I had exactly two reasons for coming to Valencia:
1. It was the birth place of paella (if you’ve read more than one of my blog posts you must have realised by now that I base a lot of decisions around food)
2. An old friend from uni (Michael Deacon) had suggested I come visit, and I’m very open to suggestion (when it’s convenient, which this was). Besides which, he’s a really good musician and was in Valencia because he was studying music there, so by extension I figured that Valencia had to have a fantastic music scene.
Getting to Valencia was supposed to be really easy – there’s a million direct trains from Barcelona that take hardly any time (around two hours I think) to get there. Unfortunately for me, I had yet another Eurail train wreck (proverbially speaking) on my hands. I went over to the ticket office at 3:15pm, and got told that ALL the high speed trains were booked out on account of it being the 8th of December, which, on account of being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a public holiday in Spain.
Instead, the woman said, I needed to catch the local trains there. That was fine, I could do that. Except that there were no directions! The train timetable was running differently to usual, the Eurail app I had on my phone was completely off, the digital signs saying where the trains go weren’t working, and I ended up literally just listening out for other – Spanish/Catalan – people who mentioned ‘Valencia’ (which I hoped meant that that was where they were heading) and I followed them across connecting trains.
I thought I was so prepared this time – I’d screenshotted directions from the train station to my hostel and mapped it all out. Of course, it would just be my luck that the local trains don’t stop at the main train station, and that there’s a few different ‘Valencia’ train stations that they DO stop at. I picked the middle one and hoped it’d be right. In case you haven’t guessed, there was no internet on these trains for me to verify my choices.
And people say train travel is meant to be relaxing and stress free. In all fairness, I guess if I wasn’t so keen on the freedom of being able to make last minute decisions, I would prebook my trains and they would be relaxing and stress free. Oh well, sacrifices and all that.
I’ll spare you my whinge about how hard it was to figure out how to get to my hostel when I had no idea where I’d come out. I fell back on my very reliable assumption that wherever there is a train station there is a McDonalds with free wifi within walking distance, and I made it to my hostel. Unfortunately, my phone battery was on it’s last legs and I ended up almost running the whole way, getting lost a lot because I didn’t want to pull out my phone and use up the battery by checking the map, and I ended up arriving at my hostel drenched in sweat and absolutely stinking.
The awkward thing about my hostel was that the showers came off the living room, which was full and crowded with people playing drinking games. Not keen on trying to walk over them to get to the bathroom, I just retreated to my room to unpack and wait until they all left – it was about 11 at this point, and there was a midnight curfew, so I spent my time writing instead.
As it turned out, to my luck, I was sharing my room with this fantastic girl named Janelle. This may sound stupid, but sometimes I meet people and I just know that we’re going to be friends. Janelle literally ran into the room to grab something before going out, and we just smiled at each other, but I knew we’d be friends.
The next day proved me right. That first night was the most stressful and hard experience I had in Valencia – which is to say that the rest of my time there was super chilled and hella fun. I mainly hung out with Janelle, and we bonded over our fondness for feminism, and because we just wanted to run around and cause mischief and have wild adventures.
Valencia’s old town is very picturesque; I feel like a lot of places in Europe fit that description, but Valencia is so walkable and so small and so alive. You step out, and you’re immediately more or less in the thick of it. It’s a very public place – it’s not particularly crowded, but it has this feeling of being very awake; the stores are very open architecturally, and everyone talks to you, and there’s a lot of people just hanging out around the place. Valencia’s also pretty much hipster central – but like, the nice, non-pretentious hipster variety. There was this little store that was a chocolate cafe/bar, with all these fancy chocolates and chocolate shots with various liquers, that also sold jewellry, and it was just run by this old man who’d have his similarly aged friends popping their head in through the window to talk to him. Guess Valencia’s aged population is just a bit more quirky and creative than the average.
We spent our days cycling around Valencia – we got our bikes from this cute little store called Passionbike, 10E for 48hrs. We’d literally bicycle around, and keep stopping when we saw funky little vintage stores (there are a lot in Valencia) and we’d tie them up, run in, try out alternately ridiculous and really cool clothes, go out, start bicycling again, and stop short at some particularly impressive street art (there’s also a lot of that in Valencia). Valencia’s supposed to be bike friendly, but a lot of those little cobblestoned streets are one-way and bikes are meant to stick to that! We didn’t. The police kept pulling us over and telling us off, and we’d nod and be all apologetic, then wait until they were out of sight and then hop back on our bikes and do it again.
We felt very bohemian. On one of the days we met up with Michael, cycling through Turia park to get to our rendezvous point. The ‘Jardines del Turia’ have a really cool story – it used to be a riverbed but the river kept flooding so they rerouted the whole thing! Then, apparently, Franco wanted to create a motorway there, but the locals wanted none of it and kept planting trees there instead to make things difficult. Ultimately the government gave up, and turned it into a proper park.
