Here we are in Valencia, the home to the Spaniards signature dish, Paella, Europe’s largest urban park and some fairly distinguishable buildings… oh yes, and the start of our journey to the Festival of the Tomatoes.
So… much… heat!
After a four-hour bus ride from Barcelona, the Livingstons had arrived in Valencia. We are coming to realise that the money we are spending on things like taxis could very easily be paying for extra beers and good food, so this time around we decided to skip out on the taxi and walk. This was an excellent idea in theory, our hostel was less than a kilometre from the bus station, the only thing standing in our way was the biggest urban park in Europe and the 30 degree Celsius temperature, coupled with 67% humidity. We started walking past another round of screaming taxi men and onward to the park; there were no stairs on the other side so we wandered around the park for twenty minutes trying to get back out, then eventually to our hostel. Sweaty is the understatement of the year…
Better find something to drink
It took us forever to check-in to our hostel; the lady in front of us didn’t speak any Spanish, or English, and didn’t have a reservation. Though we are no longer in South America, it is becoming extremely obvious where they’d picked up their idea of timeframes from… we are now running on Spanish time. There was a mix-up in the reservation and we didn’t get the room we were supposed to, however, the room we did get was amazing. We didn’t have a double bed, but what we did have was a couch, air-conditioning, black-out blinds and a private bathroom with hot water, clean towels and even some complimentary soap! The air-conditioning was bliss!
Settling in and having a quick shower to rinse off the gross amount of sweat we’d produced we were ready to find some food. Not ones to stray from a good feed we wandered through the streets behind the Towers of Serrans; these were built in 1392 and were the gates used by kings to enter into the walled city. Hiding in here there are tonnes of places to choose for food, you’ve really got to know what you want to eat… a difficult task when neither of us were up for decision making. We eventually settled on a cider bar hidden in one of the dark alleyways and promptly ordered a plate of cured horse and deer meats to go with the bar’s homemade cider. The horse was interesting, it had a very strong gamey taste and very rich iron taste, the deer was good but we’re not too sure whether we’d go back for seconds of those two meats. We followed the meats up with a Valencian tomato and tuna salad (we were expecting a little more than sliced tomato and tinned tuna hahaha) and finished off with some fried pardon peppers and limitless amounts of bread. After getting an extremely healthy dose of carbs, it was time to roll ourselves back up the street and into bed; we were stuffed!
Mingling with the locals
Luckily where we had chosen to stay was an extremely convenient walk to the local markets. We set off Friday morning after breakfast to go and find out how the locals roll. Not sure whether to expect a bombardment of foreign made souvenirs or food we braced ourselves for the first, hoping for the latter. We had success! We were met with stalls upon stalls of fresh produce, wines, seafood and lots of gourmet foods… It would be safe to say we’d stumbled across a little slice of heaven! The Mercado Central building was purpose-built and opened in 1928, the high arches and domes are some of its standout features, along with the two weather vanes of a parrot and a fish.
We found ourselves a couple of gourmet treats and a little bottle of wine, then headed down to Turia Park for a romantic little picnic. After a devastating flood in 1957 the government diverted the Turia River and enlisted an architect to redesign the now dry 120 hectare, 11 kilometre long riverbed into something usable. The result is a park is split into twelve sections with Spanish plants, wildlife, playgrounds and walking tracks amongst many other things. A few hours later, a few games of cards and a couple of glasses of wine, we wandered around the old town for a while then retired back to the hostel for a quiet night in watching a little bit of Heston Blumenthal and his crazy antics.
Buildings and buildings, the metro and more buildings
Although we have been enjoying quite a fair amount of rich food and wines, we have been making a conscious effort in our travels to see a little more than the amazing produce the rest of the world has on offer. Saturday morning we decided to head into one of Valencia’s many plazas and see some of the stunning architecture scattered around the city; not before walking past a window with some errr interesting shorts - sequins anyone?
On our wanderings we managed to stumble across the Corts Valencianes and got our photo in front of the parliament, then continued on through the narrow streets until we got to the cathedral. The Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia is built in a Gothic style and was consecrated over 750 years ago - it’s old. It’s mostly notable because it is home to what is believed to be “the Holy Grail”, i.e. the cup that Jesus drank out of at the last supper. It is arguable as to whether this is true or not, unfortunately we weren’t able to go inside the cathedral while we were there so we didn’t get to see the cup.
