the various toxic fumes. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Shout out to our neighbors who kept our cat alive while we were away.

Blog Takeover Part 1: Barcelona Bound

Alexandra Calukovic-Deck

My dear friends who manage this blog have always encouraged me to explore the world through travel. So it seemed only fitting that after spending a week trekking through Spain, that I share my husband’s and my adventure on their travel blog. I’m looking forward to digging up this post when the four of us venture to Barcelona together.

The Initial Descent

If you are thinking why Spain, here’s why in a nutshell: the airfare was cheap, it’s easy to get around using public transportation and I love all things tapas and Spanish wine. But also because Gabe is an architect (shameless plug). Hence our day devoted to Gaudi, “the” Spanish architect to know.

Departing from Newark airport, we spent some number of hours in the air — I’m really bad at calculating time travel — and boom, we landed in Barcelona (locally pronounced Barthelona). In desperate need of caffeine among many other things, we hit a little airport cafe. On the menu: fresh pressed OJ, a variety of meats and cheeses and freshly baked pastries. What the fuck, we haven’t even left the airport yet and I love the food already.

Because of the active cab strike, we got a crash course on the metro system courtesy of airport information; of which included a pair of lost then found subway tickets, two subway transfers, and viola, 45 minutes later we arrived at our metro stop in the Gothic quarter. We strategically picked this part of the city because it is centrally located to all things historic and delicious.

A random dance party we found during our travels in the Gothic quarter

After climbing a six-story walk-up (with bags in tow), we met our Airbnb host, Antoine. With a few formalities out of the way, Antoine bid us adieu, and we popped open the bottle of cava he left for us and headed up to the roof to enjoy the sunset — thank you, Antoine!

Rooftop view from our Airbnb  

Day 2ish – La Sagrada Familia

Between the jet lag and far too many 2 euro wines the night before (shit, did we kill that bottle of champagne?), we nearly missed our scheduled tour at La Sagrada Familia — which if you remember from above, was a big highlight of this trip. Cafe con leche (coffee with milk) in hand, we sprinted the 30 minute walk to the cathedral.

Photo courtesy of Mycity-web

I’ll be honest with you, when I Googled Sagrada Familia, I thought it was hideous. But having now seen it in person, it is by far one of the most intriguing and beautifully-crafted architectural buildings. As a non-architect, here are three reasons why I think it’s well worth the visit:

  • The sheer size of it will literally blow your mind. You can see it from almost any point in the city, but it’s not until you get close you realize how big it actually is.
  • It’s so brilliantly bizarre that you won’t understand how someone dreamed it up and you won’t care, but I’m told it had to have been extremely difficult.
  • It’s been perpetually under construction for the last 100 years and it’s not even done! But yet, every corner, every crevice, and every column is ornately decorated. Each element of the building was meticulously designed to consider a random but often overlooked detail. Like using warm stain glass in areas where the sun sets versus using cool tones where it rises.

Photos courtesy of @gjdeck

Regardless how you feel about design or religion, you can’t help but get lost in the nooks and crannies of this building. We pre-scheduled an audio and tower tour which is definitely the way to go; especially if you are like me and know nothing about this kind of stuff. #ThankGaudiItsFriday

Photo courtesy of @gjdeck

Park Guell Barcelona

After a bottle of Coke (yes, bottle!) to remedy the hangover, we were back on foot and off to Park Guell. Yes, more architecture porn! Like Sagrada Familia, it too is massive, but it’s a public park (read free!). There is the option to buy tickets which grants you full access to the park. Be sure to check the schedule in advance because this option wasn’t available when we got there — not really sure why either.

Nonetheless, this park is a peaceful sanctuary perched high up on a mountain. There’s tons of paved paths as well as some trails. People were either having an active workout or enjoying one of multiple musicians and artists that regularly perform in the park; like this guy —

Flash forward an hour later, and it was 3 PM local time and we were approaching hangry. Thankfully, we stumbled on this little tapas bar called Bertso Taberna.

Inker (the chef) and his bartender buddy spoke very little English, but quickly made us feel like regulars. We chatted over Amstels, snacked on some pinchos (see definition below) and they whipped up the house special for us: a catfish omelette — trust me, it was money!

Fun fact: pinchos are small sandwiches you take from the bar. They come in a variety of options like ham and cheese, croquette and seafood salads. You’re charged by the number of toothpicks on your plate. I fucking love you Barcelona!

A display of pinchos from Bertso’s!

Casa Batllo

If you’ve made it this far in, you’re in luck — the day is almost over. As was my energy level. I convinced Gabe to head over to the Las Ramblas, an outdoor walkway lined with shops through the main part of town, selfishly hoping to get in some shopping. But truthfully, I left little room in my luggage and was in desperate need of a shower.

Walking down the Ramblas we saw all of the ultra high-end designer stores, and in the reflection of one of the windows spotted Casa Batllo. You guessed it, another Gaudi creation. It’s a home turned museum, and the best way that I can describe it is a house designed on acid while watching Spongebob. The complete lack of any right angles in the building (stop to think about that) makes it feel like you’re in an aquarium. Seriously what was this guy smoking?
The audio tour is a bit pricy but pretty cool. You’re given an iPhone equipped with an audio guide and VR technology that when held up to the room displays random sea creatures and other objects that served as inspiration to Gaudi’s design.

With day one drawing to an end, we headed back home. Between 106 and 114 steps up the six story walk-up, we showered, rested and made our way back out for tapas. I know tapas is all about the small bites, but us “turistes” were hungry like Americans.