Friday, March 30, 2012

Las Fallas

On Thursday, March 15 I drove to Valencia with Gregorio to attend Las Fallas that weekend - a huge celebration held every year in Valencia.  And yes, you read that correctly: I drove.

To give you an idea of what this celebration is all about, here are the top 10 things I saw that weekend at Las Fallas.

1. Las fallas

The celebration shares the name of the monuments that are featured on display during the festival.  Each neighborhood in Valencia has a group of people that work all year long on their falla.  This group may throw several fundraising events throughout the year to raise enough money for the artist and creation of the falla.  Most fallas have a theme - usually they're satirical or criticize some aspect of society - and on the last day of the festival, the fallas are burned.

2. Las falleras

Falleras are the women dressed in traditional fallera dresses, with hair that reminded me of Princess Leia.  These dresses cost thousands of euros, so I'm assuming at least one requirement of being a fallera must be having a dress.

3. Los falleros

The men in traditional clothing (falleros) reminded me of pirates due to their white shirts, colorful vests, and thick cloth around the waist.  They walked with the falleras in endless processions throughout Valencia that weekend.

4. Bands

Behind each group of falleras and falleros were marching bands, playing traditional Valencian songs as well as Spanish pop music.

5. La ofrenda (The offering)

Beginning in the afternoon of the 17th and continuing through the night of the 18th is a procession of falleras and falleros offering flowers to the Virgen de los Desamparados.  The procession is so long it lasts two days (20 hours total)!  Faller@s from each district (this is sounding like The Hunger Games) walk from their neighborhood to the Plaza de la Virgen with flowers.

Single flowers are presented to fill-in the dress of the virgen in the plaza, as pictured above.

6. Light Displays

Some of the streets leading to a falla were large light displays that went off every hour or so.  The lights pictured above lasted about five minutes and the lights changed, corresponding to music playing on speakers in the background.

  This lights display of the Eiffel Tower was all lit up when we walked through.

7. Los petardos

Los petardos, or firecrackers, are an essential part of las fallas.  Gregorio told me before we went that not a single minute would pass without hearing a petardo.  He was right.  At any hour of the day - morning and night - there are always petardos being set off, mostly by young kids.  Even on days when we got back to Oliva (his parents' town an hour from Valencia) at 4 in the morning, you could hear petardos in little Oliva.

When we went to Valencia on Friday morning Gregorio bought five different boxes of firecrackers; one was a box of 50, two boxes of 30, and two boxes of 10!

8. La mascletà

From March 1 - 19, every day at 2pm is a mascletà.  At my first one, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Gregorio warned me to open my mouth so my ears wouldn't pop - something about pressure.  What?!  When it started, I was wondering why you would have fireworks in the middle of the day if you couldn't see them.  I quickly learned the mascletà isn't really a fireworks show, rather it's loud, explosive petardos.

Around the five minute mark, for the "grand finale", the speed of the explosions sped up.  The explosions got louder and faster, and I soon understood what Gregorio meant about the pressure.  Picture the fast explosions as eighth notes.  Ten seconds later they're sixteenth notes and you can feel the shaking in your body; it's so loud and strong.  You don't think it can get any louder, and the sky is filling with smoke, but suddenly the explosions become thirty-second notes, shaking you to your core.  It feels like a breeze, but it's just the pressure from the explosions.  It's something you must experience in person to know what it's like.  I had never felt anything like it before.  

9. Fuegos artificiales (Fireworks)

Every night of the festival at 1:00am is a fireworks show.  The last show Sunday night starts at 1:30am.  I liked Saturday's fireworks better than Sunday's, though we had a better viewing spot on Saturday which may have affected my preference.  The show was about 15-20 minutes long, and I saw types of fireworks I had never seen before.  I'm not sure how to describe it, but it was an enjoyable captivating display.  Look out USA, Valencia's got some skills we could use for the 4th of July...

10. Food stands

Like any summer carnival in the states, Valencia's streets were full of food vendors.  Caramel apples, crepes, buñuelos de calabaza, and churros were common sites.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Most stressful day ever

Yesterday was the most stressful day I've had in a long time.

Quick recap: So Monday night was when Gregorio and I found out that our Iberia flight to Paris had been cancelled due to Spain's general strike (huelga general) taking place this Thursday the 29th.