Here are some more buildings we came across on the way around:
After walking for a few hours, and stopping for some cold drinks along the way (yes, it might have been beer or wine), we headed back to Mercardo Central to see what food we could collect for dinner. Surprisingly there was a stall in the market selling oodles of different types of seaweed (the expensive type that you get in predominantly Japanese restaurants), and had a fair collection of truffle mushrooms. We were surprised to see that he had Samphire, a type of seaweed that grows rampant in Australia but easily confused with another not so nice tasting weed; the Samphire was only 2.50 Euro! We bought some to pop in with our zucchini spiral, tuna, tomato and white wine pasta for the evening… Some of the wine even made it into the pasta sauce.
Valencia on a Sunday is rings with church bells, they echo through the city from around 5:40am up until 9:00am, we woke up to the first set… Not wanting to waste the day we got ourselves out of bed and ready to face some more of the beautiful Valencian sunshine. Today’s adventure was heading to the other end of massive riverbed park to the City of Arts and Sciences. The area is filled with spectacular buildings that are home to museums, the opera house, a science centre and a landscape park - just to name a few. The structures are impressive and definitely worth the time to walk around and admire the modern architecture.
We spent a few hours looking at the area and being tourists before heading back in toward the centre of town to find ourselves a cheap clothing store. In the coming days we were going to be part of a fairly massive festival and needed to find ourselves some cheap shoes that we could throw away, and some white shirts. H&M came to the rescue!
Lunch like a Valencian
Paella is what many Spaniards would consider to be their national dish; it originates from the mid 19th century from the Albufera region. For those not familiar with paella, it is rice cooked in a large flat pan, filled with aromatics and meats. The traditional paella is ‘Paella Valenciana’, which is filled with vegetables, chicken and rabbit, although the seafood version is very common elsewhere. Sundays are the day to eat paella in Valencia (although pretty much everywhere has it available during the week), so we ventured to find ourselves a decent little joint to see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately the place that came highly recommended to us was closed for holidays, so we found another little restaurant close by that had Paella Valenciana as their special for the day. The couple of kilometre trek was definitely worth it for the delicious chicken, rabbit and duck paella we devoured, along with some sides of clams, anchovies and mussels… there may have been some wine too…
Waddling home with our food babies we were ready for a little afternoon siesta - no wonder the Spaniards shut up shop in the afternoons. The timing of closure isn’t consistent across any of the cities, though, we know siesta will occur sometime between midday and five, and last at least two hours. It was our turn for siesta!
On the move
After wallowing in our food comas Monday evening we struggled to get ourselves out of bed and packed on Tuesday. Thankfully we didn’t have to go too far, only to the other side of the city near the beach to start our three-day party with Festivals All Around. We packed, headed off to the metro and wound up at a university residential college and then down to the beach for a few hours. We returned a little later then checked-in and went down to meet all of the other festivalgoers at 7:30pm to find out our itinerary for the next few days. Welcome my friends, to La Tomatina… three days of sun, fun and far, far, far too much sangria.
After meeting up with the crew we headed off to dinner at 100 Monteditos, which is a cool place that you can pretty much order any tapas you want for 2 euros, and beers for some ridiculously cheap price. We were well on our way to being tanked before heading to a bar for an hour (with some interesting wall art), and later to a foam party. James wasn’t feeling so well so skipped the foam party and headed home around midnight; but Dee, forever the party animal rolled on in around 4:30am… things were a little messy.
City tours! Or not…
Part of our tour with Festivals All Around included a walking tour of Valencia; we’ve quite enjoyed a lot of the walking tours we’ve been on - they are a nice way to learn about the cities we’ve visited and see some pretty impressive buildings. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t wake up until 11am, the walking tour started at 10:30… fail! We also missed breakfast and were both feeling pretty “special”. We didn’t really do much for the middle of the day except wallow in our fairly terrible hangovers, whoever felt that shots were a good idea were not either of our friends this particular Tuesday.
How to recover from a hangover
Usually if one has a fairly terrible hangover, one should drink lots of water, stay out of the sun and eat nutritious food to help the body rejuvenate itself. Ummm Yup, right, so we got a little bit of water in, some fairly average cafeteria food that involved lots of carbs and bad fats, and then finally down to a party at the beach for the afternoon for buckets of sangria. We hungovered well…
The beach party involved lots, and lots, and lots of sangria. We aren’t talking the fancy stuff here, we are talking about 1 Euro boxes that have something that could loosely be called sangria in them… don’t get us wrong, it was delicious but filled with hangovers. I’m not entirely sure what the responsible service of alcohol situation is like in Spain, but just to be sure people were being responsible the sangria was coupled with some biccies and there was water available, in the ocean.
