Valencia – the perfect city break
It´s true that with just under a month in Valencia (1 week down, 2 to go…) I have considerably longer here than the average city break. However, the first four days I spent in Valencia, I was lucky enough to have my Mum and sister come and visit. (And lucky enough to have a wonderful au pair family, who let me spend each day with them.) In the four days they were here, we managed to see nearly everything in the city, from the innovative park of arts and sciences, to climbing the old bell tower of the cathedral, to enjoying paella and tapas in the Barrio del Carmen. And there was still plenty of time for rest, relaxation and frozen yoghurt!!
We spent the first day visiting Valencia´s famous Bioparc. This had been one of the things I was most looking forward to, and it was a brilliant day out! I fear the computer might implode if I attempted to upload all of my photos, so here are just a few highlights.
The set-up of the park was fantastic, so you could stroll around different areas of “Africa”. In some places, like the lemur enclosure, they were literally jumping right over our heads! And although you weren´t allowed to bring you own food inside, the cafe was suprisingly reasonably price – we chose to eat in a spot with a fantastic view over the giraffes and antelopes! We also made a stop to the gift shop, so Mum and Eve could buy straw hats to try and survive the scorching weather. We spent the best part of the day in the park, so even though it´s not cheap, definitely worth the money. And on leaving, I realised it was only a 10 minute walk back home to my flat. Win!
That night, after a quick change of clothes, I caught the bus back to the town centre so we could go out for a walk and some tapas. First we made a stop to try some Horchata, a traditional Valencian drink made from tiger nuts. We went to La Horchateria Santa Catalina, one of the oldest and best places to try it. It tastes almost like a tastier version of soya milk – sweet, filling and delicious! We strolled to the Plaza del Carmen for tapas, and found the perfect place with an incredible menu. We had bread piled high with anchovies, mini vegetable moussaka, pastries stuffed with cheese and dipped in jam (suprisinginly good) and homemade croquetes. All washed down with the BEST MOJITO I HAVE EVER HAD.
The next day we set aside to explore the city. Yep, full on tourist sightseeing. My Mum, like me, is very keen to get moving and see everything that we possibly can, whereas my sister likes to take things a bit more slowly (which is understandable in the heat). So this had to be juggled. But we managed to see pretty much everything in the guidebook, which was an achievement. As my sister wanted to relax in the hotel room after our ridiculously huge breakfast, me and Mum took a stroll around the city. First we visited the Correo´s (post office) to send some postcards, and then to the train station. Both pretty dull-sounding buildings, but in Valencia they are done up so nicely they are tourist attractions in themselves! We then walked round the corner where they is a small museum and tour of Valencia´s bullring. I have been to a bullfight previously in Peru, and whilst it was an interesting experience, it is not something I agree with and would not do again!! Unfortunately I think I might have made these feelings a bit too clear to our guide… but still, it is something that you definitely need to see/learn about in order to decide which side of the fence you are on. And the museum is really worth a look.
We popped back to the hotel to grab my sister and then set off to the Mercado Central, Valencia´s massive food market. We bought fresh cups of kiwi juice (amazing) and went on a hunt for smoked paprika to take home for my brother. It was a brilliant place to walk through, with piles and piles of fresh fruit, and for the carnivores within us, massive slabs of ham hanging all over the place. Right opposite from the market is La Lonja, Valencia´s old silk exchange but now a beautiful UNESCO building. We strolled around and took a few pictures, and attempted to watch the video… which turned out to drag on a bit! Sneaking out of the video hall we headed back into the city and walked on to the cathedral, as I was keen to climb the bell tower for a view over the whole of Valencia. Eve was also keen at first, but had a change of heart only a few steps up… so I climbed it by myself (Mum was having none of it from the start). When I got to the top, genuinely thought I was about to have a heart attack. Man that´s a lot of steps. After making my way back down – with difficulty, as the stairs were very narrow and had to accomodate people walking in both directions – we hit one of my favourite Valencian spots… smöoy frozen yoghurt!!! Absolutely fricken delicous, and we spent a while lingering in the yoghurt bar as it was so lovely and cool.
