March 28-30, 2015.
Valencia is the third coastal city I’ve visited and the third largest city Spain. I was expecting a boring, yet relaxing, visit as I had asked about Valencia periodically over the last few months and the response was usually, ‘there’s not much to see,’ ‘not much to do,’ and ‘it’s alright.’
I decided I loved Valencia within the first hour and for a reason I was shocked no one had mentioned, not even among some of the little internet research I had done before making the trip. Turia, the 9km park running through the middle of the city.
It was once a river and when the city diverted it to avoid annual flooding of the city new plans for utilizing the space were presented, including a freeway. The community successfully petitioned this idea and thus a beautiful park filled with monuments, museums, and futbol fields, was created and leads from the center to the City of Arts and Sciences. I walked a little more than half of it after checking-in to my hostel and was impressed with each varying section. It feels like you’re in your own secret garden, enjoying the peace and hiding among the trees because nobody from the city, just 10 meters above, can see you. It’s amazing to think that the majority of people have easy access to a park from almost anywhere since it runs the length of the city instead of being isolated to one area of it.
I spent my evening walking the park and exploring the old city with a girl from Chicago who I had met at my hostel. The weather was a perfect 70 degrees and without wind, I could have walked all night. We people-watched and sipped wine in the shopping district and found our way to a local spot for dinner, Las Cuevas. I had read about someone’s visit there and it left one thing on my mind: flaming rum-soaked chorizo. I wanted it.
I love chorizo as it is, but adding rum and lighting it ablaze was, well, to die for. The caramelized pieces around the edges of the platter were worth ordering this dish ten times over. I hope one day I will be brave and skilled enough to attempt making this dish on my own.
Sunday, Palm Sunday, was a gorgeous day. the bells chimed and people filled the city, walking with their palms in hand. I decided to ascend the stairs of the beautiful Valencia Cathedral for a 360° view of the city. Viewing the old and the new buildings cuddled up right next to each other reminded me of the centuries of people who had come before me, Romans, Moors, Christians, all ruling over Valencia during various times in history, often switching back and forth. These changes can be see in the architecture around the city, such as the Cathedral which was turned into a Mosque and back again.
After a wonderful late morning stroll through the old city with its markets and Sunday street vendors it was time for me to jump on the tram in search of the beach.
There I stumbled upon many great things; small tents with vendors selling items from candy to spices and olives, a delicious sausage and pepper sandwich, and last but not least my friend Chelsea and her husband along with another friend Anna! I had actually carpooled with them the day before to Valencia after missing my 8am train, oops. But the car ride, five of us squished into a Mini-Coop turned out to be a nice way to get to Valencia.
We walked by the Americas Cup Marina and venue of the 32nd race in 2007 and I was able to grab a glimpse of the New Zealand teams docking site.
After passing by I made my way to the City of Sciences and Arts with a ride from my friends. I had to rush through the aquarium as there were only two hours until closing by the time I had arrived, but I was able to see everything I wanted to. I watched a short dolphin show and then wandered to some of my favorite exhibits like the Arctic animals and Tropical wildlife.
To keep me hydrated while exploring I made sure to buy an ice-cold horchata from the many Horchateria ladies around. It’s the most iconic drink of the city and rightfully so. It’s different tasting in a good way and delicious, being fairly settle in taste, and made from chufa (aka tigernuts), mixed with water and sugar.
Aside from horchata Valencia is also largely known as the birth place of paella. Sadly, I must report that I did not make it to the several places that were recommended! I keep wondering how, but then I remember that this is the nature of travel – you try to go with the flow, and sometimes the flow takes you away from your intended plans. I guess I’ll have to visit again.
Aside from the beaches, museums, and churches you can find throughout the city, Valencia is also covered in decorative art. Almost every building has some sort of artistic expression scrawled across it.
For me, this is the final piece that attributes the city to be one of learning and creativity, a city that is easily accessible by other major cities in Spain, offers the comforts of a small town feel, and entices you with a seaside breeze.