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Valencia: Where It All Began

L’Hemisfèric, City of Arts and Sciences

Stepping out of the train at Estació del Nord, I could instantly feel my shoulders relax. In the relative darkness we gazed up at the wrought iron roof, pierced by a long skylight running down its centre. Around us the muffled footsteps lacked all the signs of a preoccupied, obsessive urgency. This city, I knew, was going to be different.

Wheels on the ground, we emerged from the waiting hall, brightly decorated with florid Modernist patterns, and into the bright Mediterranean sky. To our right stood the red-brick Plaza de Toros, and just across the sweeping avenue the Ciutat Vella beckoned.

And then it hit us. Gone was the fear of encountering pickpockets at every turn; gone were the unfriendly faces, the tackiness of La Rambla and the seediness of Barcelona’s old city. Unlike its older sister 300 kilometres to the northeast, Valencia was quietly unaware of her beauty.

And then there was the paella. We took turns scraping the pan for the best bits of soccarat, the crispy, slightly burned crust – savouring the taste of saffron, fresh seafood and fideuà, the thin noodles created specifically for the dish.

When we returned to the same restaurant the very next day we were offered starters of pa amb tomàquet – bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil – for free. The waitress smiled. “This is very Valencian.” With her dark brown curls and glasses, she came to embody the city of her residence – charming, generous and wonderfully unassuming. At the end of the meal she brought us a handmade clay pot, saying emphatically that it was “a gift from us to you”.

It was Bilbao that began my love affair with Spain, but Valencia was the ultimate confirmation. After the trip my brother and I would sign up for four months of intensive Spanish classes. When I returned to England I became good friends with Tacho – a valenciano – who took me back to see Las Fallas that March.

The year was 2010, and Plus Ultra was born.

At the Plaça de l’Ajuntament

Plaza de la Virgen, site of Valencia’s Roman Forum

Rooftops of the Old City

The Serrano Gate (Torres de Serranos)

Old riverbed of the Túria

La Lonja de la Seda – the old silk exchange

Calatrava’s gift to his hometown

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia – the opera house

Seeking shade

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. I didn’t know that Santiago Calatrava is a valenciano. Now I get it why he designed the futuristic L’Hemisfèric at Valencia. Judging from your pictures, it does look a much friendlier and more peaceful city than Madrid and Barcelona. Btw now I also get it why you chose those three posts as featured posts for your blog. 🙂

    April 28, 2012
    • Yes, he is! Valencia may be Spain’s third-largest city but it still retains the friendliness of a smaller town. It is my favourite city in Spain – even more so than Salamanca – and I would love to live there at some point. 😀

      April 28, 2012
  2. Wow! Valência is now on my list!

    April 28, 2012
  3. Valencia seems like a nice mix of old and new. Nice photos, James!

    April 28, 2012
    • Thank you, Bente! I would say it’s kept a good balance between the two – the city really has its own flavour.

      April 29, 2012
  4. I went to Valencia and absolutely loved it! There was so much to see, so much history and beautiful streets and squares…unfortunately when I went there the fountains at the Plaza de la Virgen weren’t working but they look stunning!
    I absolutely loved all the buildings: the City of Arts and sciences Eye is wonderful, next time I go i’ll make sure I go in the evening to see it reflecting into the water like a whole eye 😀 stunning!

    April 28, 2012
    • I agree, most guidebooks don’t give Valencia the attention that it deserves! It’s surprising to see how they gloss over such a gorgeous place. I never did see the “Eye” at night so I will have to do the same!

      April 29, 2012
  5. I was just in Barcelona and wish I could have made it there! The Opera House looks amazing.

    April 28, 2012
    • Maybe next time, Annette! Valencia is a great place to escape the crowds of Barcelona.

      April 29, 2012
  6. I am getting “wwoofers” (worldwide workers on organic farms) this summer; two of them from Spain; so your post will be scrutinised 🙂 Only joking…Nice to read something beautiful and positive about Spain (instead of all the negative financial news)

    April 29, 2012
    • Spain’s economy isn’t in the best shape, but regardless of the whole situation its people still have a zest for life.

      April 29, 2012
  7. We didn’t make it to Valencia….next time.

    April 29, 2012
    • I think Ryanair does flights there out of Pisa Airport.

      April 29, 2012
  8. Your images and narrative describe it well James! Definitely on my bucket list as well!

    May 1, 2012
    • Thank you, Madhu! Valencia was one place that I just couldn’t get enough of – I ended up going back three times in the span of two short years.

      May 1, 2012
  9. What an all-emcompassing beautiful city!

    May 6, 2012
    • It is very beautiful – and it has fantastic beaches and the sweetest oranges to boot!

      May 11, 2012

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