It was pretty late at night by the time my train arrived in Valencia. The sun had set and my booked hostel had given terrible directions within its hostelworld.com page. The directions were essentially catch a metro train to here then follow the old town signs. There were no old signs anywhere at all that I could see. Scratching my head I thought argh.
And then pulled out my trusty old iPhone. Sometimes I wonder how people cope these days without smartphones. Life is too hard without them. A few apps in particular have really contributed to my travelling experience. The one I used at this time was called CityMaps2go. It’s a paid app but so brilliant. It works by you downloading various maps of the places you plan to visit while at home with your wifi Internet. Then when you are overseas with no access to 3G/wifi (thereby rendering google maps useless) CityMaps2go works completely offline. It has all the locations of attractions, hotels, restaurants, streets saved into that city bundle that you already downloaded. It will access the satellite and show your position on the map and even which direction you are facing. It is to put it simply- a life saver.
Another life-saver app I use regularly is one that Snazzy found for me called World Lens. It has really helped me out in some tight situations. It is a special translating app but with a twist. It works by using the camera function and you hold the phone as you are going to take a photo of some foreign words. On the screen it shows the words translated into English. Simply amazing. It has some limitations in that it only works on typed words and the translations don’t make a huge amount of sense. But it’s enough to get the gist of the meaning. It’s not a free app when you buy the language extensions but I find it’s definitely worth the money. Best used when trying to figure out what to order off a completely foreign menu with no English in it at all!
Wandering through the streets trying to discreetly hold my phone (I am always aware it’s not a good idea to flash valuables around in a foreign city unless you desperately want to be mugged), I looked for my hostel. At night Valencia is a bit of a creepy-looking city with most of the shops having big roll down doors to completely close them off. During the day it was alive and friendly with all the doors rolled up, at night it just looked like a dodgy neighbourhood. With the occasional dodgy looking person hanging about. I was starting to really wonder what I was getting into thinking that maybe I had booked my hostel in a bad part of town by accident. I found my hostel after a while and settled into bed exhausted.
The next day I was pleased to discover that my hostel was actually in a really good location right in the centre. And the city was significantly less creepy by day with all the shops open. Although the hostel itself was average (called Albergue Junevil if you are interested), I did like the cheap price of €12 a night and great location.
To start the day off I changed up my routine a bit and started with a cycling tour to get to know the city. This was partly because I couldn’t find any decent walking tours on tripadvisor, and I also do really enjoy seeing a city by bicycle. It does usually cost more but the amount of fun and joy makes it worth it. I did my tour through Valencia Bikes for €24 for three hours. It was a great tour as the guide was friendly, engaging, and enthusiastic. He gave me some good Tomatina tips too.
Valencia is quite neat in that looking at the map, it looks like there is a huge long river going through a lot of the city. This is actually one long park which is very nice to cycle through. It stops by some of the important sights and keeps away from traffic.
Clockwise from top left: My bicycle with a Valencian art gallery shaped like a fish/helmet in the background, A fountain in front of the Opera House a.k.a the Microwave (all the glass panels make it toasty warm inside :S), The Cinema shaped like a giant eyeball, A mini castle, and the door to a Church.
Afterwards I had lunch with a couple of Aussie chicks from the tour group and we wandered around the maze of streets in the centre sightseeing and looking for cheap Tomatina clothing.
Some of you may be wondering why I keep going on about La Tomatina and what the heck it even is. It is an annual festival that celebrates essentially a huge food fight in the streets using tomatoes. It is reasonably well-known worldwide and has become one of those bucketlist tasks. And besides who doesn’t want to smash a tomato into someone else’s face? La Tomatina is held on the last Wednesday of every August in a small town called Bunol (aka Bunyol) which is about forty km out of Valencia. There is no accommodation there so festival participants generally stay in Valencia.
At the festival itself, there is a soap-covered pole with a ham at the top. When a person successfully makes it to the ham, this signals the beginning of the Tomatina fight and the trucks roll down the street dropping squishy tomatoes.
-Wear clothing that can be thrown out. Those clothes will stink forever.
-this includes your shoes. Don’t be wearing fancy nice shoes like I saw some people doing. You’ll never get the smell out and the tomato pulp really gets into every crack and crevice. I wore cheap €5 crocs which although looked gross, were perfect for Tomatina.
-also don’t wear jandels/flip flops/thongs. The street ends up a good 10-20cm deep in tomato juice and you will say goodbye to your jandels within minutes.
-bring water to hydrate. Plenty of sangria and beer for sale there but not a lot of water.
-there is BBQ food also for sale and some random food places open with some vegetarian options available. I saw nothing for vegans. Eat up before the actual fight starts.
-take as little as possible. Think about it, you don’t want your hangbag or backpack stinking of tomato do you?
-the money you bring, probably a good idea to waterproof it with a ziplock bag. Or just bring coins.
-don’t get there too early unless you are super keen. I had read websites that recommended getting there as early as 0730 to get a good position. I got there at 0930 and still found a good spot where I could see the ham. The fight doesn’t usually begin until 1100 ish so it’s a long time to wait from 0730.
-ways of getting out there include paying a company to transport you via bus there and back. That is the expensive way and you end up arriving there far too early at 0700, and not being able to leave until after 1500. The fight is finished by noon, so that’s an awfully long time to wait around. I recommend catching the train. Not only is it a lot cheaper (cost is €5.40 return, whereas the bus companies charged from €50-80), but you get to choose when you want to arrive and depart Tomatina. It takes a little more figuring out with working out which train station to go to, but I found the Tomatina website gave great instructions. Takes about fifty minutes to get there by train.
