At last, I’ve got around to writing this post. It’s tricky making time for two blogs, freelance work, a full-time teaching job and what seems to be a blossoming romance. But hey, this is a blog about part-time travel so why not part-time productivity too? Let’s just hope I wow you with awesome content and pics frequently enough to keep you all coming back for more (gulp). So, on to the post. Where I have I been this month?
Valencia. That’s where. Home to the Paella and Las Fallas Festival, exhibitor of modern art and science, gateway to Europe’s most famous party island and breeding ground for some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. Did I mention Paella?
In fact, I’ve already spewed forth unto the blogosphere several of my apparently eyebrow-raising reflections on the city, the gist being that I was impressed with its decidedly modern mood and, as a result, slightly disenchanted with the old-school Spain I am more familiar with here in Andalucía. After getting stuck in to a traditional feria down in Cádiz last weekend, however, I am inclined to admit that I may have been re-enchanted.
But this post isn’t a comparison piece; I simply want to ramble on a few hundred words more about a city I seriously wish I’d spent more than only two and half days in. The reason, I suppose, is that throughout my being here I have learnt a lot about Spain and hate to rush things whenever I visit somewhere new. Alas, puente weekends (for which we are eternally grateful) only last so long. We nevertheless crammed rather a lot in to our two full days. Here’s what:
This is the huge, unmissable, high and airy indoor market found in the centre of Valencia. Each day the place fills up with the freshest, tastiest and most sweet-smelling produce. If you’re a food lover, be warned: you will lose a day here and probably a wedge of your budget too. We made the mistake of visiting on an empty stomach, thus relieving ourselves of around €15 on snacks, although I’m quite certain that they were the best snacks ever snacked on. Mini croissants and freshly squeezed OJ (€2). Almond and apple pie (€3). Fruits of the forest smoothies (€2). Giant green olives stuffed with all sorts (€4). Even a box of wild strawberries (€4), which I’d never tried before (amazing). And then I, personally, made the mistake of buying half a kilo of peeled prawns, which susbsequently stayed in my bag for the next five hours. They stunk but still tasted great.
It’s not just the taste either; the smells and colours on display are equally as gratifying. I was surprised at how pricey everything was given how much competition there seems to be within the market (we came across some weird, orangey and presumably very wild mushrooms at €48 per kilo) but this didn’t stop us from splurging a bit.
Tip: Go first thing in the morning to beat the crowds and take a thermal bag with you to stop your prawns from turning to warm mush.
City of Art and Science
I’d known that there was a science park in Valencia but certainly hadn’t expected something on this scale. The site, comprised of six alien spacecraft-like constructions, is ENORMOUS.
To pay the entrance fee to all six sites would be extremely ambitious, not to mention costly (see price lists here), so we settled for the Oceanográfic Aquarium and L’Hemisféric IMAX cinema.
The aquarium, Europe’s second largest after the one in Lisbon, is brilliantly designed, with plenty of room for its 50,000+ residents of around 500 different species; the Dolphinarium alone holds 24 million litres of water.
L’Hemisféric is as imposing on the inside as it is on the out. I’d never seen an IMAX screening before and was thoroughly entertained with our Wonders Of The Universe Docufilm before falling asleep. Oops.
Tip: If you go to the Dolphinarium for the show, you’ll need to arrive at least half an hour before to get a good seat. Those without seats when the show started had to leave.
Since we had plumped for our own Airbnb-rented apartment over a hostel or Couchsurfing, and that neither I nor E knew anybody in the city, we were completely on our own when it came to going out time. Earlier that day we had stumbled upon a trendy looking barrio that we decided to go back to. This, as it turned out, was El Carmen, where the city buzzes loudly at night. There were all the standard cocktail bars with promised chupitos and all the rest of it but none really stuck out for me. Inevitably we were lured in by budget friendly pintxo bars, like Pintxo i Trago (Plaza Redonda) where we were only too happy to spend the best part of our evenings.
Tip: Go looking for Cafe Negrito (Plaza del Negret) in El Carmen and kick back with one of their epic mojitos.
Paella on the Beach
You can’t go to Valencia without having Paella at least once, and once was probably enough if I’m honest. Zach of Not Hemingway’s Spain and Fleur of Run The City Spain both recommended we try L’Estimat along the promenade of Playa Malvarrosa, since we were headed that way for a siesta on the beach. We found it, but it was packed (probably always is) and we wanted to sit outside. Further back we had seen a €14 Menu del día with Paella Valenciana as the main, so back we went and down we sat. When the Paella came, it wasn’t exactly what I hoped for; almost one shell for every grain of rice, of which none were burnt or crunchy (a good thing, I’m told). A pity, though the patatas bravas were a hit. But then how can you go wrong with patatas bravas…
The beach itself was busy enough. I’d expect there will be double the amount of bodies next month. Beach season hasn’t really even started in Spain yet.
(Zach and Fleur’s) Tip: Go to L’Estimat for the best paella (Av de Neptuno, 16), not Menu del Día down the road.
Street Art in El Carmen
This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve harped on about how much I get a kick out of creative street art. Last month, I wrote about my DIY Street Art Tour of Lisbon, which proved very fruitful. A few months back I picked out six of my favourites, for either their style, message or a combination of both, in 6 Amazing Urban Artists That Deserve Your Attention. I also regularly feature work of El Niño de Las Pinturas– Granada’s answer to Banksy –on my other blog. Ergo, I absolutely love street art (the creative, thoughtful kind).
El Carmen is filled with it. I’ve no doubt that countless artists have made their contributions, but several stand out from the rest, namely the XLF Crew. DEIH, a Valencian born artist, is one of them. His work forms part of the Insider Project, something which, in his own words, represents an “introspective investigation on his own feelings and life”. His creations tend to involve sci-fi themed, often skeletal characters juxtaposed to create subliminal messages. His magnum opus surely has to be the large, mummified figure occupying an entire wall space in Plaza Tavernes del Valldigna.
Elsewhere in El Carmen, there are various eye-catching designs that are just there for fun: the man with the beard of snakes, for example. Or the rabbit strangling a chicken. And the untold amount of balaclava-clad ninjas sneaking up on you on almost every street corner!
Have you been to Valencia before? What did you make of it? Was your Paella more memorable than mine?