Fun Shots From The Trip

While in Valencia I shot a few things with the idea I would process for creativity when I got home.

These first two are HDR’s created from 3 separate exposures shot handheld as we were walking about the city:

Falla In The Mirror

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Falla In The Mirror

Scooter

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Scooter

And a fake miniature from the Teplar Castle in Peñíscola:

Scooter

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Scooter

Valencia – It’s A Wrap

In case you were wondering, we’re back. We flew home a week ago Monday. Our flight was early…7:30 am…which meant getting up before dawn, double checking our packing, checking out of the hotel and catching a cab to the airport.

We flew from Valencia to Paris where we caught the overseas flight back to Houston. As it turned out, our flight to Paris was delayed and we found ourselves running through the Charles de Gaulle Airport fairly certain we would miss our connection. STRESS! Bleh! We worried for naught, though. They held the flight and we made it in plenty of time.

Valencia was a spectacular city. It’s hard to figure out why Rick Steves has not covered it in any of his extensive European travels. The Holy Grail, The City of Arts and Sciences, the museums, the beaches. Those things alone make it a worthy place to visit. Add the Las Fallas Festival and you have the trip of a lifetime.

Prior to departure Cynthia had lost her voice. This was a concern because her Spanish language skills really come in handy and, not only that, she has more fun when she can speak the language. Fortunately she had mostly recovered in time for the trip and it was not an issue.

The festival was really something. Throughout the time we were there we wandered the city to check out the fallas. There were literally hundreds around the city and we only managed to see a small percentage of them.

We also took in the other sites and just enjoyed the festival atmosphere. It was hugely crowded, especially on the last day, but we managed very well. Fireworks started about 8:00 am each day and detonated all over the city all day long and culminated in a spectacular display at 1:30 each morning. Not only that, but individuals had their own fireworks which they set off all over the place. I even had my own “petardos” to splode when the mood struck me.

The noise, the crowds and the scheduled events all combined to make the overall trip an adventure in sleep deprivation. We capitalized on the afternoon siestas and strategically planned our meals to minimize wait times.

My social networking experiment paid off big time. I contacted Manel via Flickr and Twitter and when we got to Valencia we made contact. He came out one day and give us an insider tour of the city for a few hours on the final day of the festival. He couldn’t hang out too long as his family had their own fallas celebration he needed to attend. After our tour he suggested driving us to Peñíscola on our last day to see the Templar Castle.

Manel didn’t speak much English so it was mostly him talking to Cynthia and her translating. I got the gist of most of the conversation. I can understand more than I can speak. There were times though that he was talking tech in Spanish and it was actually me doing the translation from Spanish geek to English geek so Cynthia could understand.

It’s hard to describe the whole experience. To boil it down it was noise, crowds, fires, explosions and really good food and company. As foreigners much was lost on us in regards to the cultural and historical significance of the various events, but it was fantastic to witness none the less.

Photographically, this was my best outing ever. The tripod and the 30mm Sigma f/1.4 lens were of the greatest benefit in the evenings, but the Tamron 17-50mm was the true workhorse overall. The Sony 70-300G came in handy, but ultimately saw little use and the Sony 11-18mm was an excellent wide angle standby. The gallery is up here. If you want context you should view the commentary under the blog topic Las Fallas – Valencia.

My best/favorite picture from the trip has to be this one of La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia:

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

That being said, the fire parade shots which I shot with the Sigma and the shots of La Crema which were taken with the Tamron are real highlights for me.

I doubt it’s something we’d ever do again, but we are sure as heck glad to have done it once. As Cynthia says, it’s a big world and time and money are short. Repeating a trip is never as fun as going on a totally new adventure so we’re in search of the next one.

Thanks to everyone who followed along and made comments via this blog, Flickr, Twitter and even Facebook. It was awesome having an audience to share the experience with.

Peñíscola

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

For our last day in Valencia Manel agreed to pick us up at the hotel and drive us the 120 kilometers (75 miles) to Peñíscola which is a beautiful city located on the coast and is topped by a castle that was once home to the Knights Templar and Benedict XIII (an Antipope). It was also the filming locations for the movie El Cid.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

When you climb to the top of the castle you have a pretty spectacular view of the beaches and surrounding city.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

The full sized version of the panoramic image can be seen by clicking here.

