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The end of Las Fallas in Valencia made catching up on sleep a huge priority, and luckily the Monday we got back was a Spanish National Holiday! A refresher was needed for a week of rowing and cooking classes, topped off with an intercambio event at the local Malibu bar. At the intercambio event put on by a few of my local friends, I was able to converse in a unique way with some older Spanish businessmen and a girl with her friend in her upper twenties tutoring English in the town of Alicante. Both Spaniards were very exceptional in English as well, and asked if America is what it’s like in the movies. We talked a lot about the difference of sports, comradery, and business between both countries as well like football vs. soccer, American baseball, paddle, and the economy.
Through the end of the weekend my mindset shifted a little but more towards school, since I had to tour and complete a museum worksheet for class, somehow register for class and figure out housing for my next semester at Mount Union, on top of having a spanish class final. Luckily there was another day off of class towards the end of the week because there was yet another strike going on at campus. I still in confident in saying that I have seen more strikes in my first month in Alicante than I have in my entire life. The Thursday of the strike also marked the day my mom and two brothers touched down in Spain! Yes, it was very sad news that my dad couldn’t get off of work for long enough and the matter of fact that it worked out so perfectly for my family to arrive on the day of a national strike. Did I mention that it was April 1st as well, maybe it was a whole joke that my family was coming to visit? I guess with limited access to wifi and no phones I would have never known if their flight had been cancelled or not, but luckily they made it to Hotel Mexico pleasantly.
My family planned to tour Madrid per some of my recommendations, visit the Palace and some museums, but definitely took advantage of things I was unable to see or that they stumbled upon. On Sunday they took one of the last 3-hour train rides from Madrid to Alicante, where I waited to see my brother sherpa lugging all the overweight bags my Mom managed to bring in addition to his own. I can’t complain of her packing though because she brought me a few things, and addition to some gifts for my host family. Barbecue sauce and hot sauce were a huge hit noting that the barbecue was gone within a week and now my host mom puts hot sauce on everything. These things I was really craving, since in Spain they don’t seem to comprehend the idea of a rich Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ and an actually spicy hot sauce!
The afternoon my family got into the train station my host mom, sister, and her boyfriend waited with their cars to load up the luggage and drive to the Gran Sol, the tallest hotel in Alicante right along the port, where my family stayed. I rode with my host mom and sister, translating spanish back and forth as my mom was clinged to my arm excited to see me! Word of mouth says that my two brothers did exceptional in talking to my host sisters boyfriend for the ride, but I find it hard to believe. The very same night my whole family and host family all went out for tapas together at a wonderful restaurant called Nou San Blas. They got a taste of some traditional spanish food like patatas bravas, calamares, among other things. The night was definitely a challenge for myself since I was constantly switching back and forth between speaking english and spanish translating! My head was pounding at the end, but the whole night was a magical moment, two families being united through my study abroad experience, with completely different backgrounds.
The first few days my family was in town I was still in school before spring break and had to take a Spanish for Business exam, but was able to bring one of my brothers to our final rowing class in the port. Many people were already headed off on vacation so my brother and I were able to use a two-seater, much faster and more fun that the 8 person boat!
While I still had class I was able to enjoy the city with my family, who made homemade sangria everyday. Since I live with a host family I don’t get to go out to eat much, but took recommendations from some of my friends living closer to the barrio, or downtown bar/restaurant area. One night we went to a Chinese restaurant that serves spring rolls the size of burritos, 3-courses, dessert, and drink for about 6 Euros. Great deal, normally with a complementary shot at the end, and my brother confidently said it was his favorite meal in Spain thus far. Ha! We also went to Mi Cachito de Sevilla, translated to My Little Piece of Seville, where I had the best paella in Alicante. It is safe to say this was the best overall family meal we had together. Another food that my brother’s girlfriend told him he must try was a gofre, since she studied in Spain when she was in college. After the night we had rowing class we went to a stand right across from the Gran Sol and he devoured the dessert (waffle with chocolate sauce/or other mixings). I wonder if he liked it.
We also took advantage of el Castillo de Santa Barbara and hiked up to the top a few times, and my mom was astonished that there was a place named and entirely dedicated to her (her name is Barbara)! The same night I tried showing my brothers some Alicante nightlife but being a weekend the discoteca’s were closed. We managed to meet up with a bunch of my fellow study abroad and other local friends in the barrio at Havana, a bigger bar with music…but no discoteca.
The week my family came it was leading up to Easter…Holy Week or called Semana Santa in Spain. The week includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and there are magnificent processions the entire week. Up until about 2 AM people are winding the streets with huge religious floats of Jesus and other Catholic symbols, dressed in traditional costumes (that look similar KKK outfits but are not), and have bands playing. These are spread throughout the whole city and the most notable procession is the one that winds down from the castle, through the barrio, and all the way down La Rambla or main street. Spaniards seem to make every time of year or holiday the most fabulous or elaborate!
