Saturday, February 23, 2008

Valencia, Spain

Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, is part way down the Mediterranean coast of Spain and is surrounded by acres of orange and olive groves. Clean and regal, Valencia is larger than I imagined, but has a busy yet relaxed quality. People walk and bike a lot, as well as take advantage of the new and fairly sparkling tram and metro.
I stayed at a youth hostel in the center of the old city: Center Valencia, c/ Samaniego 18; Tel: 963 914 915; .The hostel was one of the nicer ones I have frequented. The rooms were clean and in my 4-women room with two bunk beds we had our own shower and toilet – a luxury by hostel standards. Another luxury was that in addition to the four computers in the common area, there was WiFi throughout the hostel so I could use my own computer in the comfort of my room. The only downside was that the last two nights I was there a large high school group checked in and were up partying until 4:30 am both nights – groan! But my Romanian roommates were a delight and we had fun sharing our daily adventures.
Spaniards love outdoor cafes and restaurants so the city was full of these and I saw only two Starbucks in Valencia. Oranges were plentiful, cheap and some of the best I have ever eaten. Fresh orange juice is served in many cafes and a local specialty is “Aqua de Valencia,” made with orange juice, white wine and water.
Valencia has huge, beautiful public beaches, which I highly recommend. I went everyday for long beach walks along the turquoise sea, combing for sea glass, shells, and sea ceramics, Spain’s special version of sea glass, since ceramics are such a large industry in Spain. True to rumors, Spanish women were walking and sunbathing topless, irregardless of their shape or size, without so much as a second glance from anyone except me.
I found health food stores throughout Valencia, although the mother lode was the J. Navarro Terra Verde Store in the old part of city not far from the train station. It is large and beautiful, the closest you will find to a Whole Foods-type store, with a particularly large selection of gluten-free products including baked-goods. They have produce, beauty products, bulk foods, cold and frozen, an extensive cheese selection, basically anything you could want -
There are tiny health food stores sprinkled throughout the city. Out by the university is Ecorganic ecomercat, Avda Blasco Ibanez 66, Tel: 963 892 003; . This store is not huge, but has a good selection and variety of food including gluten-free, goat/sheep cheese and yogurt, bio produce, a tiny bit of bio meat, plenty of dry goods, body care, and more. Open: 9:30-8:30; Tel: 96 389 2003. The closest Metro is Aragon. Out of the metro, walk up a few blocks and take a right onto Avenue Blasco Ibanez.
A small store in the north part of the old city not far from the youth hostel is the Herboristeria del Carmen, c/ Roteros 13; Tel: 963 923 315, Open Mon-Fri 9:30-2/5-8, Sat 10-2. They have a small array of products including delicious bio oranges and bio-saffron – a Spanish delicacy and great souvenir.
By chance I found a small second hand clothing store where I bought an authentic Spanish black, felt, Zorro hat for 2 euros! Marropa (ropa de 2a mano), c/ Pza Cisneros 5, around the corner from the little Herboristeria above and the youth hostel. Open Mon-Fri 10-1:30/ 5-8.
Spain is not known for being vegetarian – in fact pigs are very big here – literally and figuratively, but Valencia does have a few very good vegetarian restaurants, two of which I scoped out:
La Tastaolletes, c/ Salvador Giner 6; Open Tues-Sat 2-4 (lunch) and Mon-Sat 9pm-midnight (dinner) closed Sundays and Monday until dinner. Tapas range from 4.50-9, Salada 8-9.50, and entrée 10-11. I ate an ample, delicious and unusual Seaweed salad here and had a glass of house vino tinto (red wine), for a total of 11 euros one evening at 9:30 – early by Spanish standards, but late by mine.
Espai Visor café and gallery, Corretgeria 40; 3 course meal is a prix fixe of 18 Euros, Open Tues- Sat 5-9 café and gallery, restaurant 9pm-11:30 pm. The restaurant part is small – about 5-6 tables, but the menu is fabulous. Similarly, the gallery space is small, but lovely.
Valencia is full of small stores brimming with goods. I was disappointed to learn that the comfortable and funky Camper shoes, sold worldwide, are no longer made in Spain, but China, which saved me being tempted to buy a pair while here. Traditional Spanish espadrilles were not so abundant in Valencia (see Madrid entry later).
I found a store in the old city not far from the Espai Visor restaurant called Namo Buddha, selling beautiful, authentic and some rare items from Nepal and Tibet, run by a lovely Spanish man named Pablo and his Nepali wife, Goma. Namo Buddha, c/Danzas 3, Valencia; Tel: 96 391 6509;;

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