Tuesday 25th August
When my alarm went off at 3.45am I felt tired. Really tired. It wasn’t helped that the night before a fox had kept me up, that I’d rushed around London to get printer cartridges to print out new boarding passes and not finished packing until gone 11.30pm. Thankfully the journey to Gatwick was uneventful for Summer, though I was slightly nervous when we stopped outside Clapham Junction for no stated reason and the time we had to change trains dramatically decreased. We arrived at the airport at 6.00am and waited around an hour for Lucy who it turned out had experienced the journey from Hell.
We dropped off one piece of shared hold luggage and after a quick bite to eat made our way to the gate. The flight was full of other people I assume were going to Tomatina and those arriving late had difficulty fitting hand luggage in. It appeared there were a number of stag do’s on board or at least I assume that was why one guy had to walk around in a pink baby out fit complete with over size dummy. Another group behind us dared the stag (I assume) to “get ‘Chloe’s’ (evidently one of the air hostesses) number”. He pressed the assistance button and eventually she hurried along. “Is there an emergency?”, “Yes Chloe, I need your mobile number”. I don’t remember the wording of the blunt response but no number was given and she quickly turned around and walked to customers really in need.
After we arrived at the airport we took a taxi to our hotel where we were given our documents for Tomatina and the rep helpfully provided us with a route in to the old town via the old river bed. His final piece of advice was “it’s great, just wonder around, get lost in there and find something awesome”. We made our way to the Jardines del Turta (the old river bed) where first we came to some modern looking buildings which housed various museums including the Museo de las ciencias. They were quite interesting pieces of architecture, all looking like something that would have been suited to a sci fi movie. Somehow they also all envoked the feeling of water even though there weren’t any fountains or any flowing water nearby. The river had been diverted after a flood in 1957 and to fill the extra space a number of parks had been created which made it an interesting route in to town.
After about an hour we arrived at the Puenta del Mar bridge on the edge of the old town. The Gothic looking style contrasted with the modern buildings we had left behind and we entered the old town, slowly wondering towards the Mercado Central (central markets) in search of a late lunch. The first building of interest was the Ayuntamiento (city hall) which was opposite a nice square the Plaza Ayuntamiento.
Spain is infamous for siestas and we quickly realised their slight inconvenience for tourists when we arrived at the markets and found them locked up. We quickly spotted an outside bar which smelt good and was busy enough to suggest the food was acceptable. Initially after hearing the wait was 10 minutes we carried on but as it had a €8 deal for paella and Sangria we quickly backtracked. Bamboleo by the the Gypsy Kings was playing in the background and I finally felt like I was on holiday living the life. Valencia is, apparently, the home of paella so we all ordered the Valencian version which contained chicken rather than sea food. We all agreed the food and Sangria was good and that the rep had been right in telling us to just stumble across somewhere.
Food cravings satisfied we started to walk towards the Cathedral Basilica where we came across a pleasant, quiet square with a church, the more lively Plaza Redona which had a fountain in the middle surrounded by various shops. It was here that I looked up and caught a glimpse of The Torre de Santa Catalina which we then walked past before arriving at the cathedral. The cathedral is said to be the home of the Holy Grail and as I’ve studied Arthurian literature my inner geek came out. Lucy and Summer weren’t so keen unless the display included the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
As it turned out the room had already closed and luckily I quickly found them and instead we decided to climb the Cathedral tower. The distance was 207 steps and when we arrived at the top we were greeted by a impressive view of the city below with a wonderful back drop of some mountains and cloud free blue skies all around (ed. there may have been one or two clouds I’d initially failed to notice). We could see the museums near our hotel in the distance as well as some of the taller buildings in the old town. A bell was also housed at the top though it didn’t appear to be in service which was probably good for the hearing of everyone at the top.
Once we were back at the bottom we began as route back to the main road to get the bus back to the hotel. First we stumbled across the Basilica and the Turia Fountain in Plaza de la Virgen. I particularly liked the statue/fountain and tried to recreate the pose for a photo. We arrived at the main road quite quickly but didn’t have any joy identifying where the bus we needed left from. Instead after a quick unanimous group decision I flagged down a taxi which we were surprised came to a price that was possibly cheaper than the bus and certainly more comfortable.