We're expecting most grocery stores, banks, etc. to be closed tomorrow; and my Mon/Thurs teacher has told me not to bother coming in (because no students will come).  Thirty percent of the metro and autobuses must run between the hours of 6 and 9am, but apart from that public transportation will be slim.  Iberia has cancelled 222 flights of the 342 scheduled flights tomorrow.  A list of the cancelled flights can be found here.  Other airlines affected by the strike include but is not limited to: Air Europa, Vueling, EasyJet, and BritishAirways.

That's the scene.  Gregorio sees an Iberia flight that leaves today, Wednesday at 17:35, when I'm normally teaching my afternoon classes at my Tues/Weds school.  This means I'd have to check with my afternoon Tues/Weds English teacher, Clara, and with Paloma, my Thursday morning English teacher to see if I could miss class for the flight.  I sent out an email to Clara on Monday night, since it was too late to call (oh, and I was also without a voice.  Side-story: I was sick this weekend, then lost the voice between Saturday and Sunday.  On Monday afternoon when I went to teach, Paloma told me to go to the doctor.  So instead of class I went to the doctor and he wrote me a prescription for some antibiotics.  End side-story.)

If Clara said yes, only then would I ask Paloma about Thursday morning, and then we could change our ticket.  It was a race with time, as I figured seats would go fast on the flight.  Tuesday morning I anxiously checked my email.  Nothing.  I didn't have Clara's cell phone number, so when I went to my Tues/Weds school on that morning, I asked the am English teacher for Clara's number.  Even though I barely had a voice, I called her.  No answer.  So I sent a text, asking if she could respond to the email asap.

By 1pm I still had no response from her.  I'm talking to Gregorio on the phone and we're talking about our options.  I said he could probably just make the change and get the tickets, and the teachers would probably say it was okay once I got a hold of them.  "But what if they say you have to be here?" Gregorio asked.  And then gradually we accepted the fact that we might not be able to go to Paris this Semana Santa.  He suggested we might be able to go in July when I'm done teaching, if he can get the days off work.  The other factor in this decision is that his work schedule for April doesn't come out until Thursday morning.  He had asked off through the 5th, but wouldn't know for sure if he had them until Thursday.

So he told me not to bother asking the teachers, this was a lost cause.  I'm about to hang up the phone and then BAM: 1 new message in my inbox.  Clara told me: Go for it! Buy the tickets! Don't wait!  She said we could arrange something for me to make up the time later.  I relayed the message to Gregorio and he said alright, but what about your Thursday morning teacher?  "I'll call her now!" I said.

I called my Mon/Thurs school and asked for Paloma.  She's already gone home for the day, they said.  Could you give me her cell phone number? I asked.  No, they didn't have it on them.  I explained the situation to them, and how it was a matter of time before the seats got taken on the flight.  I gave them my home number and the school said they'd try to reach Paloma at home and have her call me.

So close.  My heart was beating faster by this point and I'm super stressed.  On top of it all, if you recall I'm moving this weekend, and needed to pack up my room before I left for Paris on Thursday.  But now if we got this flight, that'd mean I was leaving the very next day, Wednesday.  I was making myself sick to my stomach with worry, hating the uncertainness of it all, but I couldn't calm myself down for a nap.  I started frantically packing up my room while I waited for a call back from Paloma.

Twenty minutes later I got a call from the secretary at my Mon/Thurs school and she told me Paloma said to take the flight and don't worry about it.  Fantastic!  I call Gregorio and tell him to change our flight.  He hangs up and calls the booking agency.  I start packing a bag as I wait for his call back.

When he finally calls back, he says it turns out that flight was for business class only, so we couldn't swap it with our original outgoing flight.  #$%&!  But there was a flight we could take at 14:25 on Wednesday, which means I'd need to be at the airport by noon.  This is during my Wednesday class with the morning teacher.  She's a bit more of a rule-follower, but I called her cell to explain the situation.  She said it was okay with her, but she couldn't give me permission; I'd have to call the jefe de estudios and talk with him.

Alright, so I call the jefe de estudios and explain the whole situation again.  He also had wanted to pay me for March before the week-long Semana Santa vacation this first week of April.  So we decide I'll come in at 10:30 Wednesday morning to get paid, then book it to the airport for this 2 o'clock flight.

