Reflections of Valencia, Spain

The View from the Micalet Tower – Valencia Cathedral


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.

Bike Ride on Malvarrosa Beach

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.

Ayuntamiento of Valencia

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.



Weekend In Mallorca

We spent the weekend exploring the remote beaches on the north coast of the island. We found the perfect wave beach for the kids near Alcudia. It was their first time in waves and they absolutely loved it. The waves were a perfect size for kids and the beach had a sandy bottom. It was a wind surf and parasail area with probably 50 people practicing the sport on the long beach. We then drove out to the end of the Cap de Formentor and soaked in the spectacular views of limestone cliffs, deep blue sea and green hillsides. The protected areas on the north coast are absolutely beautiful and I hope they can keep them wild.

On Sunday we visited Cala Torta. It was a windy day and the beach was closed to swimming when we arrived. The waves were immense. We hiked along the ridges, and when the lifeguard left, we got into the water a bit. The waves were so high, that I didn’t dare let the kids go out past their knees. We had a lot of laughs as the immense waves crashed on the beach and knocked us off our feet.


The kids are really improving their swimming. We have a pool next to the apartments where the kids could spend literally all day in. Owen learned to dive and Ollie can now jump into the deep part and swim to the side. Ocean can also jump in the deep end, but is a bit more cautious and only does it right next to the side. She does a front flip underwater.

The Son Caliu suburb of Palma where we are staying, has a lot of running/bike paths. As I wrote earlier, I am very impressed with the infrastructure of Mallorca.

I read an article yesterday in the Diaro de Mallorca (Mallorcan Daily) that discussed the economy of the island. In 2001 the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) had 526 hotels that stayed open during the winter months (November to Easter) with an occupancy rate of around 50%. Last winter, 2011-2012, the number of hotels that were open year round had dropped to 126 with an occupancy rate of 32%. They are expecting even lower numbers for 2012-2013. This of course is not good for the islands as people have to make due on 7-8 months of salary. The reason less tourists are coming to the islands are the rising costs and competition from warmer places. Before switching from the peseta to the euro, it was cheaper for Germans and Brits to spend 15 days in Mallorca than in their home countries. Today, it is just as expensive. Also, places like Egypt, Tunisia, etc. are now less expensive than Spain. There was a another article with complaints from the golf industry, that the government is raising the IVA (sales tax) from 8 to 20% on a round of golf. In Europe, these government sales taxes of above 15% are ridiculous. I used to think the Canadian 13% was excessive (to give some perspective, in my home state of Michigan, the sales tax was raised from 4 to 6%) before I moved to Europe.

Spain fell into the same trap as the US did regarding the economic crisis. Many people thought they could become rich quickly through investing in real estate and many got in over their heads. The banks made bad loans and now Spain is receiving bailouts from the IMF and the Central Bank. I have noticed less people in downtown Mallorca and shops either closed or offering discounts. I think the island is adjusting to the lower number of tourists and there will be hotels and shops that go out of business.