Fallas

As a foreigner, I still find the enthusiasm that the Valencian people have for noise and fire sort of hard to understand. I can’t deny that the festival made a big impression on me, though: I experienced it last year, and this year I decided to go again. The truth is thatI could have gone to Valencia at any other time, but I chose Fallas. I mean, it’s basically a continuous street party! Let me tell you a little bit about it and about why it’s so extraordinary.

Fallas 2019, Valencia
A falla (2019)

Why, when and where?

Fallas (Falles in Valencian) is a traditional celebration in the Valencian Community that happens every year between the 15th and the 19th of March. The majority of the events take place in Valencia, while other towns and villages also hold similar celebrations, but on a smaller scale. The purpose of Fallas is supposed to be to commemorate Saint Joseph, even though their actual historical beginning didn’t have anything to do with religion. It started to develop in the Middle Ages when artisans burned broken artefacts and pieces of wood to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Fallas 2019, Valencia
Also from 2019, I think I liked this one the most 🙂

What actually happens during Fallas?

A quarter of the city’s population is supposedly actively involved in Fallas. Each neighbourhood in Valencia has a Casal faller, an organised group of people who meet throughout the year, plan and produce a falla. A falla is a construction made of paper and wax, a beautiful statue, a work of art…that they happily burn on the 19th. Artists make it, and it usually represents a satirical theme that’s previously agreed on. Each neighbourhood has a big and a small falla (falla infantil) that doesn’t represent any satirical themes. The fallas are completed on the 15th and can be observed for four more days before they’re burned.

The important elements of Fallas

Falleros and falleras

You can see people dressed in traditional clothing parading through the streets or hanging out at their Casal faller all the time. The dresses, especially for females, are beautiful and very expensive from what I’ve heard. The women wear their hair in a special way, and they always have perfect makeup. They look like they’ve spent days getting ready (they probably have).

The parties

All the Casal fallers have their own parties (mostly in tents), while there are some bigger open-air stages in the centre. People usually go there after the fireworks and stay until four when it all closes (pretty early for Spanish standards). The music is a mix of reggaeton and Spanish pop and rock, but you can hear electronic music as well. The crowds are absolutely huge.

The stalls

The most important are the ones that sell churros,
buñuelos and porras, traditional fried pastries that people usually dip in hot chocolate. You can also buy everything from sunflower seeds (pipas), of course, to various alcoholic drinks, jewellery, souvenirs and so on.

The fireworks

There are fireworks every night between the 15th and the 18th. They somehow get bigger, longer and more spectacular every night. The last one is on the 18th for La Nit del Foc (‘the night of fire’ in Valencian), is the best one. There are small fireworks next to every falla on the 19th too, not to mention the private fireworks that people set off pretty much everywhere. People of all ages also throw firecrackers constantly, and some literally make you deaf for a little while.

El Castillo, Fallas
I know this picture is what it is, but it’s also the reality: there’s a lot of smoke once the thing has been going on for 10 minutes or so.

The Mascleta

That’s fireworks too; it’s just that it takes place in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento during the day, at two in the afternoon. Why, you might ask yourself. Because they love noise here. Mascleta is basically a firecracker and fireworks display. It’s very loud and there’s a lot of smoke, People are casually drinking beer and eating sunflower seeds while the world seems to be ending right next to them.

The Desperta

If I had to choose the part of Fallas that makes the least sense, I’d have a hard time deciding between the Mascleta and the Desperta. The people of Valencia (as well as us, visitors) spend the majority of the day and night walking around, partying and in many cases drinking. Why would you want to wake us up at 8 in the morning? And why would anyone want to be the person doing it? The Desperta consists of brass bands marching down the streets, playing loud music. Falleros follow them, throwing large firecrackers. I could hear them through my earplugs.

