So over the weekend I went on an ISA excursion to Valencia, the 3rd largest city in Spain. It’s about 480 miles south of Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea in the autonomous community of La Comunidad Valenciana.
We started out our excursion at a local restaurant to sample paella, the “national” dish of Spain that was born here in Valencia. It’s a rice dish made with saffron, vegetables, meat and seafood. We tried three types: paella valenciana (chicken, snails and three different types of beans), vegetarian paella and seafood paella (shrimps and vegetables). They were all delicious and it’s probably one of my favorite dishes over here in Spain.
After the paella sampling we headed off to the old city center of Valencia for a tour. We got to see the Torres Serranos, which is the old city gate. So much history is compacted into that gate, because it protected the city during the reign of the Visigoths, Moors and Christians (when they each had their turn at ruling the city). Then we kind of just walked throughout the city center which was pretty much just like the Gothic Quarter but on a much larger scale.
On Sunday, we got to spend the day at the aquarium, which is the largest in Europe. It was pretty cool; saw some really strange fish and go to see a free dolphin show! The aquarium is part of La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (the City of Arts and Sciences). In addition to the aquarium (L'Oceanogràfic) there is an opera house (El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía), an IMAX theatre (L'Hemisfèric) and a sporting center (L'Àgora). The whole complex is on the old riverbed Turia, the main river that ran through Valencia. It was drained and diverted because of the massive flood of 1957. Now, it’s a massive collection of gardens and parks. The whole Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is an ultra-modern utopia that was an absolute pleasure to photograph. Seriously, I took so many pictures of the complex because it was just so cool and futuristic. Our tour guide told us that Spain is trying to push Valencia as a great tourist city and now I can understand why.
Even though la Communidad Valenciana and Catalunya have a lot in common here are some differences that I picked up on.
- Use of Catalan: As you may remember, Catalan is spoken in Catalunya, La Communidad Valenciana, Andorra (a country in the Pyrenees) and the Balearic Islands. However, the use of the language depends on the region. For example, in Catalunya they pretty much beat you over the head with Catalan(not that I mind); it’s on all the street/government signs, you hear it at school, and there’s television stations that only broadcast in Catalan. In Valencia, I didn’t get the similar Catalan vibe that I feel in Barcelona. Most of the stores had Spanish names, all the street signs were in both languages (unlike Barcelona where it’s only in Catalan) and I didn't hear anyone speak Catalan. This may be because only 53% of people in La Communidad Valenciana speak Catalan as opposed to about 75% in Catalunya. Another side note: Catalan is called “Valencian” in Valencia because they claim that it’s a separate language from Catalan; in reality, it’s merely a dialect of Catalan
- Mediterranean feel: Valencia seemed more like a Mediterranean coastal town to me than Barcelona. First of all, it was warmer there (about 10 degrees or so) and there were palm trees everywhere. Barcelona does have a decent amount of palm trees but they were literally everywhere you went in Valencia.
- Cuisine: Valencia definitely has its own type of cuisine as opposed to Barcelona, which is much more international. In addition to paella, I tried two local drinks. The first was orxata, which is a typical summer drink made from tiger nuts, water and sugar. It was a strange taste at first (and the aftertaste was a little chalky) but it was good by the end. I also tried agua de Valencia, a cocktail made with cava (Catalunya’s champagne), orange juice, vodka, gin and sugar. It was absolutely delicious, even better than sangria in my opinion.
I definitely enjoyed my time in Valencia; to me it was Barcelona, just on a smaller scale. I for some reason Catalunya closed its borders to me I could definitely settle down in Valencia. I only wish that I could be in Valencia around mid-March when they celebrate their main festival, which involves burning huge paper-mache sculptures in the streets and plazas! Oh well, I got to see La Mercè and correfoc, so I guess that’s good enough for now :p
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