With some burned out junior travelers and a US citizen without clear permission to leave the country (well, actually, leaving would be fine, it is the re-entering that would be iffy), we decided to just take a short trip to Valencia, Spain during Semana Santa (aka our spring break) this year.
We were pleasantly surprised with all Valencia had to offer, and we had a great time. Our Airbnb was centrally located, and even though upon arrival, we got lost and circled the heavily-trafficked and confusing city center a few times (as is typical for us :roll:), we eventually parked our car and spent the next few days on foot.
Once there was a river that wound its way through the center of Valencia. Then, one day in 1957, the river overflowed and flooded the city. At that point, the Valencianos said “no more!” and diverted the river underground and made the river bed into a city park called Jardin del Turia. Now if you look at a map of Valencia, you will see a long, narrow and winding green area running through the center. We thoroughly took advantage of that wonderful city park and spent lots of time there!
We spent a few hours at the much-touted Gulliver’s park – so named because of the enormous Guilliver-shaped play structure for kids to climb on. (We had to watch a quick video of the story of Gulliver’s Travels, so the boys would understand exactly who they were climbing on!). It was pretty neat, but very crowded and it stressed me out a bit because Gulliver was SO big that I couldn’t see where the boys were at all. I felt a bit nervous about that, so just did a check in with the boys and asked “if a stranger told you that your mommy said to go with them, would you go?” and while the big boys shook their heads no, little N solemnly nodded “yes”, that he would be a good boy and follow the directions of an adult. That prompted a little discussion about not going with strangers, and left me apprehensive about letting them run around out of our sight. Luckily, they ended up being most entertained trying to run up the small wall surrounding the playground.
After Gulliver’s Park, we decided to head down towards the new, shiny and fancy City of Arts and Sciences. It was a nice, if somewhat long, walk through the park. The boys convinced us to take a short break from walking and ride around on a bicycle-powered vehicle.
City of Arts and Sciences
With surprisingly sore legs after the bike ride, we continued down to the City of Arts and Sciences. This complex had creative, modern buildings housing a science museum, planetarium, and aquarium, along with a few other buildings. We weren’t in Valencia quite long enough to be willing to dedicate the time required to go through the science museum or aquarium, and the timing was off for an IMAX show, so we just walked around the complex. While there, the boys decided to go in these fun air bubbles on the water. They had a hard time balancing in them, but enjoyed the 10 minutes or so they spent inside (and at only €5, it wasn’t a bad deal!)
It was a bit of a hike back to our Airbnb in central Valencia, but with some bribery in the form of ice cream, we made it without too much complaint.
Valencia used to be surrounded by city walls, and two towers remain (or maybe more – but we just saw two), but even they are now pretty much swallowed by the city. On our first night, we walked by and underneath the Torres de Quart. We didn’t stop long, but it was so neat to see this almost 600 year old structure, such a juxtaposition from the more modern city building surrounding it.
We also went to the Torres de Serranos, which dates back to the end of the 14th century. It lasted beyond the tearing down of the city walls in the 1800s due to its use as a prison. No longer used as a prison, it briefly held some artwork from the Prado during the Spanish Civil war, and now it is open to tour. We walked to the top to see the view over the city.
We spent a few hours at the Jardin del Turia after seeing Torres de Serrano, while the boys played soccer and I enjoyed the view!
Valencia is home to paella, and though we occasionally get it (with mixed levels of satisfaction) throughout Spain, we were excited to try the “real” Valenciano paella. It was…okay…. I thought it was so-so, C was a little more favorable, but overall, I would say there is nothing special about it compared to the rest of the paella we have eaten in Spain (hopefully I won’t get blacklisted from Valencia for saying such a thing! ;-)).
Paella aside, we did have one fantastic Italian meal at San Tomasso – we were nearby and it had good reviews on TripAdvisor, and the reviews were right – yum!
One of the reasons we skipped the science museum and aquarium at the City of Arts and Sciences was because we wanted to go to the zoo, BioParc Valencia. It is fairly new and designed to make people feel like they are seeing the animals in the wild – no cages or fences, just cleverly designed exhibits, with a mix of compatible animals roaming around together. Reading about it, we were uncertain if it would really feel that different from a “normal” zoo, but we actually loved it!
A highlight was definitely the Lemurs exhibit, where we were able to walk along a path with the lemurs swinging in trees above us, or even walking on the path in front of us. There were staff stationed along the path to make sure people didn’t get too close or bother the animals, and it was a really neat experience!
The zoo was themed around Africa, so its animals all came from that continent. We loved to see the groups of animals mingling. We had fun watching elephants eating hay, and seeing a big one walking over to the water to splash himself. It was also fun to see the hippos (at first we could only see the humps of their back in the water from a distance, but we later found a glass wall where we could see them below the water. They also had chimps, gorillas and giraffes (among may others). We liked the exhibit that had ostriches, rhinos and zebras all living in (seeming) harmony. I think that was one of our favorite zoos ever! We had a great few hours there. The zoo is a little bit out of town, so we saved it until our last day, and drove the car there, afterwards heading straight for home.
Valencia surprised us with all there was to do and see. We could have spent more time there, but we had to head home, because we had friends on their way. More about the fun time we had with them coming soon!