Part 6 in a series:
There comes a moment during most vacations when the travelers are ready to go home. For us, that day arrived in Valencia. We were weary of old towns, bored with cathedrals and battlements, and frustrated by our substandard Spanish. So, we went native.
We arrived in Valencia during the heat of the day, nursing a shared cold. When the room wasn’t ready, we grudgingly decided to kill the afternoon at a local botanical garden but instead killed our weak effort at enthusiasm with confusion over which botanical garden to visit. Words were exchanged.
When the room still wasn’t ready, we regrouped with a bite and a drink in Old Town. Blame our mood, the steamy weather or siesta time, we just weren’t impressed with Old Valencia. Most shops were closed; graffiti littered the walls, and the fly-swept café seemed grimy in comparison to those of the five other Spanish old towns we had visited over the past two weeks. Sorry, Valencia. We blame ourselves.
So, we decided to mix it up: “Forget all that historical stuff,” we agreed. “Let’s go hang out with the locals!” But where?
We decided to join the thousands of weekend warriors at play at Turia Gardens, a 9km-long green space that opened 30 years ago in the drained bed of the Turia River. The river was rerouted away from the heart of the city in 1957 after a destructive flood. The park, which opened in 1986, was a delightful masterstroke of urban planning. Thank you, Valencia!
We spent pieces of two days roaming the gardens, crisscrossing the sunken parkland past multiple soccer and rugby matches, shady groves of trees, brightly colored floral gardens, still ponds and rushing streams. Eighteen bridges carry major boulevards over the bucolic scene below and between the busy neighborhoods on either side. And, yes, you can find a bar or café if you need some refreshment. Jamon Iberico and sangria, anyone? Anyone?
A favorite focal point was a whimsical playground with slides, tunnels, stairs, climbing walls and more laid out in the shape of a pinioned 70-meter long Lemuel Gulliver, the hero of the 18th century satirical travelogue “Gulliver’s Travels.” Like the rambunctious Lilliputians from the same book, the neighborhood kids clamor up, over, under and across the prone traveler. The author, Jonathan Swift, would have been amused.
The City of the Arts and Sciences at the southeastern end of the garden is a thoroughly modern complex that includes an opera house, art museum, sculpture garden, oceanarium and more. We hadn’t been to an aquarium in a whole lot of years so decided to stop in at L’Oceanogràfic . It was OK, as aquarium’s go, though short on restrooms. We did kind of wonder why it wasn’t located a few blocks to the east on the coast.
On one trek back to the hotel we did dip back into Old Valencia to find Mercat Central, an 8,000 square foodie paradise with 300 vendor stalls selling meat, fruit, veggies and prepared options. We mistakenly ended up at the stylized reconstruction of Mercado de Colon instead – essentially a beautiful high end food court, where we experienced the best sangria of the trip and our worst language fail. “Do you speak a language,” the waiter finally asked as we attempted to place our order in Spanish. “Yes,” we confessed. “English.” Fortunately, he spoke English, too.
After our late lunch we did finally stumble across Mercat Central. Impressive, but the stalls were beginning to close and we would have needed accommodations with a kitchen if we were to take full advantage.
We also spent two evenings walking and dining at La Malvarrosa Beach, a broad stretch of sand that begins at the port and disappears northward into the horizon. When in Valencia, you must eat Paella, and the restaurants lining the beach offer plenty of options. We found a good one beneath a full moon that evening, though the Geek was disappointed by the lack of soccarat, the rice crust at the bottom of the perfect paella. We love it but others discard it, which is perhaps why the restaurants go without. Frankly, after nearly three weeks on the road it was nice to be slacking coastside again, even if it was on the Iberian Peninsula rather than San Francisco’s.
Primed for home by our evenings strolling the the Spanish coastline, we had one more stop to make before boarding our flight back to California – a return to Barcelona to tour all things Gaudi. Up next.
This is the sixth of a multi-part series of our travels to six major Spanish cities across three weeks in the fall of 2017. Special thanks to The Geek for the comprehensive journal she kept throughout our journey.