I call back Gregorio -- okay.  Book it.  And there he goes to call the booking agency again.  I had to wait a long time before I heard back from Gregorio.  In the meantime, I'm still packing up my room and a backpack for Paris.  I boxed up all of my food from the kitchen cabinets.  My room is a disaster.  Finally he calls back.  His voice didn't sound too cheerful.  Uh-oh.  It had taken 4 calls (and lots of waiting) before he got to an Iberia representative, and they took down his name and number to call him back later.  The 2 o'clock flight was either only business or full, I don't remember which, so he had booked a noon flight.  This was getting too early -- I told him I had just made plans with the jefe de estudios to meet with him at 10:30 the next day, etc.

We decided this was too much running around and stress, so he'd call back to cancel the change request he had made for the noon flight (for which we didn't even know if there would be seats left)  We considered other options.  We could drive there on Thursday, depending on his work schedule.  Or we could just go another time.

I took a much-needed nap at 5:30 that afternoon when all of the phone calls and uncertainty were over.  Such a range of emotions that day.

I haven't talked with Gregorio yet today, but there's a small possibility that we'll go in car on Thursday.  It depends on his April work schedule, and if he's up for it or not.  So I still might be leaving tomorrow, which means I'll need to finish packing up my room before then (it's still a disaster-zone).  But until then it's off to my Wednesday afternoon classes, then frisbee practice tonight.  Stay tuned!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Change of address

For all you folks writing me letters -- STOP!  Just for a minute, because my address is changing.

My roommates told me a couple weeks ago that we might be moving at the end of the month.  They've been looking to move into another apartment, and then a unit opened up on the fourth floor of our building (we're currently on the third).  Last week they told me that it was finalized; the paperwork is in order and we are moving at the end of the month.

So my apartment number is no longer 3°B.  From now on, use 4°C.  The rest of the address - street, building number, zip code - stays the same.   I haven't seen the new apartment yet, but I'm excited for a change.

My roommates will be moving things upstairs this Friday and Saturday.  Our apartment is already starting to fill up with packed boxes and bags.  I originally was going to be out of town this weekend, but due to Spain's general strike (huelga general) this Thursday the 29th, that may not happen.

Spain's general strike this Thursday, March 29 (Huelga 29-M) has its own section on El Pais

I had a plane ticket to go to Paris this Thursday afternoon, once I finish work.  The flight has been cancelled due to the strike (as well as hundreds of other cancelled Iberia flights), and other flights to Paris on Friday and Saturday are all booked.

Currently, the only flight available through Iberia leaves Wednesday evening, which conflicts with both my Wednesday evening classes at my Tues/Weds school and my Thursday morning class at my Mon/Thurs school.  Tomorrow I'll find out if the teachers will let me miss class for this flight or not.  Cross your fingers.

And when you uncross your fingers, your hand may now resume writing me letters - at 4°C.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Just popping in, and accepting book suggestions

I'm back from my 5 days in Valencia at Las Fallas, and the first post should hopefully be up before I leave town again this weekend (ultimate frisbee hat tournament in Granada).  But in the mean time, I thought I'd better pop my head in here and tell you I'm alive and well.

The face is looking much better after I got my first black eye at Juanito's Open the other weekend.  The huge scrape on my face is gone, and my eye is a lot less red than it was last week.   Also, my mother sent me my contacts in the mail and they arrived yesterday (Thank you!).  If I remember to put them in before practices and tournaments, I shouldn't break another pair of glasses ever.  I hope.  In the next few weeks I'm going to look around and see what Spain has to offer in the glasses department.  Depending on prices and styles I may buy a new pair here, I may not.

Starting last night and continuing through today, it rained for the first time in months.  My frisbee practice was even cancelled due to the rain.  It's a bit on the cold side, too, so I think I'll make myself a cup of tea and hop into bed for some reading.

I just finished "The Help" this weekend and really enjoyed it.  Today I started reading H.G. Wells's "The Invisible Man"; I'm still trying to get into it.

What are you currently reading?  Any book suggestions for me?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Off to Valencia again

I'm off to Valencia once again.  The first time I went to Valencia was in 2009 with my friend Richard.  I went again this fall for a weekend ultimate frisbee tournament, as you may recall.

This time, I'm going to Valencia with Gregorio for the celebration this city is best known for: Las Fallas.  You've got the whole weekend to read-up on the event if you're unfamiliar with it.

Or you can always just wait until I'm back Monday night and begin blogging about it.

Leave a comment and let me know what you're up to this weekend.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bowling in Madrid

Every now and then I go bowling.  My dad and aunt each played on bowling leagues when I was younger, my little brother played on a league at one point too.  My great-grandfather once bowled a perfect game and received a 300 ring for doing so.  And my aunt and uncle's wedding reception was in a bowling alley; that was pretty awesome.  Shall I provide you with visual reminders?  Alright!

