Oranges, Paella, friends, the end of being sick!
14.11.2005 17 °C
So after a week of doing absolutely nothing (fearing to go too far from ‘el baño’), it was time to get out and about. Marissa was planning to go to Valencia for the weekend and I, ready to get the heck out of Córdoba and shake the last week off called up Sarah (my other future roommate studying in Spain) and two hours later, and just a few hours before our train left, I bought my train tickets and planned to meet up with Sarah there…I love seeing people from home!
A short night sleep later we boarded the 6 hour train to Valencia, home of Valencia oranges, Tomatino (the tomato throwing festival), Paella, Agua de Valencia (Spanish version of mamosas), Horchata de Chufa (made with Chufas, a peanut like nut instead of rice), and gorgeous buildings. I know the last doesn’t sound as exciting as the rest, but Valencia really got the whole architecture thing down right. They found the perfect mix of clean and modern, while maintaining some of the old style and even adding gargoyles to match the architecture of some of the remaining castle walls and churches.
We arrived on Friday afternoon to some light rain and real winter weather. Sweater, Jacket, Scarf, and Boots worthy weather! Wandered the city a little bit before settling in a colourful (by that I mean ever floor was a different color) hostel in the old town. Valencia is on the eastern coast of Spain in the Autonomous Community of Valencia, it’s the 3rd largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and home to the (new) and famous Cuitat de Les Artes I Les Ciencies (Valenciano for City of Art and Science). We reserved the Ciutat for the following day and instead spent our first 24 hours walking the old town and the sites, and tasting real chestnuts…yes, they were roasted over and open fire!
Valencia is home to the Mercado Central (imagine Pike Street market in Seattle, mixed with the farmer´s market and put under the roof of what looks like an old train station and you have Valencia´s central market). Breakfast was a combination of fresh citrus, oranges and clementinas, from the market, after which we hopped across the street to check out the Lonja. The Lonja looks like a church without an alter or pews, and was the site of the 16th century market in Valencia. We forged on, full of yummy orange-y past the Plaza del Ayuntamiento with its gorgeous fountain and flower vendors, and headed toward the Plaza de la Reina and el Catedral. The Catedral in Valencia would be much like any other cathedral in Spain except that this cathedral is home to ‘La Capilla de Santo Cáliz’ or The Chapel of the Holy Grail. Yes…all you Monty Python fans, I have found the Holy Grail, the quest is over! The not so ornate gold chalice, said to be the chalice drunk from at the Last Supper, is encased in glass behind the chapel’s alter, and while you cant really get close enough to see too many details, I can now say that I have seen ‘El Santo Grail’.
Since we were in church-mode, we decided to cross the park (a river-like park that snakes its way through the city) to the Iglesia de Santa Monica, for a little vanity tourism. But the powers at be were keeping my ego in check, and my namesake church was closed. I had to admire it from outside and be satisfied with the small park just outside the church doors. It was about time to head to the train station to meet Sarah and her friends who were coming in from Alicante, so Marissa and I headed that direction, stopping along the way at a delicious looking bakery we had spotted the night before next to the 200 year old Horchatería.
A couple hours later, all the girls were settled into our hostel and we were on our way to the bus stop bound for the Art and Science Center. The center is divided into 4 parts, only 3 of which are finished. We arrived, walking over and under this botanical modern hallway-type-thing made of hundreds of white iron arches. Then climbed downstairs onto the entrance level of the center. We first headed into the Museu de Les Ciencies Principe Felipe on one side of the large modern walkway, bordered on either side by a shallow light blue pool that gives the effect that the very modern, intricately curved buildings have sprouted out of the serene blue. We entered on one side of the hands-on science museum and made our way up to level one of the exhibits. After bending light rays, changing the tone of our voice, experimenting with mirror illusions and two-way mirrors, we moved test our memories by trying to draw a Euro from memory, or sketch a map of Europe, examining brain cells of Alzheimer patients, and even got to watch a chick hatch out of an egg (note to self, add chick to list of possible pets…and farmer to give it to when its not cute and fuzzy yellow anymore). Then we moved on to my favourite part of the exhibit, ‘Deportes’ (sports). Here you could see how high you jumped and if it was high enough to be a professional rugby player, you could time your 10m sprint, shoot hoops, pretend to be John McEnroe (although a John McEnroe in a rare calm state to save yourself from getting kicked out of the exhibit), measure your height in meters (I am 1.66m) and all while learning who, what, when, where, why, and how?