The Crema

The Crema is the climax of the whole Fallas. It’s the last day to admire the fallas before they burn them (but you might be too tired and hungover at this point, I know I was). At ten in the evening, they burn the small fallas. Then people gather around their preferred big falla to watch the main bonfire which takes place at midnight. Some of the fallas are between buildings which need to be protected. It’s a crazy thing to watch: first there are fireworks and meanwhile or right after the falla itself is lit. It burns quickly and the firemen control the fire by dousing the surrounding houses (and the falla itself) with their hoses. It’s hot, pieces of fallas are flying around, and people usually move away to protect themselves.

La Crema, Fallas
And this one is absolute shite but that was my view. Please note how close the houses are!

Final thoughts on Fallas

The locals, at least from what I’ve seen, see Fallas as a time to relax (as they don’t have to go to school/uni/work most of the days). They hang out, party, see the fireworks, throw firecrackers. Most of all, they seem completely unfazed by the seemingly endless noise, smoke and fire. The only thing that really bothers them is the crowd.

I felt in actual danger at times, or at least like I was gonna go deaf. Naturally, the annoying vegan that I am, I was also thinking of the state in which the animals must be. If it bothers me, someone who understands what’s happening, how must they feel, considering the fact that they don’t?

Otherwise, I enjoyed every minute. As tired as I was after all the walking, partying and the lack of sleep, it was amazing. The fallas were huge and extraordinary, the falleras beautiful, the fireworks entertaining. The best part was spending time with people I haven’t seen in months in a city as cool as Valencia. Fallas just made it better.

Home?

The places that influenced me the most: Koper, Ljubljana, London, Valencia

I’ve been thinking about this scary thing called future quite a lot lately. I know why that is. It’s because I’m finally finishing my studies. This is my last year as I’ve got four subjects and the thesis left. Once that’ll be done, I’ll have to put my life together, as they say. The location is just one of the things that come with adulting, but it’s the one I want to focus on today. So, here are some thoughts about the four cities/towns that influenced me the most.

Koper, my home

Before I went on exchange, home was a simple and clear notion for me. It was the small coastal town I was born in, Koper. It lies on the coast of Slovenia, near the border with Italy, as well as the one with Croatia. I spent the first nineteen years of my life living here. It’s where I went to primary school, to high school, where I made friends, where I had my first kiss and my first party. I’ve always loved it: the weather that is better than anywhere else in the country, the proximity of the sea, its smallness and simplicity. Most of all, I probably loved the fact that basically anyone I had ever cared for lived here.

Koper is very small and there isn’t much going on, especially during the winter. A consequence of its size is also the amount and diversity of options when it comes to studies and work. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I stayed here to study, without trying to live on my own and without experiencing a city with an actual student life. Would I have been bored? Probably.

A typical evening in Koper.

Ljubljana, my second home

When I had to go to university, there wasn’t much choice in my small town. So, I went to the capital, like almost everyone did. I have friends who come from the same town as me, and who grew to love Ljubljana, who will probably move there permanently at some point. Personally, I never liked it there. I think the old centre is very pretty, and it’s a fact that there’s much more going on in the capital than in Koper. But that’s just not enough for me. I hate the weather, which is colder and rainier than in my hometown, even though they are only 100 kilometres apart. Waking up to the fog isn’t out of the ordinary either. You often don’t know what the weather’s really like until midday.

I could go on with listing the things that made me a Ljubljana-hater: the accent of its residents, how everyone’s rushing all the time, the public transport that never works like it should, the traffic jams. But I also have to acknowledge the fact that I’m stressed whenever I’m there, as it’s always all about uni and uni-related work. It’s not like I’m suffering, though. I’m not. I have many friends there, and especially during bachelor’s we used to go out often. The various events made my student years interesting, which they probably wouldn’t have been had I stayed in Koper. They just weren’t enough to make me want to live there.

Ljubljana’s Congress Square and castle.

