My incredibly brave 59 year old Aunt, packed up and moved, on her own, to Valencia last year. Ever since she experienced Europe as a child with my grandparents, she had wanted to find a way to spend a few years living in Spain. After losing the love of her life when she was in her 30’s and raising 2 girls, putting them both through college and seeing them settle into their adult lives, this was her time to explore. Her strength, bravery, humour and intelligence remind me how lucky I am to have grown up around so many wonderful women.
February in London is often bone chillingly cold and grey. So the opportunity to go anywhere likely to have blue skies and sun is a real treat. K visited her at Christmas and the other is coming over in March, so a short trip in February was ideal for both of us.
Options of flying to Valencia are more limited, with the majority of flights going from either Stanstead or Gatwick. As always, M did all the research, costing things out. When going on holiday, we find the idea of stuffing everything into carry on bags and finding space in the overhead compartments unnecessarily stressful. We would rather pay to check our bags and wait an extra 15 minutes for them to be delivered to us, versus schlepping them through airports. We tend to find that once you have added up all the additional charges associated to bags and priority boarding (we work too hard to participate in the mass frenzied boardings which seem to go hand in hand with budget airlines) it is often not that much more expensive to fly with our beloved BA.
M had booked us into the valet parking, which is such a treat as you leave and collect
your car right at the entrance to the airport. Again, when you compare the price and how miserable it is after a lovely holiday to wait outside in the cold for 20 minutes for a bus to take you to a long term parking lot, this is well worth the extra £20. Because of how much I travel for work, my silver card also enables me to bring a guest into the BA lounge, so all in all a nice relaxing start to our holiday.
The BA lounge at Gatwick is perfect for what we are looking for. Plenty of comfortable seating and power outlets, good range of food and drink options, with newspapers and magazines. We had time for our traditional pre-take off glass of bubbly, a croissant and tons of water. I was also delighted to find they had Bazaar magazine available – I love fashion magazines.
It is an easy 2 hour flight from Gatwick to Valencia. Having gotten up at 4.30am and had a glass of bubbly before take off, I slept the whole way. Arrival was a breeze with a speedy immigration process and the bags arriving almost immediately. Aunt L picked us up and we drove back to her flat. She lives in a spacious 4 bedroom flat with a balcony overlooking the City of Arts and Science; she has a beautiful view of the Museum of Science on the left and the Opera house to the right. Having left London with slate grey skies and constant drizzle, the stunning blue skies and sunlight pouring in from her floor to ceiling windows was breathtaking. As Aunt L said, how could you not be inspired by that view?
The City of Arts and Science is built on the old La Turia riverbed. The river was diverted following a disastrous flood in 1957, an incredible feat of engineering that we would love to learn more about next time we go there. The riverbed is now a 9km long park with meandering walk-ways, interspersed with playgrounds, sculptures, fountains, grassy areas, benches, etc. There are clear bike trails and the paths are large enough to accommodate walkers, prams, runners and playing children as well. We went for a 3.7 mile run one morning (a humbling experience trying to keep up with your 59 year old Aunt when I thought I was in relatively decent shape) which gave us the opportunity to see several beautiful bridges from a different perspective. The next time we go, we would definitely take the time to go for a long bike ride to see more of the park.
M and I are medium energy travellers, we love walking, museums, seeing the different architecture styles, visiting churches and generally exploring the places we visit. However, being constantly sleep deprived due to the requirements of day to day life, we also view holidays as a time to have lie-ins and afternoon naps. Based on our experience of Aunt L and K staying with us in London, we knew she was a high energy traveller; leaving the flat by 9am and not coming home until 5 or 6 in the evening. Having travelled with both my American family and M’s British family we tend to find my family are higher energy travellers versus our British family. I’m not sure if this is typical but having worked for American and European companies and heard about colleagues’ holidays from both sides of the Atlantic, I suspect so. I’m usually exhausted just listening to Americans talk about their breaks. So we were prepared for a more energetic weekend then we would normally have had. It was brilliant as it enabled us to pack far more into our weekend then we would otherwise have done.
A few things to note from the outset – you can’t drink the water from the tap. It has a very high mineral content, to the extent that it can make you sick; so it’s bottled water everywhere, including at home. Valencia restaurants have a menu of the day (menu del dia) which was 2 or 3 courses, usually with a choice of 3 or 4 options per course and all of it is invariably delicious. Meals always start with bread, which I usually ate too much of, given the bread wasn’t anything particularly special and I predominately chose carb based food. Lunches seemed to start around 1 and wrap up around 3:30. Although some places served food quickly enough to do multiple seatings, this was often not the case. If you are going to enjoy the full Valencia experience, accept that lunch will last at least an hour and usually more like an hour and a half onwards. When eating out, we mostly drank the house red. I did try the house white on one occasion and found it too sweet for my taste, so stuck with the reds going forward. These were all nice drinkable uncomplicated wines; a lovely accompaniment to our lunches.
