When life gives us lemons, we’re told to make lemonade. But sometimes, the truth of the matter is that when we’re given those lemons, all we can think of is how sour they are and how much it stings when their juice finds its way into small cuts and cracks in our skin and lips. Even in those moments, however, we must power through and force ourselves to boil some sugar in water, mix it all together, and enjoy the limonada.
I won’t go into the puckered-lips-stinging-skin part of my twisted metaphor, but rather focus on the sweet, delicious, refreshing beverage. In this case, it was literally orange juice rather than lemonade, and figuratively a spur-of-the-moment getaway to Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, situated on the southeastern Mediterranean coast. Within less than 48 hours of finding out that some scheduling shifts at school would give me an extra long weekend, I was getting off of a bus in Valencia and beginning a whirlwind yet leisurely two-day tour of the city, all by my lonesome. Traveling alone has always piqued my interest and put me off at the same time. After my first go at it, I must say that the positives outweigh the negatives, though I could see the balance shifting during a longer trip.
I spent Friday wandering around the city center, catching glimpses of all of the plazas, churches and towers that any self-respecting European city has at its disposal. I then returned to my AirBnB-rented apartment to unwind a bit, and later went out for tapas with my lovely host, Noelia.
Saturday, I woke up to a delicious breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange and persimmon juice, served in a bowl, soup-style, with chunks of the fruit as well, accompanied by toast with homemade peach jam and a slice of roasted squash from Noelia’s father’s farm in a nearby town. I then strolled along the beach (about four blocks from the apartment) and had my first encounter with Mediterranean water (in Barcelona two years ago, we never quite made it to the waterfront). Later, I strolled along the Jardines del Túria, a long stretch of public gardens and green space running through the city center that was created after the Túria river flooded in 1957, took many lives, and resulted in a diversion of the river and the drying out of the riverbed. After working up an appetite, I stopped for a Yelp-recommended menú del día at the family-owned and operated Los Viñedos, where, after a long chat with Juan, the waiter, I enjoyed a goat cheese salad with raisins, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, a balsamic reduction and orange dressing; jamón, Manchego and tomato toasts, and paella del señoret, which is seafood paella with all shells and other inedibles removed. All of this plus a glass of wine and coffee was 15 euro extremely well spent.
Stuffed to the brim, I spent the rest of the day in what I can only see as “the other Valencia,” the city’s famous Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Art and Science), which, in all of its modern architectural glory, contrasts starkly with the historic city center. Due to my limited timeframe and budget, I toured what was only about a third of what the huge museum campus has to offer — Europe’s largest aquarium, an incredible dolphin show (infinitely better than Shedd’s “Fantasea” which still gives me nightmares), and an Imax film, ironically a National Geographic piece originally in English and focused on fossils found in Kansas. Not in Kansas anymore? I guess we actually are.
Watching the sun rise over the Mediterranean and enjoying another delicious breakfast was a perfect way to cap off the weekend before returning to Madrid for the last week of school before Christmas vacation. While there are certain types of diversity that Spain lacks, it never ceases to amaze me how 220 miles/4 hours in a bus, within the same country, can offer a new language, scenery, cuisine and 20 degrees more of warmth. This only excites me more for my future trip through the north.
Anyway. Spontaneity, I think I like you.