Sunday, June 1, 2014

Oh, Valencia!

City of Arts and Sciences
During my time in Spain, I have made it a goal to become an expert in all things Spanish, covering every corner of this country and knowing every major city and even villages, being able to list off all the major traditions and the differences between the provinces, distinguish the different dialects and languages etc. And I have not even come close to achieving this goal 100%. I have humbly come to realize that it would take way more than two years to even attempt such a feat. Even so, I can still try my utmost at getting to many cities, and when the opportunity arose for us to visit Eddie's family in Valencia, I was quite excited!

We were sitting around during Semana Santa, thinking of where we could make a last-minute trip to. Unfortunately, flight and hotel prices skyrocket during this week. But then, I found a 50 euro round trip flight to Morocco!! I looked up an apartment, figured out how to get the airport, places to go in Rabat, etc, and then I went to buy the flight...and realized that I had looked at the flight for the wrong month. That's why it had been so incredibly cheap. Oops. But Eddie's cousin coincidentally invited us to Valencia soon after! So just like that we packed up, found a route to Valencia on BlaBlaCar,  and made the 10 hour journey across Spain to Valencia!

We arrived to Valencia during the late afternoon on a Wednesday. We were beyond exhausted and dirty, but were able to muster up some energy (and spray ourselves with perfume lololol) to meet with Eddie's whole family! It was cool and strange at the same time to be meeting the people I had only seen in pictures before. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, so it was a good start to the trip. We got the chance to try Valencia's style of patatas bravas, which is potatoes with mayonnaise plopped on top and some paprika on top of that...pure, simple, genius. And that night Anabel (Eddie's cousin) made us dinner, which we had with her family and another of Eddie's cousins, Raul. The bed was calling our names pretty early that night, so we passed out pretty soon after dinner.

Sidenote: Eddie's cousin Anabel has two children, the youngest of which is 11-months old and was crawling about...he was the cutest little bundle of blonde-haired-blue-eyed joy!! And I know little Damy isn't so young anymore but the little guy still made me think of him!! DAMY I MISS YOU!
Look at these cuties!!
The first thing on the agenda for Valencia the next day was to visit the City of Arts and Sciences.  Basically it is an area a bit south of the city where there is a cluster of museums: a science museum, an aquarium, a planetarium and cinema, and I don't know what else. It's very impressive to marvel at, because its a long stretch of super modern buildings, probably the most modern stretch of land in all of Spain (well, the parts of Spain that I've seen anyway!) I still can't quite wrap my head around it, because you have this modern area of Valencia and then you go to the center of the city and it is 100% traditional Spanish with the cobblestone narrow roads, the ancient cathedrals and such.

The only place we actually visited at the City of Arts and Sciences was the aquarium: Oceanografic. I was 100% satisfied with the place! It was very impressive. We were there for a few hours, enjoying all the animals and the sun that shone that day. The best exhibits were the ones where you walked through a tunnel and were just surrounded by ocean all around you...especially the shark tank one! I'll admit that I was a bit nervous walking through that one...but to anyone who knows me it should be no surprise since I have a modest fear of sharks...
Nervous smile...

Afterwards we tried the famous Valencian Horchata drink...however I personally find the Mexican kind to be much better :) We also ventured over to a shopping center just because I love them and so good ol' Eddie endured a couple hours of me living out my shopping desires! Afterwards we went to the center of Valencia just to have a look around at everything. It is a typical Spanish city in every way, there was nothing that seemed out of place; there were the beautiful old buildings, the smaller streets, the bigger shopping streets, the bustling plazas, and palm trees! Valencia's cathedral is especially impressive, in its very ornate and beautiful architecture! It has two towers that you can climb up and get a view of the whole city. I think this is becoming one of my favorite things to do in cities...climb to the highest point usually up an ungodly amount of stairs, that way you can get a good work out and your reward at the end is a gorgeous view!! Unfortunately for me, we did not have time at this moment to make the trip up the tower because we had an appointment to get to....
Outside the cathedral
Inside the cathedral

We had another "live escape" game we had to get to! Apparently these are getting to be popular in various tourist destinations. The one we did in Valencia was called X-Door and it was similar in idea to the one we did in Munich, called HintQuest! It was quite a different theme from the Munich one, a bit less organized, but still another fun way to pass an hour! Again I can't delve into details because we're sworn to secrecy... just kidding. But it would ruin the fun for the future participants!

We ended the night by going out to this sweet gourmet hamburger place that Anabel's boyfriend works at. It felt quite American, with the variety of burgers and toppings to put on reminded me of Red Robin! But it was not quite as greasy as the American version, no one touches us when it comes to greasiness. After dinner we headed home...we had had a long day and were looking forward to getting some shut eye.