Aunt and uncle's wedding reception

I love bowling shoes!

Papa T. bowling at my aunt and uncle's wedding reception

I haven't singled out which aspects I like about the activity, but for whatever reason I find bowling enjoyable.  I'm an average player; my goal is always just to break 100 each game.  I feel that if you are concentrated and just aim straight, strikes are attainable.  Maybe that's why I like the game.  It's simple, relaxed, and doesn't require the athletic skill that I lack for every other sport (except ultimate, kind of).

Since I started college, I've maybe gone a couple times a year.  However, I never went bowling the first year I lived in Madrid.  Thus, bowling earned a place on this year's Madrid Bucket List.

When my friends suggested we go bowling last week, I enthusiastically supported the idea.  So last Friday, after visiting the Parque Quintas de los Molinos, I went bowling with my friends!

We went to Bowling Chamartín and bowled two games.  It was practically the same experience as bowling in the states; no notable differences were observed.

The bowling shoes were as awesome as I had remembered, despite my right lace being twice as long as it should have been.

I love bowling shoes!

Splits were still possible to create, and just as impossible to knock down.

Max with a 3-pin split

The score boards on the television screen were practically the same, though only showed the first letter of your name along the left-hand column, not the first three or four letters as I've often experienced in Wisconsin.  When it's your turn though, your whole name is displayed across the top of the screen.

Lane 16: Vane, Justino, Rebe, David, Ana

Hermann clobbered us all in the first game with a 178, I came in second with a 122.  His and my second game score were lower, though combining the first and second games kept him in the lead (287) and me second overall (223).  Right behind me came Andy (222) and Hannah (215).

And just like bowling in the states, we all had a good time!

Bowling Chamartín

What: Bowling Chamartín
Where: Estación de Chamartín (zona recretiva)
Metro: Chamartín
Hours: Monday - Thursday: 13.00 - 24.00, Friday: 13.00 - 1.00, Saturday: 10.00 - 2.00, Sunday: 10.00 - 1.00
Cost: 4 euros - game during the week, 4.50 euros - game during the weekend, 2.80 euros - game in the morning
We paid 9.50 each; which included two games, shoe rentals, and a drink.  It was some kind of deal, but the point is to expect to spend about 10 euros for two games.  There's a bar inside as well, so bring extra cash if you want to buy drinks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Juanito's Open 2012: Sunday

When I woke up on Sunday morning, other than feeling sore throughout my body and the left side of my face, I was a bit excited to see I had obtained new colors around my eye during the night.  This may be the closest to a black eye that I'll have in my lifetime!  It's exciting, people!

Colorful face

Although I could have slept more, I was very much looking forward to Day 2 of Juanito's Open.  Those who wished to attend the second day of the tourny met in Sol at 10.  We waited around to see if any more players were coming, and some of us went for coffee and breakfast pastries.

At 11 we headed to Plaza Santa Ana, just a few blocks from Sol.  Since there weren't enough of us to play a real game (nor enough space), we decided to play the box game.  In the box game, you put four cones in a one by one meter box.  You can play three on three or four on four, but the point of the game is to catch the disc inside the square.  That's how you score.  That's it!  Once you score, you have to throw it to someone outside of the box before you can score again.

Ultimate in Plaza Santa Ana

Ultimate in Plaza Santa Ana

Some people would stop and stare.  Others wouldn't notice that the game didn't have boundaries, and would walk right through us while we were playing.  I think we only had a couple close calls with discs flying too close to innocent passersby, but I don't remember seeing anyone get hit.

Next we played in front of Palacio Real, which was just as fun - and nobody asked us to leave!

Ultimate at Palacio Real

Ultimate at Palacio Real

Juanito's Open 2012 at Palacio Real

Next location: Madrid's Egyptian temple, Templo de Debod.  There was gravel on both sides of the cement where we played, which made the ground extra slippery.  

Ultimate at Templo de Debod

Ultimate at Templo de Debod

Due to the slipperiness of the ground and my tiredness at this point in the afternoon, I spent most of our time at the temple watching and taking pictures instead of playing.  I did see some neat things though, such as the coolest little girl ever:

Little girl prepared for the dangers of everyday living

These three girls were watching the ultimate for a bit.  One even asked her mom if they could sit down on the bench to watch, but the mother wanted to keep walking.

