I worked in Valencia, Spain, for three months. Until I visited Istanbul, I had thought that Valencia was the most beautiful city on Earth. Now I think it’s a tie :-) But then, Istanbul is huge and I didn’t really see too much of it.
I arrived during soccer (fútbol) season. When is it not fútbol season? I wanted to go to a game, but only saw them on TV. It was still pretty cool. And loud! I was told that, among Spaniards, Valencianos are known to be party animals, so whenever a goal was scored, you’d hear about it all up and down the street.
My Spanish was pretty good, so I was pretty comfortable getting around and making my own friends, unlike in Ukraine. I found Valencia’s lovely mosque on my first weekend there. Conveniently, the community was going on a huge outing the next day to the historic town on Albarracín, and they invited me along. After touring the town, we went to a very nice park, and the ladies relaxed while the men cooked paella over a fire :-D It was some pretty darn good paella too!
I was to have a lot of paella in Spain, along with a typical Valencian dish called fideuà, noodles cooked in fish stock with shrimp, which I never really got a taste for. I did like the arroz negro, rice cooked in squid ink with squid pieces. I tried a bunch of new and crazy seafood there. Valencia is known for its Mercat Central (Central Market), which was walking distance from my apartment, and where you could see the fresh meat and seafood in all its stinky glory. I was surprised and a bit disappointed, however, to find that the fruit was not as tasty as what I’d had in Ukraine.
While in Spain, I briefly visited Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada. I couldn’t spend too much time in these cities because of work, but I was glad for the opportunity to visit them. Barcelona was first. My friend, who I’d known since we were five, had been studying there and was about to leave, so I wanted to make sure to go while she was still there. I loved Barcelona. I didn’t get to spend as much time touring Gaudí‘s creations as I wanted. That’s reason enough to go back! I also spent time just hanging out at Las Ramblas and Plaça d’Espanya.
Madrid? Well, not as impressive. It was nice, and there was a lot to do there, but it was not as beautiful as Valencia, Barcelona, or, later, Andalusia. I saw the three famous art museums – Prado, Thyssen, and Reina Sofia. I liked Reina Sofia the best. Prado I thought was a bit overrated; it had the kind of art that normally bores me. The best part of Madrid was La Rastra, basically an enormous outdoor bazaar. If you go to Madrid, DO YOUR SOUVENIR SHOPPING AT LA RASTRA!! The souvenirs are cheaper there, and often better quality than what you see in the souvenir shops. Maybe see the prices at El Corte Ingles first to make sure you know what’s up.
El Retiro, a park in Madrid, was really nice. But Valencia’s parks are so beautiful! They have an old riverbed, Turia, and there are so many nice places to sit down in there. I set out to walk the length of it one day but met someone and ended up having lunch. The Palau de la Música is down there; I sat in that area to relax and draw a couple times. There is a playground that looks like an enormous fallen Gulliver! I had thought it was supposed to be a matador, but then I didn’t read Gulliver’s Travels.
In July, there was a series of concerts in Valencia, which was awesome. Some of them were in the big public garden. The seating area was roped off, and you had to pay to get in, but I always sat just outside it, by the duck pond. I couldn’t see the stage as clearly but could hear the music perfectly. One time, there were a lot of police around, and someone told me it was because two ducks had been stolen!
Near the end of the July concert series was the Batalla de Flores. I went with my crazy but unbelievably cool Sicilian roommates. There was a circular parade inside this big fenced area, and the floats were made of flowers. Some fireworks went off, and all of a sudden the people in front started throwing flowers! They were enormous ones, chrysanthemums I think, and the people on the floats pulled out tennis rackets from I-don’t-know-where and began hitting or throwing the flowers back at the audience. Suddenly everyone had flowers and it turned into a melee. Near the end, my roommates jumped the fence and started yelling for me to come in. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to be in there or not, and didn’t want to get into trouble. A couple people at the front, however, interpreted my hesitation as not knowing how to get over the fence, and they threw me over. I think I may have panicked a little then and swatted at one of them; I hope I didn’t! Anyways, more people from the audience joined us over the fence and started climbing up on the floats. Evidently, Valencians like to throw things. La Tomatina takes place at the end of August (I was gone by then but I’m sure my roommates went!), when people throw tomatoes at each other.
I visited Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada near the end of my stay in Spain, and I loved all three of those cities, although I only had one day in each and was exhausted!. Sevilla was first. I remember really enjoying it, but don’t have a long journal entry for it. The city is divided by the river into an old and new part; I pretty much stayed in the old part. The Reales Alcázares (old royal palaces) were beautiful, I would highly recommend them. Actually, I would recommend just walking around there, as I would any of these cities; it’s really one of the best parts. I visited some nice museums there, and also some more nice parks. Plaza de España (which I recognized in either Star Wars I or II, but with the top of the building digitally altered) was beautiful, I visited it in the morning and came back later just to hang out. It features murals of the major cities in Spain. I almost missed my bus to Córdoba, but thankfully didn’t. I had been determined to visit Córdoba ever since studying about the mosque in Art History class, and it was an amazing feeling when I first saw it from the bus. It’s beautiful from the inside, of course the pictures don’t capture how big it really is. Outside is a courtyard with orange trees, which is a really relaxing place to sit. I also saw the old Jewish quarter and the synagogue. Granada was beautiful, but really tiring! It’s so mountainous in that area, and you get really exhausted walking around. It’s definitely worth it, though, just do your relaxing on the train home! The scenery is amazing and there is some good souvenir shopping. The Alhambra and the Generalife take about four hours to tour. They are breathtaking, of course. Another promise to myself from Art History class. You can take a visual tour here.
Of course, there is so much more to write, but the post is already too long. I do want to share about my first dhikr session, which took place in Spain, but that will have to be in an upcoming post!