For the last leg of our train trip (see our first stop in Zaragoza here and the middle - and longest bit - in Barcelona here) we made a day and a half long stop in Valencia, Spain's third largest city. Now, I have to say that I wasn't all that sure what to expect for our time in Valencia. A few (Spaniards) had given me dismal reviews of the city ("It's like the Jersey Shore of Spain - I hate it!") but foreigners we knew who had visited seemed to really like it. Nevertheless, I tried to keep an open mind because I have a thing for places along the sea and I was also particularly stoked to visit the City of Arts & Sciences. So, without further ado...another riveting blow by blow of how we spent our time in yet another pretty European city!
D - I hadn't heard much about Valencia either (especially since Shannon planned this stop on our trip), but one of my co-workers had really negative reviews and said that Valencians are really rude. I wasn't too worried about this as we don't have the best Spanish and wouldn't really be looking to strike up conversations with anyone anyway.
We started in the center of town, because trains are convenient like that, dropped our bags off at our Airbnb a mere two blocks away, and started walking. We saw the Plaza de Toros which is adjacent to the train station, and then spent some time in the Plaza Ayuntamiento, where there was an ice skating rink, a tree, and a bit of Christmas cheer set up amongst the grand buildings.
D - Looking back over some of these pictures, I think Valencia may be one of my favorite cities in Spain in terms of architecture. And that's not even including the City of Arts and Sciences (more on that later though)!
Continuing on to the Mercado Central...the current building was finished in 1928 and is in a modern Art Nouveau style. The interior has high ceilings, making it feel spacious in a way many markets do not. A large, circular nativity set occupied the center of the market during our visit and we saw everything from baby Jesus and his parents to people riding elephants! You just never know what you're going to get with Spanish nativities...
While researching vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Valencia, I came up with Almalibre Açaí Bar, and had been looking forward to it ever since I knew it was an option. We made açai bowls on occasion while living in Colorado Springs, but I haven't seen açai sold in Madrid/our blender has a serious leakage issue so this place was our one shot in Spain. Our bowl (we split one due to the price) was - thankfully! - fantastic and we would've gone back for dinner and every meal the next day if money was no object, but alas. We are but mere teacher's assistants.
D - The acai bowl was so good! I wish I had brought my guitar to Valencia so I could have panhandled my way to more of this delicious food! I'm currently trying to figure out how to recreate these at home (blender leakage issues aside).
We opted not to go inside the Catedral de Valencia, but I have to admit - it certainly intrigued me. For one, it looks part coliseum, part cathedral in the photo below, does it not? And for another, THE Holy Grail is housed inside. Now, I don't even know what a holy grail is, but it sounds exciting (although not exciting enough for us to part with €14 in order to get in).
D - If only Indy had known that he could have just paid a small admission fee instead of walking across that invisible bridge...
We "accidentally" visited two museums on our first day in town that weren't on my itinerary, but were offering free admission (how could we resist?!) and they weren't the Louvre or anything, but they were fine. That evening I realized one (Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas) was on my itinerary for the next day, and it was definitely our favorite of the two. It was formerly the mansion of the Marquess of Dos Aguas (of course) and while some parts were more interesting than others, the portions that show what the home was like long ago were the best.
When we were walking to our Airbnb earlier in the day, we noticed it was near a bunch of authentic-looking Chinese restaurants. I can be a little be picky (I guess the sentence can just stop there, but in this case I'm adding to it) when it comes to Chinese food since getting spoiled with the real deal in China. However, these places really looked like they were teleported straight from China to Valencia, so when the place I'd planned for us to eat paella (Valencia's claim to fame) at was closed, we settled for Chinese. We shared a few plates family style, and I think we can both agree it was the best Chinese food we've had outside of China.
The next day we really had one thing on the agenda: ride bikes. On our way to the bike rental shop, though, we stopped at the Torres de Serranos, one of twelve gates that was once a part of Valencia's city wall. The tower was open (and free!), so we climbed to the top, a nice unexpected surprise as we didn't know we'd be able to do so.
D - This tower checked all the boxes for a cool experience on a trip: surprising, spontaneous, totally accessible, and uncrowded (in fact at times we were the only ones there). It was this awesome remnant of the past squeezed right in the middle of the modern city.
We decided on a tandem bike that we rented from Valencia Bikes and spent the next nearly four hours riding through the Jardines del Turia, a massive urban park that was once a riverbed (after a terrible flood in 1957 the Turia River was diverted from the center of the city, and the park was created. It's really a fantastic space, with sports fields, playgrounds, gardens, trails, and at one end, the City of Arts and Sciences.), and then along a little bit of the coast. This was, hands down, my favorite part of our time in Valencia, and maybe even our entire six-day train trip.
D - We weren't sure at first about a tandem bike, since they are a bit trickier to handle than standard bikes, but we're really glad we ended up getting it. On a tandem, couples can talk together while riding, which is something we really appreciated. Unfortunately, we left little time to get back to return our bike on time, so the return part of our journey was a bit stressful (as I got us a bit lost), and sweaty (as I was wearing a jacket in like 70 degree weather). I guess we should have rented for the full day instead of the half day!
We returned our bike, picked up our bags at the Airbnb, had a quick lunch at the train station, and took a BlaBlaCar back to Madrid. (For all you uninitiated Americans out there, BlaBlaCar is a ride sharing service where a person who owns a car and is about to take a journey - i.e. Valencia to Madrid - posts where they are going, when, what kind of car they have, how much space they have for people and bags, etc., and then people looking to go on that same route sign up and share in the fuel/operating costs of the car. In most all cases it's cheaper than trains and planes, but maybe not always at the times/locations you want. Because of the time/location factor, we've only done BlaBlaCar twice (once in Scotland and once in Spain), but both experiences have been good and I need to remember to look into it more often when planning trips!)
Anyways. I think if you've made it this far, you can tell that Valencia wasn't as bad as some people made it out to be, in fact, it was rather nice. (In my opinion) it doesn't have loads of sights to see, but it does have the beach, the fabulous park cutting through the middle of town, the futuristic City of Arts & Sciences, the Holy Grail, and açai bowls, so really, what's not to love? If we ever return, I'd like to go inside the cathedral, as well as some of the museums that make up the City of Arts & Sciences, and of course, eat some more açai ;)