Monday, May 10, 2010

Valencia, Spain: Majestic Marble Sidewalks

Another lazy Sunday beckons me to do something productive and today that productive activity will take the form of a blog. It has just started to hit me that my time in Oslo is starting to run out and people are starting to literally and emotionally prepare for that departure. I know what you are all thinking, but then what is going to happen to the blog? No worries my friends because I am lucky enough to remain on this side of the ocean until August...and I am fully aware that most of you barely conceived such a notion, but here's to hoping. On that note though I did actually consider what I was going to do with my blog once I returned to Canada. I really feel as if my blog should be reserved for travel related experiences and adventures so it is a little bit of a dilemma. Perhaps I will look into exercising my option to road trip more than I have in the past. I know for certain that I will be off to Philadelphia to see Jon at Temple and off to the University of Maryland to see Grant as well. I am sure that I will also embark on some random adventures that will lead me to see some of my other beloved friends from exchange. I figure if I can run into friends from home in Europe then surely I will run into friends from Europe at home. Exchange for me has truly been the experience of a lifetime. It really opened my eyes to the true possibilities of life that can be only be attained through intimate experience with other cultures. I have more or less made up my mind that my life or occupation will be based around travel. Ideally I would love to write for Lonely Planet, or perhaps start my own travel guide with a catchy name like "Advice Abroad". My first step towards this dream I am hoping to accomplish before Graduate School by teaching English abroad for a year ideally in a place like South Korea, which pays rather handsomely. Not to mention I would then have obtained a legitimate excuse to write in full force again for the blog. Before I begin writing I also wanted to mention another side project I was considering doing that is somewhat travel related. I realized as I was looking through some of my photos the other day that I have an immense amount of street art. I have decided that I will attempt to create a book with street art, primarily graffiti, from around the world. Something like a coffee table book that will be taking the form of a more personal possession rather than any sort of public entity. I'm not sure about a title by any means, but it should be something along the lines of "Impressions of the Unknown Artist". It really is a worldwide phenomenon from Europe to Asia and especially in my hometown of Toronto. I snapped this shot a few years ago in Kensington Market in Toronto of "King Jafar". Right now it is more of a thought in progress as opposed to a work in progress so I might be a little hasty in naming my non-existent book.

I better move on from my own personal anecdotes however before I write a few thousand words without even discussing a city worthy of definite discussion. Valencia initially became a destination because it seemed like an appropriate location to bridge Madrid and Barcelona. It turned out to be an impressive and thriving metropolis that, in my opinion, crowned Madrid within seconds of arrival. It felt like a more classic Spanish city, or at least closer to what my initial expectations were of Spain. Not to mention, the scenery along the Mediterranean Coast on the way there was nothing short of incredible. It easily squeaks onto my rather long short list of personal favourite cities. Getting off the bus in Valencia I felt as if I was in the Miami of Spain. This is assuming that I had been to Miami, but I feel as if I have adequate information about that city due to the number of movies I have seen there and my favourite show (Dexter) also takes place within the confines of Little Cuba. We (Grant and I) stumbled upon two old castle towers near our hostel downtown which was an encouraging factor. We checked our belongings into Indigo Hostel which was significantly better than the armpit known as Mad Hostel in Madrid. Although I have never stayed at such a terrible hostel as Aivengo Hostel in Amsterdam last weekend. I could right an entire blog, and probably will in the future, on the horrid and decrepit building known as Aivengo.

This is where we wandered too which was obviously a great choice. It is the Plaza de la Virgen which is located quite centrally relative to the rest of Valencia. I can imagine coming here in the mornings to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry to just watch the day drearily go by. Also note that I am wearing shorts which was not anything close to a possibility back in Oslo. Grant and I were giddy like schoolgirls to know that it was a possibility to wear shorts again. Walking around it was almost impossible not to notice the presence of marble sidewalks. It gave the city a unique appeal, and made a statement about its wealth and economic potential. This statement is probably a result of the fact that Valencia, along with Barcelona, are in the autonomous community known as Catalonia. Catalonia seemingly has a lot of wealth and appears just as, if not more, proud to be Catalonian than Spanish. I may be reverting to my conspiracy theory side, but I can swear the flags of Catalonia were flying higher than the Spanish flags around the city. That evening we met some cool people at the hostel and then went out to explore the city. I was able to snap about 10 shots of some of the more interesting graffiti I had seen in Spain.

The following morning we woke up to go to Mercado Central. Mercado Central is the beautiful building pictured just to the left. It is one of the largest indoor markets in all of Europe, which is quite an achievement considering how each and every city in Europe is involved in this tradition. The market had everything from fresh meat and produce to tapas. Everything considered, the building is home to more than 1,000 stalls which serves to confuse the common tourist with innumerable choices. We ended up grabbing some delicious chocolate filled pastries (almost croissant like) that were an absolute staple in our breakfast diet throughout Spain. With our stomachs and taste buds satisfied, we headed off to grab some bikes so we could truly traverse the city on a sunny Spanish afternoon.

