Spain has always been a high priority on my travel list. And, even though I live in Belgium, it took many years to get it crossed off. The timing just never seemed right– I had friends living there for awhile, but they moved on. Most of my European friends had been there before and didn’t have a large desire to go back. There were always good flight deals to other countries.
Finally, in February of 2016, I took the initiative to book some tickets. I asked the man friend if he’d be interested in going with, and he agreed on the condition that we didn’t go to Barcelona, as he had already been 3-4 times. Ugh. That was the main place I wanted to visit… but as we all know, relationships are built on compromises, so we settled on the third largest city, Valencia.
First of all, if this city only takes the bronze for the country of Spain, I can’t wait to see the silver and gold. Valencia is a vibrant city with many interesting things to see and do. Even though we we went in the “off season,” the weather was still really nice (I think around 65F), all the restaurants were open, and the streets weren’t bombarded with other tourists. We drank wine on the terraces while eating the local specialty, paella.
Paella is a rice dish with various other ingredients, all cooked together in a large pan that usually serves 2-3 people. The flavors of the dish differ depending on what you add, but the “original” paella of Valencia consists of white rice, rabbit, green beans, white beans, and rosemary or saffron. Since Valencia is the known origin of paella, we knew we had to try this, although I must admit, I’m partial to the sea food variety.
If you have a few days to explore Valencia, I highly recommend it. Below, I have listed a few places that are especially note worthy… or, at least, photo worthy.
The Cathedral of Valencia is definitely worth a visit, even if you don’t consider yourself a religious person. It has Gothic architecture, with beautiful relics that adorn the altar, walls, and even ceiling pieces.
The most interesting thing about the cathedral, however, is the rumor that it houses the Holy Grail- or rather, the cup that was used by Jesus Christ and the apostles during the Last Supper. Whether it is true or not is up for debate, but historians have indeed dated the cup to that era, so impressive nonetheless.
THE CITY OF ARTS & SCIENCES
What I called the “Good Darth Vader building” is actually a part of the City of Arts & Sciences, an area of Valencia that was constructed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. If you follow the Turia river (which has a nice view anyway), you will eventually come to this area, and you’ll definitely realize you’ve hit it. It felt like I was suddenly placed on a futuristic planet; I half expected to see airborne vehicles zipping around my head. Beautiful cyan water surrounded the buildings, with little walkways allowing you to jet back and forth between the buildings to admire the architecture.
Next door to the City of Arts & Sciences is another spectacular area, the Valencia Oceanographic Museum. We had bought our tickets a day ahead of time (you can do this at the ticket counter right outside of the museum) because I knew I would want to spend the whole day exploring.
The museum actually consists of ten different areas, with both indoor and outdoor displays. These are separated into categories such as Oceans, Antarctic, Red Sea, Mediterranean, Tropical, Islands, Wetlands, Artic, Islands, Crocodilary, Butterfly Room, and the Dolphinarium. We spent the first hour walking around in the cold(ish) weather to admire the bird park/wetlands. I am not really a bird enthusiast, so I can’t tell you what all was there, but I will say there were many different types and you could get right up close to them. My favorite type, I later learned, was a spoonbill.
Inside the Oceanographic Museum there were over 500 different marine species, ranging from sharks to jellyfish to sea algae. I loved going through all of the the glass tunnels, where you felt like you were surrounded by sea life. The ocean has always fascinated me… in fact, in the “space vs. ocean” debate, it honestly baffles me anyone would bother with space when we still have so much to discover about the depths of our own planet.
One of the coolest, albeit most expensive, parts of the museum was the main restaurant. There are a couple of different dining options at the Oceanographic Museum, but if you have a few hours and a few hundred to spare, I suggest the Underwater Restaurant, which is exactly how it sounds. You walk in and they lead you down a staircase to a room with walls made up almost entirely of glass. You get to watch the fish swim around you while you eat, and feel like you’re the display in the middle of a giant aquarium.
There are many other things to do in Valencia that didn’t make the list. Go to the mercado for fresh food and see the hustle and bustle of the city. Visit the Museum of Beautiful Arts to admire its great architecture. Have a drink at a little beachside pub. Basically, just get spend an afternoon getting lost and wandering from site to site.
Here is a video, highlighting our weekend in Valencia.
THE TRAVELIN’ SONG: Valencia (Eddy Wally). Eddy Wally is a Belgian shlager singer who recently died, but one of the songs he did was a Dutch cover of the song Valencia. And Jeroen convinced me it was an original, which I thought was strange.
BUDGET: Weekend trip; $550 for airfare, lodging, activities and food.
TIP FOR TRAVELERS: Go hungry to the weekend market. We already ate before we went, but there were plenty of little shops where you could buy food and snacks, and also some tasty (adult) beverages!
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: The area around the City of Arts & Sciences. Welcome to the future!