Years ago, when I first had the idea of moving to Spain, I set my sights on Valencia. I’ve no idea why– I was just drawn there for no apparent reason. Perhaps it had something to do with a video I’d seen of La Tomatina, or a microwavable paella from Sainsbury’s that I’d bought and lovingly devoured on numerous occasions. In any case, I ended up in Cádiz, and quickly forgot about any irrational fixation I’d had with Valencia.
Since moving to Granada– a few hundred kilometres closer than Cádiz –the thought had restored itself, often surfacing each time one of our beloved puentes came around and, with that, the prospect of wandering and discovering yet another Spanish city.
Earlier this month I decided I’d waited long enough, so off we went– me and the one who we shall from herein call ‘E’.
What struck me almost immediately about Valencia was how distinctly more contemporary it is than what I’m used to in Andalucía. I’d had the same realisation in Lisbon, the previous month, and left feeling as unexcited about Granada as I’d ever been, despite its numerable assets. Flanking Valencia’s city centre are the Jardines de Turia– a long stretch of green (formerly a river bed) littered with ponds, bridges, sculptures, sunbathers and drunken yet surprisingly talented buskers. We don’t get much grass in Andalucía, so it was lovely, if not a little strange, to be surrounded by so much of it.
The Turia Gardens lead to the resplendent Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias– a quite breathtaking assembly of ambitious, alien spacecraft resembling architecture. I doubt there is a better contrast to Spain’s overwhelmingly traditional demeanour– there’s El Parasol in Seville and Bilbao’s Guggenheim but neither reach the immensity of Valencia’s city of art and science in my opinion.
The exterior will keep you gawking all day long, unless you are distracted by one of the many enterprises on offer within the city. Ever fancied a go at zorbing? Or kayaking, perhaps? Thanks to the moat-like turquoise water that filters through the site, activities like these are perfectly possible. And they look like fun! Though I’m not really sure I fully understand the purpose of zorbing just yet. For information on prices, opening hours etc, visit the City of Art and Science website.
It is possible to spend the entire day at the City of Art and Science, given that it is divided into six parts: The Hemisféric, The Science Museum, Oceanográfic Aquarium, Palau de Arts, The Umbracle and The Ágora. All offer something different, in the name of of modern art and science. We chose to see the Oceanográfic– Europe’s second largest Aquarium –and The Hemisféric– an enormous IMAX dome that shows visually thrilling documentaries all day long.
We spent almost half our time in the Oceanográfic watching Dolphins obediently jump and splash about in a 24 million-litre and 10.5m deep tank. For this we were later berated by friends in Granada, since, according to them at least, all dolphins held in captive pertain in some way to the baiting and mass-slaughtering of dolphins in East Asia. I’m not sure I agree, given how the Atlantic has its own multitude of bottlenose dolphins. The aquarium also appears to be actively involved in the prevention of ‘finning’, a process whereby sharks’ fins are hacked off to make soup while the rest of them is thrown back into the sea where they will drown or be eaten alive, so I struggle to believe that there would be any dark dealings going on behind the scenes.
The Hemisféric provided me with my first ever experience of an IMAX cinema. Until then I had found it difficult to imagine exactly what would happen, and how it would differ to regular 3D cinema screenings. There was an X-Man style headset, which was ultimately a bit of a letdown since all it did was provide sound via one headphone– E’s didn’t work at all –but the visuals were incredible, purely just for how gigantic everything was.
Valencia’s city centre bears more of a resemblance to the usual landmarks in any given Spanish city; the Plaza de Ayuntamiento is its focal point, and the cathedral plus several other intricately carved buildings– including La Lonja de Seda, a 15th century silk exchange –are all within walking distance. Beyond that though, is the happening barrio of El Carmen. This is where Valencia comes alive at night, as we were later to discover, but I was far more interested in another draw: street art (surprise).
Yes, by now you might have noted my growing fascination with street art, especially if you are a reader of my other blog, where I write about and post photos of it regularly. Prior to my inevitable and directionless DIY tour of El Carmen’s backstreets, on which E was remarkably patient I must say, I had contacted fellow Spain and Valencia-based blogger Zach, of Not Hemmingway’s Spain, who, given his superior knowledge, was kind enough to give me some idea of where to look. That was a good starting point, but naturally I was lost within minutes, and probably gave up on the map a little too easily. Along my way, I encountered several pieces of seriously impressive street art, including this masterstroke from DEIH, who I featured in a recent post on some of my favourite street artists.
There are evidently many artists defined by their own individual styles at work in Valencia. One image that we saw on virtually every corner was the sneaky ninja man, whose creator I cannot find on Google. El Carmen is bursting with fantastic street art, adding yet more of the modern touch to an already unconventional Spanish city.
If I keep visiting cities like Valencia and Lisbon I fear I may end up falling out of love with Granada; its awesomeness in the traditional sense (and the close proximity of the Sierra Nevada) has always quietly atoned for a general lack of newfangledness, but now I’m not so sure. I want to stay in Spain– that I am at least sure of. It’s certainly time for a change though.
Have you been to Valencia? Do you live there? What impressed you about the city?