Renting bicycles in Valencia was cheap, efficient and fantastic. It occurred to me that I hadn't ridden a bike in months so it was great to hop back on one after being confronted with bicycle mania in almost every European city. The Spanish streets are literally designed to be bike friendly, thus it is an excellent way to navigate your way through the streets. Nifty biker paths adorn almost every street in Valencia. We took the paths down to the beach simply because it seemed like such a distant concept in Oslo. It was a pleasure to bike down there even when entering a slum-like conglomeration of buildings. It highlighted the ultimate diversity that the city of Valencia has. Ancient squares can be found in the downtown that are only 15 minutes bike from the beach and the ultra modern "City of Arts and Sciences". It has everything that you could look for in a city, and it is a place that I could see myself spending more time in, perhaps even long term time. The sand felt like it had been bathing in the heat of the sun for an eternity when we dipped our feet into it. We found a great spot to camp out, and bought a cold beer from one of the beer bag bandits I referenced earlier in my blog on Madrid. We even dined on some delicious coconut while we enjoyed the views of the Mediterranean. I spotted a group of people performing tricks and flips and ended up snapping this shot at the perfect time (right). After chatting with some people on the beach and enjoying the sun, we mounted our bikes and headed towards the harbour. The water looked so pure and resembled more of a teal colour than blue. Being in awe of the scenery around us Grant and I totally forgot to apply any sun protection. Subsequently, we ended up marrying aloe vera for the next few days. The harbour was great and was yet another reminder of the beauty and also functionality of the city. Sometimes it is easy to forget that these historic places are still inhabited and often thriving metropolis' and not just tourist relics. We stopped and let a passerby grab a shot of us and our bikes (left). Unfortunately, (and fortunately) we were typical North American tourists riding around with our shirts off. It was a great decision though because I felt like it was summer all over again and could feel the warm breeze zipping past me. Our shirtless bike ride was headed towards the City of Arts and Sciences which is headed by the Palau de les Arts (Opera House). Surely the Palau de les Arts has to be one of the single most impressive buildings I have ever seen in my life. It was located near a collection of modernist buildings that compiled this "city" within a city. Hold your breath...

The back side of this building is equally if not more impressive. Collectively this building, and the buildings surrounding this, almost serve to make me think of a Greek Utopian society about a thousand years from now. Take a moment to compare this to the photo I took before of the Plaza de la Virgen and tell me this is not one of the most diverse cities you have ever seen. These buildings were literally breathtaking and left me in awe. We biked back through the park that used to be a river (and was re-routed and subsequently turned into a park, thus making it an excellent navigational tool). Arriving at the hostel we drank a few beers with some fellow hostelers from Barcelona. Eventually we ran into one of them in Barcelona and were apparently unknowingly at the same bar there. They taught us some completely innocent and wholesome Spanish phrases that we cherished for the rest of the trip. In short, we danced the evening away, sunburns and all, enjoying the company of our new found friends.

The next morning we planned to get up and rent bikes again. However, by the time we got to the bike rental place it was after two and this meant siesta time. We literally could not find a bike rental shop open between the hours of 2-5pm. They take their siestas seriously to say the least and it is an embedded cultural practice. We ended up taking a cab back down to the City of Arts and Sciences to get a first hand look at the interior of the buildings. We bought combined tickets that included the Valencia Aquarium at L'Oceanagrafic as well as admission to the musuem and other significant buildings in the area. We ended up attending an Imax film entitled "Wild Ocean" at L'Hemisferic after finding out that the movie on Dinosaurs was for children which was a small disappointment, but sadly almost didn't deter us. The best part about that was we received these Star Wars type head sets to watch the film, and immediately made me feel like Obi-Wan Kenobe. We stopped briefly at the Museu de les Ciències Principe Felipe (Science Museum) and headed off to the Aquarium. The aquarium was separated into distinct sections based on location and species type. The best part was clearly the tunnel that you could walk through as sharks literally swam over you. I think this photo will illustrate this phenomenon best --> It was also great to peer at the sting rays with their bizarre face like undersides. It was quite an experience to be just one pane of glass away from such a deadly creature. We went over to where the seals were playing afterward because lets face it...seals are just plain awesome. They really have to be the most playful and interactive creatures on the planet that aren't domesticated. Grant took a quality video, which I hope will appear on facebook, of me conducting the seal into doing flips while we watched on with child-like enjoyment. I mentioned before that this area, the City of Arts and Sciences, was an incredible collection of buildings. I figure I should leave with a picture that only does justice to about half of this area, but at least gives an indication of the majesty of Valencia.


  1. hi chris, this is Monica. I am so glad you had the opportunity to see all these. more power to you and hope to see you in August back in Toronto. I learnt so much and be back to learn more about your trips. I am learning so much and you never know I will do this one day. you are a great inspiration

  2. Bicycle riders have it easier