Valencia: Slightly quirky, very hot and with much to offer (like us)
When Blonde and Brunette began to plan our home exchange trip to Spain we wanted to throw in a few extra destinations. Much consternation ensued as to how to get from place to place with one firm decision being that we would drive from Calella to Valencia. At least until we found out that sounded tedious. Then we switched to taking a high speed train – which we missed by two minutes (at most, we could almost touch it as it pulled out) thus delaying us for 4 hours. But who’s counting? (Hint: We are!)
So OK, things didn’t get off to the best start but we finally arrived at our free hotel room for 3 nights (compliments of points from Blonde’s Capital One Visa) at the Holiday Inn. We should have learned from our first cab ride a theme that was repeated everywhere we took a cab in Valencia – the cab drivers have no idea how to get anywhere. Good news: Cabs are cheap. Bad news: Not if they drive you through Poland on your way to dinner 8 blocks away.
The Holiday Inn was massively average, understaffed as nearly all Spanish hotels seem to be and had some of the worlds’ smallest amenities. But did we mention that it was free? They also seemed to have a policy of closing the kitchen whenever anyone in Spain would normally want to be eating. That ended up being fine as it led to us discovering an excellent little eatery, Pizza Roma, right around the corner.
Although strictly speaking the Holiday Inn didn’t have a concierge the desk clerk was helpful and told us which bus to take to the beaches on our first day. So we got that bus. We got it going in the wrong direction. But did you know that if you stay on it long enough it comes full circle and you will eventually get to the beach? We didn’t either but it’s true and not as arduous as it sounds. We looked around, decided we needed to come back and then headed to the Mercado Central.
The website for the Mercado Central makes the excellent point that it’s best to come when it’s open but we hadn’t devoted any research time to – well much of anything about Valencia for some reason. The market is supposedly a superb example of Modernist Architecture and we’ll take their word for it. Although only a flower stall and a restaurant were open aboveground that day it was still interesting to see.
We did have a very good lunch except for the too-old-to-be-behave-so-badly children who cavorted on the carousel by our table. Their parents (unconvincingly) pretended to be unrelated.
Our days seem to explain unaccounted for gaps so the next documented thing we did was take another cab (whose driver got thoroughly lost) to the Bodega Casa Montana. This restaurant has been in operation for more than a century. The grandson of the founder took us on a tour of the restaurant and the wine cellar. We ate at the bar due to not having the foresight to make reservations. It’s in a neighborhood that appears to be dodgy but really is fine and also only a few blocks from the beach. We had good service, oodles of authentic ambience, very tasty food and fair prices so were happy as we waddled (slightly drunkenly) off towards the beach.
Before long we were slapped in the face that we are part of the United States’ 1%, not the 99% when we saw the Hotel Las Arenas Balneario Resort. It didn’t look like a place you could stay for free. There was music wafting on the night air, lights sparkling in the pools and a guard who knew all too well we didn’t belong there as we casually sauntered off the property. Next time….
But consolation was nearby as a number of sandcastle artists had created lovely sculptures. We wandered along enjoying the sculptures and chatting with their creators. We even tossed a few euros here and there in appreciation for the effort it took to make these creations.
The following day we set the ambitious goal of doing more than eating two meals and visiting a landmark that was closed. We were in productive tourist mode!
This time we took the bus in the right direction and headed back to the beaches. All along the beaches they have sporty equipment that we found to be admirable, if daunting.
Valencia seems to be athletically inclined as they also have a widespread bicycle network. Oddly they require that you require reflective clothing at night but merely “suggest” helmets. Apparently this is so motorists can see you before your massive head injury. It’s always best to only remember the good times!
The beach itself was sandy and the water was a perfect temperature in August. It was cool enough to be very refreshing but not enough to induce significant shrinkage a la George Costanza. We just loved frolicking girlishly (or was it churlishly?) about for quite a while.
When we emerged Brunette proudly produced a towel she has been carrying around in some sort of shrink-wrapped and sealed towel condom package for a couple of years. Blonde has one too but sees it as something to be used only for an “in emergency break glass ” sort of way. But Brunette proudly unfurled it and it did at least a decent drying job.
If we hadn’t done such a poor job seeing the sights the previous day we could have happily stayed much longer playing in the water but we had to try to see a few more places during our too brief visit.
We at least were able to get the bus back going in the right direction which was a real timesaver! After some hurried cleaning up we walked over to the fabulous City of Arts and Sciences which was very near the Holiday Inn. The City of Arts and Sciences is a huge complex of 5 “elements” and has breathtaking architecture and fascinating things to do and see. It really should not be missed.
