Valencia – Spain
I can’t say that Valencia has been high on my list of places to visit but as I begin a new era of sharing, being told what to do and saying ‘yes dear’, all with a smile, I found myself hurtling down a runway heading to the east coast of Spain in the middle of August. Regarding travel I had already had a torrid 24 hours. The plane was late leaving Riyadh because an engine wouldn’t start on the plane, my bag took a lifetime to appear in London and we were delayed flying to Valencia because of airport roofs peeling off in the wind, birds hitting planes and no doubt a little leftover chaos from a computer glitch a few days before. Touching down in Valencia with around four other planes it looked to get no better as a huge queue congregated outside boarder control manned by only two officers but I underestimated them for a glance of the passport is all that is required to enter or, a glance and a stamp if you are from outside Europe. I won’t get political but I have seen the future and I don’t think getting into Spain at least will be an issue for the Brits or anyone for that matter. On we went to the baggage carousel to find a heap of bags on the floor where the conveyor belt had become clogged with luggage and stopped everything. Baggage handlers peered through the gaps in the wall, perplexed if not a little amused, passengers looked back slightly less amused, I by now was fed up.
Getting out of the confines of an airport for the first time in 36 hours had a marked improvement on my mood as we made our way into the centre of Valencia on a Saturday night. The roads were empty and once we got out into the streets it had the feeling of a university town during the summer holidays as in there were plenty of people out having fun but it was clearly not at it’s peak with some restaurants sitting only a handful of people. This was a pleasant surprise for I was expecting hoards of folk ruining my weekend yet apparently the city empties out during the summer months as locals head away to clog up Venice or Paris I assume. For me at least things were looking up. Our beautiful little hotel room had a balcony that overlooked a peaceful side street in the centre of town, the weather was incredible, the beer was cold, the food was great and the city centre was stunning.
It was pushing midnight once we had arrived from the airport, checked in, freshened up and made it out into the street in search of food. For my Argentine side kick this was perfectly normal. For me I had gone past caring about dinner and was already thinking about breakfast. As we soon learnt, the Spanish sit in the middle, dining later than the Brits but earlier than the Argentines and after walking up and down one of the beautiful main streets for ten minutes we finally found a little restaurant that took pity on us and offered to cook up some food a little after midnight. Valencia is apparently powered on paella, large dishes of rice, vegetables and meat and without a doubt our first dish was the best largely because we were hungry and grateful to be fed but also because it was just so God damn yummy. Spanish service is generally hit and miss yet always amusing. In some instances such as this we had wonderful service from a happy smiley waitress but equally there would be miserable waiters who believed that customers simply got in the way of a good days work in a restaurant. Hoping to dive into a spot of lunch on the beach one day we headed to one of many restaurants and obviously picked the wrong one as the waiter looked at us in disdain when we asked for a table. I then followed this up by ordering three drinks for two people which completely blew his brains out for why on earth would we need an orange juice, a beer AND a coke? We then completely finished off his faith in humanity by deciding not to order any food after consulting the ludicrously overpriced menu for food we didn’t fancy eating. The restaurant was far from busy and we were happy with our drinks but that made no difference, at that moment in time we were scum!
If you are like me and don’t particularly get off on city breaks I would highly recommend Valencia. The fact you can go in the middle of the European summer and it doesn’t feel at all busy is simply other worldly. The main beach is easily accessible by metro and is huge, stretching for miles and wide enough to land an A380. The further north you walk up the beach the less crowded it becomes not that it ever felt over crowded. Women of all ages casually walk along the beach wearing only bikini bottoms, the sea isn’t tropical in appearance but nevertheless refreshing and tepid. The city centre is littered with old beautiful buildings with the cathedral being a stand out and I was genuinely dissapointed to have ran out of time to go inside and venture up the tower for views of the city. The main market was alive with everything scrumptious in this world, full of cured meats, cheeses, fresh vegetables, wines and everything that is supposedly bad and toxic to the planet these days. Valencia embraces it’s culture. A culture which I would boldly say isn’t driven by excess but by simple pleasures. In fact, one morning we walked out of the main part of town in search of breakfast and ended up at our destination, an empty coffee shop down an unattractive street. The coffee shop sold no food and only gluten free, lactose free, vegan, vegetarian, sustainable, coffee. Feeling rude not to at least get a coffee we ordered two takeaway lattes made with coconut milk that cost €4.50 each. Waiting a lifetime for the coffees to be prepared I lost myself looking at all the effort it took to make a single cup of coffee and all the electric gadgetry needed for the process. And I began to get angry. I agree with the reduced consumption of animal products in the west, we don’t need so much and it is one (of many) things that can be done to help the environment. Yet here I am standing in this mans coffee shop paying an incredible amount of money for a coffee which uses a huge amount of fresh water to grow and process, around 170 litres of fresh water for a single cup of coffee and that’s not taking into account all the electric required to grind, heat and whiz it around or whatever all that noise is behind the counter. One glass of milk requires around 240 litres of fresh water but last I heard, milk is scientifically proven to be nutritious while coffee has absolutely no nutritional value of any worth, a bit like sugar. So please tell me why it is ok and socially acceptable to flog coffee but not milk?
I have one fun fact about Valencia! I was confused about a park that runs through the centre of the city as it sits in the middle of a river bed and I couldn’t understand where all the water had gone. Finally I remembered that Google could tell me and it turns out that the city was flooded a while back. The cities response was to divert the river around the outskirts of the city and turn the old troublesome river into a park which is what remains today. It’s rather lovely although a few more trees and a few less football pitches would have made it even better but that takes nothing away from the beautiful walk along the old riverbed out of sight of the city. Ancient bridges and old stone riverbanks add to the spectacle making it all slightly unique. Follow it to the very end near to the docks and you will be treated to some of the most beautiful modern architecture you are likely to see anywhere in the world. The City of Arts and Sciences is primarily three modern buildings that dominate a park completely free and open to the public. The buildings themselves are stunning and they are perfectly white, covered in glass and surrounded by pools of clear water. The place is huge but what is most impressive is the fact that anyone can walk into the grounds of the complex at anytime of day as there were no gates or fences. How the place could be kept so immaculate without any apparent vandalism is beyond me and is a huge success for the city. This sums Valencia up nicely, a city that matches any other in Europe but doesn’t feel the need to and as a result makes it an extremely attractive place to visit.