Aunt L is working on her Spanish and understands it better then she speaks it, although I suspect that is a confidence thing as much as anything else. She started lessons the week after we were there, so hopefully the next time we visit she will be fluent. M and I have a smattering of French between us, but like many Americans and Brits we are overly reliant on everyone else speaking English – something which we find both uncomfortable and embarrassing. We always try to learn a few basics before we visit somewhere – please, thank you, yes, no, etc – but there are some places where you really need a better handle on the local language to get the most out of your trip. While Valencia isn’t one of those places necessarily, a better knowledge of Spanish would have helped with ordering in restaurants.
After getting settled into the flat and sharing a bottle of Cava (I will never write off this amazingly priced sparkling wine again), we headed out for lunch. None of us are passionate cooks, and while we can all put a decent meal together, it isn’t an act of joy for any of us. Aunt L hadn’t spent much time eating out since arriving, so we agreed that we wouldn’t bother cooking as we were all on holiday and we would explore the places she had spotted and wanted to try.
Our first lunch was at Sabores de Durban, a locals restaurant just down the street from the flat. This meal set the tone for the trip – incredibly well priced, delicious food served in overwhelming quantities. There were 4 options for both the starter and main courses. I am annoyed to admit that I can’t remember what we had to start, but M had the rabbit stew for his main course and Aunt L and I had the Paella Valenciana which includes chicken, duck and rabbit. Both dishes were exceptionally good, paired with a glass of the house red (or in M’s case a beer). The paella Valenciana (unsurprisingly) is a staple of the area and a must while there. M and Aunt L had a desert of strawberry mousse which they agreed was delicious (as with most mouses I thought it looked gross).
Having consumed an enormous amount of food, we headed out for a walk around the area. We started by doing a meander through all 5 or 7 (can’t remember exactly how many) floors of Corte Ingles. It’s a huge Spanish department store that sells everything from clothes through to paint – literally a one stop shop for anything you could ever need. It’s a bit like a combination of John Lewis, Homebase and Sainsbury’s. Fun to walk through to see what the locals experience, but it’s not an impactful shopping experience like going to Selfridges or Harrods – it’s just normal people doing normal department store shopping. From there we took a quick peak at the local mall, which again is multiple stories, and semi out-door, in that the common areas are open air. There were some fun shops but nothing particularly exciting. Finally, we were headed home through the park. We went across to the far side of the Museum of Science, did a loop up to the Opera House and then back to the flat. We loved walking around the park and seeing the buildings from the different angles. The architecture of the buildings is striking, modern, and fascinating. Moving a few feet in any direction can completely change the shape of the building(s) that you are looking at – sometimes combining them into a single image before separating again into something new. As we walked, the movie theatre went from looking like a giant eye to an armadillo to a huge half circle rising out of the water reminiscent of something out of a sci-fi film.
After such an exhausting day of eating, drinking and meandering, we went back to the flat for a nap. Having recuperated, we had an evening in snacking, chatting and drinking a lovely red wine.
On Saturday morning we were up and out early to go on a graffiti walking tour of the city. We took the bus straight into the city, which was easy, cheap and convenient. GoogleMaps plots the bus route and you can follow what stop to get off at throughout your trip, so it makes it an easy way to travel. The trip had been organised by the folks that Aunt L works with – they call it a meet-up group. These meet-up groups seem to be a great way to be introduced to people. Because M and I are both so insular (and blessed to have each other) we have never looked into this type of thing. However, Aunt L has made some wonderful friends through these groups both in the US and now in Spain. There didn’t seem to be a lot of interaction between people on this tour, but I don’t think that’s the norm and there are other groups/trips specifically for singles. Because Aunt L has her own car she apparently is often the designated driver for the trips that take people out of the city for hikes which she loves doing. It again reminds me how brave and strong she is.