Each of us had a quick shower before we headed down for the pre event meeting. “Bomber” the PP rep provided us with some history of Valencia, of Tomatina and crucially the times & other important information for the following day. A pre festival party in the open part of the modern complex had also been arranged however as entry was free the 3 of us decided to get some dinner first from the nearby shopping centre. I also took the opportunity to get some cheap essentials for the festival (cap and shoes, total bill €10). We ended up eating at one of the few places still open, an Italian restaurant called Ginos however the pasta I got was good and the waiter was friendly. Skipping dessert we returned to the party.
We were all quite tired by the time we arrived and as there was no where to store the shopping we’d got we decided to just take a look inside by going in pairs. It looked quite pretty but not particularly lively and it seemed others had taken the sensible idea of not getting to drunk before the event we’d all come for. After spending less than 10 minutes we left and returned to the hotel where I think we all probably fell asleep quite quickly.
Wednesday 26th August
At some point in the night I woke up with Summer delicately shaking me, telling me I had started snoring and I obediently stopped and rolled back on to my side to prevent it. I’m not a regular loud snorer but I’m aware I’ve been guilty in the past if I fall asleep on my back which I had on this occasion and even in my sleep I think I was aware that I was snoring (though Lucy didn’t hear it). I’m not sure if I went back to sleep so I was probably in between state of conscious and sub consciousness when Lucy’s alarm started to go off at 5.30am signalling it was time to get up. There seemed little point in showering as we were about to get covered in tomatoes so once we were dressed we headed down to breakfast.
After filling up on a true continental breakfast (croissant, salami, chorizo, cheese, Spanish omelette and the triangular cheese which is like dairy lea we boarded the coach to Bunol. The La Tomatina festival began in 1945 to commemorate a food fight which took place in the towns 1944 fiesta, the origins of which have been forgotten in time. It was early so whilst I could feel my heart trying to pump a bit of adrenaline around my body at some point I fell dozed off for 30 seconds and Summer went “Rooaaarrrr” making me jump. I made a mental note to throw a tomato in a sneaky retaliation attack.
After just under an hour we arrived at the site and had a quick toilet stop whilst they were still relatively clean and before the queues built up. It felt like quite a long walk in to the part of the town used for the festival. We arrived at the entrance and decided to walk all the way through to the opposite side of town to get our bearings. On our way we brought some sangria and got caught in a crowd as we saw the Google Car taking pictures of the pre tomatoed streets.
We ended up back in the centre of the town just as the famous ham pole was raised. A guy climbed the lower half of the pole, already covered in grease and spread even more on. Once he was done the crowd surged forward slightly as members of the crowd started trying to climb the pole. Initially each gallant attempt was met by cheering, and then ultimatley a groan as each person failed. The objective was to work as a team and it seemed simple to me that strong people had to be at the bottom to hold up lighter people however the concept of team play was lost on one guy wanting glory for himself and he even pulled a girl by her hair in his feelble attempts to get to the top. One guy climbed the tree next to the pole but decided against leaping over and apparently another climbed up wearing nothing but a hip pouch but I have to admit without my glasses I didn’t realise he was naked.
The crowd steadily continued to build up and we got talking to members of another tour group before Lucy and I made our way back up the street towards an area that looked down on the street below. As we waited for the first truck we heard the gun shot which signaled the fight had begun and as it turned around the corner the carnage began. After it had passed I was initially surprised, almost slightly disappointed, that I and the surrounding area didn’t look so messy. There were a few tomatoes on the ground to squeeze and throw but the world’s largest food fight hadn’t really begun.
The street used was quite narrow and only large enough for one car to pass and from vantage point it looked jam-packed. It was slow progress to get the trucks through which meant Lucy, I and the others in our vicinity took a real beating because we were standing at the same level to those in the trucks throwing tomatoes. In fact one or two seemed to have picked us as targets possibly due to Lucy’s orange cap but Lucy got revenge when she landed a tomato one the back of one of their heads as they bent down.