Day three was the one I was most excited for because it included an afternoon at the BEACH! And we had perfect weather for it, too! And we could actually go IN the water because it wasn't -20C like the water in Galicia! Ugh, so nice. But it also made me long for some Chicago beaches, which have even warmer water and the skyline in the background!!
Not a bad view at the beach :)

Steak in some sort of tomato sauce
Merluza (hake fish?) in a creamy vegetable sauce
We were starving after a few hours at the beach, and wanted to find somewhere good to eat. Good ol' Eddie was very patient with me, because I was very picky about where I wanted to go. We even sat down at one place that looked decent but then I wanted to leave because the people at the table next to us were giving me weird vibes and the waiter didn't come to take our order after almost ten minutes of having sat down. Deuces, restaurant. We wandered for another half an hour because nothing looked good to me until we finally found a small place that was perfect! I think the wait was worth it! We ate very well and fairly cheap, and it was typical Valencian food. Eddie lived in Valencia when he was very young, and some of our food even reminded him of his childhood :)

We made our way home afterward, quite exhausted. After taking showers we hung out a bit with the family, but I also had to make time for a little nap! When I woke up it was already time to get ready for our night out. The plan was to stop somewhere to get some tapas and then go watch a Flamenco show!!! It had been far too long since I'd seen flamenco, and while I accepted the fact that whatever flamenco we saw in Valencia would probably not compare to the authentic thing in Andalusia, I went into the show with an open mind.

Before we arrived to the show, we stopped to get some quick tapas. We got a bit lost on the way to the show, so we just picked a bar that was nearby. We sat down, ordered drinks and asked the waiter to recommend some food to us. He proceeded to recommend some patatas bravas, pulpo, lacon, empanada, croquetas... we told him we were looking for something that was typical of Valencia. To which he responded: "Oh, but this is a Galician bar!" ...Really? Of all the bars in Valencia to end up at, we end up at un bar gallego. Oh well! Bring on the bravas, croquetas, and estrella galicia beer!!

GET IT girl
We ate quickly and it was all delicious (obviously.) then ran over to catch the show. It was already packed! We ended up having to stand near the back of the bar but we could still see the show very well. As soon as I heard the Spanish guitar start going, I was smiling from ear to ear. There were two women who was younger with a very distinct style of dance, she included some moves that I swear looked like she was doing the robot. But the other older woman HIT IT SO. HARD. AND. SO. WELL. I was so impressed! She also sang as she danced which I still can't quite comprehend. It was definitely a touristy place, there were some people who tried to clap along with the dancers when they started las palmas...and then quickly stopped when they saw that it wasn't the typical rhythm of clapping! The show ended around 1 in the morning and since the metros were already closed we hailed a taxi to take us home.

Our last day in Valencia was undoubtedly the greatest! We set out in the morning for the family's house out in the country, and this is where we stayed a majority of the day. It was a perfect house, secluded out in an open field, with the sun beating down as we sat out on the huge terrace! We were there with two of Eddie's cousins and their families, and also his aunt and uncle. This uncle was just the most hilarious jolly old guy. He never stopped making jokes and swearing and complaining that he gets no respect and messing around with his grand kids. He also immediately took his shirt off when we got to the house to work on his tan, no shame, I loved it. They all treated me so kindly! Eddie's uncle showed us how to make paella, so I took the best mental notes of my life:

Step 1: Gather ingredients: meat (usually rabbit and chicken), vegetables (lima beans and green beans ONLY!), tomatoes, rice, salt, coloring, oil, water

Step 2: Heat up the paella pan! (I gotta get me one of these!)

Step 3: Slowly cook the meat in the oil

Step 4: Add the vegetables to cook once the meat is almost done

Step 5:  Add the water and rice, and tomato. Let cook for strictly 20 minutes!

Step 6: EAT UP (drizzle with some lemon if desired)

I have tried a bunch of different types of paella since I've been here, and this was by far the greatest. It was so flavorful and juicy and perfect!! I hope I can recreate it when I get home!

We had a big family lunch of the paella, and sat around the table talking and having dessert and drinking licor cafe and other digestivos  afterwards while the children played around us. It was the perfect little afternoon!

That evening we walked around Valencia center one last time, stopping to get frozen yogurt to put the cherry on top of our trip. I was very happy with our trip there overall, and it was certainly more for the family aspect of it than the attraction of the city itself! As I sit here writing this, I have less than two weeks left in Ourense, and I am oozing with ganas to be with my family. So Valencia was a nice way to be with family I now have here while I wait to get back to the States :)

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