London, my Erasmus home

Perhaps I’ll sound like a paradox now. I, on the contrary, absolutely loved living in a city that is also famous for rushing, traffic jams, rain, cold and fog. But it’s London; its level of coolness makes up for all of that, including the fact that it’s not a coastal city. London’s night life, the number of concerts, festivals, various other events, restaurants, bars and shops can’t compete with anything you can get in Slovenia. We’re just too small. I love its internationality, its architecture, the fact that it’s a city that never sleeps, the New York of Europe. I’ll stop here because I’ve expressed my love for this city enough in the previous posts.

The coolness of London also has its negatives sides, though. Its size makes it hard to meet anyone. As good as the transport system is, going somewhere can take ages. Then there are the crazy prices of accommodation, transport and everything in general, and the lack of any real nature. Luckily, London’s parks are amazing, and they make for a great escape. They’re huge, and you can really pretend that you’re not in a city anymore. When I lived there, I felt great whenever we took a trip, though. When we went to Dover, and I saw the sea after months, I felt relief, somehow.

The walk from Camden to Regent’s Park.

Valencia

Just when I was enjoying my life in London to the point of becoming confused about where I’d like to live, the only thing that could have made me more of a mess happened: I fell in love with a Spanish guy. And that’s how Valencia came into my life. I’ve travelled there many times and spent last summer working and living there. Valencia has its disadvantages, of course. It’s too hot in the summer months, huge cockroaches taking walks on its streets (or in your kitchen) is a regular thing, and life’s a bit slower than in most of Europe, probably. The jobs situation isn’t ideal either.

Otherwise, Valencia is pretty much perfect. It’s next to the sea, but it’s a proper city with many interesting things going on. It’s still small enough to be manageable, and you don’t have to waste your life in a metro or in a bus. The weather’s perfect if you can handle the heath in the summer and the absence of snow in the winter. Spanish people are lovely: open, friendly, direct and funny.

Playa de la Malvarrosa, my happy place.

And now what?

I’ve always been into travelling, but London was the first city that made me think that I’d perhaps like to live somewhere else than in my hometown. That it’s possible to have different homes in one life. Valencia did just the same.

I guess the normal thing for a person like me, who’s from a coastal town and dislikes the capital, would be to try to find work in the hometown first. And if that didn’t work, to suck it up, move to the capital and find work there. To continue the student life and come home every weekend. Or perhaps drive there and back every day and be tired all the time. It would make sense because it would allow me to spend more time with my family and friends.

But as much as I love them, I wouldn’t stay, at least not right now. Koper’s too small, I’ve explained Ljubljana, and I’d never consider living anywhere else in Slovenia. Of course, a big reason is the boyfriend abroad, and the fact that long distance relationships aren’t meant to be long distance forever. But it’s also the fact that there’s too much left to see and experience out there, and not just by travelling. I want to spend a couple of months living in Italy, some time in Russia, and a part of me wants to return to London, or at least to somewhere in England. And then there’s Valencia where I definitely want to return.

Worries

If living abroad has taught me anything, it taught me that it’s possible to find home somewhere else. That I enjoy it, that it’s possible to make friends anywhere, as it is to survive without being physically close to my loved ones. As long as there’s Wi-Fi at least. The very real possibility of moving away makes me feel guilty and worried whenever I think about it. How do I leave everything behind, even when I know I want to go? I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t go that far, that Europe is small, that nowadays it’s easy to stay in touch and to visit. That they’ll survive without me being there all the time and I’ll survive without them. That I’ll do my best to come back often and that Koper will always be my home.

Writing this didn’t make me figure out where I want to spend my life, or what the “right” decision would be. I still don’t know which city I’ll call home in the future. It did help me understand that it doesn’t matter, though, that I don’t need to have that figured out just yet. As for you, if you actually managed to get through this post which probably turned into a rather confused diary entry at some point, I hope it was somehow useful to you. 😊

My Erasmus Exchange and Internship

Exchange in London

I’m writing this during my second Erasmus experience: an internship in Valencia this time. The fact that I’m here is a direct consequence of the year I spent in London. I came to Spain for a guy I met on my previous exchange in England. I met a whole bunch of cool people from various parts of the world in London.

