I just completed five days in Valencia, Spain. I have been to Spain many times, but only the island of Mallorca, where I did my Master’s degree and a family holiday two years ago. This was the first time on mainland Spain and in a large city. I was very impressed with Valencia, it reminded me somewhat of California. It has the same climate, located on the coast, with palms and orange trees everywhere. I didn’t know that Valencia was such a large city (the third biggest in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona) and that it was part of the Catalan region. This makes sense geographically, because it is located directly due west of Mallorca.
The best thing about the city besides the obvious Mediterranean Sea and sunshine, is what city officials did with the Turia River. It used to flow through the city and in 1957, a major flood made city officials reconsider it. They decided to re-route the river, bypassing the city to the south. They then took the river bed which meandered through the city and converted into a long green belt of parks and sports facilities. There are soccer fields, a gorgeous baseball field, athletics stadium, and hundreds of playgrounds and picnic areas. There are bike and running paths running its length on both sides. Yesterday, I rented a bicycle from Passion Bike (highly recommended) and took the kids from the historic city center, all the way to the beaches and back. It was a glorious, cool, grey day of exercise! Having lived in Venezuela and visited city named, Valencia there, they also have a narrow park in the city, but it is much smaller and smells of sewage. I have to commend the Valencia city officials for this idea. They are also maintaining the park very well and the landscaping and condition of the playgrounds and paths were excellent. Between the beach and Turia park is an industrial area that is really run down. I noticed some of the Formula One race track used to be here. I guess they ran out of money after developing the City of Arts and Sciences, but it is area which could be made nicer.
Near the former mouth of the river is a complex of museums and civic attractions called The City of Arts and Sciences. The futuristic architecture makes it look like the set of a science fiction movie, and it brought back memories of the 1970’s movie, Logan’s Run. We took the kids to the aquarium, the largest in Europe. It costs 27 Euros to enter and featured a dolphin show (lame in my opinion) and large and small tanks of sea life from a range of habitats and oceans. As with all zoos and aquariums, they give me mixed feelings. It is fascinating to see the wonders of nature, but I feel for the large, higher intelligent animals that live in such small spaces. I also prefer to see specimens in the wild to zoos, but it does give access to elderly and the less adventurous.
As with most cities in the Mediterranean, the architecture reflects the long history of different civilization that have called the place home. The old city is quite compact and well-preserved, with a good mix of the old and modern. The Valencianos enjoy socializing and it showed with the numerous cafes, restaurants, bars, located outdoors in the narrow streets. There were many gorgeous plazas and we walked through them daily. There were many tourists, but not an overwhelming number due to it being off season. The beach was very quiet and on the two days we visited, it was overcast. I did manage to get in the water, despite the cool breeze. There is something soothing and invigorating about swimming in the sea.
Soccer is the big sport here and the sports pages and televisions were full of highlights from the Spanish and Champions Leagues. I still don’t understand the appeal of the league without salary caps for teams. Year after year, it is dominated by the big two, Barcelona and Madrid, with only a handful of teams having a realistic shot of breaking through. Valencia is one of those teams, but they are down in the standings this year. (Look up why the theme of the bat). I also heard and saw less Catalan than in Mallorca. I was complemented on my Spanish several times and it is always nice to understand the locals in their native tongue. It made me enthusiastic for keeping my Spanish sharp. I need to look for an advanced Spanish book with tips and pointers to polish my level. I will be spending a couple of weeks in Bolivia and it will be a good opportunity to practice this June.
Overall, I had an enjoyable visit to Valencia and I would definitely come back with my family. The Turia River Green Belt, great weather, beaches, and old city, makes Valencia a premier tourist attraction. I would like to thank my co-chaperone on the trip, Milica Rkulovic, our school’s Spanish teacher, for inviting me to go with the class. She was delightful and I had fun with her and the students.