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Oh, Valencia

November 5, 2010

One of the only Spanish cities I missed on my last European tour was Valencia, and I wanted to make sure to visit this time.  So last weekend, my roommate and I hopped on a bus and headed east.

Because of some unfortunate weather, I was not head-over-heels for the city after the first afternoon.  But I really think it worked out for the best, because Valencia had to sell itself.  And in the three days I was there, the city grew on me enough that I was a little sad to leave at weekend’s end.

Okay, actually, it was magical.  As a matter of fact, I think “magical” was the only adjective that came out of my mouth for the majority of the weekend.  Topping the list of charm factors were the colorful houses and old-timey streetlights, which were cute during the day and enchanting during the night:

Also charming are the various neighborhoods of Valencia, each with its own distinct personality.  First, their ciutat vella (“old city” in the local Valencian) is just as you would expect it to be, with unnavigable streets and too many beautiful churches to count.  Then there’s a newer part of town with wider streets, more spacious businesses, and–gasp!–a grid system.  Set apart from the city center, you have the industrial wharfs and slightly grungier buildings that make up that neighborhood, followed by wonderful beach:

AND we saw a rainbow. Over the Mediterranean. Did I really just say that?

Each neighborhood has its own feel, and we took time to explore each one.  I still have sand between my toes to prove it.

The whole city center is bordered on one side by a long, winding park that used to be a river; after an especially terrible flood in the ’50s that left the city in chaos, it was decided to divert the water flow to the south.  Today, the river bed has been transformed into an extensive park.  As you follow the river bed southeast towards the Mediterranean, it becomes more and more developed–think fewer trees, more fountains and concrete.  Then you start stumbling upon the magic.  First you’ll see my new favorite jungle gym:

It's Gulliver! How badly do you wish this were age-appropriate?

If you continue walking–and you should definitely continue walking–you’ll eventually come upon La Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (“City of Arts and Sciences,”) which easily rivals Disney as the most magical place on earth.

The Ciudad is a kind of campus comprised of a series of buildings including an aquarium, a science museum, and a sports arena.  The whole thing was designed by Valencian native Santiago Calatrava, who just might have pushed Gaudí out of the way to become my new favorite architect.  And really, just seeing the architecture from outside is enough to keep you busy all day.  If you’re pressed for cash, I wouldn’t feel compelled to pay the 30 euro entrance fee to the aquarium.  I didn’t, and I got a lot out of the experience.

Or, if you’re bored, you can check out the lead soldier museum, which has over 15,000 figurines from different eras, starring these little guys in a historically accurate representation of famous French court games:

Okay, so maybe we strayed from the path a little on the lead soldiers.  (And  I wouldn’t actually recommend going; as a museum, it was not really functional.  Very little explanation was provided for most of the figurines, which is why we were forced to have lots of fun inventing our own stories.)  Well, you win some, you lose some.

So here’s hoping I get the chance to return to Valencia one day to skip the toy soldiers, see the things I liked a second time, and discover the things I missed.

And, of course, we ate very well!  But that’s a story for another day.

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