Valencia is the first city I’d consider my “home away from home." What was initially planned to be a short, four-day trip quickly became an extended two-week visit within a few days of my arrival. While it gave me plenty of time to see all the usual sights, what I enjoyed the most about the extra days was the chance to actually live in Valencia. So far on my travels, I typically spend three or four days in a given city and, while the breakneck pace was fine when I first started, I am beginning to feel its effects. Moving every few days means I am perpetually figuring out logistics for the next city, determining accommodations, and attempting to squeeze my visit into just a few days - which is next to impossible.
But worst of all, it makes my trip feel like work.
Thanks to the difficult overnight bus from Gijon, I knew I would be staying in Valencia for some time. “Frustratingly uncomfortable” would be the optimal term to describe my ride into the city, but thankfully I made it to Valencia in one piece. Unlike the overcast, rainy, and cold days I encountered in Gijon, Valencia was lively, warm, sunny, and altogether upbeat. The city is full of hospitable people, colorful flowers, and thousands of delightful smells that made me feel a world away from Gijon.
Of course the arduous ten-hour bus ride from hell helped reinforce that feeling.
As I wandered around Valencia, the subtle Arab influences throughout the city fascinated me. From the architectural styles all the way down to the numerous palm trees lining the city streets, you can still see the remnants of the Moorish occupation. Many of the older buildings boast intricately designed facades with elaborate wrought iron guardrails, while others were adorned with beautiful hand-painted, colorful tiles. The architectural designs are remarkably eclectic and varied drastically throughout the city. Even buildings constructed adjacent to one another showed substantial architectural differences, and I frequently found individual buildings with multiple styles. In the case of Saint Mary's Cathedral, there are elements from five different architectural periods (Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical) all crammed into on single building. The icing on the cake is the giant Star of David in the stained glass window facing the Plaza de la Virgen.
Apparently the church was hard up for cash at the time and willing to do anything - even if that meant plastering a giant Jewish symbol on the side of a Catholic church in exchange for money.
Even with all of the wondrous architecture spread throughout the city, my favorite part of Valencia was the old Turia “river” that borders the city to the north and east. When I first looked at a map of Valencia, I was perplexed by what I saw on Google Maps. As someone who never visited Valencia before, I found it odd the city would construct a giant park that winds right through the middle of town. At first glance, the park looks strangely like a river, but I wrote it off as unusual little quirk figuring there must be another explanation.
Nope, the squiggly park use to be a river...
The Jardín del Turia is a giant, six-mile long sunken park that follows the path of the old Turia River. Back in 1857 there was a massive flood that devastated Valencia and killed over 80 people. After the catastrophe, the city reroute the river South to avoid any future floods, but once the work was complete, Valencia couldn’t decide what to do with newly reclaimed land. Politicians proposed building a giant freeway, but the residents detested the idea and the riverbed remained abandoned for several years. The locals eventually got tired waiting and began planting their own trees/flowers in the riverbed - thus Jardín del Turia was born. A few years later the entire riverbed was converted into a giant park, but you can still clearly see where the locals left their mark. Half of the park is designed with symmetrical fountains, detailed monuments, and decorations showing a distinct blend of Spanish, Roman, and Arabic influence. The other half however, shows no predetermined layout whatsoever and is just a seemingly random assortment of plants and trees.
Guess which half the locals planted?
This park is an absolutely wonderful place to spend the afternoon. Sunken below the city streets, it is remarkably quiet and serene considering it goes right through the middle of town. All around I saw couples lounging under the shade of nearby trees, dogs roaming around freely untethered from their owners, and joggers struggling to run down the six mile park under the intense summer sun. My favorite aspect of this park are the old bridges that span the width of the river. Many were constructed hundreds of years ago, but what I find comical is that even after the river was drained, the city continues to build bridges across the park such as the Puente de la Exposición. For anybody visiting Valencia, the Jardín del Turia is a great way to spend the afternoon and should definitely not be missed.
Conveniently, the park is so large it's impossible to miss.
By now it should not surprise anyone when I say that one afternoon I spent two hours walking the entire length of the park simply for the sake of walking. The Jardín del Turia is full of entertaining features large and small, but I especially liked “The Gulliver” on the Southern half of the garden. In the middle of the giant circular park is an enormous jungle gym in the shape of Lemuel Gulliver from the popular children’s book that “document” his travels. If viewed from high above during the day, it appears like Gulliver is tied to the ground and covered with little kids climbing on him like the Lilliputians from the book. It is an incredibly unique/creative use of public space that not only doubles as a playground for children, but also as a work of art.
And it’s so large you can see it clearly on Google Maps!
At the end of the end of the Jardín del Turia is the famous Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. This great “city,” designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, is a large cultural and entertainment center for the city of Valencia. The complex consists of eight different buildings housing everything from an opera hall to a science museum, planetarium, and oceanographic park just to name a few. While I’m not the foremost expert on architectural styles, even I could clearly see the not-so-subtle influence Gaudi plastered everywhere thanks to the gentle curves of the reflecting ponds and the enormous amount of ivory white mosaic tile work on many of the buildings. As I explored the this futuristic city, I could easily imagine living in the time of the Jetsons and half expected someone wearing a silver one piece jumpsuit to fly by on a jet pack.
…instead all I saw was a Segway.
I thought society would be further along by now.
While all of the buildings on the site are easily recognizable, the most iconic among them is the opera house situated at the northern part of the complex called El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. This structure is a wonderful cross between a futuristic space ship and a regular sea-bound vessel that we are all familiar with. The large sweeping edges, subtle contours, and modern design are a wonder to behold, but the most interesting aspect of the opera house is the giant “feather” situated directly above the building. Looking at the structure from a distance, you'd assume it was supported by the building somehow, but in fact, the piece spans the entire length of the opera house without ever once touching the underlying structure! The feather is anchored into the ground at just one point on the Northern side of the building - that’s it!
While La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias is the largest tourist attraction in Valencia, it is sad to see the state of disrepair of the complex. As a result of the city's extensive bureaucracy and corruption, there are buildings such as the L'Àgora that are technically still not complete even though the budget and timeline have been repeatedly increased. Additionally, the mosaic tiles on El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía were removed from the facade because they were falling off, damaging the reflecting ponds and unsuspecting pedestrians below. While there are a great many positives I have to say about La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias, it is ironic to see the "city of the future" still under construction, while at the same time falling apart. It felt like physical manifestation of today’s society: constantly striving for that perfect, idealistic future that does not exist.
My first few tourist days in Valencia were remarkably enjoyable and while I got a great feel of the city, I must now begin physically (and mentally) preparing myself for my trip to Ibiza (posts to follow). I will eventually return to Valencia for a few days of R&R since the party atmosphere in Ibiza will likely exhaust me especially after a month of constant travel. I’m definitely looking forward to returning and continuing my exploration of Valencia. This vibrant city still has much to offer, but it will all just have to wait until I return.
Onward to Ibiza!