Last weekend Señor Aventura and I spent three blissful days alone together in Valencia, a charming coastal city three hours south of Barcelona. Valencia is actually the third-largest city in Spain, but compared with Barcelona it felt fairly laid-back and quiet. Many of the buildings there have been recently refurbished and were refreshingly colorful, with brightly painted walls and greenery flourishing on the balconies. The streets were also very clean, especially in the area where we stayed near Mercado Colon.
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Los Extraordinarios, our children were beautifully tended to at home in Barcelona by their grandparents while we got to fly the coop for a few peaceful days of rest and relaxation. The timing could not have been more perfect... my good Señor and I were celebrating our fourteenth anniversary! Fourteen exciting, busy, crazy, fun, love-filled, exhausting, challenging, yet always worthwhile years!
So, how did we celebrate in Valencia?
We slept in! We stayed up late! We had fun acting like big goofy teenagers.
Valencia is the birthplace of paella... and we definitely enjoyed their delicious Bomba arroz with broad beans, but we also relished savory Italian pasta, fresh salads, an out-of-this-world fisherman's stew and several helpings of traditional tortilla Española. My handsome guy and I share a passion for good food! We spent three days eating our way around the neighborhood.
After we'd been sated with pasta on our first night (also featuring a tasty salad of 'lamb's ear lettuce' and other unusual delicacies) we did something CRAZY! :) We stayed up wayyyy past our 40-something bedtime and went to see an Americana rock band recommended by a lovely friend from Chicago who happens to have great taste in music. This band from Philly, Marah, was kicking off their Spanish tour in Valencia so we figured, "Why not?" and took her recommendation! We didn't know their music at all, but that was part of the fun. A new adventure!
In the end, it turned out that they are excellent musicians and a hell of a lot of fun to watch perform live. Their energetic live set managed to be friendly, humorous and much adored by the Valencian crowd. We came strangers and left fans!
After rolling home close to 2am, we were pretty beat. Even by Spanish standards, this was a very late night for us. Needless to say, we slept in! We awakened on Saturday in a leisurely way (what luxury!) and then walked, and talked, and laughed, and talked some more. Seeing your spouse without having three dynamic children in tow is kind of like seeing a beloved old friend you haven't caught up with for a while.
"Wow, how are you?"
"I'm great! It's so nice to see you!"
"Yeah... feels like it's been a while!"
"Gosh, you look really good! Did you get your hair cut?"
"Thanks! I did! Yeah, like two weeks ago!" :)
"Oh! Well, I really like it!"
Beaming, we ambled through the old quarter of the city and toured an exquisite UNESCO World Heritage site called La Lonja de Seda. This was the Valencian Silk Road Exchange, built in the late 1400s and considered a masterpiece of Valencian Gothic architecture. It was an auction and trading center under the Crown of Aragon.
We'd lingered too long over breakfast and so arrived a little late to see the inside of the massive Mercado Central across the street from the World Heritage building... but someday we will go back! The Mercado Central is a stupendous indoor farmer's market, covering an entire city block. "I feel like we're looking at a Cathedral of Food!" I remarked, looking at its colorful stained glass and Art Nouveau architecture.
Even though the market trip didn't pan out, we still got to glimpse something special in an elegant wedding taking place just around the bend. We happened upon it at just the right moment, as the bride walked from her fancy chauffeur-driven car toward the massive church. Music echoed out into the street through the grand doors. Townspeople and tourists alike cheered for the bride as she prepared to make her way down the aisle.
While walking we also caught a glimpse of the important Metropolitan cathedral in Valencia, the Basilica of Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia. It sits on the site of a former Visigoth cathedral that had been turned into a mosque under Moorish rule. A very holy place, this cathedral currently houses a Goya painting among many other sacred works. The building itself is strikingly beautiful; but the area around it is honestly a bit more touristy. It bummed me out, for example, to see that the building adjacent to this almost 900 year old cathedral is a McDonalds. Panhandlers dotted the landscape and this was the only part of Valencia where I felt very briefly like we might get pickpocketed. (We didn't.)
We walked for many hours on Saturday and when we got back to our AirBNB it was already time to begin getting ready for our second fun night out on the town... this time paella and FLAMENCO!
It's hard to put into words the power and raw sensuality of the flamenco performance we witnessed in Valencia at La Bulería. We'd both seen 'flamenco' before... an Americanized, watered down version of the dance. We'd seen it both in person and on television. This however was something quite different.
A youngish woman with dark curly hair and a powerful voice sat on the stage next to a classical guitarist. Together they began the performance, her intense vocals cutting through the whispers around us in the darkened dinner theatre. Soon they were joined by two dancers; a striking blonde with high cheekbones and dramatic costumes, and a petite, feminine brunette. These two dancers took turns on the stage, almost competing as they danced one at a time against this backdrop of sultry vocals and guitar. As they whirled, twirled, and used their ruffled gowns as curtains to showcase their phenomenal legs, they displayed a high degree of athleticism. Their hour-long performance was dramatic and captivating.
What a great night! Again we rolled home well into the wee hours. Living on the wild side, I tell you!
By morning, Señor Aventura and I were ready to relax. We took a long, slow stroll along the former Turia river-bed... now the Valencian City of Arts and Sciences. In 1957 a terrible flood wreaked so much havoc on the city of Valencia that they decided to permanently drain this riverbed and re-route the river. Constructed over many years, the old riverbed was turned into a beautiful sunken park that's now filled with stunning architectural works. Each building is devoted in some way to arts and entertainment... from an IMAX theater to a symphony hall/opera house, to a huge science museum and much more. The place is unreal. Considered one of the twelve treasures of Spain, this unique work of architecture and engineering really blew our minds.
This appreciation for unusual, innovative art is something that sets Valencia apart to some degree. We saw it everywhere we went... or perhaps we are just especially attuned to notice art and architecture of atypical beauty. From the artisanal handicrafts and paintings for sale in small booths at the Mercado Colon to the graffiti on various garages we passed, Valencia seemed to us to be a city that celebrates youth and artistic vision. University students are everywhere you go, and there is a vibrant feeling of reinvention and newness here.
On Monday it was time to go home... we were ready to throw our arms around the kids and grandparents and let them all know how much we love them.
I think we learned something though, from this ancient city that has reinvented itself again and again over two thousand years.
On a weekend celebrating our fourteen years of love and hard work, it was fun to be reminded that we too can reconnect to the essence of who we are and dig through the external, superficial changes wrought by time to discover new beauties within ourselves and each other. What has seen and experienced the passage of years can still sparkle... can still feel fresh and new.