Valencia, October 8-11
For no other reason than a sense of intuition and directions on a map, I told Liza that I thought we should go to Valencia before heading to Barcelona on our way to Pamplona. She agreed, and I must say this was a very good choice, indeed! Before going on to describe it, I have to say that I really loved Valencia! It is a great middle-sized city on the Mediterranean coast with great weather, open and fun people and an aesthetic of decay and rebirth something like New Orleans. As it happened, we stumbled onto their biggest festival of the year, celebrating the expulsion of the Moors in something like 1287. We arrived in Valencia's train station (Estacio du Nord) after a long, bumpy ride from Madrid — the result of opting for the regional train as opposed to the high-speed AVE, which saved about 20 Euros, or 25 dollars per person. We finally got there at about 11 p.m., and didn't know where we were going, since our guide book had been stolen, along with my journal and jacket, in the Madrid train station. We found someone and asked for directions, but just heard a confused mix of “turn left, turn right” The next hour consisted of wandering around looking for some place called Hostal El Rincon through back alleys in what appeared to be the red-light district. We asked directions and then walked in circles again. At least the people giving directions were very friendly, and I think my difficulty in following their directions was a combination of curved, narrow alleyways, and a local dialect — Valenciano. Eventually, I saw a young tourist weighed down by backpacks, who was peering at the same version of the guidebook I had lost just a few hours earlier. She turned out to be a Canadian from British Columbia. We joined forces and found a backpacker hostel, where a very talkative Venezuelan named Pedro worked. After haggling about prices for a while, we decided to stay. We were out for a quick beer and some tapas. A waiter asked where I was from, and when I said Chicago, he asked if I was a Mafioso. I felt like I was home!
As I mentioned earlier, we stumbled on the Valencia community annual festival, called III Entrada Moros i Cristians. Starting at midnight of October 9, fireworks were set off and small processions of brass bands began to slowly wind through the narrow alleys of the historic center of Valencia. The following day, a procession began in which a large staff, with a suit of armor topped by a metallic bat was removed from the Real Basilica and marched through the streets. The staff was held by the queen of the festival, while four ropes extending from the suit of armor were held by four men (maybe here court, I am not sure). Later in the day, after several more bouts of sporadic fireworks, plastic chairs were set up, lining the route of the parade. We took our seats and were completely amazed by what followed. To recreate the expulsion of the Moors, people dressed in Arab costumes began the parade. They marched slowly past, displaying the brilliant colors of their outfits and dancing to evoke Arab culture. Then came the Christians, carrying books and crosses, while dancing in a somewhat more subdued, but more celebratory way. Once this exercise was done, the parade became more of a free-for-all, with groups dressed alternately as Moors or Christians. In fact, there were a good deal more “Moors” than “Christians,” although the group of old ladies we befriended said that in past years, this had not been the case. Each group had its own musical band of brass, wind and percussion instruments. Only two groups that I saw used motorized vehicles, and only one used pre-recorded music. All together, there must have been about 4,000 parade participants. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, and in terms of parades, must only be rivaled by Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
In Valencia, we saw beautiful architecture and met the nicest people I've met in Spain yet. I had my first swim in the Mediterranean Sea and saw the biggest selection of fresh — mostly live — seafood of my life in the Mercat Central. We ate breakfast in the beautiful Plaza de la Virgen and met other backpackers on trips of their own. It was hard to leave, as we loved the city so much. However, we have much ground to cover, and have to keep moving on. Now we are on our way to Barcelona, and I do not know how it will compare to Madrid or Valencia. Check back to find out!