La Tomatina

La Tomatina is held in a small village called Bunol which is about an hour away from Valencia. The festival has been held annually since 1944 and until 1975 it was a BYO tomatoes event, but since then the council of Bunol supplies the 125,000 kilos of tomatoes for the 40,000 people that come from all over the world every year! (Absolute madness I tell you!)

The fight begins at 11am and a convoy of about 5 trucks loaded with tomatoes enter the main town square and stop at various strategic points along the street to dump the tomatoes, however when they drive through the middle of the main street the people have no where to go so it becomes a big crushing war down the side streets. We experienced this first hand and had a horrible time getting squished up against the wall, there were girls near us who were crying and another who fainted, we’d had enough by the time the second truck came passed (and we still hadn’t seen a single tomato!) so our group decided to make our way out of the crowd before we got hurt any worse.

Niki and I lost the others we were with and then randomly spotted Toni and Debra on a quiet side street. Those girls had just been pummelled, had their t-shirts ripped and were covered in tomato from head to toe. So hilarious, they had been hardcore right in the main square and gave us the low-down of what happened and pointed us to a near street where all the action was happening. 10 minutes later Niki and I were both saturated and covered with tomatoes. The juice was gushing down the roads it was incredible. The craziest silliest thing ever and what a weird feeling to be drenched in tomatoes. Thankfully I was wearing goggles as a couple of guys thought it hilarious to throw a BUCKET full of tomatoes at me. Needless to say most of our clothes were left in Bunol…although the residents are lovely and all come out on the streets ready to hose you down!

We got back to the hostel at 3:30pm had a shower (obviously!) and then slept for a couple of hours. That night we went out for drinks and tapas before making our way to an open air night club by the beach which opened at midnight. The club was fabulous, all very swish and modern, and we were treated to some entertainment by stunning Brazilian dancers. I only wish I was as hardcore as some of the others we met – not returning home until we were getting up for breakfast the next day!

La Fiesta de la Vendimia

On our second night in Valencia we travelled one hour to Requena for their annual water and wine festival, which is the oldest wine harvest festival in Spain. The night we went was their “Noche de la Zurra” (night of music) and it’s a night where the local folk parade through the town following the small orchestras and carrying wineskins. People basically take to the streets to beseech the powers-that-be for the water needed for the next harvest.

There were 500 of us on our tour that went and we were practically the only foreigners in the town. We had been told to take our own alcohol with us and that we just needed to go with the flow as every year it’s different so they never know what to expect but that it was always awesome. It was a lovely small town and we spent a couple of hours just wandering around and having fun with the others from our hostel. We were lucky enough to have an Australian guy with us that could speak Spanish so he asked some locals if they knew what was going to happen that night as the streets seemed fairly quiet, we were told that this year the festival was centered in the bull ring – somewhere we couldn’t get without a ticket! Boo! We were a bit disappointed as it didn’t seem like anything was going to happen but then luckily at midnight the crowds started pouring out of the arena and the bands started assembling themselves and before you know it we’re all dancing down the streets with the crowds.

As the procession make its way through the streets, the tenants hurl buckets of water or use a hose out their windows and the people go wild chanting “agua, agua” (water, water) until they get soaked and then they walk/dance a little further up the street and do it again. About an hour into it we came across the first tanker of wine (from the first pressing) which is free and you just pass up your drink bottle and they fill it up for you. It tasted pretty awful as it was so new, but a lot was drunken and also thrown over each other. It was such a joyous, crazy atmosphere and we had a great time. It was certainly a night to remember and we rate it as one of the best cultural experiences we had on our OE. It's also worth mentioning that we didn't take our camera to this event or La Tomatina so any pics are of pals from the tour...(Thanks Jazz!)

Our coaches left the town at 3:30am but I tell you we could’ve all kept on going we were on such a buzz. We got back to the hostel at 4:30am and were up again at 7:30am to get on the road for the reason we’d all come to Valencia…La Tomatina!!!

Valencia, Spain

We were booked on a tour with First Festival Travel to attend La Tomatina, the giant tomato fight. We stayed in a dorm at an excellent hostel sharing with 2 other girls, 1 Brit and 1 Kiwi who were really lovely. It crossed our mind that they had requested an all girls dorm and that the organisers had thought Niki was a “girl”. hehe

Valencia was really fabulous, we had perfect weather and it is such a nice city with lovely sights to see and fantastic markets so close to our hostel. Being on the tour was awesome too as they planned stuff every night and we had a really good group at our hostel. Our particular tour had 600 people on it but that was spread over 4 or 5 hostels...but there were at least six other “La Tomatina” tours operating in Valencia at the time, meaning the streets were crowded with kiwis and aussies!