I’m not convinced we learned much more than we already knew on the graffiti tour – there is a difference between street art (which has been paid for and/or authorised) versus graffiti. Although not a type of art that we are particularly drawn to, there were some interesting pieces and I was intrigued by the political undertones evident in some of the pieces. One of the constants were the black martians with an unpainted circle in the general area of the heart which is filled with a variety of different symbols (a heart, a smiley face, an empty circle, etc). These are graffiti which are constantly popping up around the city and are politically motivated, sending messages about society and the government. Apparently no one knows whether it is a single person, an organised group of people or individuals who are affiliated purely through their use of this symbol. There were also some very striking murals depicting a barren future with the eye of the state watching us, as well as some large wall art scattered around the city. One piece was a multi-story painting of a woman with long hair which had not been authorised and had sprung up overnight. Presumably the residents of the building had commissioned or at the very least allowed it as it would have been impossible for the painting to have been completed without access support from the residents.
During the course of the walk, we also saw reclaimed land that was being used for small neighbourhood gathering places or allotments. It was lovely to see local residents taking ownership for using the abandoned spaces for good.
The tour began at Plaza de La Virgen and finished up outside the Church of Parroquia de la Santisima Cruz just as a wedding was about to start. We watched as the stragglers rushed in prior to the bride arriving. What was particularly interesting was that every women was wearing fur – some of it stunning, both real and fake. After the bride was in the church we saw a group of chaps scoot out and head to the bar across the square – they were all in suits and we assume that they were part of the wedding party. It was quite funny to see them scamper off for their beer as if afraid that by just watching a wedding they might get struck down by a disease which would lead to them getting married.
It had been a long walk, and we got to see roads that we would not have otherwise seen. If you are into this kind of thing, it is certainly worth doing, but not something I would repeat elsewhere. We stopped for a delightful pick-me up at Maria Mandiles where we had beer and ciabatta bread with Parma ham warmed up with a bit of tomato salsa on top. M drinks beer and Aunt L loves a good beer. I rarely drink beer because of the calories, but I must say, a cold beer after a long walk while on holiday is delicious.
We didn’t have a clear enough plan for the afternoon which meant we ended up walking a bit aimlessly. It was a nice walk as it’s a very attractive city, but with hindsight I should have been more prepared with exactly what I wanted to see in the afternoon. From Placa del Carma we wandered towards Torres de Quart, one of the old entrances to the city.
We carried on walking through the city, passing the Mercat Central (Central Market of Valencia) which is a very large food market inside a very grand building selling a vast amount of meat, fish and vegetables – and all seemingly very busy do a good trade.
As we got into the city centre, we were looking for a place to eat lunch. Aunt L and K had eaten at Cafeteria Bahia and thought it was great, so we headed there. Unfortunately, as with many places in Valencia, it’s small and the pace of the meals are such that if you arrive too late to get a table for lunch you are basically out of luck. We just missed the last table. The waitress said it would be 10 – 15 minutes, and like the tourists we are, we believed her. So we sat at the bar and had a glass of wine and a plate of heavy calamari. It became very clear after half an hour that there was no way we were going to be getting a table so we headed back out to look for somewhere else to eat. Unfortunately, by this time, we had really missed the lunch-time seatings. We ended up in a very low key tapas bar/café where we had the only mediocre food of the trip. However, they were very sweet in letting us eat there at all as it was clear they held off closing for the afternoon while we finished our food.
As we were walking home, Aunt L suggested we go to the Faller museum as it was on the way. Honestly, I really didn’t want to. By this time I was tired and sore and just wanted to go home for my nap. However, it was clear that the non-verbal communications with M weren’t working so off we went to the museum. It was very cool and I’m glad we went, but I would have been equally happy to have gone another trip. The Fallas is a bit like the Notting Hill Gate festival or what I imagine Marti Gra to be. It’s held in celebration of Saint Joseph, and different groups produce fallas which are made up of the ninot (the puppets or dolls) and the monument they sit on (which is filled with firecrackers). The whole thing is made of paper mache and cardboard and they are all burned at the end of the celebration. Each year, one of the fallas is chosen to keep in the museum to represent that year. They ranged from the beautiful and cool through to really ugly. Aunt L is not looking forward to Fallas as it’s apparently insanely loud and chaotic. It’s one of those things that I suspect would be more fun in concept than in reality. After walking through the museum we finally headed home. As soon as we got there I fell into bed for a nap.
Following a nap, I bounced back and felt much better – ready to go for dinner. We had decided on a local Italian, Pizza Roma. Their menus were on iPads which put Aunt L off initially. I liked it as it meant we had pictures to help choose the food. We had another fantastic meal with a lovely bottle of red wine. L had a pizza which we all ended up sharing, I had the carbonara and M had a beef pasta dish. It was all delicious and we went home full and happy. Once home, we had a lovely long chat with more red wine. The more time we spend with Aunt L the more I like her. We really get on well together and have a lot of similar views. She also likes chocolate, wine, cheese and peanut butter!
