A Month in Valencia!
November 15, 2017
Torres de Serranos. Paella. Ciudad de les Arts y les Ciencias. Patatas Bravas. Puente del Mar. Mercado Central. Cerveza. Jardines del Turia.
Having just spent a month in Valencia, Spain, these words and phrases became favorites of mine despite my minimal Spanish. And this trip was different from the others Sherry and I have taken. Instead of booking a trip with a tour group or travel agent, we simply rented an Airbnb apartment in the Old City, or Ciudad Vella. Booked our flights, packed our bags, said our goodbyes, and took off on a not-fully-formed adventure.
Our story may be worthwhile for anyone thinking about an extended overseas stay. But this is primarily a photo blog, so I hope you enjoy the images as well. If you don’t have the time or desire to read the full article, click here to watch a short YouTube video for an overview of our adventure.
What we found delighted us. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona, with a population similar to Seattle’s. Its Old City is impressive, with narrow streets, five hundred year-old cathedrals, plentiful restaurants and easy walkability. Valencia is very much a tourist town, even in October. Perhaps the reason is the near-perfect weather. Or, it could be the great food and wine. Paella, the famous rice dish, originated here.
Some friends asked us, “Why Valencia?” We chose it for several reasons. We had been on a bicycling tour of the Andalusia region of Spain in late 2016 and loved it. Also, because weather can be a factor in October, we wanted a temperate location with low average rainfall. Oh, and Sherry wanted to work on her Spanish, so we chose Spain instead of Portugal, France, Italy or Greece. But, really, we picked it because - why not?
Valencia has a peculiar geographic feature that became a favorite during our stay. The Turia River used to flow from the northwest to the southeast side of the city before it emptied into the Mediterranean Sea. In the 1950’s it was re-routed to the west side of the city because of flooding. The now-dry riverbed has become a 5-mile long park replete with play areas, running and walking paths, soccer fields and grassy areas for picnics. It is anchored on the north end by the zoo and on the south by the City of Arts and Sciences. The latter is a spectacular complex of soaring architecture in a very accessible and pedestrian-friendly environment.
The terrain is very flat, and there are protected bike lanes and paths throughout the city, making it perfect for getting around by bike. Others - tourists and locals - obviously felt the same, because we encountered bicyclists wherever we went. When we weren’t biking we walked, especially in the Old City, where every destination was less than twenty minutes away.
Some of our favorite things: the Central Market, the old bridges, bicycling in the Turia Gardens, eating tapas and drinking Spanish wine at an outdoor plaza - at 9 pm at night. Spending a longer period of time in a foreign city created an intimacy that our previous travels had not. It was darned exciting to be able to walk out the door of our apartment and know how to get where we wanted to go without referring to a map or asking Google.
The food was excellent and inexpensive. In addition, one of the better-known wine growing regions of Spain was only 50 miles away in an area called Utiel-Requena, where the main varietal being grown is a hearty red grape called bobal. We never paid more than $22 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant, and never drank bad wine.
One slightly wacky thing we encountered was the language, or rather, languages. Valencians speak a form of Catalan Spanish called Valenciana, whereas the official language of Spain is Castilian Spanish, like the Spanish many of us studied in school. We could generally make out the meaning in Catalan, but it was always a little mind-bending to see the different forms co-existing; for example, seeing the word for “street” in Catalan (carrer) and Spanish (calle) at the same street corner.
One advantage of Valencia is the ease of traveling to other Spanish destinations. We took the high-speed train to Madrid for a quick overnight trip, and spent a long weekend on the island of Mallorca, which can be reached either by ferry or by plane. Both the airport and the train station were at subway stops, a real plus for us.
So, what was it like to live overseas for a month? In a word, fun. Because we were in Europe, we didn’t worry about the food, water or our safety. Our lack of language fluency wasn’t an issue because almost everyone in a service capacity spoke English. In a pinch, Google Translate was a fantastic tool for filling the gaps.
I know that some of you reading this blog have done what we did, for even longer periods. Perhaps you went to school overseas and actually gained fluency. But for others like us who never had that experience and are now considering whether it is too risky, too expensive or too hard to do, the answer to all three is “No.” And the payoff is, well, priceless.
So, go. Book a tour that takes you to interesting destinations, or book an Airbnb that gives you the opportunity to explore a place as a local. Be flexible. Plan for adventure. But expect to return with a greater appreciation of the diversity and wonders of our planet. And of your own abilities.
You can click here to view a compilation of my best images from Valencia, Madrid and Mallorca. Note that the captions provide additional information about each image for the curious. You are always welcome to forward this article to friends who might be thinking of a similar adventure.