As my classes have not yet started, I have had large amounts of time to familiarize myself with the beautiful city of Valencia. I find it amazing that Spain’s third largest city, and a beautiful one at that, is so unknown to many people, at least in the US. There’s so much to see here, amazing architecture and art, historical sites, the Mediterranean Coast, etc. I, personally, am fascinated about the history behind many of the ancient European cities. To think that I live in a city that used to be a guarded fortress hundreds of years ago, surrounded by a river, complete with castle towers, knights on horses, Kings and Queens, the whole nine yards! So to date, here are some of the most memorable things I’ve seen:
In case you didn’t already know, Valencia used to be a kingdom. There’s actually a separate separate language spoken here called Valenciano (although almost no one speaks it anymore). I’ve noticed that the Valencian flag seems to be more visible in the sky than the Spanish flag and the Valencian crest is everywhere, including the logo for Valencia’s futbol team (that’s “futbol”, or soccer, not “football”). Throughout the city there are several “torres”, or towers, the last remains of the fortress that protected the city from attack.
During the open hours, you can climb all the way to the top of the towers, where you’re rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of the cityscape. It seems like everywhere you look a domed cathedral is poking up from below, the new is blended with the ancient, and you can’t help but be mesmerized.
A cultural immersion would not be complete without diving into the food category, and Valencia/Spain has plenty to dive into. One of the most famous meals, first created in Valencia, is a delicious dish called Paella (pronounced “pie-ya”). This delicious meal consists primarily of spanish rice, a wide assortment of vegetables including peppers, tomatoes, and beans, paprika and some sort of meat. Traditionally, Valencian paella contains an assortment of sea food such as shrimp, mussels, and squid. Suffice it to say your taste buds will have a fiesta when they first encounter this amazing food. Another local favorite is the delicious icy dessert called “horchata”. Horchata is an icy cold drink made from a plant known as chufa(tigernuts), milk, and sugar. In fact, it’s so good that I was unable to resist the temptation to pour myself a glass for myself as I wrote this blog. Now with my taste buds appeased, I’ll continue. The other favorite food here in Spain is “jamon serrano”, a type of cured ham that is quite famous in Spain. Jamon serrano gets its delicious taste from its long cure time, typically a year, it has a deep, rich taste and firm texture. It can be served in thin slices on tapas (small sandwiches) or in chunks for soups. Don’t be surprised by it’s uncooked appearance. It’s long cure time actually makes it healthier and less fatty than normal ham.
As an architecture student, the surround buildings are often the first thing I notice when touring a site. One of the beautiful things about Valencia is it’s mix of ancient and modern architecture. Valencia is known as being the birthplace for world-renown architect Santiago Calatrava (a personal favorite of mine). His work is incredibly complex, and at times seems to defy the very laws of physics. One of the highlights of Valencia is its Museum of Arts and Sciences, designed by Calatrava himself.
TThe set of buildings were incredibly difficult to design and even more difficult to construct. While the surface of the Palau de les Arts may appear to be smooth and seamless, it is actually composed of small, individual tiles that sparkle and shimmer in the ssunlight when you stand close. At night on the weekends, the buildings are illuminated from the outside and take on a completely different feel, filling the atmosphere with an energetic and pulsating vibrance that draws large amounts of people to the very popular club next to the buildings known as Umbracle (sounds like “mmmm, broccoli”). Loud music, colorful lights, and the vast crowds make it a completely different place on the weekend nights.
Just yesterday I visited the city’s public library, a more than 600 year old building that was converted into a library 30 years ago. The library was originally built in 1409 as a response to the large amounts of mentally ill people throughout the city that were without any form of help or assistance. It was, in fact, Europe’s very first insane assylum (yeah Valencia!). On the exterior it appears to be a simple, stucco building from long ago. But on the inside it is a beautiful, well-lit space with well-kept Renaissance architecture combined with a modern touch.
There’s been so much to see, taste, and experience. I still haven’t fully grasped the fact that this metropolis of incredible sights and wonders will be my home for the next five months! I hope I never grow tired or accustomed to what is here, but continue to let it excite and inspire me. Until next time, my friends.