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Posts Tagged ‘Valencia’

So, you might say that I’m not the world’s most traditional spring breaker.

For the last two years, I’ve gone to Chicago with various groups of friends in the early frigid part of March, and the year before that, I visited Montreal with my father to check out McGill University. Rather than sun and stereotypical beach lounging, I go to large, northern cities and wonder around in the snow.

But not this year. Even with the evil Icelandic volcano threatening our flights, my friends Chris, Isabella, Katie and I miraculously found ourselves in sunny Valencia, Spain, where we spent a carefree and positively wonderful week being poor, happy university students.

Chris and I left Thursday morning, taking a bus to the small, strange and distant Beauvais airport — literally an hour from the center of Paris — where we were to catch our RyanAir flight to Alicante, Spain. You might know RyanAir as the super-cheap, low cost Irish airline. You might wonder how they manage to make their rates so cheap.

Then you get onboard a RyanAir flight. It is pretty much a bus with wings — not an AirBus, with glamour and comfort — but rather a bus from a poor metropolitan area that takes everyone to somewhere they don’t really want to go, but is somewhat close to where you want to go. Isabella said as much: “RyanAir takes you to places kind of close to desirable destinations, without actually being there.”

But cheap or small or cramped or willing to charge its passengers up to 3 Euros for a bottle of water, RyanAir still did as it advertised and flew us to Alicante, a large regional airport in the south of Spain. Despite the week of cancelled European flights, we flew without trouble, although Chris and I were pretty sure we saw some suspicious looking, smoky ash clouds as we took off from Paris.

From Alicante, Chris and took a regional train to the main Valencia train station, a lovely, Texas-looking, early modernist structure. Valencia is a strange city — a mix between an ancient, walled Iberian town and a bustling, modern metropolis, now the third largest city in Spain. It’s sprawling and expansive; yet it feels as if it isn’t much bigger than a small regional capital. It has a metro, but it’s slow and clean and on time, rather than the faster and dirtier metros of northern Europe.

I suppose Valencia was a good introduction to the general atmosphere of southern Europe. Even though roughly 1 in 4 people in Spain are unemployed, no one seems to mind. Everyone seemed happy and loose, and nobody minded that Isabella and Katie were wearing skirts in public — it was a warm springtime week, after all. Prices were low, food was cheap and the people were pleasant, even though I don’t speak a word of Spanish. All those years of pretending like I could kind of understand and read Spanish turned out to be true make-believe — although in my defense, I must say that the Valencia region speaks a strange, eastern dialect of Spanish that is close to Catalan, so my Spanish skills might still be better than it seems.

Our hostel, named Indigo, was a lovely place, with a big kitchen, clean bathrooms and rooms full of young people from all over the world. For my first hostel experience, it was fantastic. Isabella joined us late Thursday night, and Katie, a friend of Isabella from California, met up with us Friday morning.

From then on, our days were pretty simple: wake up, eat breakfast, buy picnic supplies and head to the beach. After lunch on the beach, we would sun and swim, occasionally pausing for ice cream or coffee breaks in the many beachside cafés and food stands. Evenings were either a cooked meal in the hostel or, on two wonderful nights, traditional Spanish tapas at a little bar in the old quarter of the city.

The tapas deserves its own paragraph. As a coastal town, it was assured that Valencia would have good sea food — a fact which we proved in a delicious lunchtime paella meal one afternoon. But the surprisingly inexpensive tapas place, or small plates bar, served some the simplest, most delicious food I have ever tasted, including a plate of what will probably prove to be the finest mussels I will ever eat. Cheese, lightly smoked ham, squid, octopus, spring eggs, tuna steaks and even surprisingly delicious almond cake greeted us each night. I think it’s a testament to the quality of the tapas at this place that we went there twice, rather than risk missing out on the wonderful quality of the food by seeking out another, less tasty restaurant in the city.

When not sunning or swimming or stuffing our faces, we managed to find time to visit La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias, a stunning, modernist museum complex on the edge of the old city. We bought a two day pass, spending a cloudy Sunday at the hands-on sciences museum and massive IMAX theatre and the morning of a sunny beach day at the fantastic aquarium, where we saw many a fish and dolphin.

Mostly, we just relaxed. I realized, while sipping on Sangria on the beach one afternoon, how long it had been since I had had so few responsibilities in my life. Granted, I still had a huge research paper waiting for me in Paris, my summer itinerary to construct and finals to study for, but while in Spain, all I had to do was wake up when I wanted and make sure to apply enough sun screen.

When we flew back Thursday afternoon to Paris — in time to see She & Him, one of my favorite groups, in concert — I’ll admit I was glad to be back in a country where I could read and speak and understand the things cashiers and bus drivers told me, but I definitely felt recharged. I needed to get out of the city  — and my skin was glad for the boost in Vitamin D — but coming back made the whole thing that much sweeter.

Maybe this post is kind of off topic and general, but there aren’t really too many specifics to go into for our trip. It was a simple week, with a simple goal: to relax.

And that’s just what we did.

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