Adventures on the Mediterranean Coast of Spain II/II
A bus trip to Murcia, a quick adiós to the Baroque ´n Roll Catheral and one last café asiatico for breakfast later, and I find myself in another Blablacar situation.
This time the journey wasn't so blessed by the BlablaGods. Italian couple in the back speak very little English, nada de Espanish and María up in front is a student in her student car. I immediately kick myself mentally- why oh why Lukey Boy did we opt for the pretty young Spanish driver, as opposed to, oh I dont know maybe a more experienced driver with a decent car?
So conversation not quite so flowy as it was on the trip down and escaping Murcia turns out to be a labyrinth of industrial hughways and byways. First tensions rise as we get lost, more so after doing a big circle, and then later in the trip María makes the decision to pass a truck on a two-way lane and we come face-to-face with a van in a none-too-spacey situayshee, María slams on brakes and her car cuts out- on the highway. Midday heat and the fury of a frustrated 21 yr old Spaniard swearing in every color as they say in español.
Thats right Lukey boy, this is what you get when you think a carshare app might be a great way to meet chicas, and not rather a safe journey to another destination.
Car starts and the mood is less than relaxed as we continue the journey before it cuts out a second time, again on the highway- at least by now we´re close to our destination. Cars zoom past as the Italians animatedly give their unintelligible advice, María passionately holds her ground, and I'm just trynna keep it cool in the passenger side. The relief is palpable as the car starts again, we cruise back on the highway, and we all thank our Gods when we finally pull into a petrol station on the outskirts of Valencia. I'm caught between wanting to help this poor chica and saying adiós and diving right into Valencia, I am hot with curiosity to explore this new city. So I did the gentlemanly thing and stuck around while we waited for a mechanic to pull in, and as he did I took my leave and said many a Hail María for having arrived safe and sound.
Valencia. In seven years of living in Barcelona, I had never taken the short journey down the coast to the 3rd largest city in Spain. I know it´s famous for Paella, as this is where it is widely accepted to originate from. But I had no idea that it was going to be so beautiful, laid-back, and just oozing with cooool.
What makes her so cool? A thriving street art scene, the biggest food market in Europe, palm trees and incredible architecture for days (never far away in España), and one the coolest things I've seen in a city to date- Los Jardines Turia, The Turia Gardens.
Turia gardens is Valencia's solution to the problem of flooding which used to occur frequently in the city owing to the river that the city was built upon. After a particularly nasty flood in the 1950´s, the local council decided to redirect the waters and to create a huge park perched within the dried rivers banks.
Side note- Valencia is around 2000 years old, and it took them 1950 years and uncountable number of floods to come up with this solution- typical espanish.
The result is this 10km long, and what seems like a whole kilometre wide, meandering park that runs right through the city centre. There you'll find locals walking dogs, playing football, exploring the city of arts and sciences, and just generally kicking back in these serene green lungs that act as a refuge from all the hustle and bustle and noise of big city living.
But before I could check any of this stuff out- it was late lunchtime, and the window of opportunity to eat an authentic paella Valenciana was closing! I asked them at this cheap-ass hostel where I was sleeping where I could go, and they sent me to this touristic piece of shit restaurant close by. I haven't been giving tours of Spain for 7 years to fall into the trap of eating at a crappy tourist dive, so I kicked up a gear and went exploring. Time was of the essence as I frantically asked my foodie friends and googled the best spots, always wondering how I hadn't distracted myself with this mission in the hair-raising journey to get here with María. One spot wasn't serving paella that day, the next spot was closed, I'm sweating and
feel none too Spanish as I pace frantically around the city, Ive got only one day and I aint gonna give up! Eventually I pass this restaurant that has una pinta bueníssima (looks real good), and they have no seats! I tell your man of my debacle, and he quietly suggests this cool lil family run spot around the corner. Two back alleys and some fantastic Spanish street names later, I sit down at El Forcat. The waiter almost spits on me as I walk in. I ask if there's paella Valenciana, he's all like, we´re in Valencia what do you expect? Tempted to unburden my afternoons haps and mishaps on him, I refrain, make the order, get a glass of local vino, and enjoy one of life´s greatest pleasures.
As the wine takes effect, the paella fills my belly, and the Spanish conversation around me whirls into a murmur, I smile and give silent thanks, how blessed I feel.
My time in Valencia proceeds to be a whirlwind of tours, horchata, architecture and lots of wine. The one night I spent was shared with my Canadian roommate from my 18 sleeper hostel (superromantic). We bought a bottle of wine to enjoy at the Turia park at night, and when that was done we proceeded to search for a bar open at 02h30, this is Spain after all. We stumbled upon a bar thronging with locals all taking turns to come to talk to us and practise their bad English, a few shots and gin tonics later and my Canadian friend is walking along the ledges of ancient walls. I don't even look cos if she falls then we´re in a real sticky situayshy, graicas María she doesn´t, and the two of us wake the whole room up as we crash back inside at 5am in true Spanish style.
I get up early the next day as its my last day. Grab breakfast and do a historical walking tour of this fascinating city, and I am truly struck by the local character, the prosperity of the city, and its almost undiscovered culture. One last paella lunch with my Canadian friend, a quick siesta in the beautiful Turia Gardens, and then I jump on the train homewards.
As the train calmly rolls by the olive groves, orchards and vineyards, the landscape becomes increasingly greener and familiar as we return to Catalonia, I reflect on the adventures and count my blessings. The more I get to know about Spain, the more in love I am with her. Her history and culture, her paellas, her late night drinking and my Beautiful Barcelona, still my favourite city in Spain, but now second favourite spot has some strong new competition.