Monday, June 25, 2012

valencia: a weekend trip

This weekend I met up with Ann, Erica, Josh, Mary, and Sophie in Valencia, Spain, on the Mediterranean, for a crazy weekend of sightseeing and the Festival of San Juan. 

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Valencia is known for a few things:
  • The birthplace of paella, a pilov-like fried rice dish, two common types being valenciana (with chicken and rabbit) and de mariscos (seafood) [which we did eat, and it kept us full until about noon the next day]
(and of course Erika being happy at eating Paella)
  • Delicious horchata (or orxata in Valencian and Catalan), a drink made from tigernuts, water, and sugar
  • A couple of crazy festivals: Falles (the celebration of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Valencia), Sant Joan (the celebration of the longest day of the year), and many more. 
  • Agua de Valencia, an alcoholic cocktail made from orange juice, gin, vodka, and cava (Spanish wine)
  • The beaches
Overall, Valencia is considered to be a party town. So me and some friends decided to check out one of said parties. 

The festival of San Juan

The longest day of the year is June 21st, the summer solstice. The Valencian spin on this traditional pagan celebration, of course, involves the beach. Similar to a botellón (described in my post here), during this celebration people flock to the beaches of Valencia to make bonfires, drink, socialize, take a midnight dip into the ocean, and generally have a good time. 

In planning this trip, we realized that all the hostels in Valencia this weekend required a two-night booking, since this weekend was the same weekend as the Festival of San Juan and a huge Formula-1 race. None of the MISTI Madrid crowd (sans Ann) actually stayed the two nights, but we had to book two nights to even get a one-night stay at a hostel. 

Meeting new people

Ann stayed at a separate hostel from the rest of us and made friends with María, a woman from Argentina who was solo-traveling around Italy, France, and Spain for her summer vacations. Even though we spoke fairly rapid English, she was content to spend all day Saturday hanging out with us. We all got to talk in Spanish plenty, and learned a few new words!

The hostel

Me, Josh, Mary, and Sophie all stayed at the Valencia Guesthouse in the city center, a short walk from the train station. The hostel was run by two guys who also lived on the same floor as the rooms of the hostel. There was no front desk or reception, so you had to call at least 30 minutes in advance of checking in to make sure one of them was going to be there. The strangest part about this hostel was that the rooms of dormitorios mixtos (mixed-gender multi-person rooms) had not double but triple bunks! 

The sights

We saw all that the city center of Valencia had to offer. The cathedral:
The Mercado Central:
with it's fare share of jamón, as always:

And we moved on to La Lonja, a former silk exchange market: 
and the cathedral:
until we started walking through stretch of park surrounding the inner city center to eventually see the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences):
But on the way, Josh heard some drumming, so we ended up finding....

A gay pride promotion parade

The phrase for a "gay pride parade" in Spanish is la marcha gay. We were all surprised to hear that "gay" seemed to not translate into anything specific in Spanish.

We were also surprised to see a wedding party at a church right across from the marcha gay
My computer is now sporting a cool rainbow flag with a pro-gay slogan written in Catalan. Look at me becoming more European!

The beach

We ended up at the beach at around 10pm, after stopping at a Mercadona to pick up drinks and a bar to watch part of the Spain vs. France soccer game to find hordes of people at the beach. The Valencian tram/metro system didn't really make any sense, but eventually we figured it out and got to the beach.

While the Festival of San Juan was originally a pagan holiday celebrating the longest day of the year, Valencia is always looking for an excuse to party. The prominent feature of the festival was the fact that in addition to it being a standard botellón (explained in my other post HERE [link will be included once I write the post], groups of people with drinks and food were huddled around their personal bonfires. 

It is a tradition in the Festival of San Juan to, at midnight, with plenty of drink in you, to jump over these bonfires. No fear, the bonfires are small and very easy to jump over, even with some drink in you. 
Apparently we got there a bit too late to get free wood and coals to make our own bonfire, but we made friends with locals and non-locals alike, getting to share their fires and generally having a good time. 

We stayed at the beach until sunrise, once the police started kicking everyone off the beach so it could be cleaned. An hour and a half later (again, Valencian metro is slightly complicated) we were all safe and asleep in our hostels after a long night of sand, fire, and drink. 

We touched the Mediterranean Sea! The water was much warmer than any other salt water I've touched - I would guess about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Happy Summer Solstice!

The oops

The one downer of this trip was the fact that it was the first time I ever had something stolen from me. While at the beach, my backpack was with me at all times. The only time it was not attached to me in some way was when Ann and I stood up to talk to some friends Erica and Josh brought back. I got back to my seat 2 minutes later and my backpack was lost. Fortunately enough, here is a comprehensive list of what was in it: 

  • American smartphone (no SIM card - that's in my apartment in Madrid)
  • 50 euros
  • Umbrella
  • Nalgene
  • 1 pair of underwear
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 light sweater
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hair brush
  • Deodorant
  • Travel-size container of shampoo
  • A clean shirt
  • A pen
  • Pajama pants
  • Pajama shirt
  • Bathing suit
  • Sunglasses
  • Apartment keys, which Fabian had an extra copy of (thank goodness!)
  • My train ticket back to Madrid, which I could print again at the station

The most expensive thing stolen was my American phone. Now I know that I can live without internet, and will never bring it anywhere unless it is attached to me. Luckily, the next morning I woke up a bit early to go searching for a clean shirt and stumbled upon a street fair in Valencia in which I was able to buy a shirt for a euro (and not a bad shirt, by the way) and a replacement backpack for 8 euros, much cheaper than I had ever seen anywhere else. 


Lo que pasa en Valencia queda en Valencia. What happens in Valencia stays in Valencia. It's a city that likes to party, drink, and have a good time. Lots of young people are at the beach during the summer, so it's a great place to meet both locals and travelers alike. The three things to go back to Valencia for are agua de Valencia, the nature park to the south of the city, and actually going into the Science Museum.  

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