I arrived in Valencia by train from Alicante. I spent five days there — the longest at any destination during my two weeks in Spain. I stayed at Valencia Mindfulness Retreat, a bed and breakfast in the historic heart of the city. The B&B itself was a highlight with its charm, architectural details, style, and friendly hosts. As a solo traveler, I liked the daily family-style breakfasts with diverse guests — Dutch, Italian, and British (while I was there). I loved being the only American guest! Valencia Mindfulness Retreat is in easy walking or cycling distance of most sights. Yoga and meditation were available; I did both. My days in Valencia were a balance of leisure and exploration.
I visited popular sites in Valencia, like:
- Basilica of Our Lady of the Forsaken – The Basilica flanked Plaza de Virgen, where people hung out, strolled around, or rode through on bikes.
- Mercat Central – This market was almost overwhelming. Hams were hung like clothes on a rack; and there was a massive variety of fruits, vegetables, spices, and fish for sale. You could also order paella and other food-to-go. I noticed that in Spanish markets the meat might have an anatomical attachment that you won’t see in the typical U.S. supermarket – like a head, hoof, or feet…or, maybe only the head will be in the meat case… or, you might see the entire defrocked animal. All options are there!
- La Lonja de la Seda – This UNESCO World Heritage Site housed the Silk Exchange in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s a magnificent structure near Mercat Central. I put my camera on zoom to see the building’s architectural detail, and saw freaky gargoyles. I did a double-take, like…is that what I think it is? (By the way, gargoyles have a purpose other than warding off bad spirits, such as diverting water from a building – like a gutter. Well, that’s certainly one explanation for that appendage!)
- City of Arts and Sciences – The science complex was architecturally fabulous — designed by Santiago Calatrava — and includes an Oceanografico (aquarium) and IMAX cinema. The interactive exhibits at the Principe Felipe Museum of Science were just so-so, but it’s probably a good museum for families and children.
- Jardins del Turia (Turia Gardens) – This extensive park has athletic fields, bike and walking paths, and gardens. Turia Gardens is an awesome place to be active and outdoors in the city. This was the original site of the Turia River. The river flooded Valencia in the 1950s; so, like a biblical punishment, the city diverted the river; and converted the dry riverbed into a recreational park. (Poor river! I never did see where it was banished.)
- Beach – It was a nice, long bike ride to the beach, which was very broad with smooth sand for days, and framed by mountains. It was mid-May and early in the season, and warm enough to bask on the beach awhile without the crowds. Loved it!
I found less touristy spots, like:
- Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia. The star here was not the art, dominated by Madonnas and cherubim. The real star was the elegant museum cafe where I was seated outdoors in the courtyard. I had a wonderful salt-encrusted dorade (a Mediterranean fish) with roasted vegetables. The meal and wine were served with all the flair of a fine dining establishment for less than 25 euros. When the server brought the fish out, I thought there was no way I could eat the entire fish. But, when he gently pounded the salt casing to release the succulent flesh, and filleted it and arrayed it on the plate, the portion looked very manageable. It was literally head and tail above any other museum cafe food I’ve ever had.
- Institut Valencia d’Art Modern (IVAM) – I loved this museum where I discovered Valencian artist, Miquel Navarro. IVAM has a permanent collection of his sculptures and watercolors. The museum pamphlet describes his work as “a true symbiosis between body and architecture. Warriors, phallic symbols and totems transform their selves into bridges and fountains. Buildings, as well as cities, have organic similarities with the human body.” It was fascinating and I certainly couldn’t miss the phallic symbols; they were everywhere in his collection.
- Museu d’Historia de Valencia – The museum used to be a water supply station. The art and Valencian history were creatively displayed.
- L’Almoina Valencia – There, I viewed Roman and Arab archaeological excavations through a glass floor. It was unusual to see the history of Valencia in this way. Very cool!
I did other things, too, like:
- Explored the historic quarter on foot, and helped a guy cook paella on the street.
- Rented a bike.
- Hung out at outdoor cafes with gelato, tea, or a glass of wine.
- Photographed murals and graffiti that were everywhere — on construction barriers, shop doors, garage doors…. It was here that I fell in love with graffiti and street art, and now have hundreds of photos.
Another highlight was “The OMG! Meal” I had at an organic / local food restaurant I found called Kiaora Biocucina. Chef Yelel Canas graciously prepared my fish selection on the prix fixe menu, gluten-free. I had the kind of attentive service and multiple courses that I didn’t expect there. Kiaora was an unpretentious little spot, whose decor featured a large mural of a green mountain and a speck view of the chef’s family farm. Chef Canas is proud of his food philosophy, and local cuisine, and is happy to talk with patrons about his culinary creations. Amazing and delicious! (Update: Chef Canas has left Valencia and will be opening a restaurant in Barcelona in Spring 2015. I will find him again. Bet on it!)
Valencia was all good. I had my poorest showing in communicating with people here because the people favored the local language, Valencian (a Catalan dialect), over Spanish. It wasn’t that much of an obstacle at restaurants or getting around, though. I’d return in a heartbeat and stay at the same place. There is more of the city to explore — my only regret is that I missed the Sunday flea market. Next time!
Next: Balancing Travel – Part 5 – Alicante