During part one of this three-part series, I wrote about my impulse to study abroad and how it remains one of the best decisions of my life. That post merely described the high points of my trip, because I saved all the details for this post. Spoiler alert: If you want an excuse to cure your current case of Wanderlust, read on and learn why Spain’s third largest city should make it on your bucket list! Sure, Madrid and Barcelona are both really nice, but Spain’s third largest city shouldn’t be overlooked on a trip to what remains my country of choice.
I only called Valencia, Spain home for a few weeks, but a short time frame did not deter me from falling completely in love with this Spanish city. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to my top ten experiences, but somehow I managed. Join me as I recount one of the best times of my life. Just book a flight to Valencia now!
- Public Transportation
I get it. Listing the public transportation as a “Top Ten” feature may seem a bit overboard, but Valencia’s metro system is probably the most simplistic and effective one I have ever used, a complete contrast to the nightmare that is Paris’s “La Metre.” Plus, my study abroad program provided me an unlimited metro card that does not expire until 2018. This just gives me a reason to go back soon, ¿verdad?
- Water Tribunal Court
When I was in Valencia, I got to witness an interesting phenomenon in La Plaza de la Virgen called the “La Tribunal de las aguas de Valencia” or the Water Tribunal Court. Periodically, representatives from the nine irrigation districts in the province will meet to settle disputes over water. The session I watched lasted about two minutes and was quite underwhelming, but when will I ever get to see it again? Probably never. Wait! I have a valid metro card, so I have to go back to Spain soon! Maybe next time there will be some heated water disputes in the court. If they need a referee, I am their girl!
- The Beach
Valencia is a gorgeous coastal city, so the beach is a must. Like I mentioned before, the city’s public transportation is on point, and the beach, like many other things, is accessible via train and street car. One thing I learned from my first trip to Spain is that the Mediterranean sun seems a lot hotter than that of the Atlantic Coast; I got a killer sunburn in Barcelona. Even though I do not wear sunscreen as much as I should, I definitely packed it for the beach in Valencia. There are a couple things that Americans should be aware of regarding Valencia’s beaches and Spanish beaches in general. Spanish culture does not sexualize breasts like American cultures do, and as a result, many of the beaches are topless. Even if you err on the conservative side, do not let this cultural difference deter you. There will still be many women donning fashionable swimsuits, and there isn’t any pressure to go topless if you do not prefer it. Secondly, there will be many vendors selling goods and services on the beach. If you do not want to hassle with them, do not make eye contact. But, a cold beverage and five-minute massage can be nice if you choose to patronize the beach’s entrepreneurs.
Forever a child at heart, I will always be a fan of Spain’s playgrounds. The equipment seems so much cooler than American playground equipment. Some friends and I actually took the metro to a specific neighborhood one day just because the playground looked cool. We stayed there over an hour! Also, Spanish playgrounds have adult equipment for parents or babysitters. If America would get on board with that trend, it might curb our obesity epidemic. Just saying!
You cannot visit Valencia without stopping by Colón, one of the most posh neighborhoods in the entire city. Shopping, including El Corte Inglés, food, the works… Colón has it all! No matter how many random adventures my friends and I went on, we somehow always found ourselves here… and we always found a good time!
- Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
Unveiled in 1998, La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias epitomizes both architecture and entertainment. Designed by architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, the complex will hopefully gain as much momentum and recognition as the Eiffel Tour, Big Ben, and other iconic structures that draw people to some of Europe’s most famous cities. My group and I spent an entire day here because there is so much to do: so much innovative architecture to see, an aquarium to visit, a planetarium to sleep—I mean watch films in (¡lo siento, Lori y Alberto!), and more.
Speaking of architecture, La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is far from the only architectural structure that will leave you breathless in Valencia. From the beautiful churches like La Iglesia de San Juan de la Hospital to the beautiful University of Valencia (or “Universitat de Valencia” in Valenciano, the regional language), the architectural experience of Valencia could take days upon days to thoroughly enjoy.
With Valencia’s location, seafood is obviously a staple in Valencian cuisine, but the sensory and caloric overload does not stop there. From leche merringada, a Spanish ice cream with lemon peelings and cinnamon, to horrchata, a sweet drink made from tiger nut, to fartons, delicious, freshly-baked pastries, there are so many Spanish foods to try. But, the food comas do not stop there. Since Valencia is an international hub, there are several foreign food options to savor. In Spain, Turkish restaurants compare to Mexican restaurants in the United States regarding popularity. I mentioned Sofras in my last post. When I go back to Valencia, it will be one of my first stops! My friends and I also had delicious Italian food, Irish pub food, and authentic Mexican food, and my taste buds have not forgotten any of them. The simple fact that Spanish food lacks the preservatives of American foods leaves reason enough to envy the Spanish diet. As if I needed more of a reason to love Spanish food than the two-hour lunch period and emphasis on local cuisine rather than corporate food giants!
- Night Life
I will never forget the first night we were in Valencia. We went in search of the beach when we met the amazing sand castle artist from the picture above. One of the first things he asked us was, “you are in Spain; why aren’t you out dancing?!” It was a darn good question! We learned quickly that night life would be one of the most memorable facets of our trip. It is hard not to fall in love with a country where going out on Monday nights is acceptable, sangria is free-flowing (and free during happy hour), and classes don’t start until 9:00, thank goodness! I credit Spain’s culture of dancing with my losing weight during study abroad. With all of the delectable pastries, delicious seafood, and seemingly bottomless cups of wine, there is no other explanation.
All that is beautiful about Spain can be encompassed in one word… “culture.” When my mind goes back to Valencia, I think of several things. The Mediterranean salt on my sun-kissed skin. The luscious language I could listen to for days. The endless laughs on nights out. The feeling of sheer profundity of overlooking a village with roots all the way from the ancient Roman empire. The people, so bold and passionate about every aspect of life. The brilliant bursts of color everywhere. All of these elements are essential to Spanish culture, none more important than the rest. Being able to live and bask in these things (as well as infinite other things that would take years to record) has created an enormous space in my heart that I truly doubt will ever be filled by anything else. When I remember my time in Valencia, sometimes I have to look back at old photographs to ensure I was really there. Most days it feels like a dream… because it was a dream.
My last blog post in this series will be about how life changes once you return from study abroad and why I believe that all college students should take advantage of such a transformative opportunity.