Oh Valencia... where to begin? Rachel and I left Florence with a heave and a sigh (the heave from our hauling our heavy bags and the sigh out of sentimentality.) The Pisa airport was relatively small, but rather sleek - and much more efficient than Florence or Bologna (P.S. NEVER fly into Bologna.) We got to Valencia sans hitch - it was perfect. The Valencia airport is connected directly (like walk-down-one-flight-of-stairs directly) to the clean and efficient Metro system. Five or six stops later, we were wandering around a glorious plaza made of marble, surrounded by bright Baroque buildings, looking for our hostel. The hostel was nice - very simple, but bright and clean. A shower and sink in the room, along with our own balcony - not bad, eh?
One of my favorite moments from the whole trip actually was rather trying at first. The first evening in Valencia, we went exploring the evening and got lost in the Valencian suburbs. We were both hungry and tired and had low blood sugar (the one common thing that can make us both less than pleasant to be around.) At one point, I notice that Rachel is no longer walking beside me. I turn around to see her asking a handsome, middle-aged man tethered to a wire-haired fox terrier, in broken Spanish, where's a good place for tapas? He was awkwardly charming (he had "professor" written all over him), and his English was a bit better than our Spanish, so we continued our conversation in steady and purposeful Spanglish. His wife came out of the store we were standing in front of, and he explained our situation. They had a good-natured argument about directions and restaurants until the wife motioned for us to go with them. So we followed this adorable couple through the surprisingly busy streets. The missus left on her own errand, so we continued on with the man - pausing while he returned a DVD at a Blockbuster.
We found out that his name was Joaquin and his dog was Terry. And we love him.
After about ten minutes of walking, with a great big smile and a wave, he left us in front of a nice tapas place with great shrimp and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for this wonderful place - this beautiful Valencia - which, only an hour before, made me nauseous after I realized I couldn't understand anything anyone said. We also had our first taste of the Bud Light of Spain: Estrella Damm. Well, maybe it's more like the Spanish Sam Adams, since it's actually potable and rather nice. The food is great - lots of seafood, lots of fried, and yet, somehow, I still lost weight... I love the Spanish.
We did the adventure to the City of the Arts and Sciences. This involved a metro stop and about 48 miles of walking in sunshine, which is nice, unless you're of a certain P&C complexion (peaches and cream, yo). We trekked to the largest aquarium in all of Europe and spent most of the day mooning over over Beluga whales and sea lions. On the way back, the heat and sun caught up with my pale Northerness and I was slapped in the face with a bout of heat stroke and a rather nasty sunburn. While I slept off my nausea, Rach adventured out and found the super scene area of Valencia that was strewn with tapas places, shops and churches (of course.) We spent the next couple of days primarily in that neighborhood, exploring churches, drinking caffe con leche, and eating... there was much eating.
The thing I may love most about daily European life is the market/mercado. Quality fresh food, good prices, and good variety. You're bound to be more adventurous in your cooking and eating if you know where your food came from. There's the occasional farmer's market around here, but if there could be something large-scale and more consistent, my life would be... wondrous.
Strange Things About Valencia
• Wedding shops. EVERYWHERE. We also witnessed evidence of four weddings on one day. Apparently, getting hitched is quite en vogue in V-Town.
• Bull fights. Still big. Like, NASCAR big.
• I saw something with Dr. Phil on it. I don't remember what, because I forced it out as soon as I saw it, but I thought I had escaped his grasp.
• More "Strange Things About Valencia" under "Reasons Why Rachel and I Liked Spain (Valencia in Particular)"
Reasons Why Rachel and I Liked Spain (Valencia in Particular):
• Fatties! Yes - fat people! After Florence - a city of slender Italians in four-inch heels - we found ourselves surrounded by an equal number of beautiful, youthful Spaniards and Spaniards with yoga pants and beer bellies. Human after all!
• Spanish people do it. All the time. How do we know this? Babies. BABIES EVERYWHERE. Baby here, baby there... babies every-fraking-where. Like pietas in Italia, you're bound to see more than your fair share of babies in Espagna. Also, their version of a TV drama involves a comical amount of sex scenes. Hilarious bordering on just plain weird.
• They fucking LOVE chocolate. Not only are there chocolate shops everywhere, but also, after watching a couple of hours of Spanish TV, Rachel and I noticed that out of, say, seven commercials, five of them were for some sort of chocolate-based product; the other two commercials were for weight loss and feminine hygiene products. Take from that what you will.
• Dos cervezas = doth thervethaths. I adore the Valencian lisp - Rachel on the other hand, was not a fan.
• Caffe con leche. Unlike Italians who sneer at you for ordering a cappuccino after noon, the Spanish will whip up a less frothy version for you at any time. Though I missed the pomp and circumstance of a cappuccino, there was something to be said about getting what you wanted exactly when you wanted it. There are shops everywhere. I became very dependent on caffeine during the trip - I'm still trying to wean myself off 3-5 shots of espresso a day.
Anyway, both Rachel and I enjoyed Valencia a lot. While we expected it to be nice, I think we were both still pleasantly surprised. We came to the conclusion that it's a very livable city - there's open space and well-kept parks, nice public transit, and what seemed like stable, relatively diverse economy. It was tourist-friendly, but not "touristy" - an unfortunate bog that Florence has become thoroughly lodged in. The weather was perfect and the city was very clean. Anytime we asked for directions, someone was more than happy to help.
Oh Valencia, if I spoke Spanish, I'd be back to you in a heartbeat with a working visa.