We had a fun time climbing around in the castle and shooting pictures.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

Eventually we climbed back down and walked the beach for a bit for some lunch and then headed back to Valencia with a stop at a Horchatería where Manel introduced us to horchata which is a traditional Valencian beverage and quite tasty.

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

We’re very grateful to Manel for all of his kindness and hospitality and we could not have had a better send off!

Peñíscola
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Peñíscola

La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia

It was worth packing a tripod just to get these extended exposure shots of The City Of Arts And Sciences in Valencia, Spain.

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

Life Is A Beach

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Friday was the first day after the official end of the Las Fallas Festival. We needed something peaceful and easy going after a solid week of late nights, loud noises and huge crowds so we decided to hop the bus and head to the nearby beach.

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

I forget sometimes what a beach with clear blue water and light colored sand looks like. Valencia is right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and it is a magnificent beach.

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

We just spent the day walking along the paseo from one end to the other. We came across this cool fountain which we’d seen pictures of previously

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

The beach was not overly crowded, but there were a number of people out. Some were walking like we were, others were sunning themselves on the beach or fishing. Some were running and launching themselves into the air

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Around 2 pm we headed to an area on the beach that was lined with upscale restaurants and took a seat on the patio to enjoy some sangria and world famous Valencian paella.

Valencia Beach
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Valencia Beach

Everyone we knew who has been to Valencia said the paella was fantastic, and they were right. It was a tasty tasty meal!

After a bit more walking we headed back to the bus stop and made our way back to the hotel.

It was a great day!

La Crema

The main event. Midnight is the time all the fallas are burned.

La Crema
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La Crema

We decided the above falla would be the one we watched burn. It was within easy walking distance of the hotel and was facing a wide open area along the dry riverbed so we would not be crammed into a small space by the throngs of onlookers.

We got there an hour before the burning time which was midnight. The crowd was very large and enthusiastic. Once the firemen cleared the electric lights and lowered the fire screens that protected the nearby buildings a series of fireworks detonated and the falla began to burn. At one point the fire was so hot we could feel it on our faces. It’s a wonder the people up close were not injured. I suspect there’s more than few eyebrow-less festival-goers after this.

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

La Crema
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La Crema

It burned to the ground in about 10-15 minutes.

By the time we got back to the hotel there were plumes of black smoke all over the city, billowing into the Firework were going off everywhere. Within a few hours the entire city was covered in a haze of smoke.

The next day, silence….

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

The fire parade was a must see. It started just after sunset and was not too far from the hotel so we headed out early to stake out a spot for an unobstructed view. After the crowd filled in there was a reconfiguration of the barricade that actually put us behind some people. Most unfortunate, but not as bad as it could of been.

The parade started on time and at the beginning it was peaceful and really rather tame. The dancing girls moved along the parade route followed by a live band.

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

They were followed by a slow procession of Falleras (the women in traditional costume seen in my previous post. Apparently only a select few. Probably award winners from the champion fallas.

Then the main event.

Men and children dressed in flame retardant devil costumes with all manner of fireworks in tubes, on sticks and as part of elaborate constructs that looked like engines of war. The ran up and down the street and at points in the parade we were showered in sparkling fire embers. It was kind of scary. Cynthia thought we would be set on fire as she huddled behind me. I shielded myself as best I could and took some pretty satisfying photos.

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

Fire Parade
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Fire Parade

This is only a small sample of the photos. Check out this Flickr slide show to see the entire collection

Last Day of Las Fallas

Thursday, the final day of the Las Fallas festival. I will tell you this, we are tired. VERY VERY tired. Late nights, huge crowds and lots of noise.

Fireworks are constant. It literally sounds like a war is being waged all around us. Starting around 8 am and going and going and going. It’s not horrible, it’s just the background noise to this festival and it somehow fits. Being the last day the crowds are HUGE. I think a lot of people come just for this day.

This was the day we were to meet up with Manel. Manel is the person I reached out to on Twitter to see about making a local connection during our trip. Manel was a fellow twitterer and flickrer and seemed like a nice guy.

