First Impressions: València, Spain

València City of Arts and Science

When you think of València, Spain; two things probably come to mind: oranges and paella. The famous Valèncian oranges are consumed around the world.  València is also considered the city of origin for the savory, rice-based paella.  But, València is much more than citrus fruit and a big bowl of rice.  Spain is a dream destination for many travelers.  While Madrid and Barcelona get all the press, València quietly holds the title of 3rd largest Spanish city and definitely belongs on your “places to visit” list.

València: The City

Madrid is the massive, cultural hub of Spain.  Barcelona serves as party-central on the shores of the Mediterranean.  València, on the other hand, is like the baby bear in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  It’s not too big or too wild; instead it’s “just right” when it comes to size, location, and vibe.

València is about half the size of Barcelona and a fraction of Madrid.  This gives the city a walk-able, small town feel while still maintaining all the benefits of a major city.  Sandwiched between the mountains and sea, València has something for everyone, from hiking and windsurfing to fine dining and shopping.  I can’t personally vouch for the quality of the clubs here, but my 18 to 20-year old volunteering roommates (yes, I know…) have raved about them after coming home at 5 AM.  As for the overall vibe, València is a lively place.  Beach-goers fill the boardwalk along the Mediterranean, the sidewalk cafes are abundant serving up cervezas and tapas, and the Rio Turia (the dry riverbed that cuts through the city) is bustling with people exercising or relaxing.

Architectural Abundance

I fell in love with the beauty of València immediately.  The director of the local volunteer company, Voluns, walked me through the main square in the center of the city and I was blown away.  The post office here is one of the most attractive old buildings I’d ever seen.  Granted, I’m from the U.S., and old to us is from the late 1800s.  València is even home to the smallest building in Europe.  It’s 5 stories tall and only about 3-4 feet wide.

València, Spain - Smallest Building in Europe

Supposedly, a family of 5 lived here ones. One person per floor, perhaps?

The City of Arts and Sciences is the architectural marvel that catches everyone’s eye when they see pictures of València.  The complex, situated in the Rio Turia, includes an opera house, museums, and an open-air aquarium.  As visually-stunning as it is, the entire complex is a bit of a touchy subject due to the fact it went waaaaaaayyyyyy over budget.  It was supposed to increase tourism, yet it is unlikely to bring in enough to cover the €300 million cost.  But, you’re a traveler, so go see it!  Just don’t go over a holiday weekend like I did…HUGE mistake.  I hate crowded places and being in an aquarium on a Saturday morning over Easter weekend turned my rage dial up to 11.

Embracing the Siesta

If there’s one thing Spain does right, it’s relax.  As a first-time visitor, it has taken me a while to get used to the idea of “siesta”.  In English, siesta means “nap”.  Between the hours of 2PM and 5PM, Spanish life slows dramatically; in some places to a screeching halt.  Some people nap, some eat and drink, others just relax in the sun.

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?  Sure, until you realize the vast majority of businesses outside of the city center are closed during this time.  Want to go to the pharmacy or market during siesta?  Nope, closed.  This can be very frustrating at first (and sometimes after being here for a month).  However, like most things Spanish, you’ll learn to love siesta.  Personally, I always get tired around 2PM (that after-lunch food coma), so having time to just relax or nap is refreshing.

Spaniards also love their holidays.  I spent Easter in València and ended up with Thursday through Monday off work at my volunteering project for Semana Santa Marinera.   In addition, we were also off work the following three Mondays!  If you’re looking to relocate to a country that takes free time seriously, start researching Spain.

Comida, Comida, Comida!

Food is an event in Spain.  This is not a country based on fast food.  Eating and drinking is ingrained in the soul of the people here.  Whether the meals are complex feasts or simple sandwiches, they’re enjoyed together.  You rarely see anyone sitting by themselves at an outdoor café.  I could write a ton on Spanish food, but that’s what foodie blogs are for, so I’ll just hit you with the basics.

The Food

From bocadillos (sandwiches) to tapas (small plates), Spanish food is as diverse as it is tasty.  València is famous for its paella that can be found in nearly every full-service restaurant.  The original is made with chicken, rabbit, and rice in a massive pan also called a paella.  The pasta & seafood version, fideuá, is prepared in a similar fashion.  Iberian hams are the meat of choice here and they live up to their reputation.  It’s not cheap (for a more budget-friendly cut, check out the serrano ham), but the flavor is better than that of any other ham.  If you don’t like ham…well, that’s weird.  You should like ham, it’s tasty.  As for Spanish wine, it has all already been said.  But I can confirm, it’s fantastic.

The Eating Establishments

The variety and abundance of restaurants, cafés, and markets is staggering.  València caters to all budgets.  Whether you want a fine dining experience or just want to grab a cheap bite to eat, you can eat well here for any amount of money.  Tapas and montaditos (tiny sandwiches) can be found for as cheap as one euro each.  And if you find yourself hungry during siesta, there’s likely a kebab place within a 5-minute walk of wherever you are that will be open.  The bakeries have to be my favorite though.  The bread, pastries, and savory creations are delicious.  It seems like there’s a bakery on every block.  The one just outside our apartment building bakes donuts that are the equivalent of eating a sugar covered cloud; they’re simply incredible.  Carb-cutting is not something that happens easily in València.

Random Musings in València

I’ve spent a month in this city and have one more to go before I move on to Morocco.  In that time, I’ve made a few friends, played a little beach volleyball, and drank more than I did in 3 months in Costa Rica.  It’s a strange feeling being in a big city after living in “the jungle”.

Trivial things seem to get stuck in my head while I’m walking around.  Like, there’s not a lot of grass here.  Watch out when crossing the bike lanes or risk getting run over.  Why do scooters also drive on the sidewalks?  Who thought 7 lanes of traffic turning in a roundabout with no discernible lane lines was an innovative idea?  Damn, the women here are good looking!  The trains and buses are way nicer than the ones in the U.S.  And most importantly, why do European guys insist on wearing skinny jeans?

First Impression

València made a good first impression.  The city is beautiful, the wine is delicious, and the beach is nice.  The more I walk around the city, the more I like it.  However, to really appreciate this place, I need to improve my Spanish so that I can delve deeper into the food, fun, and culture.  Is València a place that I’d consider moving to in the future?  Perhaps, I have a lot more of the world to see before I make that kind of decision.