How it started

I always knew I would take part in an exchange at some point. I just didn’t know when exactly that would happen. There was always something making me stay: a boyfriend, my family and friends, the comfort and simplicity of living at home. And then, on a random December day in 2016, I had lunch with a friend who had recently returned from an exchange in China. She got me so excited that I decided to apply, even though the deadline was in two days. I thought: if she could do China, I sure as hell can do London. I spent a day preparing the documentation and writing motivation letters, and then I applied. And that changed a lot of things.

Erasmus, Tower Bridge at night

How it was

I went on exchange because I had this vision of myself becoming a proper Londoner, getting some British accent, travelling the whole UK. None of that happened, though. In the whole nine months I spent there, I haven’t made a single British friend, I haven’t acquired a trace of British accent, and the only proper UK trip I did was to Edinburgh. And despite all that, I had the best Erasmus experience I could ever wish for.

I met people from different countries with whom we partied a lot, and more importantly, became great friends. I’d still say that my exchange was a classic, nothing I haven’t heard of before. I believe most people have an amazing time studying abroad and experience similar things as I did. Except for falling in love, maybe, but that’s not out of the ordinary either: roughly one million Erasmus babies were born since 1987, they say.

How it changed me

The point is that it was a great year: the most special, different and interesting so far. It also changed me in many ways. Before I left, home was an easy notion to understand and describe, but it isn’t so anymore. When I’m in Slovenia, I always feel like it’s temporary, like it’s just a period I’m spending there before I pack my bags and disappear for a few months again. And truth be told, it doesn’t just feel like that, it is like that. The past academic year felt like trying to get the uni stuff over with just so that I can spend the summer working in Spain.

The new friends

The best part of my first Erasmus were the people. I love London, but to be honest, we would’ve had fun anywhere. I’m still in touch with the friends I made there, and we’re trying to get ourselves in the same country at the same time every now and then, even though that’s easier said than done. It’s hard enough to organise trips with friends from my hometown; imagine doing it with people from Spain, Italy, Poland, Finland, Greece, China and so on. But hey, from time to time we succeed.

Internship in Valencia

You can do 12 months of Erasmus during your bachelor’s and 12 during your master’s. I haven’t used any of the months during my bachelor’s but decided to use them all during my master’s. After 9 months in London, I still had 3 left, and where else would I spend them if not in Valencia, the place where my boyfriend lives, a beauitufl city, and an opportunity to improve my broken Spanish. On top of that, I found a translation related internship (that’s what I study).

The differences

It’s safe to say that it’s nothing like London was, and I don’t mean that in a good or in a bad way. The place is completely different, it’s summer, and I primarily came here to be with someone I already knew. I’m working from home most of the days, so I don’t see my co-workers every day. The interesting part is that most of them are Erasmus interns too. That’s not a rule, though, it’s an exception. We’re quite lucky when it comes to that, as we always have people to hang out with, and the gang is great this time too. I think the biggest difference is that I don’t have flatmates, except for my boyfriend. That changes a lot of things. Some of the greatest and funniest memories I have of London happened in the kitchen, in the hall, or in one of our rooms.

The biggest difference is the amount of time: one summer is nothing. Two and a half months are over in a heartbeat, and here I am wishing I could do it all over again. The work isn’t exactly what I was expecting; I’m not learning as much as I thought I’d be. The co-workers, though, were a very positive surprise. When you put a group of exchange students from different countries in the same place, amazing friendships and funny memories are bound to happen. I thought I’d just be spending a cool summer with my boyfriend and his friends, so making international friends was a big plus. As for Valencia, if you’ve read my previous post, you already know I love it here.

So, study exchange or internship?