After a short siesta in the hotel, we decided to go down to the port, expecting some form of industrial fishing area. We didn´t really we were going to end up on a proper beach! Which is a shame, as we didn´t have any kind of swimming stuff with us. We did however have a nice walk along the shore, where it was suprisingly cloudy (my Mum and sister had obviously brought the beautiful Scottish weather with them) but as hot as ever. We had a stroll along the pier, and ate one of my new favourite Valencian foods (the list is growing fast…) – corn on the cob cooked on a BBQ and served with salt and lemon. Fantastic! We made our way back as I needed to go home and meet the family, and managed to navigate the metro without difficult. Brilliant to have seen the beach and realise how close it is!
The next day for me was particularly special. Not only were we visiting the famous Oceanografic in the City of Arts and Sciences, but we were taking Sandra and Paula with us. I was really excited for my mum to meet the two gorgeous girls I have been working with! We all met in the city centre, and (after a little difficulty) found the bus that would take us to the City of Arts and Sciences. It´s a fantastic work of modern architecture, and even if you don´t go into anything, it´s fascinating just to walk around! Of course, we were going in, so after a quick stroll and a tub of frozen yoghurt (my new addiction) we bought out tickets to the Oceanografic and headed in. Not cheap, but worth the money.
Again, I will let the pictures do the talking! The park is beautifully set out into different areas, so you can walk around easily. There are also several underwater tunnels that will lead you from place to place, which feeling like you are walking under the sea (quite unnerving watching sharks swim over your head!). At lunchtime in order to avoid the high prices and crowds we left the Oceanografic to pop across the road to the commerical centre, grab some pizza, and head back. The good thing about the place is that, once you have your ticket, you are allowed to leave and come back for the rest of the day. Back inside we went straight to the dolphin show, getting there early in order to grab some good seats. We had to wait for around an hour, but it was worth it, and they played loud music and selected some volunteers for the show (I was gutted that I was not a child and therefore couldn´t be picked…). When it finally started, it was worth the wait – we couldn´t look away! The show parred the abilities of the dolphins against the human divers, which was a really interesting take on it. And the fact that the divers were all SO FIT didn´t hurt. Definitely the highlight of the day, and made me keen to take up a new sport… dolphin surfing.
When Sonia drove to pick up the girls at the end of the long day, she was kind enough to bring some things for me so I could spend yet another night in the hotel with my family (and enjoy yet another INCREDIBLE breakfast). That night we decided whilst in Valencia, the only proper thing to do was to share a proper Spanish Paella. We found a lovely place in the Barrio del Carmen, and were reassured by the charasmatic waiter that the paella for three was “not too big at all, is small, is small”. Of course this was a massive lie and the paella was exactly that – MASSIVE. However we were not complaining, it was frickin delicious.
The last day in Valencia (for my family at least) came far too quickly. We had opted for a chill out day with lots of walking (to the delight of my sister) around the various parks, before visiting the family´s home in the afternoon. We strolled through the city, to the river bed of the Rio Turin (after it flooded the city, the river was diverted, but instead of letting the river bed go to waste they transformed it into 9km of park) and followed it up to Los Viveros, also known as the Royal Gardens. The gardens were beautiful, and it was a lovely place to have some peace and quiet from manic city life. Of course though it was very, very hot to walk, and in the end after visiting the Museo of Bellos Artes we wimped out and caught the metro back.
We then collected the suitcases and hopped on the bus to go and visit the family. I was a little nervous about them meeting and hoped they would get on, and that the language barrier wouldn´t be a big issue! Of course it wasn´t, and my mum immediately loved them as much as me. We had icecream out of wafer bowls, and lazed by the pool until it was time for them to leave. I went with Fernando who kindly drove them to the airport, and we said our goodbyes. I was sad to see them go, but it had been the most fantastic visit – we had done so much, and it was great to explore the city together. And at least now when I tell them about my stories, they can imagine me here!
Anyway, the main point of this was to say if anyone is thinking of coming to Valencia – DO IT. Valencia is a wonderful city for either a short city break or a longer stay. It has modern and classic architecture, the beach, incredible fresh fruit, paella and horchata, warm friendly people, and is the perfect amount of touristy (enough to get by easily if you don´t speak much Spanish, but Spanish enough to not feel completely different). It is also pretty cheap, has direct flights, and is SO SUNNY. Your hair probably won´t like the humidity, but the tan makes up for it. Vive Valencia!