An afternoon on the beach wouldn’t be complete without games. There was volleyball (which we are both pretty terrible at), and Beer Pong, which we were to discover later that we are also both pretty terrible at. We’d never played Beer Pong before, and in this instance we didn’t have beer, instead, it was sangria pong. We were solidly beaten by two Americans and had to drink a lot of sangria. Note to self, one should learn how to throw ping-pong balls into a cup before attempting to play with seasoned Beer Pongers.
After drinking our weight in sangria it was time to bid the beach farewell. The following day was going to be huge!
Tomatoes. All. Of. The. Tomatoes.
At a beautiful time of 5:30am it was up and at ‘em. Still remarkably hung over, and not sure where our heads or feet were we stumbled down to breakfast and lined our stomachs with pastries and coffee. Today was going to be big… welcome my friends to La Tomatina.
After hurrying up and waiting, sculling down a few bottles of water and getting ourselves onto a bus we were on our way to a tiny town called Buñol, about an hour out of Valencia. We were dressed in brand new white shirts, new shoes for James, and armed with goggles.
Why Buñol you might ask? There are many theories, however in 1944 or 1945, sometime a while back, someone decided to throw some tomatoes. The following year, some more people joined in, and then the year after. This has resulted in the world’s largest tomato fight taking place annually in the centre of Buñol. Sometime in the past 50 years or so the local council took over the proceedings and made it an official festival, working alongside Festivals All Around (who we’d booked our tour through) to help organise the tourists a little better.
So we’d arrived into a dirt car park in Buñol, were given very, very specific instructions to make sure we knew where to come back to, what time and which bus we needed to be on, then wandered over the bridge to a closed off road, filled with thousands of people. Along with the tonne of people, there was also the better part of 2000 litres of sangria in big white buckets. We weren’t really given much of a choice as to whether we wanted to drink sangria or not, it was 7am, but it’s midday somewhere in the world, right?
After drinking as much sangria as we could, then having sangria thrown on us, it was time to head to the main event, with sangria in hand. Did we mention there was some sangria? Singing songs all the way to the main street we prepped ourselves for the beginning of the festival. Traditionally, the tomato throwing would begin after a ham, pegged to the top of a lard-covered pole, was successfully pulled down. These days the ham is still at the top of the pole, but for the sake of the festivalgoers and the locals, the tomato throwing begins at 11:00am.
Sometime in the ham situation we lost each other, and the horn blew. It was time to start throwing the tomatoes. Six massive dump trucks, filled with 160 tonnes of tomatoes drive through the street and pour tomatoes everywhere. You’d be lucky if you didn’t end up with some in your mouth, ears, nose, eyes etc. etc. etc. There were 42 000 people throwing these tomatoes, it was a mess. Just look (sorry, the lens was covered in tomato juice):
After an hour it’s tomatoes down and time to get fire-hosed off by the locals, then return to the bus and change into a less tomatoey pair of clothes. We might have stopped via a couple of beer stalls along the way, and sung all the way back to the bus. Completely exhausted it was time to head back to Valencia for a hot shower and an afternoon siesta before heading to the official after-party in the night.
As you’ve probably gathered, there has been a fair amount of drinking going on in the past few days. It wasn’t about to stop; we had tickets to the official after-party and headed in with the rest of our tour group. There were beers, there were vodkas, that were cheaper than the beers and there were lots and lots of laughs, and still a lot of tomato in places there shouldn’t be tomato. We spent the night with our new-found friends before heading home on a bus around 2:00am. Munted is a fair understatement here.
Poor planning = poor buses
Yup, another bus. We didn’t really consider the amount of time we’d left between the end of the festival and having to leave for our next city. We had organised ourselves the night before to be packed and ready for our bus to Granada, however both of us having slept through the alarm, then having to tackle public transport made the morning an absolute struggle. Couple these factors with needing to walk a good three kilometres in stifling heat, finding tomato still in our ears, as well as being extraordinarily tired… the morning was not good. Hooray for eight hours on a bus! Next stop, Granada!
Go see all the photos from Valencia