A Day in Valencia, Spain
Even though I only had a few hours to spend in Valencia following a retreat in Jávea and before a family visit to Barcelona, I knew it was a city I didn't just want to pass through. The third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia offers a combination of big city life, beaches, beautiful architecture, history, and culture.
1. Vermut and Montaditos
When the bus arrived in Valencia, my travel partner from the retreat and I decided to walk from the train station to find something to eat. We eventually came across Bodega Valero, a bodega with a large group of older men socializing and drinking out front. If I had been alone, my instinct would have been to avoid the spot for that reason, but she had no problem walking right in and I'm glad she did. There were a few small tables inside, but we stood at a high counter where montaditos (tapas on bread) were displayed and where the bartender poured drinks. The narrow venue had jazz-related memorabilia displayed all over the walls and played Louis Armstrong songs. Jazz is very popular in Spain, but it still catches me off guard when I'm reminded how common it is to find.
Eager to try something traditional, we ordered vermut (vermouth), which in Spain is typically drank neat or on the rocks with a slice of orange. It's not something I would think to order or drink at home in the U.S., but it's a tradition throughout Spain and pretty enjoyable. As an example of the generosity with food I experienced in Spain, the bartender gave us free tortilla española montaditos with our drinks. When my friend bought some more food to carry out since she had to leave to catch a train to Madrid, the man put it in tupperware and said she could bring it back next time she was in town.
2. Plaza del Ayuntamiento
With my travel partner catching her train to Madrid, I caught a cab to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The plaza features the detailed architecture of Valencia's town hall and other buildings from the city's golden age. It's worth the time to walk around the plaza and surrounding streets to admire the architecture and then stop at a cafe or restaurant with a view of the street.
3. Mercado Colón
My self-guided walking tour continued with Mercado Colón, or Mercat Colón, a public market completed in 1916 in the Valencian Art Nouveau style. Another example of beautiful architecture, the market includes shops, restaurants, and a market area on two levels, as well as an outdoor patio space. The market is near the neighborhood of Russafa, known as a trendy, vibrant, up-and-coming district with a lot of young residents and plenty to do day and night.
4. Buñuelos y Chocolate
Trying buñuelos was high on my to-do list since it's a popular snack in Spain, as well as many Latin American countries in some form. Buñuelos are fried dough balls that come with a cup of thick, fudgy hot chocolate for dipping. I ordered some at Horchatería Fabián where you can watch them being made fresh in the front window.
Horchatería Fabián and many places in Valencia also serve horchata, a drink that originated in the city, but unfortunately, I had to skip that in my rush to catch my evening train. Still, I was able to take my buñuelos and chocolate to go as I headed to my next stop.
5. View of Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
With my buñuelos in hand, I walked toward the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences), a cultural and architectural complex that contains six areas, including an open-air aquarium, planetarium and IMAX theater, opera house, garden, science museum, and event space.
Of course, time didn't allow me to explore the complex in any detail, but just looking at it was impressive in itself. Since I visited at night, the buildings were lit in purple and I found a nice view from the Puente de Aragón, a bridge that crosses the Turia river channel.
Obviously, one day or a few hours is not nearly enough to see everything Valencia has to offer, but I'm glad I was able to experience at least some of the city. For my next visit, I know exactly what I want to do and see. Just a few items on the list include the Central Market (which wasn't open on the day I was in Valencia), the Silk Market, more of the City of Arts and Sciences, horchata, and nightlife in the Russafa district.
When you only have a limited amount of time to explore, it's tempting to rush around trying to check items off a to-do list. Even though I did a fair amount of rushing around, I was also able to experience some of the local culture and interact with residents, which is often the most memorable and meaningful part of traveling.