Now I have to admit, I’ve been to Valencia before, a fair few years ago, but I have absolutely no recollection of when, where or what happened – and no there wasn’t any drinking involved! For some reason, there was a huge gaping hole in my memory about that holiday to the point I was thinking it was all a dream… Very weird.
So this time I’m blogging about it so that I don’t forget what I did!
Where we stayed – We got a modern 3 bed apartment in the old town from AirBnb which was very conveniently located with plenty of shops and restaurants close by and a short walk to the main plazas and cathedral. It was pretty noisy however, as it was on the first floor and just above some restaurants and opposite youth hostel so don’t stay in the room with the big window if you’re a light sleeper!
What we did – We went to the seaside! Valencia (like Barcelona) has that glorious mix of a historical city with a gorgeous beach right next too it. Sunlounger rental is €4.50, and so are the big umbrellas for that matter, paid to one of the guys with a bumbag at the little hut at the back. We spent plenty of time walking around the old town, chilling and people watching in the plazas. We also visited the Central Market which was packed to the brim of food – meats, fruits, veg, cheese, bread and pastries.
What we ate – Paella and tapas of course! The best paella we had was at La Valenciana Arrozeria which also doubles as a paella cooking school. The food was delicious and definitely get the chocolate mousse for dessert if you have any space left! Also if you’re a fro-yo lover head to Llao Llao. There’s a few branches of this store around the city. It’s my favourite frozen yoghurt place ever!
La Tomatina – Buñol
The main reason for this trip was actually to go La Tomatina (one more thing to cross off the bucket list!) – which is the huge tomato throwing festival in Buñol.
This little village is about 30 minutes from Valencia and famous for this food fight which has been happening since the 1940s. Origins unknown and held on the last Wednesday in August, it’s now an annual pilgrimage of many, many, many tourists (mostly Aussie gap year students from the sounds of it) to come and splatter each other with tomatoes.
Tip of the day – don’t go unless you like tomatoes…
We pre booked our festival ticket and transport ahead of time via tomatina.es. The ticket system to go to the festival only started a couple of years ago to help limit numbers and improve safety but it looked like there were still tickets on sale when we got to the town so I don’t know how “limited” they really are. For €50 you get a return bus transfer from Valencia to Buñol, entry to the festival and a t-shirt. For another €25 you can also get a sangria and paella but to be honest you can get both for a fraction of the price in the town.
I’ll be realistic and say the whole thing was a manic disorganised mess from the get go. We were supposed on leave at 7.30am on a specific numbers bus (89 if anyone wanted to know) and when we got to the station there were tons of buses, staff and festival goers all of whom had absolutely no idea what was going on! By 8am, the rather harried looking staff were just shuffling groups of people onto random buses. (No one checked tickets by the way so anyone could’ve gotten on…). We were given wristbands and a free t-shirt and a lecture on how we needed to be clean and dry before getting on the bus but we shouldn’t take clean clothes or a towel with us.
Anyway, we got to Buñol and joined the throngs of people heading to the fight. There were loads of food and drink stalls along the roadside set up by the locals so there was plenty of food, sangria and beer to go round. Weirdly, people were throwing sangria over each other as well so a lot of the crowd were already pink and smelly before the tomatoes even arrived!
Armed with no info except what I’d read off the internet, we headed into the centre of the town where the tomatoes were supposed to be dumped. I’d also heard some vague rumblings about a ham but I didn’t see it… The bit where we were (unloading point 4) was rammed to the hilt. People were crammed into the narrow streets as far as I could see – bear in mind I’m short so that really isn’t very far… – and I couldn’t move even if I tried.
Which I wouldn’t have complained about (that much) until 11am hit and the start gun went off at which point giant trucks full of tomatoes started to make their way down this crowded road. This was where the lack of crowd control got dangerous and a bit scary. I was standing to the side next to the wall when this inescapable surge of people pushed up against me. There was literally nowhere to go – I couldn’t even turn my head! And there was definitely a struggle to breathe. And that’s not even covering the fact that we were getting pelted by tomatoes by the staff in the truck itself and I got smacked in the head by some very large, very hard, whole tomatoes…
Considering one of the main rules of the fight is that you have to squash the tomatoes before throwing and that the people working there were likely to be Spanish, local and have a good chance to have been there before, I really thought they should’ve known better.
We ended up leaving before the hour was up. Us and a whole load of other people. We went to look for the showers we were promised by the bus guide and the website, only to find the showers in that part of the town were only for the people going on the train (and guarded by security) and the other showers which may or may not exist (the info desk wasn’t sure) were on the other side of the town… So after plenty of time walking around in the hot midday sun looking for the showers and letting the tomatoey gunk dry on us, we ended up having to purchase bottled water for a hobo bath on the side of the road. Classy stuff right? We got clean enough to be allowed back on the bus but there was definitely tomato in places tomato should never be!
Anyway, we went, we threw some tomatoes, got lots of tomatoes thrown at us, waded through an ankle deep river of crushed tomatoes, almost got crushed ourselves and I would very much like to never see a tomato ever again!
Tips for going to La Tomatina (if you’re crazy enough):
1. Take the train and buy a ticket there. You get to use an actual shower before you leave.
2. Don’t go all the way to the centre of the fight! Let the tomatoes come to you! The trucks travel all along the route throwing out tomatoes and unloading large amounts at various intervals.
3. Be prepared to pay a local to hose you down. I think it was €3 last I heard.
4. Wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind chucking. You will feel so disgusting afterwards you’ll never want to wear that outfit again. I left my shorts and t-shirt there though I managed to salvage my bikini and shoes!
5. Definitely wear swimwear underneath your hideous outfit. That way you’re not just wandering around in your underwear (some people were!).
6. Most definitely bring goggles/ snorkel mask but leave the snorkel behind. They will confiscate it! (If you don’t have any, there are plenty of street sellers peddling goggles, sealed bags for phones and valuables etc).
This was definitely a once in a lifetime event.
One never to be repeated. (The photos look good though!).