Valencia: to the seaside!
I arrived in Madrid almost three months ago, but since then I’ve actually done more travelling outside of Spain than in it. Two weekends ago this changed as I took my first proper trip to another part of the country – I went directly east to Valencia on the Mediterranean coast. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city yet I had never been there. Out of the top 10 largest cities I’ve now been to 7.
As I mentioned in my Postcard of the Week from Valencia on Monday, my friend Sarah had been exploring Madrid for a few days and on Friday after work we popped down to Valencia on the high-speed AVE train which covers 391km in just 93 mins, travelling at a max speed of 310km/h. Considering how the slow train takes 5 hours, we made a good choice. My ticket was courtesy of GoEuro.co.uk, which is a great website for booking transport as it shows you all your options (flight, train, coach, car) on one page along with the price and duration of each option. Using the filters on GoEuro I could see that the AVE train is not the cheapest, but it’s certainly the quickest. And on a short weekend away, time is of the essence.
We shortly arrived in Valencia to a salty Mediterranean breeze and made our way to our hotel, Valencia Flats. Through searching on TravelZoo.com/uk I had found an absolute bargain: 2 nights in Valencia Flats hotel for 2 people with entry to the nearby City of Arts and Sciences included (normally costing €36.25 per person), all from €140. I signed up for TravelZoo’s newsletter and each week I receive an email with their Top 20 featured deals, all of which are bargains.
We checked into our room, which was basic but served its purpose without being overly luxurious, and quickly headed out to the explore the city. Valencia Flats is in a perfect location for the City of Arts and Sciences and there are plenty of buses that take you into the historic city centre too. A number of people had told us that Barrio del Carmen is the place to go at night so we made a beeline for the cobbled narrow streets that make up this neighbourhood. On our way to dinner we meandered down pretty alleyways, through the picturesque squares of Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de la Virgen, bumping into groups of nuns, marching bands and religious processions celebrating Semana Santa.
With very hungry tummies by now we finally arrived in Plaza del Tossal and grabbed a table outside La Pilarica restaurant, one we’d been recommended especially. Their specialty is mejillones (mussels) and we also ordered some chorizo montaditos and calamares. The bar inside is tiny, with a quaint atmosphere as customers tuck into their mussels at the bar, scattering napkins liberally at their feet. I could see its appeal but personally I wouldn’t rave about it, we passed other restaurants in postcard-pretty squares that looked just as nice. Dinner done and dusted, we bar-hopped the night away. If you’re cunning, you can grab the ‘free first drink’ in each of the bars in the Plaza del Tossal and as such we didn’t spend a céntimo and stayed out until 4!
The next day (after a suitable lie-in to ward off any headaches) we saluted the sun by throwing on sundresses and sunglasses and heading to the famed City of Arts and Sciences – and what an unusual place it is! Quite the futuristic experiment by architect Santiago Calatrava, the whole project of 7 buildings took 11 years to complete (1994-2005) and cost the city over €1 billion, a whopping four times over the initial budget. It has the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (an opera house), Principe Felipe Science Museum, Hemisfèric (an IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium) and the Oceanogràfic (Europe’s largest aquarium) and a few other structures to admire such as the Umbracle (a landscaped sculpture walk) which I featured in my postcard on Monday.
While my camera couldn’t get enough of it and I did quite like seeing something architecturally different for a change, we wondered what the local Valencians thought of it. Parts of it are an eyesore and I imagine it will date very quickly. It was too expensive to be pulled down anytime soon, so one just has to hope it will stand the test of time and not rust or lose its clean, sleek white appearance.
If we’d had more time in the city I would have liked to explore each of the buildings, but a weekend is not more than 2 days so we focused on the aquarium. Despite not liking to touch fish or eat them, I do adore the sea and aquariums enchant me.
Especially the shark tank. I braved the icy waters off of Cape Town last October to go cage diving with Great White Sharks and it was one of the most invigorating things I have done in years! Here in Valencia the shark tank is a long tunnel you can walk through, with the beasts swimming around you and overhead! The most fascinating sight was the little baby shark that swam around directly under its mother’s belly. Rather more gruesome was the display that explained how a baby shark is produced: several eggs are produced in the shark’s womb, and those who hatch first then eat their siblings (called intra-uterine cannibalism) which leaves only two sharks left alive that are actually born. I also discovered that a shark can live for 9 months without food. Incredible.
The aquarium is also home to dolphins (catch the choreographed show at certain times of the day), Gentoo penguins (my favourite animal), Beluga whales, a coral reef, tropical birds, sea lions, walruses and hundreds upon hundreds of types of fish.
To get a feel for the aquarium, dedicate 15 seconds of your life to watch my Instagram video of it:
After the aquarium Sarah grabbed a cup of Horchata, a deliciously refreshing and sweet cold drink made from chufa (tiger nut), which I’ve since found sold in the supermarket to my great delight!
In the evening we headed to the beach and the seafront for the legendary paella. Elsewhere in Spain, paella is simply ‘arroz’, as the real deal comes from Valencia. La Pepica came highly recommended but had zero atmosphere when we strolled past, so we opted for a more buzzing restaurant, El Coso, just a few doors down and we sat as near to the beach as physically possible. The service was absolutely atrocious and the staff very rude, but they had paella, Sangria de Cava (which is nectar from the gods – so delicious) and even a flamenco dancer or two. On the same seafront are a couple of bars and we headed for cocktails at Vivir sin Dormir, which is apparently open 24h.
On our last day, the Sunday, the sun was out in full force and we rejected sightseeing in the city centre in favour of a our first beach trip of the year! The beach is long and wide, and nothing particularly spectacular to look at, but still nice. The sea in April is absolutely flipping freezing but the sand is warm and the beach sprinkled with beach towels and swimwear-clad bodies. Oh to feel the warm sun on my skin! During the winter my mind completely forgets about beaches, dreaming instead of snow-covered ski slopes. But now it’s like a switch has flicked and my brain has been re-programmed to daydream of beaches… The countdown is on for my next beach day – under 3 weeks to go, when I’ll be in Bali. Mmm.
Sadly all good things come to an end and we eventually had to check out of our room in Valencia Flats and part ways: Sarah back to the UK and myself towards the train station to catch my return AVE train to Madrid. I certainly did not want to leave. Why oh why must Madrid be so very far from any coast?
In some ways I found Valencia quite small, while I also felt that a weekend wasn’t really enough time to get to know the city. One piece of advice I’d give you would be to maybe stay nearer the action inside the historic city centre.