The exchange

I’d say study exchange is the one that’ll give you the proper experience. Studying abroad as an exchange student usually isn’t that hard (it was very easy in my case). You have less classes, and you don’t have to work if you don’t want to (and if you have enough money; the scholarship won’t make you rich or anything). All of this means a lot of time for all the nice things: parties, trips and hanging out.

The internship

If you want to go abroad for a shorter period and get some working experience, an internship might be the right option for you. It’s harder to know what to expect, though. You might find it harder to meet people, as you may be the only Erasmus intern at the company. But you have Erasmus groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, as well as Erasmus organisations and travel agencies, so no worries.

Getting accepted

As for applying and getting accepted, it’s easier to get accepted for an internship. That’s just because you find the employer after you’ve been accepted. For the study exchange, on the other hand, you apply to three universities in order from your first choice to your third choice. The places are limited for the study exchange, but they aren’t for the practice. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

For how long should you go on Erasmus?

As for the internship, that’s completely up to you and your employer. I found mine, or better said, he found me, here. You can go for anything between a month or two and a whole year. An exchange is usually for one or two semesters, some are for a whole year. I’d recommend going for at least half a year or one semester, because that’s roughly how long you need to really get to know the place, the country, and the culture. Two months is cool, but they’ll pass faster than what you think. For me, nine months passed incredibly fast, not to mention the summer that’s coming to an end.

Where should you go?

That’s a completely personal choice, of course. I went to London because I love it, and because I like the accent and the culture. You should think about any possible languages you’d like to learn, any culture that interests you, or place that really appeals to you. The scholarship does vary according to the country, but, for example, you get the same amount of money for Italy and the UK, and the latter is much more expensive, especially London.

The money

I got around 500 euros per month (80% of the whole amount right away, and 20% after I came home). The scholarship depends on the country you come from too. That’s what Slovenian students get for the »first category countries«, so the more expensive ones. In general, you will need more money than what the scholarship gives you, so if that concerns you, you should go to a cheaper country. You might get some money from your employer if you’re an intern, but that’s not a rule (it’s more like an exception). It’s also very unlikely to happen in the south of Europe and much more likely to happen in the north.

Student residence or private accommodation?

Student residence forever. This way you’ll meet people! It’s even possible that they’ll put you in a flat or block with other exchange students. That’s what happened in my case, and I wouldn’t be able to be lonely even if I tried. If you get private accommodation, it’s possible you’ll end up living with people who are older and working full-time. Or just with people who, you know, already have a life and don’t need you in it. In case you’re going to England, you’ll get a single room, and I think that’s the case in many other countries too (not in mine, though).

Conclusions about Erasmus

Erasmus will give you more than it will take from you, that’s for sure. Your friends, family, boyfriends and girlfriends will wait. You’re not going for that long. Your independence will increase because you’ll have to find your way around in a foreign country. Your mum won’t be there to wash your clothes or cook your meals. You’ll learn how to communicate in a foreign language with ease, and you’ll meet people from all over the place. That also means free accommodation in the future, wink wink. People who participate in exchanges are generally open-minded, into hanging out and into travelling, so you’re bound to find people you have something in common with.

Basically, you’ll feel like you’re on a long holiday. You’ll party like you’re back in high school, uni won’t be that demanding, you’ll take random day trips, and you’ll have fun, I bet you will. And really, have you ever heard of anyone regretting Erasmus? Me neither. So, just apply before you get old, because the only thing you’ll ever regret is not doing it.

Pros and Cons of Living in Valencia

Valencia: pros and cons (well, sort of)

This is not a classic 5 pros and 5 cons of living here because I generally love it and don’t really feel like trying to come up with bad stuff just for the sake of balance. I’m not here as a tourist, but it’s not like I’ve lived here for years either; I’ve been in Valencia for a month and a half as an Erasmus intern, and I’ve got a month left. I’ve also travelled here many times before, including for Fallas, because there’s a guy here whom I like to see every now and then. So, let’s get into it.

