Finally, a brand new city to explore! While I’ve had the time of my life seeing different sides of the destinations I’d visited with Busabout last year, I was over the moon at the prospect of seeing a place with fresh eyes and falling in love with it for the first time, like I had done already with so many European places on my last trip. Valencia made it easy, as it is a downright cool city. Its old town is pristine, gardens are expansive, modern buildings are impressive and energy is infectious. On the first afternoon, the rest of the squad headed to the white sandy beach, while I stayed at the hostel and wrote my ‘Valencia’ song as part of The Travel Collection 2.0 – a compilation of songs that I’ve been writing about every city that I visited on this trip, after starting the collection last year when I came home from Europe endlessly inspired. Feeling creatively fulfilled, I was ready for the next day to explore all that this awesome city had to offer!
Very Old Valencia
In true Eleea style, I got up early and joined on to a free walking tour through Purple Nest Hostel. As a bit of a nerd, I like to do these everywhere in order to gain my bearings, learn the history and get local tips on activities and travel hacks in the area. This particular tour took me through the historic old town, through the former city gates and ended in the Turia Gardens. Valencia has a fascinating history, built as a former retirement city for Roman soldiers. It’s quite interesting walking through the city, as so much of the early infrastructure is still intact. For example, you can still walk under or climb up the old city gates (Serrano Towers), or go inside the beautiful 13th Century Metropolitan Cathedral (a Catholic Church that was semi-funded by Jews, hence the giant star of David on the front – incase you were wondering).
Within the first morning, I realised that Valencia was definitely a city I could spend a week in, as there are so many awesome, inexpensive things to see and do in the city centre and surrounding areas. There’s the gorgeous Gothic architecture of The Silk Market (Lonja De La Seda), with its inner pillars branching out over the ceiling like palm fronds, and funny gargoyles wrapping around its outer edges (seriously – there’s a man pooping and a woman pleasuring herself, so don’t forget to look up!). This is where merchants used to trade silk and other textiles in the 15th Century and right near it is the Central Market (Mercado Central), where you will find locals and tourists doing their food shopping, illuminated by the colourful light streaming through the stained glass windows. This tiled building is a great example of Art Nouveau (think Gaudi in Barcelona) and definitely worth a visit. For sunset, apparently the place to be is El Miguelete Bell Tower, where you can climb the 207 steps to the summit and see as far as the sea.
Cycling To Saturn
After a nice lunch with my walking tour group, I met with the squad, hired bikes and we made our way to the Turia Gardens. This 9 kilometre area around the city has everything that you could want in a city park and more. For the sporty, there are awesome running and cycling paths, football fields, basketball courts, baseball pitches – you name it! If you want to relax, there are sprawling trees, lush green grass and picnic areas. Kids – and big kids, like us – will be in paradise, with playgrounds scattered throughout the park and a 70 metre replica of Gulliver (from Gulliver’s Travels), with ropes, ladders and slides all over it, recreating the scene when he is tied down by the tiny people. After riding past all of the greenery and being impressed by each new attraction, we finally reached the Eastern side of the gardens, and WOW… I knew we hadn’t ridden far enough to get to another planet, but it was the closest I’ve felt like I’ve ever come to it!
When I laid eyes on the City of Arts and Sciences, my mind instantly turned to fiction to process the insane architecture that I was looking it. Perhaps there was already an oasis in the middle of the Spanish gardens, with perfect blue pools of water and constant sunshine, that just so happened to be where a few aliens decided to congregate for their summer vacation and simply never leave? Quickly, my logical brain got the better of me, but I was still left in awe of this modern gem, one of the 12 National Treasures of Spain. Built in the late 1990’s, this area includes several different buildings, each housing their own wonders. The eye-shaped L’Hemisfèric has a planetarium, laserium and IMAX cinema; El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe resembles a whale’s skeleton and has a science museum inside; the El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia is a huge opera house and performing arts centre; the arching L’Umbracle allows you to walk through a collection of Valencia’s native plant species; while the L’Oceanogràfic is Europe’s largest oceanographic aquarium. You have to see it to believe it!
The squad and I marvelled at these buildings from the outside, before riding all the way to the Western end of the park, being disappointed by the zoo entry prices, and instead hiring a giant flamingo pedal boat that we named “Freddie”. We had each had the best time in this city, and as we slowly moved around the little lake in the BioParc on our Flamingo, laughing under the bright blue sky, I was struck again by how lucky I was. These are the kinds of travel memories you can never plan, but are the ones I’ll hold close to me forever – my little Valencian souvenir that brings a smile to my face every time I stumble upon it again. A perfect summer day in Spain with the squad.
The Recommended Hostel: Purple Nest Hostel
What a funky place! As soon as you walk in, you’re greeted with vibrant colour all over the walls and friendly faces behind the reception desk. The facilities provide everything you need – comfy beds, clean bathrooms, a full sized kitchen, laundry, chill out room and -my personal favourite- guitars downstairs if you want to have a jam. There’s also delicious free dinners downstairs and a heap of things to get involved with, from walking tours to pub crawls, so you can see easily see the city. If you want to do your own thing though, you’re within walking distance from the Turia Gardens and the centre of the city, so it is the perfect little nest to get your rest after exploring.