Our Spanish adventures continued in Valencia. The drive from Madrid took us about 4 hours. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I probably spent a combined total of 15 minutes looking out of the window as I was: 1. Glued to part three of the Fifty Shades trilogy (which by the way is amazing!) 2. And was somewhat cranky because of my distaste for our large Mercedes Viano rental. An ugly bus, with dark shaded windows that don’t open past the driver and front passenger seats, making the inside feel like a dark cavernous place. Claustrophobia at its best! Why this car? We have a lot of luggage…don’t ask! Nevertheless, from what little I did see, the drive is quite scenic with verdant hills on the right and the view of the sea on the left.
Valencia is visibly smaller. It feels smaller as you wonder through its streets although it is the 3rd largest metrolitan city in Spain. It also feels old unlike Barcelona which has built a new world around its ancient streets and alleys. It is full of palm trees and its Baroque and Romanesque architecture makes it somewhat reminiscent of the South of France and Italy in parts, especially close to the Plaza de la Virgen and the Jardines del Real (Royal Gardens). The downtown district has lots of pedestrian shopping areas planted with orange trees. After all, Valencia is famous for its oranges.
Valencians, like their sister Barcelonians are visible pleasure-seekers. We arrived on a Friday and everyone was out on the streets. Financial crisis in Spain you say? What financial crisis? The shops, restaurants, cafes and gelaterias are packed with happy, vivacious, money-spending people. The economic difficulties certainly weren’t felt here.
Valencia may be known for many things but we did not expect science and ocean life to be one of them. We spent an 8-hr day in the City of Arts and Sciences; a monolithic cultural/leisure complex of cutting-edge buildings designed by the architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela and surrounded by a beautiful park that was buzzing with cyclists in the early morning. The Science museum was an interactive experience that was informative and actually quite fun especially the Superheroes exhibit! I don’t think I will ever outgrow Spiderman and his buddies! My highlight by far however was the Oceanograhic center. We saw all kinds of fish, turtles an awesome dolphin show and beluga whales. It was amazing! If I could be an animal, I would want to be a dolphin. They are playful, flirty, funny and protective. I love them and can’t wait to swim with them. This is a must-do item I can’t wait to cross off my big-momma list!
After the ridiclous amount of walking that we did in the City of Arts and Sciences, we started off our 2nd day in Valencia – a Sunday – quite relaxed. Walking through the park, taking piazza bench breaks, sitting in a cafe, shopping..and then the unexpected happened spinning our easy Sunday into a drama filled afternoon! Dad lost his wallet. Or it was stolen. We’ll never know. And so began a frantic series of searches back in the hotel, the last shop we had been, every plant pot and street in between. It was no where to be found. After calling all the credit card companies to block his cards, we tried to make our way to the police station. The directions we were given led us to a station that seemed closed. As we perused the map on which our hotel concierge had marked and scratched our heads in synchronised confusion, we were approached by a strikingly handsome (ok he was hot! I love u N!) Spaniard walking towards us. He explained what the Spanish sign said, redirecting us to the new police HQ which had apparently relocated, before retreating to his car. A few minutes later, we heard a honk and looked back to see said Hot Spanish Man in his car flash us his police badge and offer us a ride to the new station. Let me tell you, it is a thrill to ride with a cop, albeit not in uniform and in an unmarked car! My wild imagination likes to think he was working undercover however he was probably off duty enjoying his lazy Sunday afternoon. We filled the police report, communicating with the non-English speaking cops in our very own version of sign language and were on our way.
I have to say that I’m very proud of dad for being such a good sport about it. I would have probably been hysterical. After a frantic search episode, he accepted the fate of his wallet. After all, things could have been far worse. Thankfully his passport and cash were safely stowed away in the hotel safe.
And so Valencia ended on a happier note with an excellent (very) late lunch, some afternoon park-bench musings combined with reflections on the day and a heaping serving of more delicious gelato. Valencia is quaint, surprisingly lively and definitely worth visiting if you are in Spain for a while and even more especially if you have kids. The City of Arts and Sciences is a playground for children…it certainly brought out the child in me!