Sunday, October 2, 2011


A group of students and I spent two and a half days basking in the sun in Valencia last weekend.  Charming city, highly recommended.  In case you're wondering, Valencia is in the southeastern part of Spain, and we took a bus there.  The language there is Valenciano, but everything is also written in Castellano - the Spanish you'd be used to seeing.  To my untrained eye, words written in Valenciano look just like words written in Catalán, but people seem to get  indignant about the individual identity of Valencia and it's language when someone mentions the similarity, so I'm just going to assume that there is lots and lots of differences.

Upon arrival, our first impression was that Valencia looked just like Miami.  It's always sunny, there are palm trees everywhere, everything is written in Spanish, and the buildings have a similar appearance.  Well, the buildings are more decorative and European, but it's close.  We were surprised to find marble sidewalks in Valencia, and thought that they would be really slippery in the rain.  Then we realized that it hardly rains there, and a light dusting of snow probably makes the news.

On our first afternoon in Valencia, we went to the bull fighting museum, strolled around the city exploring, and went on a free walking tour of the city with a guide who worked for the hostel.  It was great to learn about the tradition of bull fighting without sitting through the gory show.  The costumes worn by the bull fighters are covered in beads.  We watched a very informative video with footage from a bull fight, and I had to avert my eyes each time they stuck a pin into the bull or stabbed it.  I could never watch the real thing.  While strolling around, we found a place that sold dulce de leche cupcakes and tons of awesome clothing stores.

El Mercat Central
The next morning, we went to the Mercat Central, the Central Market, which sells fresh food - mostly fruit.  The building is huge, and has a beautiful tile pattern on the ceiling and outside.  Each day, tons of vendors set up their stands to sell food.  I bought some dried cranberries.

Even after being in Spain for a while, I am always surprised when I see legs of pork - legs, literally - hanging in a store.  It's common here though.
Bull Fighting Stadium
After leaving the market, we toured the actual bull fighting stadium/ring.  The guide explained to us that the bull fighter comes from one side, and the bull comes from the other side.  Also, the price of your ticket depends on if you're sitting in the sun or in the shade.  She told us that a bull fight typically lasts for about two and a half hours.

There is a long tradition of bull fighting in Spain.  I have heard recently that it is being outlawed in some cities.  At the museum, we saw a video of a bull fight, and I was horrified and saddened to see that the bull did not die right away.  Instead, it was stabbed several times.

The Holy Grail
We heard the Holy Grail, at least the one that is recognized by the church, was in the Santa Catalina cathedral, so of course, we had to go check it out.  Supposedly, this is the cup from Da Vinci's  "The Last Supper."  The cup was of course behind tons of glass, which made it really difficult to photograph.  It had two handles....sort of reminded me of a two-handed sipper-seal cup, except that it was way more decorated.  I'm not sure how they decided this was "the real" holy grail.  As much of religion goes, maybe it's one of those things you just have to believe.

Mediterranean Sea
After cramming as much as possible into the morning, we hopped on the bus, and went to the beach!  The beach is a huge attraction in Valencia.  Arriving by the water, we again thought of Miami.  The water was incredibly clear - I could see my feet pretty clearly even when I walked farther in.  For the first time ever, I fell asleep at the beach.  Fortunately I was only asleep for like 20 minutes, so I didn't burn too badly.  The weird thing about the beaches in Valencia is that these guys are always walking around with huge design books, trying to sell tattoos and sunglasses.
After leaving the beach, we went in search of paella, a regional specialty in Valencia.  We ordered two different gigantic paella plates - one with chicken, and the other with seafood.  I think the woman who owned the restaurant made the dishes especially for our group since it was pretty clear she wasn't cooking before we arrived.  It was really nice of her, and the paella was absolutely amazing.  The only slightly unsettling thing was that all the shrimp still had eyes.  I think that's normal here, but we definitely weren't used to it.  In any case, it was the best paella I've ever had.

Paella con mariscos
Absolutely Rockin' the Pajamas
That night, we returned to the hostel and hung out on the terrace on the roof of the hostel.  I had a sudden, horrific vision  of the four guys in the movie "The Hangover" on the roof, but I assumed our night would go better than theirs.  It did, don't worry.  Some time later, I was in pajamas and about to go to sleep, when the students I was with decided to go back out - it was about 1:30 am.  Obviously, I went with them - I wasn't about to be the boring one who stayed behind to sleep, but I also didn't have time to get dressed again.  So...I went to a salsa club/bar in my pajamas.  It was epic.  For a country that apparently prides itself on dressing so well, I am surprised to report that no one even noticed I was in pajamas.  I was shocked at myself, and equally shocked that no one noticed.  It was fantastic to be salsa-ing in comfy pajamas while surrounded by people in painful heels, tight skirts, and mask-fuls of makeup.  Not to mention time-consuming hairdos.  I still can't believe I did that, but it was pretty fabulous.

Horchata is sold in horchaterías
and other cafes.
Valencia has two specialty drinks: Horchata and Agua de Valencia.  Agua de Valencia is a mix of a bunch of different types of alcohol with orange juice.  It supposedly tastes like orange juice, but I didn't try it, so I wouldn't know.  Horchata is very different.  It's an almond colored drink with a consistency slightly more viscous than egg nog.  Horchata is made from Tiger Nuts, and is sweet.  We were told to buy pastries to dip in it.  The flavor of horchata is unique.  Online, it's described as cinnamon rice milk.  I guess that's pretty close.

On our last day in Valencia, we went to the Ciutat de les Artes i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), which is both an architectural park and a museum campus.  The City of Arts and Sciences is one of the most renowned attractions in Valencia, so we were all really looking forward to checking it out.  The entire CAS area, including the buildings, was designed by Santiago Calatrava.  The architecture was curvy, mostly white, and very modern.  Tile-coated shapes curved everywhere.  The first building we saw instantly reminded us of Darth Vadar's helmet, but in white.

The second resembled a giant eyeball when you looked at it from the right angle.  All the elevators were built into white cones.  You have to be seriously creative and innovative to design buildings that look like these.
We went into the Oceanográfic (the aquarium), because we heard it was one of the best.  The aquarium was divided into different regions.  We saw penguins, sharks, coral, beluga whales, starfish, seahorses, jellyfish, and Dori!!  I'm not sure what kind of fish Dori really is.  You know, Dori, from Finding Nemo. The tanks were built around the halls so that the fish and other sea creatures would swim around you as you walked.  Very cool.  I was considering learning to snorkel in the Canary Islands, but after learning about all the sharks there, I decided it might not be the safest decision ever.

Ciutat de les Artes i les Ciències 
The Later, we went to see the dolphin show, which was super fun.  Each time the dolphins flipped, or did something else amazing, they got a fish.  The weird thing was that they never seemed to chew the fish.  From where we were sitting, it looked like they swallowed all the fish whole.  It made us wonder if dolphins have teeth.  From there, we picked up our luggage from the hostel, hopped back on the bus, and went back to Madrid.  
Dolphin Show at the Oceanográfic

1 comment:

  1. The museum designed by Calatrava is beautiful. I think he created the Milwaukee Art Museum. I do rock your pj's! Looks like an awesome weekend with great people.