By the 5th truck had passed I was a mess and the food fight was in full flow as adrenaline took over. We decided to head in to the crowded street and a liquid resembling tins of chopped tomato came over my feet almost up to my ankles in places. The crowd surged us forward as people pushed from the back and It felt mildly claustrophobic so I used my go pro as a slight buffer between me and the person in front to avoid being squashed. There were one or two times I tripped not realising that I was on the curb but luckily I didn’t go down though I felt slightly reassured that Lucy and I were constantly looking for each other.
Eventually we saw a side street which we escaped uo and after making our way through a park before we came to the main street. We couldn’t find an official shower so but a family were using a hose to clean individuals for a small tip so we joined the queue. We never did find a shower so this was a good decision though even though my cap had protected my hair I still felt rather filthy when I changed in to ‘clean’ clothes and boarded the coach.
Summer was one of the last to board and whilst she’d been able to get a hose down as well her normally impaculate blond hair resembled a pizza base. She told us she’d been part of a group at the end that made an attempt to get the ham when the crowds had died down. I got my tablet out and blinked a few times when I noticed the screen looked pink. I checked with Lucy and Summer and they confirmed it was to them as well. It’s funny how after spending more than an hour seeing pretty much nothing but red our brains had trained my eyes to see that colour.
We returned to the hotel and after a proper shower I made my way to the super market to grab us all some late lunch, though it turned out there was only one type of baguette available. After returning to the hotel I learnt that all the showers from those at the festival had caused the water pressure to crash and poor Summer had been forced to wait even longer to wash her hair. We briefly made our way to the swimming pool but it was quite shaded and surprisingly windy so we returned to our room where I had a nap.
La Tomatina organisers had arranged a after party. As we waited in the reception we first got talking to a group from New Zealand before Lucy and Summer recognised Jarrod And Beau who had sat near us on the coach to the festival. We eventually arrived at an industrial estate which randomly included a fancy resort that had been transformed in to a pool party. The pool area was nicely lit up but I couldn’t help thinking ‘who on earth would visit the rest of the year, unless it’s the best truckers rest area ever?’.
As Lucy and Summer queued for drink tokens I went on the hunt for food. It turned out that the chips took to long to cook so were off the menu, the pizza had been burnt to a crisp and as the paella hadn’t been delivered as with the supermarket there was only one choice, a burger. Eventually I found the others and we chatted for a couple of hours over a few beers. I couldn’t face the queue to get more beer tokens once mine had run out especially as it seemed some of the bars hadn’t stocked up enough. Ultimately Summer, Lucy and I were probably suffering from two early stbeachso called it a night but not before I tried the (now discounted) burnt to a crisp pizza.
Thursday 27th August
We decided to have a massive lie in at last because our only real plan was to visit the beach. Lucy had mentioned the day before the bath had been stained pink and initially I’d put it down to our eyes. I was surprised when I showered the next morning to notice a patch of pink seemed to remain. Once we’d had breakfast we got ready to go out and met Beau and Jarrod by the entrance.
We learnt they’d stayed quite a bit later than and whilst they looked to be paying for it, it sounded like it had been worth it. Eventually they decided to join us at the beach so we all made our way to the bus stop. My geography of Spain was quite poor so I hadn’t actually realised Valencia was on the coast so I tried to buy some beach footwear but we could only see restaurants so I quickly lost motivation and gave up. When I was younger I loved the Dorset sand and sea but I didn’t enjoy having sandy feet and I still throw an inner tantrum if I have to put socks on sandy feet.
There was a quite spectacular sand castle and a sand sculpture of the “Last Supper”. It turned out Valencia was on the Med so the sea wasn’t as cold as I expected and I practised using my Go pro under water in preparation for Greece. I had no idea how the footage was coming out but at least after a couple of days I was finally familiar with the buttons. Lucy’s was slightly more updated with a view finder so that gave me an indication.
