Valencia – a Mediterranean gem and the birthplace of Paella

We were reluctant to leave Barcelona because we were enjoying the atmosphere and sunshine too much but our plans next saw us heading to Valencia. After a long couple of hours trying to figure out exactly where the car hire place was located (it was on the roof of the main train station, accessible via a tiny, inconspicuous staircase with no signage to indicate this fact) we got into our very hot car and headed down the coast.

The thought of getting out of Barcelona was a little daunting because the traffic was chaotic but in hindsight it was relatively easy and within a few hours the real driving dramas started. Our room was in a place in the middle of the old town, the GPS system we were using was completely lost, and we knew we couldn’t park directly near our place but we were looking for a car park that we knew was close by. As with most old towns in European cities, the streets were narrow and mostly one way and we had no idea where we were, and in this case the streets were incredibly busy.

Anyway, we eventually found somewhere to park and got into our place. It was really hot (just how we like it) so we headed out to explore and walked the long, long walk down to the beach. We managed to catch the last of the sunshine and a swim and then went in search of some sangria, which we love, and Paella, which Valencia is famous for! Mission accomplished and bellies full we headed on the long walk back through the city and explored a bit more.

An amazing thing about this city, and Spain in general really, is how many fit, sporty people you see around. They have free exercise equipment (in good repair, not vandalised) and sporting grounds ALL over the city which clearly encourage people to stay healthy and you don’t see (WARNING: I’m going to sound old) bored, antisocial youths around the place, making it feel safe, comfortable and pleasant!! Ok I know how I sound right now but it was one of those things that made a difference. The streets are clean, the people are happy and occupied and friendly and everyone is made to feel welcome. In addition the public transport system here, and in Barcelona, was amazing. Fast, clean, on time, easy to navigate and cheap.

In contrast, throughout our travels, particularly through Spain, we had been commenting on how although we knew the financial situation was pretty dire, it wasn’t very noticeable and everyone seemed to be handling it quite well. At some point we had remarked it was most likely because we were in the central parts of most cities, but on our way home from the beach in Valencia we took a ‘shortcut’ and actually went through the really poor area of Valencia. It was really apparent how much of a toll it was taking, and really shocked us (more than the ghetto in Perpignan) mostly because the rest of the city is so grand and sparkling and shiny and we weren’t expecting it. I will add though, despite this, everyone was still outside playing sports instead of skulking about like they do in the poor parts of London brooding on how bad life is.

The next day we had hoped to go on a tour to the surroundings of Valencia but couldn’t fit in at the last minute so instead went to check out Bioparc, a zoo that has been based on the zoo-immersion concept.

According to their website, ‘zoo-immersion is a philosophy and design technique that endeavours to immerse the visitor in a faithful re-creation of natural habitats. The animals, the vegetation and the landscape form a setting that invites the visitors to discover the complexity of the natural ecosystems surrounding them.

The barriers are hidden, giving a sense of continuity between the enclosures in which the animals live and the space that the public occupies.’

It is a great concept and you do feel really close to the animals. In the Madagascar section we had Lemurs jumping right over our heads which was really cool. And C was pretty happy to get a good look at the Gorillas and was even happier when he saw the Silverback in action! And by action, I mean action!! 😉

We had hoped to get back in time to get to the aquarium (meant to be one of the biggest in Europe) and look around the city more AND go swimming but we ended up spending loads more time in the zoo so we got back, went for a wander around to look at some more of the architecture (C was so over it!) and some more churches and then headed down to the beach for some afternoon relaxing! Luckily the ‘afternoons’ last until about 9 or 10 at night so you get much more out of the day. We then ended up in an Irish pub not far from our place and finished our Valencia stay there.

Neither of us had much of an expectation about Valencia nor knew much about it but we are so glad we went. It is a stunningly beautiful place, and HUGE, and you don’t get hassled on the long white beaches the way you do in Barcelona. It’s always nice to get a pleasant surprise when you’re travelling and Valencia certainly delivered that, the only regret was not having more time, a common theme throughout the trip!

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