-you also hear tales of women getting their tops ripped off during the fight. To be honest this doesn’t happen. The guys did scuffle a little and ripped each others tops as men do, but the females were fine. I wore a sports bra to protect my modesty just in case there was that one creepy guy in the crowd. I did see a couple of Asian women wearing the tiniest little bikini thong sets. I wouldn’t have been surprised if that got ripped off. They looked like they were asking for it a little bit..
-be prepared for a surprising amount of crowd aggression. At times the crowd is very pushy with being so tightly-packed. As the trucks roll through the 1km of packed street, the people are all forced back against the sides to make space. There were Tomatina staff making sure everyone got out the way I was glad to see. And it is squishy-tight with almost no breathing room each time a truck came through. Once the tomatoes are dropped (not to mention there are men on the truck pelting the crowds with tomatoes), the crowd rushes forward and starting throwing tomatoes at each other. The hardest part I found was not falling over into the deep layer of juice while picking up ammunition.
-be nice and make sure your tomato is squished before throwing. Although the tomatoes are specially grown for Tomatina to be soft, I thought they were still pretty hard. The number of hard tomatoes that hit my head wasn’t pleasant.
-googles are an option too. I wore my scuba diving mask which definitely fared better than the cheap swimming googles sold by the ?nigerian/Indian street sellers. Those googles tended to fall apart easily and were sized for a child-sized head. However my mask fogged up instantly so it ended up around my neck so I could actually see. I got a tomato in the eyes a couple of times but the stinging does stop after a few minutes.
-I had a cheap waist belt for the day. In it I kept my money and passport safe within ziplock bags. My hostel key was also in there and a muesli bar. Otherwise try and take as little as possible.
-be aware too that 2013 is the first year that purchased tickets are required to enter the festival. Tickets can be brought online for €10 but buying the online version meant I had to bring my passport when checking in to get the entry wristband. I thought this was a stupid rule as my passport is really important and absolutely cannot get destroyed by tomato juice. I had it inside three ziplock bags. Hopefully the rule will change for next year. If you brought your ticket through a bus company however, or at Bunol itself, then you didn’t need your passport. Silly.
-Don’t despair if the online tickets are sold out. I went to Tomatina with two awesome Canadian chicks from my hostel who did not have tickets. Tickets were on sale in Bunol itself meaning my two new friends still got entry easily.
-be aware that when getting back on the train you have to rinse off most of the tomato first. The Bunol residents have fun using hoses to spray people. There were also sprinklers, drinking fountains and a hose shower setup by the train station. All with freezing cold water of course.
-last of all, have fun! That’s what it’s all about.
Clockwise from top left: My comfy hideous crocs, Pre-tomato fight looking so clean, the first truck full of tomatoes, and a random guy trying to climb the pole and grab the ham.
Clockwise from top left: tomato selfie, then my camera got water or tomato on the lenses, some people wore business attire for the fight and mayhem with splat marks all over the buildings.
Post fight group shot! We survived!
There were some downsides to the day unfortunately. 2013 was the very first year that it rained for the festival. This did dampen the mood a little. I have to admit when I was huddled in the packed street with my Canadian friends, shivering madly while the freezing rain poured down drenching us all, I did think the day wasn’t as fun as I expected. The rain stopped just as some super Asian guy clambered up the soapy pole and reached the ham. Then everyone in the crowd forgot about being so darn cold and got into the fun of the food fight. In total about five trucks rolled past over the hour each causing the squished-crowd-claustrophobia sensation as it rolled past. I felt glad there was no more than five. I’m not too sure I could have handled it. Then ankle-deep in tomato juice, it was time to slosh along with the crowd towards the exits.
The queue lines for washing off the tomato at the various hoses, fountains and sprinklers were atrocious with thirty thousand people all needing to take turns. Sangria was still on sale and the mood was festive. Eventually me and the Canadian girls were clean enough to be allowed on the train. We shivered the whole way back and headed straight for the showers on arrival at the hostel. My crocs and entire outfit went into the bin. I felt quite attached to my crocs as they really been the perfect shoes for the day. The holes allowed good drainage and the rubber was easily cleaned. But I knew my mum would be ashamed if her daughter had ugly croc shoes so out they went.
It was then time for a much needed siesta along with most of my dorm room. Foodfights are pretty tiring and a lot of people had gotten up really early that morning in order to catch their bus (a lot of the buses left before 6am – insane!).
Meantime the pouring rain continued outside.
People that had brought Tomatina bus tickets had after-party tickets included in their €50-80 pack. I felt quite sorry for the chicks in my room dutifully dressing up for the party. A party that was meant to be in the streets with some swimming pools on the outskirts of Valencia. In the pouring rain. I was most happy to stay put in the warm hostel and have an early bedtime instead.
I awoke feeling quite refreshed the next morning. And with not even as many bruises as I expected following the ferociousity of the tomato throwing. I checked out of my average hostel and headed to the train station. I had one more night in Barcelona before flying back into England for the weekend. The weather had been too overcast and wet in Valencia to spend any time at the beach so I was quite excited at the thought of being to relax one more time on a Barcelonian beach.
I stayed in Barcelona in the same hostel as the first visit at a place called The Hipstel. I really liked this hostel as it was very modern and new. It even had an elevator! Flash as. Location is great and the breakfast is pretty tasty. There’s even this Spanish tomato pulp stuff to go on your toast. I quite enjoyed it pre-Tomatina but just couldn’t face the sight or smell on my last Spanish morning. The most exiting thing about the hostel was that there was a coffee machine that made really tasty cappuccinos. I drank so many during my stay. It was surprising that I didn’t get caffeine shakes.
Then it was time to head to the airport. I was sad to leave to favourite country.
Ciao Spain. Until next time.