As wonderful as it is to see the world, traveling is not typically an endeavor in which you can have it all. You might want to visit a cultural hotspot, for example, but it comes at the expense of a good beach or solid restaurants. I realized this early on in my life, but things changed for me this past weekend. What I learned is that there’s at least one destination that does offer it all, and it’s called Valencia.
About a four hour drive from Madrid, Valencia is situated on east coast of Spain. It’s the third largest metropolitan area of Spain, and it has a history that goes back to the Roman Republic. It would be impossible to pass through the city without marveling at how scenic it is; much like Madrid, every corner and plaza has a history, and the locals take pride in their city’s cultural richness. It’s so rich, in fact, that you almost doesn’t register the fact that you’re surrounded by palm trees and immersed in breezy, 80°F weather.
Having been stuck on a bus for so many hours, our walk through town on the first day of the visit was a much-welcomed intro to the city. Strolling through the wide streets, it’s I was captivated by the contrasts present in the city: old and new, sleek and rustic, beachy and urban. While we couldn’t see all of the historical sites – there are too many to even count – we did pass through the Plaza de Ayuntamiento, the Market Plaza and the Valencia Cathedral among others. Most memorable was our climb up the cathedral’s 65-meter high Miguelete Tower, after which we had the chance to see a 360° view of Valencia. Not a bad trade for a little bit of sweat.
For me, the highlight of excursion was our visit to Valencia’s Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias. One doesn’t even need to enter the museums of the “city” to make the trip worthwhile. Featuring vivid white architecture in stunning organic shapes, the campus is straight out of a futuristic space world – or James Bond movie, as I prefer to think. We spent most of our time in the science museum and the Oceanografic, where we caught a dolphin show and took time between exhibits fantasizing about our upcoming lunch. If I could have changed any part of the trip, it would have been to spend more time in this locale, but I’m glad it’s now on my radar regardless.
IES Abroad treated us to a meal in a beachside restaurant that stands out as one of the best I’ve experienced since being in Spain. The group was too busy discussing host family idiosyncrasies and all of the American pop culture references that we would miss – probably for the best – while abroad, so we don’t have any solid pictures of the traditional multi-course meal. Rest assured that the paella, a specialty of Valencia that features chicken thighs and thick yellow rice, did not at all disappoint. We topped the meal off with an afternoon at one of the city’s many beautiful beaches, where we went swimming and anticipated the upcoming Real Madrid match with a messy game of fútbol. If it wasn’t clear that we were American coming into the beach, any spectators were clued in very quickly.
The group went their separate ways for the evening, but a large number of us were more determined than ever to watch the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atlético. Around 21:00 we found ourselves in Valencia’s biggest Irish pub, a choice based on energy level rather than authenticity or even gastronomy, no doubt. There is no doubt that Valencia is a far more regional city than Madrid is, so we were especially excited to meet English speakers, from other students studying abroad to tutu-clad bachelor partygoers. There is nothing that can bring people together like fútbol; we were all hooked on the sport that so few of us had ever even seen before, and it makes me sad to think that I waited until the last game to begin watching. Unsure of which team to root for, I texted my host mother asking who her team was so that I could either celebrate or cry after the game. She told me she was rooting for Atlético, and upon their loss in overtime, I assured her, “estoy llorando.”
Our final day consisted of a brief boat tour throughout the outskirts of the city and, finally, another four-hour ride home. Until the next excursion, it’s back to Madrid for me. It’s weird to think of this city as my home base, but that’s what it’s become. I continue to love life on this side of the Atlantic, and I owe it to myself to continue to not take this experience for granted.
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<div>I'm Xander—a photographer, amateur restauranteur, recreational runner and humanities major spending six weeks of <span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">my summer in Spain. Traveling notebook-in-hand and iPhone-in-backpack (or maybe the other way around), I'll be </span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">showcasing the best of Madrid culture available to travelers and students on a budget. You can expect photographs of </span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">and musings on Madrid architecture, history, literature, food, music and the great people I find along the way. Oh, and </span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">there will be coffee, too —don't forget the coffee!</span></div>