I don’t know how true to life that story is, but their way, the park’s way cool – there’s this giant playground in the shape of Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels, there’s a jungle gym, there’s even the very futuristic looking Opera House, Science Museum, Planetarium, Oceanografic and City of Arts and Sciences, all of which look like something out of a space age movie. Cycling through the park was rad – it just stretches across the city and you can bike or run through all of it, and there are people doing yoga or exercise or having picnics and engaging in other park-related activities all through it. Imagine having a park that went all across Sydney!
Michael lead us down to the beach, which was very eerie when we went, it being both Winter and siesta time. Ignoring the fact that it felt like a ghost town however, the beach front was full of sand sculptures. Very next level. We sat there eating persimmons and clementines and chorizo and cheese and it was both nice and kind of strange.
Our hostel was right next to the Mercat Central, which are these huge indoor markets, so we spent a lot of time there getting fresh fruits and meats and cheeses – and of course, freshly squeezed Valencian orange juice. Valencia is also chock full of bakeries, and Janelle and I shared a sweet tooth and love of food, so we’d go around sampling the wares from everywhere that looked good (which was a lot of places). My favourite pastry was the Napoletana, which was kind of like a croissant, but rolled up, and full of cream. Heavenly. We also tried horchata, made out of ground tiger nuts, which you had with hot fartons (another pastry). Those were supposed to be really good for hangovers.
Valencia’s other famous drink was Agua De Valencia, which is Valencia orange juice with cava, vodka and gin. I wasn’t actually a huge fan of it, but I’ve since started ordering long island iced tea’s with orange juice instead of coca cola and they taste pretty great, so thank you Valencia for that bit of inspired thinking.
My favourite thing about Valencia, however, was the paella. I thought it’d be overrated and I was expecting it to be fairly expensive. Not so. There was this place down the street from us that would reduce their paella to 1E from 7pm every night, and there’d just be a huge line waiting from about half an hour before that, and we were regularly up the front of it. There was traditional Valencian paella, with rabbit and chicken, and seafood paella, and squid ink paella, and vegetarian paella, and lots of sides that went with them. It was the best paella I’ve ever tasted, and we’d buy a few different ones each night, eat a bit of each, and keep the leftovers for breakfast/lunch the next day.
Michael had said that his favourite thing about Valencia was how everyone was so nice, which I thought was a bit of a cop out answer at the time, but it was true. One day I spontaneously decided to pierce my tragus, and we ran all around town to all the tattoo parlours to ask if any of them had a piercer in. We went to about 6 before we found one that did, but the others were so helpful and lovely, trying to call up the piercers, offering up alternatives, and just generally being really warm.
I finally found Valencia Tattoo and Piercing, where I had to do no paperwork whatsoever and they didn’t check my ID or anything, but the piercer, Emma, was super professional and very sweet. She explained what she was going to do, and showed me all the gear she was going to use so that I could see that everything was sealed and new, and calmed me down very nicely when I started to freak out (I’m not good with needles). Then when it was all done, she gave me her business card so that I’d have her email address, just in case I had any problems or questions later on.
The only problem I have with Valencia is that buying women’s runners or volleys or anything that aren’t, like, fashion shoes, was incredibly difficult. We went on an epic quest through H&M and Zara and Bershka and Mango and a million other stores, and couldn’t find anything. This was at the point that my boots were starting to hurt my feet and I was seriously regretting not having bought my sneakers along. In my defence, I had hiking boots with me and I felt like I couldn’t have 3 pairs of shoes with me. As I was giving up hope and resigning myself to having permanently sore feet, we cycled past a – very expensive – sports store that had a table full of shoes on sale. The only thing on the table that fit me were little boy’s velcro Nikes, size 1, for 12E. I wore them for the rest of my time in Valencia.
We did have high aspirations of checking out jazz, but it never happened. We did however go to Radio City and had a killer night there. I literally danced for hours on a stage entirely on my own, and loved it. In the zone and all, you know? We ran into lots of interesting people there, and this English guy danced with me for a bit to win a 10 pound bet that his friend had made on the mistaken assumption that I was Spanish. We took custody of an incredibly drunk girl for a while too, after her friend dumped her on Janelle (who does that?? Just asks a random stranger to look after their friend because they’re leaving?) and tried to get her home while she tried to fight us, which was a challenge. I lost my jelly bracelets and we got some random strangers to help us try to find them (found two, then lost one on a subseuquent night). There were other more interesting stories from that night too, but not appropriate for the public domain unfortunately. Use your imagination though, and think of all the trouble two girls could get up to in a night.
So that was Valencia. Very homey and cozy, mecca for food, less of a mecca for comfy-shoe-shopping, and just generally very liveable and fun. Thank you Michael Deacon for the suggestion, I’m glad I took you up on it!