That first afternoon we explored the town a bit, found me a pair of pretty sunglasses and Niki a man singlet at the markets and then caught the bus to the beach which was sooo gorgeous. It is such a wide wide beach, yellow sand and the water was so lovely and clear and a perfect temperature. The next afternoon we met up with Toni and Debra at the beach for a couple of hours, it was great to see them and we got some good tips about Barcelona, where they’d just been and we were next heading to! On our last morning (as our train didn’t leave until 3pm) we made ourselves get up and we took a bus out to the science museum to check out all the crazy architecture and spent a couple of informative hours in the museum itself.

Madrid, Spain

It was an 8 hour train trip to reach Madrid and our allocated seats were facing backwards! I couldn’t believe our luck, I can get a bit motion sickness at the best of times let alone going backwards. Anyway it ended up fine I just couldn’t read, so tried to sleep most of the way.

We arrived at our hotel in Madrid at about 8pm and went out for a wee explore as we knew we only had one full day there. We walked for about 2.5 hours all the way up to an amazing park. Madrid was far nicer than I had imagined it would be, I guess my last impression of a European city was Athens which was rather grimey.

The next morning we went on the neweurope free walking tour and again we weren’t disappointed. We had a British girl as our guide and it was a fantastic way to see the city and learn a bit. We stopped for lunch at a tapas bar which had 100 different types of tiny bread rolls, and you ticked what you wanted on an order sheet, and they make it all there and bring it out on a wooden plate with chips in the middle – actually everywhere you go in Spain they give you chips, years ago a law was passed that you can’t serve alcohol without food accompanying it. In windows of shops you’ll see chips piled high – not in packets!…kind of like how we’d see popcorn at home I guess. Anyway the lil sandwiches were lovely and I tried this other sangria type thing that was like pink lemonade…delicious. On the tour we got chatting to a few Australians and we all decided to meet up go to a bull fight that night. Now what can I say… except of course that it was totally awful and I stopped watching after the second bull got killed (6 in total!). I guess I can’t say I regret going as it is a big part of their culture and I’m “glad” I’ve seen it but boy oh boy it was really sad, and there’s no way I’d ever go again!

Next morning we had to get up at 5.45am (which was really hard!) to catch the metro and then our train to Valencia, and would you believe it another lot of seats facing backwards!

Santiago de Compostella, Spain

Santiago was really pretty but extremely busy with tourists. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site (although EVERY European place seems to be one of those!). The tourists all come to see the cathedral which is a stop on 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James, which we heard was a 14 day walk (no thank you!). Every second person you saw was decked out in hiking boots, a pack and walking stick.

We stayed for only two nights but that was definitely more than enough. The place is just so tiny and there is no beach nearby! We had really seen it all on our first afternoon, lovely winding cobbled streets with hundreds of seafood restaurants and tourist shops. On the second day we spent a few hours just walking along a route marked on the map through parklands etc, it wasn’t however vey interesting but kept us busy and later that evening we came across a bunch of street performers. One act we had never come across before was two guys using a balloon each as the legs and the upper body of a person and making it dance to a song, kind of like a puppet, anyway hard to describe but it was really well done and rather hilarious.

Porto, Portugal

The alarm went off at 2am on Sunday 17 August, we’d purchased another cheap deal through Ryanair departing at 6:35am and because the “tube” doesn’t start running until approx 5:30am we needed to catch a 30 minute night bus and then a 90 minute coach to the airport. Fun times! We arrived into Porto, Portugal at 9am local time and were easily able to find our hotel. We stayed in Porto for 4 nights - it was really relaxing and we spent time exploring the picturesque town which is built around a section of the lovely Duoro river.

We spent a day on a boat doing a Duoro Valley cruise which was really beautiful. There were no other English speaking people on board which was interesting! We got to pass through two dams which was pretty exciting. You go into it then wait, the “door” gets closed slowly and then the water level rises lifting up the boat, approx 15 metres, it’s really strange and then you go out the other side - pretty exciting for two people that haven’t spent much time on the water anyway.

We spent two of our afternoons at the beach, it was a 30 minute bus ride from where we were staying in the old town but it was totally worth it, although our pasty white bodies stuck out like a sore thumb! We discovered ready-made sangria (in a carton!) and cheap wine at supermarkets for silly cheap prices like €1-€3! We did a port tour and tasting at Grahams Port. Porto has many port producers and the Duoro valley is the only place in the world that can produce the correct grapes for the port. We ate out every night, nothing flashy but Portugal is pretty cheap so we got to enjoy lovely views on the waterfront. On our last morning we had to get up at 6:30am and take two trains to reach Santiago de Compostella, our first stop in sunny Spain.