One of the big advantages of having a host family is that, if they’re awesome like mine was, they will show you around. In the first month I was with my host family, they took me around the Barcelona Cathedral, Las Ramblas, Plaça de Catalunya, MareMagnum, Montjuic, etc. But the best thing by far that they showed me was the beautiful city of Valencia, the third biggest city in Spain.
The beautiful waterfront in front of my host family’s flat. That famous Valencia sun is intense!
Luckily for me, the host father has two teenaged daughters who live in Valencia with their mother. He would go to Valencia every other weekend to see them, but the rest of the family (including me!) went once a month to see them so that all of the sisters can spend time together. It is about a 3 hour car ride from Barcelona, which was exhausting, but so worth it!
I fell in love with Port Saplaya, Valencia! So picturesque.
After walking around Port Saplaya a bit (which was breath-taking in itself), we walked around the city of Valencia to explore. We hit the Mercat Central de Valencia which had some live music playing and local vendors selling everything from honey to scuba diving trips. After that, we just meandered the streets a bit and enjoyed the spectacular views that Valencia has to offer.
The wetlands and rice fields at Albufera.
Later on my first day, they took me to the Parque Natural de la Albufera de Valencia. It is a natural wetlands preserve where they have been growing rice for centuries. Doesn’t sound all too interesting, right…? Wrong! They use this rice for PAELLA. Oh heavens, that paella…. If you didn’t know, Valencia is the birthplace of paella and the family (God bless them) took me here, to the actual birthplace of paella, to try the real deal.
The taste was beyond description. True Valencian paella is made without seafood; instead, it has chicken, rabbit, and white beans. The flavors of the rice are so rich and delicious that I could have eaten that whole pan by myself. And the lemon itself just enhances all of those flavors to an unfathomable degree. And once you scoop out all of the paella onto the various plates, there is still the delicous crust that forms on the bottom that can make your eyes roll back in pleasure. I can never have enough paella.
Ajuntament de Valencia
After lunch, we wandered around the city some more for some laid-back sight-seeing. I fell in love with Valencia. The people are very friendly and go out of their way to help you, everyone is dressed in nice colorful clothing, and there’s just something in the atmosphere that makes you happy.
El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía
The next day, they took me for a nice stroll at the Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias. Basically, it is a group of 4 huge and futuristic buildings dedicated to the Arts and Sciences designed by Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. The buildings are surrounded by a beautiful park, and as we were walking through I couldn’t help but feel as though I had been transported 100 years into the future. It was such a marvellous feeling.
However, unfortunately the city of Valencia no longer has the funds to maintain these amazing structures, and the normal wear and tear is beginning to show without the proper maintenance. Also, these buildings (sadly) are relatively unused except for a few concerts and events. While an amazing attraction and a must-see, it is unfortunate that the proper planning did not go into this project.
As we were walking around the City of Arts and Sciences, we happened upon a stand selling Horchata. Now, back home in California, horchata is a delicious but very sweet drink made from rice and cinnamon. However, here in Spain, Horchata is a drink made from Tiger Nut or Chufa in Spanish. The Tiger Nut is found in Africa, then it is dried and goes through an extraction process to obtain the sweet liquid inside. It was pretty good… but I think mostly an acquired taste. I personally prefer good old Mexican horchata.
Finally, we ended our trip there by going through the gardens. This was during the fall, so I am sure in the Spring it is even prettier. The park surrounding this all is also amazing; it is huge! Trees, little rivers, plenty of grass and activities… I wish I had a park like this near me! I think I’d have a lot more motivation to go out running… Or so I’d like to think…!