JardĂ­n del Turia Valencia
JardĂ­n del Turia

Pros first, of course

1. The people

This can probably be said for Spanish people in general, it’s just that I don’t know anyone who isn’t from the Valencian Community. They are just…nice. They are open, funny, loud, and no matter how bad their English or your Spanish is, you’ll be able to communicate somehow, and they’ll encourage your attempts to speak Spanish, however feeble they might be.

2. The way of life

Siesta, late dinners, spontaneous drinks, and the fact that they always find time for relaxing and don’t feel bad about it. We all need more of that.

3. The weather

Yes, it can get too hot in the summer, but in general it’s pretty great. It doesn’t rain often, it doesn’t snow, the sky is almost never miserably grey, and the wind feels good, especially in the summer heat, and isn’t annoying at all. There’s no real winter; if you come here in February, it feels like spring does in Slovenia, where I come from.

4. The sea

That’s a personal one; I just happen to feel like coastal cities are far superior to inland cities and that London is the only exception. The beach in Valencia is nice, sandy, long and good for hanging out. The colour of the sea isn’t crystal clear or anything, but it only takes an hour or two by car and you get to the classical beautiful beaches to the South of Valencia; to places like GandĂ­a and JĂĄvea.

5. The size of the city

Valencia has something less than 800 thousand residents, and virtually no houses; everyone lives in blocks. That makes it quite easy to move around as nothing’s very far. You also have lots of transport to choose from: Valenbisi, the tube, buses, the tram.

6. Events and cool places

Valencia might not be as big as Barcelona or Madrid, but there’s still plenty going on. Clubs, bars, concerts, cool restaurants, outdoor cinemas, beach bars, festivals. It’s hard to get bored here.

7. Fallas

The most famous, most bizarre and crazy event in the city. It’s in March and it involves huge beautiful painted sculptures (that are burned in the end), lots of fireworks (during the day too for whatever reason), a lot of noise, street food and huge crowds of people. It’s a bit insane, it can be overwhelming, but it sure as hell is something to see.

8. JardĂ­n del Turia

What used to be the Turia river is now an enormous park that divides the city; it’s long and wide and it’s also where the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is situated. It’s a place for walking, doing all kinds of sports and having picnics. Most of all, it’s a place that makes you forget you’re in a city, while it’s at the same time impossible to not remember it.

9. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

There are locals who hate it, but it’s undeniable that it’s really something to see. The combination of white buildings, blue pools and the scorching sun makes it look pleasantly alien.

10. The old centre

Cool architecture, a huge Central Market full of fresh fruit and veggies and many pretty bars and restaurants. Slightly touristy, but not really in a bad way.

Plaza de Ayuntamiento

Cons

1. Fucking cockroaches

Yes, I’m supposed to be all for animals, but I just can’t. They are huge, and it’s common to meet the bastards on the street at night (or in your kitchen). It’s not like that’s only typical here, but I have never lived in any place as warm for that long before.

2. Not moving at all and sweating like a bastard.

Sweating in the middle of the night. Sweating. I like warm weather, but some summer days are just too damn hot. Still worth it for the mild winter, though!

3. Rare tubes, people being extremely late, and just the general slowness of life.

Sometimes being forced not to rush is wonderful, but not when you’re in a hurry, and not if you’re a very punctual person.

Playa de la Patacona Valencia
Playa de la Patacona

Final thoughts

All in all, I love it. I love it how I’m just a fifteen minute bike/bus/tube ride or a half an hour walk away from the centre or the beach. And how I can go running to the »river« every day if I feel like it (Valencia is a city of runners as it seems, there are many, and it kind of gives you motivation). I love it how there’s always some exotic restaurant I’ve never heard of before, how much people are into meeting and talking and how warm the nights are.

I’d just stay, and I’m already dreading the cold autumn and winter I’ll be forced to spend in Ljubljana. But once I graduate, who knows, I might come back here, even though London still sort of has my heart, and I feel like we’re not done yet. Anyway, congrats if you got this far, and thanks for taking the time!