After a second level college Spanish course that seemed relatively easy, I decided to pursue a minor degree in Spanish, which required a total of six courses. Not surprisingly, they grew much more difficult after the first one, but it did provide a good rationale for spending a summer studying in Spain in the lesser known city of València. Hence in the summer of 1994 I lived with a host family and attended courses at the Universitat de València through a program run by University of Virginia. It was a fun and educational summer and no doubt my language skills improved immensely both in the classroom and out.
I had not been back to València in the years since, until an opportunity presented itself with friends from Washington, D.C. living in Spain and getting ready to move to València. While I recalled bits and pieces of my past time there, this was like exploring a new city given the time that had past. Though the third largest city in Spain, it is still possible to cycle across most of the town in about 25 minutes (we did a bike tour!). València originated in Roman times and is full of history, with the old town gothic cathedrals and medieval gates remaining from the original city walls. The gothic cathedrals meet baroque stylings with exquisitely detailed buildings adorned with sculpture and wrought iron balconies. And yet, just on the other side of town, the thoroughly modern Ciudad de Artes y Ciencas (City of Arts and Sciences) is dotted with space-age buildings containing modern science museums, opera houses, a planetarium, and the largest aquarium in Europe. The aquarium was deceptively large (as most of it is housed underground) and contained an impressive array of marine life including beluga whales, sharks, rays, dolphins, penguins, walrus, seals and sea lions, jellyfish and tropical fish.
The sun shines most days here – only a few days of rain per month – fueling the Valencia orange orchards along the coast and the trees dotting the city. However, the Valencia orange, known for its sweet flavor and bright orange color, was founded in California! It shines here in the cocktail known as Agua de València, a Spanish mimosa of fresh squeezed juice, cava, vodka and Cointreau. In early July, the purple blooms of the jacaranda trees were just waning, while the pink and white oleander were luscious pops of color everywhere.
The old riverbed running through the city was converted to gardens when the river was re-routed after a massive flood in the 1950’s. Thankfully the residents protested the plans for a highway, and now the Turia Gardens run 9 km through the city, a perfect respite for walking, cycling, or relaxing.
A morning in the soft, fine sand of the expansive Playa Malvarrosa with a dip in the Mediterranean was all that was needed to complete this short yet wonderful long weekend. Being a sunny Saturday in July, the beach was full of locals and visitors alike which made for great people watching too.
My return has highlighted the fact that my Spanish is quite out of practice, so I vow to return again, and hopefully sooner than the last 25 year hiatus!