Cheering, chimes and the twelve grape challenge

Well, it’s been a busy few days. First, on Sunday, there was the San Silvestre race. Apparently, this event is not unique to Valencia, in fact there are San Silvestre races across Spain and indeed other hispanic countries, usually taking place on 31st December, but here in Valencia it took place on the evening of Sunday 30th, leaving 31st free for New Year’s celebrations.

I’d read about the San Silvestre race on the local press websites so I knew that runners would be participating in two categories: more serious athletes at the front, followed by fun runners, dressed in a variety of outfits. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer number of fun runners taking part!

The race started at 8pm and I got to my chosen viewpoint at 7.45 and took a seat on a wall by the side of the road to wait. At first, I got a few strange looks as there weren’t many other people doing the same, but to be honest, I was giving the runners strange looks in return – in the UK it would be unheard of to stroll up towards the start of a race with 5 minutes to go, but here that was exactly what was happening. To be fair, they could have strolled up half an hour later and still joined the back of the fun run, but these looked like fairly serious runners. Still, perhaps it’s just another example of the more relaxed pace of life here.

I had half wondered whether the race might be late starting but no, the clock chimed eight and the lead motorcycles raced past us, followed swiftly by the lead runners. At first, the crowd clapped (because by now there was a small crowd forming to watch) but that only lasted about two minutes, maybe not even that. Then the fun runners started coming, a few at first but then more, and more, and more… and half an hour later still they came. And they weren’t just running on the road or even on the pavement, quite a few jumped up onto the wall I was (by now) standing on, and nearly ran into me! There were the predictable Santas and snowmen, but also a variety of other costumes, including a group of Viking warriors and what I can only describe as a man-eating pig which tried to eat my leg!

Valencia’s San Silvestre run

Eventually, the runners did stop coming through so I wandered through the centre to see them cross the finishing line, darted across the road a little further up in a very daring manoeuvre, and wandered back to the flat.

I wish now that I’d taken part, but perhaps it’s as well that I didn’t. My cold still wasn’t great at that point and it wouldn’t have been good to start my running ‘career’ in Spain with an asthma attack!

Then last night, it was of course New Year’s Eve. I headed out in the afternoon to buy some grapes and discovered that most of the other residents of Valencia seemed to have had the same idea. You see, grapes aren’t just a nice, refreshing treat at this time of year, they are an essential part of the New Year’s celebrations. Apparently, this dates back to 1895 but caught on a few years later, following a bumper crop of grapes. The grape growers wondered how on earth they could stimulate the market to get rid of their crop, and decided to popularise the custom of eating 12 grapes, one with each chime of the clock at midnight, to resemble the twelve months of the coming year. The idea caught on, and now, apparently, it’s more than a tradition, it’s something of a superstition that you must eat your twelve lucky grapes (‘uvas de la suerte’) and if you manage to do so while the clock is chiming, you will have good luck for the year ahead.

Well, how could I be in Spain and not take part, especially if I was going to go down to the celebrations in the main square? Frankly, I couldn’t. And so I found myself in the supermarket, buying grapes along with just about every other customer.

I was almost tempted by the pot of 12 pre-prepared grapes for 1€ but then my sensible head took over and I decided instead to buy a bunch of grapes, which not only cost less but used way less plastic. The downside was that this meant I had to prepare them myself. Apparently, a real ‘pro’ will peel their grapes, but I decided to make do with just removing the seeds – and fortunately, I seem to have done a decent job of it!

And so the evening came and I wandered down to the square. I was somewhat taken aback by the queue to get in – not so much by its length as by its orderliness, almost unheard of in Spain! – but it moved quickly and the policeman who checked my bag didn’t comment on the plastic water bottle half filled with cava, he just took the lid off my (sealed) Coke bottle and pointed me over to an area to the right where they were handing out plastic glasses – and very nice ones too, with lanyards and everything.

Me with my New Year’s glass

And then I was in. I wandered around for a bit, grinning like a fool and soaking up the atmosphere. I felt so happy, and honestly couldn’t think of anywhere I would rather be. (Until I had to make use of the portaloos, but that’s another story.) Valencia is a really beautiful city and well worth a visit if you haven’t been – or even if you have.

Plaza del Ayuntamiento, New Year’s Eve 2018

Then midnight came. I poured my grapes out of the pot I’d brought them in and into the cup around my neck. And then the clock chimed the ‘cuartos’ (the ding-dongs leading up to the main chimes) and a big cheer went up. Then the chimes started for real, and for the next twelve seconds, everyone was stuffing grapes into their faces – including me! I’m not sure I quite met the challenge (one grape per second is quite a feat – particularly unpeeled!) but I like to think I did pretty well for my first attempt. And then the fireworks started.

What a fabulous evening! And how much did this cost me? Not a single penny – other than the drinks and grapes I took, of course. You can’t fault the Spanish for knowing how to throw a good party.

So, today has been a slow day, mainly spent packing, ready for my move into new accommodation tomorrow. I’ve just about crammed everything into my cases, except for my food, ukulele and printer, which I’ll have to carry separately. Good job I’ve planned on making two trips.

And then this evening I went for my first run for RED January. 30 minutes, 5k done, cold or no cold. I might just walk tomorrow!

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