This past week, four friends and I traveled to the idyllic beach city of València, located on the east coast of Spain.
València is the sixth Spanish city I have visited, after Madrid, Barcelona, La Alberca (well, village), Toledo, and Segovia; and, perhaps, my favorite.
Originally settled by Romans over 2000 years ago, the city was shaped by Moors and, later, Christians, and now stands as the third largest city in the country, as well as the third largest metropolitan area.
Throughout our three-day trip to València, I found myself having déjà vu for various cities that I had previously lived in or visited. The easygoing beach vibe of the city immediately took me back to my year in Costa Mesa, when I spent every other day on a southern California beach. Alternatively, at times, while passing the colorful storefronts and idiosyncratic street art, I had flashes of New Orleans. Yet, València is unquestionably itself.
Whereas Madrid is a fully modern, European city that, at times, feels like it could be in any country, València never lets you forget that you are firmly planted in España.
València is located, simply enough, in Valencia, one of 17 autonomous communities in Spain. Its inhabitants are bilingual, speaking both Spanish and Valencian, a language similar to, yet distinct from Catalan (which is commonly spoken in Barcelona).
València was originally situated around a river, Turia, that weaved its way through the middle of the city. However, every rainy season, the river would overflow and flood the city, so they decided to divert the river and turn the original path into green space. Now, there is a long snake of exquisitely maintained parks that curves through the city, which the locals still refer to as the river.
On our second day in València, the group opted for a bike tour of the city, which turned out to be one of the best choices of the trip (even if there were a couple, um, accidents).
The tour carried us from the past to the future, taking us from some of València’s most historic sites, through its modern park, to its “futuristic” Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Our tour guide helpfully explained the sites when we stopped and, while riding, would point out worthy locations to check out on our own.
She also had no qualms about telling us that, no, in fact, it wasn’t normal for bike tours to have three different people wipe out during the tour. Welp.
I cannot recommend highly enough taking a bike tour through the city if you’re visiting. Granted, we lucked out in that we had unseasonably warm and sunny weather for our first two days in València (our last day was cold and overcast), but the ride really opened up the city to me and made it feel like some place I could call home.
The rest of our time in the city was one part walking tour, one part extended barhop. One evening, we met a group of auxiliares from England and Australia at Café Berlin. The Auxilar Program in Spain allows native English speakers to assist in classrooms throughout Spain. A few of the expats that I’ve met here are considering this route as a way to stay in Spain an additional year.
We found the restaurant proprietors to be quite friendly, especially one married couple we met on our first night who went out of their way to accommodate our special requests. As we sat in their empty dining room, talking late into the night, the husband brought us over shot glasses and poured us two oddly colored concoctions. The first, a thick yellow potion, he poured for my four female companions. Apparently, as I was the one male, this drink was not right for me; instead, he poured me a thick brown shot that tasted of coffee. After those shots went down, though, he cheerfully poured us all more and we mixed and matched the liquids, creating an oddly indefinable taste.
We didn’t get to the beach until Friday, the coldest day of our trip, but the sun was out and the views were beautiful. Even as we shivered in the wind, I felt the enticement to return to València in spring or summer.
It was a short trip – too short – and yet, a very affecting one. I’ve always known I wanted to live in a second city in Spain to get a fuller picture of the country (I’ve lived in a dozen US cities and still feel like I could learn more), and after this trip, València has risen high to the top of potential new homes.
Whether I ever do end up moving to València, this visit stands as a highlight of my 4+ months so far in Spain. Our trip only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer and I am absolutely determined to return sooner than later.