We’d had a late breakfast but after a couple of hours relaxing and not using much exercise I began to feel a bit hungry. Fortunately Jarred and Bo? were as well so we went in search of some Spanish Tapas. The night before I’d set my heart in eating calamari and I initially showed little reaction when Lucy pointed it out to me on the Tapas menu. A few seconds later I reacted in the excited childish manner expected. The food portions were pretty good and we actually ended up with some food left over.
Jarrod and Beau went back to the hotel and Lucy, Summer and I returned to the beach. Whilst they went back in to the sea I stayed to look after our stuff and attempted to build a sand sculpture of Vicarage Road before turning it in to the old Wembley Stadium although in hindsight a bull ring would have been more appropriate. I had a final dip in the sea where I tried to create exciting wave videos because they were bigger than the afternoon. Back on the sand I built myself a chair (really a mound of sand) before we noticed it was much later than we realised after we’d lost track of time relaxing on the beach.
We decided to have a look further along the water front and found a market area that sold all the beach wear accessories we’d expected to find earlier in the day. We also saw a guy blowing bubbles which had generated a small crowd mainly of children. Things turned slightly sour when a kid kicked the bucket, went down quicker than Christiano Ronaldo clutching his toe and got his gran to shout at the bubble man. She was booed and a big cheer went up when bubble man started up again. We also saw a brass band playing music and I was impressed how Summer identified it as “Under the Sea” from the Little Mermaid so quickly.
We eventually went for dinner at a place called Destino 56 which had interesting décor. The wall was an under water scene and for reasons we weren’t sure little plastic figures hung from the ceiling. Summer and I shared another Valencian Paella and I had a glass of white sangria. I had no idea such a combination existed and whilst I enjoy Sangria I’m not that keen on red wine. I have to say I found the white Sangria one of the most easy to drink cocktails I’ve ever had and it reminded me of the juice from tinned fruit salad. Once we were finished we walked past the sand sculptures now lit with candles and got a taxi home.
Friday 28th August
Our flight was scheduled for the early evening so we had just over half a day to explore more of the old town. After another lie in and a good breakfast (where I made a ham and cheese toastie) we checked out, put our bags in to storage and caught the bus in to town.
The bus terminated at the grand looking train station which was next door to the bull ring which was an even more impressive structure. We followed the main road past the town hall as we had on the first day and came to the Central Markets. The markets seemed to have a variety of different foods available including somewhat predictably chorizo and those less expected such as live eels slithering around in a shallow tank of water. We brought some gifts and made our way back to the cathedral.
We took a different path to the first day and as we made our way passed lots of examples of street graffiti (certainly more street art). Some of it looked slightly sinister, some was slightly random such as a reoccurring little figure and other pieces were hugely impressive. Once we arrived at the Cathedral Lucy and Summer went for a coffee and I went to take a look.
I was quite impressed with the Cathedral and it was helpful that the audio guide was free. Obviously the highlight was the Holy Grail in the Capilla del Santo Caliz however predictably that was at the end. The Holy Chalice in the Cathedral is deemed by Christian historians to be the most likely used in the last supper and it has also been used by a number of Pope’s which has further strengthened the authenticity of the claims. As well as ‘the Holy Grail’ there was the preserved severed arm of St Vincent in the Capilla de La Resurreccion. A a number of other interesting Chapels also contained various pieces of art.
I met up with Summer and Lucy and we began a search to find somewhere nice but reasonably priced for lunch. We didn’t really have any ideas when all of a sudden someone in the street gave a business card to Lucy. In London I wouldn’t have considered this approach but we looked at the deal and whilst a 3 course meal and a drink for under €10 seemed to good to be true we took a chance. I was really impressed with my goats cheese salad, pasta and French toast with ice cream. It wasn’t the type of fried French toast I expected and it was actually much nicer but by that point I was too full.
We were in more luck when we quickly spotted an empty taxi. I chatted to the driver about football because I had noticed his Valencia pennant. He was particularly animated when he realised the Watford manager was “Ahhhh Quique Sanchez Flores”. As we chatted Lucy joked to Summer about how football is the international language in Europe. We made another quick stop at the cheap super market to get Sangria for Summer. Whilst we arrived at the hotel a few minutes after the designated pick up because it was Spain it didn’t seem to matter that we were late.