During the end of the week there were also vendors set up on the Explanada, and we paid a visit once more to my host family. My brother also got to try my favorite home cooked meal from my host mom: Arroz Cubana (rize, frankfurts, tomato paste, egg on top). Eventually the week winded down and we were all ready to travel to Mallorca and Barcelona together, the beginning of my exciting spring break vacation!
Some more pictures from my family visiting.
Some more general Alicante pictures.
3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage…all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning, and food into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films. That is what is a trip of a lifetime. After just getting back from studying abroad in Europe (Alicante, Spain), I really wish I could have created something like this. Utterly amazing.
After going to Morocco I was ready for some more trips, but wanted to stay local. The University of Alicante has several affiliate travel programs that do day trips for adventure and to other cities for festivals and tours. A group of friends and I decided to take advantage of these reasonably priced tours to go hiking and to Las Fallas in Valencia.
One Saturday, on Saint Patrick’s Day, we went to La Sierra de Bèrnia that extends to the Mediterranean coast in the province of Alicante, and also includes ruins of Felipe II. The highest peak in the Sierra de Bèrnia is located in the district of Jalón, and measures 1,128 meters above sea level. During the hike we started at one side of the range and hiked all the way around, passing through ruins and vineyards with some stunning almonds trees. Once we arrived at the other side of the mountain the hike was more strenuous, had many more rocks and climbs, but finished with a tunnel (El Forat) to the other side. Que guay! This was definitely the highlight of the hiking trip and once you made it to the other side there were killer views overlooking the sea. We stopped here with the group for some time to have a snack and soak it all in. A bit longer of walking we arrived back to the vans where all the girls passed out in the backseat for the half hour ride to Alicante.
The very next day was another adventure of senderismo, but this time with my host family. My host mom, host sister, her boyfriend, and Luna y Lola (two of our little cocker spaniels) went near the pueblo of Elda for some hiking. We made a few stops for snacks, saw many bikers, some ATVers, and set up my Grand Trunk Double hammock during lunch. My host mom absolutely loved the hammock and kept on saying it was very “chulo,” or very cool! I might leave it with her as a gift since she is very into hiking and even did parts of El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Once we all arrived back to our apartment, siestas or naps were needed across the board…and I normally never siesta. After, we all rallied and went out for some tapas to complete the day full of family.
The month of March consisted of a lot of senderismo but I needed to stream live games of March Maddess as well, one of the best times of the year for college sports. Although my bracket ended up being horrendous…the sweet sixteen was extra sweet when four Ohio teams and two Wisconsin teams were playing. Unfortunately the Badgers and Buckeyes couldn’t pull a championship march madness run together and I lost much sleep watching the games with the time difference. There’s always next year.
The last part of March was the most crazy: Las Fallas. Some friends and I took a bus early in the morning to Valencia and returned to Alicante around 5 in the morning the next day. To say the least the 18 hour day was eventful and very exhausting. We ate some paella, enjoyed much street art that Valencia offered, and were in awe of all the structures created for this festival. Las Fallas is a traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph. The term Fallas refers to both the celebration and the monuments created during the celebration. During the week leading up to March 19, each group takes its “ninot” out for a grand parade, and then mounts it, each on its own elaborate firecracker-filled cardboard and papier-mâché artistic monument in a neighborhood street. This whole assembly is what is called a “falla.”
In la Plaza de la Virgen there is also the offering of flowers. There is a wooden silhouette of the Virgin Mary that is filled in with bouquets of carnations. It is a whole ceremony where people dress up in their best and most colorful traditional costumes and pass by the Virgin bringing the flowers, which are then arranged by the crew on site.
The five days and nights of Fallas are a continuous party. There are a multitude of processions: historical processions, religious processions, and comedic processions. The Mascletà, an explosive barrage of firecracker and fireworks displays, takes place in each neighbourhood at 2:00 pm every day of the festival, and we saw the main event at la Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Picture your ordinary 4th of July show, but only with the fireworks that make the loudest of noise and display no colors. This went on for a good half hour! Smaller neighbourhoods often hold their own mascletà for saint’s days, weddings and other celebrations.
Around midnight is when La Cremà happens and the Fallas are burnt as huge bonfires. This is known as the burning and the climax of the whole event, and the reason why the constructions are called fallas or “torches”. Traditionally, the falla in the la Plaza del Ayuntamiento is burned last. There are also many little fallas that are constructed and earlier in the night burnt. This festival was so awesome because I never could image an event like it! So much fire, people, vendors, fireworks, for completely the whole day. In Alicante in late June there is a very similar event called Las Hogueras, which is basically the same thing with more partying in the streets since it is much warmer weather.
March was a little more relaxing and went out with a bang for Fallas, but will go out even bigger once my family comes to visit me in Alicante! Only 2 weeks until spring break begins and I truly start travelling the world.
Some more Bèrnia hiking pictures.
Some more family hiking pictures.
And more Fallas pictures in Valencia.