On our walk to the Oceanogràfic building Blonde saw some “other kids” doing what looked like a crazy amount of fun. Some entrepreneurial chap had come up with the idea of having people get into huge clear inflated and zipped rubber “balloons” and float around on the pools between the buildings. Despite the fact that Blonde was not really an age appropriate customer AND she was wearing a dress, she couldn’t resist. (You know you’re glad you wore your underpants when the nice young man who is helping you slide giggling into a sweaty balloon says “don’t worry I didn’t see anything” when he quite obviously just did or why did he say that?) Anywho, it was a laff riot. It was so hot it was like being turned into human soup but a ridiculous amount of fun for only 5 euros. It also entertained quite a number of people for reasons we prefer not to consider too closely. The picture below is Blonde’s most successful attempt to stand in the balloon. Try it yourself before making mocking comments!
We spent time exploring the aquarium which is the largest in Europe and very well done. They take a lot of pride in this place and it’s well deserved. If you have children you could easily spend many hours in there. Also, it would be a very good idea to buy your tickets online in advance as we were told that the ticket lines can be very long. Because we were there in August when no one with any sense is in the city we were able to walk right up to the window but counting on that might mean you’d have to have a Plan B in case you couldn’t get tickets. Also they have a discount for one of the passes but only if you buy it online.
We emerged from the aquarium to go to the dolphin show. We’ve seen so many of these shows that we think we should be judges holding up score cards – sort of Dancing with the Dolphins. The show was good, if not spectacular, but if you aren’t a professional dolphin jumper judge it would probably impress you even more than it did us. Also if you weren’t sitting outside in 100 degrees Fahrenheit that would help.
We were feeling tired and wilted and tempted to cancel a restaurant reservation Brunette had made online long before we left on our trip. But because she’d gone to some effort to make the reservation (based on a review the chef’s mother wrote on Trip Advisor – seriously) we decided to stick with our plan.
This time the cab driver did a spectacular job of getting lost, jumping out and asking random people for directions and then racing off in a zig zag pattern as if we were in a car chase scene in a low-budget movie with non-union stunt people. We were amazed to arrive (eventually) alive at our destination, the restaurant Alma de Temple which is somehow underneath the Caro Hotel.
We went down the stairs to the restaurant and saw a table with a note to push a button to be seated. We pushed the button. No one appeared. We peeked around the corner and a man asked if he could help us. We mentioned our reservation and he ceremoniously sat us at a table for 4 in the center of the room. At the time the only other patrons were a well dressed Euro-couple having an intense discussion that indicated that they were clearly not married (at least not to each other).
We sat and waited for a server. And we sat some more and started getting seriously annoyed. The lone server had been well schooled in the fine art of eye contact avoidance, indeed he may well be a Master Class instructor. When we finally managed to get his attention and ask if we could order some wine he was surprised that we weren’t waiting for “the rest of our party”. We weren’t really having a party (to be technical about it) and there had never been any other people as part of our reservation. Jocularity ensued due to the confusion and Brunette told her story of making reservations there because of the chef’s mother’s review. Clearly language issues were not conveying the gravity of her message but everyone was very polite.
Our meals came and they were exquisite. Blonde had a chicken dish that deserves to be called something much more exotic as calling it chicken is like calling Shakira “some girl”.
We shared an appetizer, each had an entrée, a dessert, wine and cappuccino and the total bill for two was 69 euros so not a bad deal. Brunette asked the server to please send our compliments to the chef. He smiled and walked away with a giant WTF? thought bubble over his head.
We waited eagerly for the chef to rush out and show his appreciation, but he didn’t.
Brunette can get feisty when she has a bee in her bonnet (or somewhere else) so she decided to write a note and ask that it be sent to the chef. At this point Blonde was both embarrassed and laughing so hard she needed an oxygen tank.
This is the note Brunette wrote and asked the server to give to the chef:
She spoke of her knowledge of him coming to Valencia via Chicago, said the food was delicious and signed it BlondeBrunetteTravel. Well that got his attention! After a while the chef emerged from the kitchen to thank us. He explained that he was from Oklahoma, not Chicago, but that in Valencia they thought they were the same place. He also explained that that was his last night as chef at Alma del Temple! He had accepted a job at a fancy pants restaurant in Paris and was going to be leaving immediately. We were dismayed that our in-depth internal connection had been so quickly lost to us and even more dismayed that we didn’t even get comped so much as a cappuccino. (If it’s your last night as chef wouldn’t you comp everything?) He was willing to have his picture be taken be with us but we didn’t bother. He was a goner, where was the cache in that? We can be brutal.
The Caro Hotel called a cab who took us back to the Holiday Inn without getting noticeably lost. We asked the pleasant driver to stop twice for pictures of interesting things we saw along the way.
Our Valencia “sampler” gave us a taste for more. There’s a lot more culture, food and activities to explore if we’re lucky enough to return. As soon as we get that offer of a free week a the Hotel Las Arenas Balneario Resort we’ll be on our way!