As it turned out, he didn’t speak much English, but fortunately Cynthia speaks pretty good Spanish.

We met up in the morning and he took us around the city and we had an awesome time. He offered to drive us to Peniscula on Sunday which will be very cool!

A success for social networking!

The last night of Las Fallas is the night of the fire parade and La Crema. Post about those coming soon.

What… is your quest?

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

The Chapel of the Holy Grail claims to hold THE Holy Grail. It has even been certified by the late Pope John Paul as almost certainly being one of several potential candidates for being the One True Grail.

We went off in search of the Grail and actually got a little lost. We were pretty sure we knew where it was, but not absolutely certain. Cynthia mused at the conundrum of having to actually utter the sentence “Excuse me, but we seek the Holy Grail.” It just sounded ridiculous.

We did find it on our own, avoiding having to answer these questions three or being taunted by French guards, tricked by Grail Maidens or menaced by a bunny rabbit with huge gnashing teeth.

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

The Grail is back in a special chapel and behind bulletproof glass and the closest you can get to it is about 20-30 feet so it is not possible to truly scrutinize the relic.

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

William The Sheepie was in awe of seeing the Grail, much as he was in awe of being blessed by the Pope when we were in Rome.

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

Of course we needed proof we’d found it

Holy Grail
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Holy Grail

Ofrenda

The Ofrenda is the flower offering to the Virgin Mary. Two days of parade of traditionally clothed men, women and children marching to the square to bring flowers which are used to create a giant effigy to the Holy Mother.corners of the city and converge on the square so you pretty much can’t go anywhere without running into a procession.

It starts with just the bare structure in the Plaza de la Virgen

Offrenda
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Offrenda

And then, over the course of two days literally THOUSANDS of women dressed in traditional costume make there way to the square to bring flowers that will be used to construct the effigy. The women are escorted by husbands, fathers and children and it seems to go on and on forever down several main streets.

Each group represents a family or a neighborhood and most of the groups have a marching band that accompanies them to the square and back home so there’s lots of music, singing and dancing.

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

Offrenda
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Offrenda

This goes on from around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and wraps up at midnight and starts all over again the next day.

When we went out this morning the virgin was only half complete but starting to look quite amazing

Offrenda
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Offrenda

They should be finishing up about now.

William Visits A Cat House In Valencia

William Visits The Cat House

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William Visits The Cat House

No, William didn’t go to a house of ill-repute. This is a hole in a wall on Calle Museo that feral cats use to get to and fro. Someone sculpted a house facade around the hole complete with doors, windows with curtains and even a fountain.

William Visits The Cat House

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William Visits The Cat House

William Visits The Cat House

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William Visits The Cat House

There’s even a miniature tile sign on the wall commemorating 4 of the more well known neighborhood that used to live there.

We didn’t see any cats, but they may well be laying low till the explosions stop later this week.

Fallas

Here is just a small sampling of the hundreds of fallas that dot the city. It’s interesting to think that these are so temporary. The most common comment I get when I mention to people back home that these will be burned at the end of the festival is something like “what a waste.” I don’t think so. Everything is temporary and this festival celebrates that along with the concept of renewal…and besides, things that burn and go boom are so coooool!

We’re still looking for the one we want to watch burn.

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Las Fallas
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Las Fallas

Speaking of burning, we are still deciding which one we want to see get torched. We’ll have to stake out a spot early as the crowds get very large for the better and larger fallas when it is time for the crema.

Oceanográfico

The Oceanográfico, billed as the largest salt water aquarium in the world, was something we really wanted to see while in Valencia. It did not disappoint!

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

The aquarium tunnel alone was extremely interesting and fun to walk through and take pictures in.

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

At one point I dropped my hat without realizing it and the friendly scuba diver alerted me to the situation

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

Thank you Aquaman!

We saw many fine aquatic creatures including this very cool Sea Dragon

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

And these jellies

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

The highlight of the exhibit was this very tame and very curious Beluga Whale

Oceanografico
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Oceanografico

The best aquarium I have ever seen and in such a wonderful complex. If you’re ever in Valencia, it’s a must see.