Young, curious audience

Since this was the last day of Juanito's Open, he had an informal awards ceremony where the four present members of Horchata were given metals.

Juanito's Open 2012: "Awards Ceremony"

Juanito's Open 2012: "Awards Ceremony"

The rumble of our stomachs led us to Plaza de España where some of us ordered Chinese to-go, and others got food from some of the stands in the plaza.  So we ate in the grass, followed by some naps under the sun.

Picnic in Plaza de España

It was a really enjoyable Sunday. I look forward to playing ultimate in Madrid's public places again in the near future, and I'd highly recommend playing in Juanito's Open next year if you're in Madrid!

I will leave you with my end of Day 2 face photos:

Do you see how swollen that side of my face is?

So hot.

The glasses

Juanito's Open 2012: Saturday

This past weekend I played in a local hat tournament called Juanito's Open, put together by the Quijotes' very own Juanito.

We played in La Almudena, where we normally scrimmage on Saturday afternoons.  The weather was perfect and the atmosphere was relaxed.  There were three teams of players at this year's Juanito's Open: red, white, and black.

Juanito's Open participants in 2012

I was on the white team, and we named ourselves Horchata.  I think each team played four games that day.  We were sure to play the normal "post-game games" after each frisbee game, since we weren't crunched for time.

Post-game game: Human knot

Post-game game: German game

Post-game game: Ninjas!

Before the final two games that day, four of us walked to a nearby bar inside one of the dorms and bought 20 burgers to bring back to the fields.

20 burgers!

Hannah, me, and Hermann happily eating burgers

That afternoon, Hermann and Justin set up their jumping invention thingy called "The Contraption," an adjustable pole to see how high people can jump and successfully grab a disc.  According to Herm, it's based off of The Skylight, and not only does it help teach people how to jump, but it gives people a grasp of how high you are able to catch the disc as well.

After the last two games, my team Horchata had won the tournament!  Notice how white my jersey is in the picture below.  Little did I know, that wouldn't last long.

Juanito's Open 2012 winners: Horchata

We took team pictures, and then some of us even did our usual post-practice stretch circle.

Stretching after Juanito's Open

And then the excitement happened.

Some of us had left the sidelines and started playing for fun out on the field.  Then we decided to do a lefty point.  

The disc is coming near me so I run for it, reach up with the left arm, and WHAM.

Next thing I know I'm on the ground.  I had run into another player who was going after the disk as well.  I thought I was okay, just a bit shocked.  Then I glanced down at the ground and saw my glasses in pieces.

People walked with me to the sidelines, and suddenly there were a million hands washing dirt and blood off of my face.

Helpful frisbee friends taking care of me
I had no idea what I looked like, but could only hear comments of the people around me:

"That is a huge bump over her eye.  Put something cold on that."

"Is that glass in her face?  Should I pull it out?"

"Ok, this might hurt.  *pull*  Oh god."

"I'm gonna try to wash that out.  Does this hurt?"

Here's the picture of me when my amazing friends were done with their impromptu wound-cleaning.  I didn't know where the bump was on my head, so I was holding the pepsi in the completely wrong place.  

I went with Hannah to the nearby bar; I wanted to check myself out in a mirror.  The people at the bar gave me a bag of ice to put over my eye, and we walked back to get our stuff from the field.

Some people had left by that point anyway, and the rest were packing up to go home and shower before that night's tournament dinner.  So we helped pick up garbage and water bottles, then headed to the metro.

When I got home I stopped at the farmacia just outside of my apartment to see if they had some sort of rubbing alcohol I could put on my cuts (those fields are not clean at all).  The pharmacist sent me off with some cristalmina, and warned me to avoid the sun until my face healed.

Cristalmina: Spain's substitute for rubbing alcohol

I showered, sprayed cristalmina all over my face and left ear, threw on some clothes, then headed back out for the dinner.

Thirteen of us had opted for the tournament's dinner, and thirteen full pizzas were served.  You do the math.

Thirteen pizzas for thirteen people

I ate at least eight pieces throughout the dinner, which I'm pretty sure was a whole pizza.  Yum.  We went to a nearby bar afterwards, but I was so exhausted I only stayed for a little bit before heading home to bed.  After all, we had to be up again in the morning for day two of the tournament: Ultimate - Street Edition.  The plan for Sunday was to play ultimate near some monuments and famous plazas downtown (if we didn't get kicked out).