We only gave ourselves 2 ½ hours in the exhibits before heading to our IMAX show about adrenaline and risk. We didn’t even get to really check out the 3rd floor, but hey, there’s always next time (Ha!). So part II of the science center is called L´Hemisfèric and is the huge dome screen with reclined seats used for Planetarium, laser, and IMAX shows. Of the few offered IMAX shows the next available one was about adrenaline and risk sports. As you laid in the seats, with your headset, which you could select to listen to the show in English, Castellano (our Spanish), or Valenciano, watching a huge screen about adrenaline junkies, we felt pretty ridiculous, but it was actually really neat. It confirmed my desire to skydive, and also my complete lack of desire to base jump (skydiving, but jumping off a cliff, and without a back-up parachute).
After the show, we decided to skip part III, L’Oceanogràfic, a huge biodome/aquarium type thing (after having just been to a stellar biodome in Montreàl, I didn’t really feel the need to drop 20 Euros, $25, on entrance to another one) and headed back to get ready for dinner.
Valencia is famous for many things, but it is the birthplace of Paella. A rice dish made with meat or fish, flavoured and coloured bright yellow with saffron. Paella is actually the name of the HUGE wok-type pan used to cook the food in, but the original name, Arroz de Paella, has just been shortened to Paella. Finding a restaurant that was serving the dish was a little harder than we expected, but when we finally settled into a place, the search and the wait was well worth it. Entertaining ourselves with fun girl talk, there were 6 of us, and a few pitchers of Agua de Valencia, the ½ wait for the freshly prepared Paella de Mariscos (seafood paella) flew by. We stuffed ourselves with the amazing rice dish to the point where it tasted so good we all wanted more, but couldn’t fit another bit into our stomachs (not that there was much left in the pan anyway, between the 6 of us, we downed almost an entire pan, about 18” in diameter…no joke!). After the incredible dinner, we were not about to call it a night and headed out.
Bar #1 was a Cuban club, playing all sorts of fun music but the crowd seemed a little older. We hung out for a few and after being offered birthday cake for a 47 year-olds birthday party, we decided to change scenery, and try and find a place a little more in our (how I say this nicely?), generation. Bar #2 was the Irish pub down the street from our hostel. Murrayfield (how Irish) sold my favourite beer, Paulaner, and had rugby stuff cluttering the walls. We hung out for a while and by the time we climbed down the stairs to head out, the place was packed, and a haze of cigarette smoke. Bar #3, the last for the night, was on the way back to the hostel, and was packed. We spent the end of the night dancing away to horrible music with English words and the repetitive Spanish beat that is the base for all club songs here. Nevertheless, it was fun, and we got to stare at the Spanish version of George Clooney (a.k.a. the bouncer) while dancing our little hearts out.
After that, we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep before our train left the next morning. Getting out again was a nice way to shake off being sick and see a new part of Spain. Also, it was so great to get to see Sarah and have someone around from home that knows about my life before Spain, its nice to have that perspective and that level of comfort, especially this far away from home!
So, that was my weekend. Next weekend its off to Salamanca, east of Madrid to see Kiki, and after that maybe Barcelona, and then Berlin to visit Laura and her family the first week of December. Its starting to feel like the end is in sight, as there are only 5 weeks left in the program, but there is still lots to do, and lots to learn, so I have to remember to stay focused on being here in the moment…aaahhh, always difficult for me. But, I may only do this once, so I better do it right, right?!!!