It was the sweetest thing ever – Aunt L made Nama’s biscuits for breakfast the next day. She says that she can’t always get them to rise, but I didn’t care. It was just so lovely and fun to have them, just the way Nama used to make them.
We tootled off on a drive to the Albufera – an area which is known for its rice fields that make Paella. L was very excited about the possibilities of bird watching, which we couldn’t quite get as excited about. Apparently she had a group of girl friends and this was one of the things they used to do. The area is very flat with lots of great cycle routes, definitely one for further exploration. While interesting to see, it just looked like marsh land to us.
It would be very interesting to go back at a time where the rice is in season, so to speak. It does give an interesting perspective on what someplace like Vietnam might look like. There are several villages local village known for being the origins of paella – we ended up at El Palmar. Parking looks to be a bit of a challenge and I shudder to think what it would be like in high season.The best places are probably known only to locals are tiny where you have to book – something that we should look into next time. We ended up at a larger place – LLar Del Pescador – but we were able to sit outside. As the day was a bit warmer with beautiful sunshine, it was extremely pleasant. The food was delicious. We of course had Paella.
That evening we went to the opera. We had booked cheaper tickets as we weren’t really sure what to expect. I think Aunt L would have been really happy to book more expensive tickets, but I am very suspicious of anything that I don’t fully understand. So spending 50 Euros on tickets when we don’t know the show or the layout of the theatre seemed high risk. We found this was a sensible approach.
Our seats were great (from my perspective). We were up on the second floor, at the front on the left hand side facing the stage and we sat one in front of the other, with no one beside us – basically at the very front of the U-shape. While the show was extremely fun and interesting, it wasn’t quite what we expected. It was the opera Carmen, but rather than focussing on the music it focussed on the flamenco dancing. So the ‘opera’ was more a dance. The costumes, staging, dancing, etc was wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed something different, but I am very glad we spent 15 Euros a head on it versus 50! We had quite a giggle over the whole escapade!
The next day it was up and out again and we drove to La Vall d´Uixó (Castellón) where there is a big indoor cave filled with water that you take boats through – Coves de Sant Josep. Again, I can’t imagine what it would be like in high season. However, it was perfectly pleasant during low season. They had an audio recording that you listened to as you went through which was interesting. The lighting and information were both solid if uninspiring. A fun excursion, but not something I would do more than once or when it was busy.
We had lunch at a little place overlooking the beach. Again, I can only imagine how chaotic a weekend in this area would be. However, we were spoiled for choice on space when we were there mid-week in the winter! We ate at La Tasqueta del Mar where we enjoyed the daily special menu.
That afternoon was a real sentimental highlight for both Lindsey and me. We went to the Lladro factory. Nama loved her lladro’s. We don’t know where the love for them came from, but that was what she collected. My sense is that L actively thinks they are beautiful. While I now appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the making of them, I have never been drawn to them personally. They always strike me as Victorian clutter. However, we did find a little group of ducks that we go which I love. They remind me of our trip and of Nama. When I was a child there was a duck pond down at the PX, and we used to go there to feed the ducks. I have a very clear memory of one particularly frightening day where a very aggressive goose chased us back to the car before we had a chance to feed the ducks. Nama bravely went back out and threw the bread at them, but I stayed hunkered down in the car.
The tour at the factory was interesting as it took you to each section of the activity. Each piece is still made by hand. Each piece is made up of a number of different pieces which have their individual mold. They are then pieced together and painted individually. The painting was the most interesting. I had no idea that each and every piece was hand painted. There are other brands that are mass produced, but the lladros are all individually crafted. The part I really liked the best was wandering around the showroom / shop. The variety of pieces and styles was amazing. Everything from flamenco dancers, to the traditional English countryside pieces to very modern pieces to extraordinarily elaborate pieces. The Chinese dragons were incredible as were some of the horse and carriage pieces.
On our last night we went for a curry at a local place. We had a lovely bottle of cava and a great meal. L hadn’t had curry very often previously so we talked through the options and she settled on a Korma while M had his usual curry and I had my spinach and potato sag. A great way to end the trip.
Aunt L went to work the next day and we got up and headed to the airport for our flight home. It was pouring with rain, but Uber didn’t let us down. The airport is very easy to navigate, and possibly because of the low season wasn’t busy. We were able to enjoy a few nibbles and drinks in the lounge before boarding the BA flight back to Gatwick and home.
A very pleasant and enjoyable visit to Valencia.