I don't want to turn into one of those travel bloggers who gushes about every place they go because that's lame.
I'm going to preface this by saying that although I'm living abroad, I don't identify as a traveler because I don't really go a lot of a places compared to the travelers that pass through the hostel. I know that in comparison to the U.S., I travel more frequently that the average person, but that's because it's much more common and affordable to travel in Europe -- there are an abundance of budget-travel options and transportation is more convenient. What I'm getting at is that when I DO get to travel somewhere it's always exciting because Europe outside of Barcelona is still new to me. Seeing new and different things is cool.
So forgive me for being cliche, but I need to tell you about how cool Valencia is.
I bussed to Valencia after Madrid to get the most out of my 10-day vacation. I had this whole budget planned and I was going to be really frugal and responsible, but that whole thing went out the window when I met my friend and hostel coworker, Juampi, there and my brain switched to rage fiesta mode. HOWEVER, I think I spent 300€ total in 5 days, including transportation, so I don't think that's too bad.
The first thing Juampi and I did was walk to the city center and did what most tourists do when they visit a historic city: find an old church and go look at it. Lucky for us, we found ourselves a good old church, the Catedral de Valencia. I'm glad we went inside because there was the 207-step tower -- Torre del Micalet -- which we climbed (for 2€) and it was totally worth it. I know that looking at any city from high up is cool, but this view of Valencia is something else. Look:
I also snapped this bad boy from up there:
I knew next to nothing about Valencia before I arrived, which meant I was overwhelmingly surprised by this gem of a city. Juampi knew much more than I did and figured out how to navigate the map pretty quickly, so I kind of just trusted his judgment on what we should do. I'm used to traveling solo, so it was actually quite nice to have someone else take over. I think he was fine with it as well because he just got to choose, and I was just like, "yeah, whatever, sounds cool, let's do it."
We (as in Juampi) decided we should walk the Turia River Bed Gardens (Jardines de Turia), which is a 9km garden that used to be a river that wrapped around the city center. It was prone to floods, so in 50s the city decided to divert the river and the riverbed was turned into a garden. It was a lovely, picturesque walk, and I was still charmed by all these perfectly manicured gardens I was coming across on this trip (there were lots in Madrid as well).
In the middle of the garden walk was Gulliver Park, which Juampi wanted to stop and play on... the thing is super weird and funny and doesn't seem safe at all for kids, and the whole time we were wondering how often children get seriously injured playing on the thing.
At the end of the park/garden walk was the most majestic thing I've ever seen (the MOST!): Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). I seriously couldn't get over this place. It's a cultural/architectutal complex and according to Wikipedia it's "the most important modern tourist destination in Valencia and one of the most relevant in Spain." You're goddamn right it is, Wikipedia! I've never seen anything like it... I think it may have been a combination of the disorienting hangover from the night before, the fact that I was just chillin in a 13th-century cathedral a few hours prior, and that these buildings looked like something out of a scifi movie, but I had to stop and gather myself at one point because I thought I was in a very bizarre futuristic space dream. The contrast between the old city center and these hyper-modern structures (surrounded by lush gardens and palm trees) is so strange. It's weirdly quiet and tranquil as well. I'm really trying to put this place into words but a written description will never do this place justice. Have I hyped it up enough yet?
Standard "Space Park" selfie with Juampi:
Juampi went back to Barcelona the next day, and I had 2 more days to chill in Valencia. What sucked is that it poured on my second day, so I looked for asylum in a cafe. I ended up in Chocolateria Valor, and I chose this place simply based on the fact that it was nearest to me when I decided I was soaking wet and done with the rain. I learned Valor is a chain chocolate cafe in Spain but I had never been to one before. I ordered a cup of liquid white chocolate that is meant to be drank straight because drinking melted chocolate is totally normal here. They also have a huge menu full of choco things like crepes, gelato, and I'm pretty sure I saw chocolate sandwiches on there as well. So, like, if you like chocolate...
I went to the Museo Nacional de Ceramica Gonzalez Marti at one point because it was something to do, and it was free with my student ID. Not sure if I would have paid for it, but since it was free, it was nice. Really beautiful and ornate. I took a few cool pictures inside:
I spend my last day on la playa. This beach was refreshing because it wasn't as flooded with tourists as Barcelona, and I had the chance to just sit and write and chill. Summer was winding down at this point, so I was happy to have a nice beach day before it started getting cold.
It wouldn't be a true Valencia experience without paella, which there was an abundance of on the boardwalk in front of the beach (I couldn't tell you the name of the actual restaurant I went to).
Paella is the popular saffron rice dish served all over Spain that originated in Valencia, and it's usually that Spanish food (well, and tapas) that people want to check off their bucket list. The most popular version contains mussels and prawns, and you can get it all over Barcelona as well (although most of it is cheap, tourist paella). I learned the original Valencian paella does not contain seafood, and instead includes rabbit, chicken, and snails. I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, but being a pescatarian I couldn't bring myself to try it. SO, I ordered the seafood version and decided it still counts because I ate paella in Valencia. The one I had on the boardwalk was good, but I had an excellent one with Juampi on the first night, but I was slightly intoxicated and have no clue where it was (somewhere in the city center).
Sangria isn't just a tourist thing -- locals drink it regularly. It's one of those things that's delicious and Spanish and you can get it everywhere. Red wine, chopped fruit, sweetener, and sometimes brandy. We serve it 3 times a week at the hostel, so I can make it in my sleep now. I'm adding sangria to my Valencia post because this sangria was probs the best (and strongest) I've had in Spain.
The last thing I did before hopping on the bus back to Barcelona was search for some horchata (or 'orxata' in Catalan). Horchata is a drink made of water, sugar, and tigernuts and is sometimes just called tigernut milk. It originated in Valencia and is served at 'horchaterias'. There's a version in Latin American which isn't the same thing (it's usually rice or milk-based and contains cinnamon and vanilla).
For the best horchata, I was told to venture to the street Avenida de la Horchata (Horchata Avenue), and was not disappointed. After hopping off the metro, in front of me was Horchateria Daniel, so I decided this was the place. I had never had Valencian horchata before, so I don't know what to compare it to, but I really liked it!
So, Valencia... there you have it. It took me 5 (distracted) hours to put this post together and now I need to get out of the hostel and away from the computer. I needed to finish this entry for the sake of my memory (this trip was a month ago and I didn't want to forget anything).
So, if you're debating: "Should I go to Valencia?"
Yeeahhhh dude. Yass. Duh.
LAST THING! Here's where I slept:
I stayed in two different hostels while I was there: Quart Youth Hostel and The River Hostel. Both were great overall actually. Quart Youth is a "hostel" hostel in the sense that you're paying for a bed without all the extra perks like pub crawls and social activities. For me, that was fine. It was super clean and the showers were reallll nice. Juampi and I stayed in a 10-person dorm, which was perfectly standard -- there were lockers (you had to have your own lock) and power outlets. We only paid 10€ a night, so for that price it was a steal. I guess there was free breakfast, which we definitely slept through...
The River Hostel was similiar to my hostel in Barcelona -- big and social. They had all the pub crawls and activities and the vibe was very open and friendly. They had a cafe/bar with all the things (coffee, croissants, pizza), which was way cool. There were all kinds of lounge spaces and tables for laptopping. I only stayed for one night and I had my own agenda so I didn't really participate in any of the activities (and I went to bed early), but if I went back to Valencia, especially with friends, I'd totally stay there again. I think it was around 12€ a night for the cheapest room while I was there.