Who would have thought that attracting members of the general public was so easy as to walk barefoot through the city? In New York or Chicago or another big US city, you might get a few glances, maybe an upturned nose or two, a general veering in the opposite direction. People in big cities are used to crazies. They’re used to creepy people lurking in doorways, weird ramblers talking to themselves, sketchy people lying in the grass. You know, the type of things you kind of just avert your eyes to.
But no, not here in Spain.
One does not simply refrain from staring to appear polite.
Let me back up for a moment, and explain where I am coming from. This morning, upon waking up early in Valencia to the Mediterranean sun shining through a beautiful skylight in my hotel room (I had a whole room to myself because one of the girls was sick. I couldn’t complain.) and going to breakfast, I took a relaxing walk down to the beach with Kensie. It was fresh and cool and the only people out were early-morning bikers.
On the way to the beach, I came to the realization that I am enchanted by Spanish architecture and design. It is interesting, because before I came to live here, I either had a lack of appreciation or misconception of many aspects that are used. I used to associate colorful ceramics, or bright painted buildings, for that matter, with the annoying tiled decorations from Mexico that everyone likes to hang on their walls. The beautiful ceramic designs on the buildings and walls here in Spain have changed my opinion. I can’t get enough of them!
I honestly want to take a picture every time I see such lovely designs, but they never do it justice. Will I ever want to have ceramic tiles all over the outside of my house? Probably not. But still. I enjoy looking at them.
I used to think that wrought-iron fencing was a little overrated as well (once again associating it with Mexico. Oops.) Again, now I’m absolutely in love with it. It makes me miss my house so badly, and I want to go home and put the beautiful iron trim on everything!
There is more I could go into, such as how annoyed I am that rather than coming up with their own designs, Anthropologie instead went back a few hundred years in history and just stole the dresses of 18th century Spanish women. Those ladies had style, people, let me tell you.
Anyway, back to attracting stares from Spaniards.
Kensie and I went to the beach, frolicked in the BRISK water for a little, collected sea shells, and saw an amazing sand castle that some guy had been working on for a week! Can you even imagine? This castle was absolutely amazing, and the detail was slightly unbelievable. I really wanted to touch it to see if it was real, but then I would have felt horribly if it collapsed, so I didn’t. **good job, Chloé, way to use your brains Chloé**
Now, I have some confessions to make. First off, I really don’t like water. Maybe it’s because it takes an eternity for my hair to dry, maybe because I don’t like wearing a swimsuit, maybe it’s because in another life we were mortal enemies. Who knows. However, I have learned to tolerate it for social reasons (i.e. cleanliness [ha] and not being the lame person who sits on the beach while everyone else is having fun). But the sand, the sand just about does it for me. I LOVE walking in the sand, but hate the residual and incessant little grains that stay on your feet long after they’re dry and never leave, trailing into the house and all over the floor.
To solve this problem, I just decided to boycott shoes for the morning. I walked all the way back to the hotel (only about 1.5 miles) with bare feet. Across the boardwalk, down the bike path, through the streets. And BOY did I get some stares.
The Spanish are notorious for their staring. They stare if you’re blonde. They stare if you smile. They stare if you’re holding a map. They stare if you happen to have any resemblance to a female whatsoever. It’s just a cultural thing. They’re also renowned for their fabulous wive’s tales. “Make sure you wear that scarf tight around your neck, you wouldn’t want to catch a cold.” “Don’t refrigerate the water, it will freeze your throat and you will get sick.” “Don’t wear shorts to bed, the cold at night will give you a fever.” “If you don’t wear slippers inside you’ll catch a virus.” Basically, everything gets you sick.
And so, with this combination, I have discovered a perfect method for attracting stares from the young, the old, the male, the female, literally everyone you pass by.
Don’t wear shoes.
I am almost positive I didn’t pass by a single person who didn’t either double-take or triple-take or make some sort of comment. Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it is probably a LITTLE disgusting that I didn’t wear shoes walking through Valencia. But I hate sand in my shoes and I can’t stand wearing damp socks, so I chose the lesser of two evils (I think). Long story short, I gave several old ladies heart attacks, lost the respect of all the smoking men lounging on the street benches, and had some incredibly black feet by the time I got back to the hotel. Thank goodness for soap.
After our beach adventure, I really wanted to go to the “Mercado Central”, which is apparently bigger and less expensive than La Boquería in Barcelona. Unfortunately, Valencia’s metro/train system is incredibly lame and I ended up wasting 8 euro on a dumb metro ticket that I couldn’t even use because it only ran at extremely inconvenient times. Slightly defeated, I had to walk back to the hotel empty handed.
Overall, Valencia was fantastic. I would definitely recommend making a stop here if the chance ever arises. Let me go through a brief little run-down for you.
1) Horchata. Valencian horchata (orxata) shouldn’t be confused with Mexican horchata, which is debatably better but very different, so a comparison can’t really be made. The horchata here is made from tigernuts (don’t worry – no tigers were harmed in the making), or rather, chufa, which are actually quite delicious when eaten after they’ve been soaked in water for several hours. (I know this because some guy let me try some at the medieval fair a few weeks ago). The drink has a nutty flavor and is incredibly refreshing. I wouldn’t recommend buying the boxed stuff though. It literally tastes like soggy cardboard.
2) Paella. Real, authentic, Valencian paella. It’s made with rice, saffron, vegetables, and meat, traditionally either seafood or rabbit, and oh man, is it delicious. Especially the “valencian paella”, because they fry some of the rice in the pan first so it creates a pleasantly crunchy layer on the bottom of the pan that you get to scrape off and eat at the end. However, always a critic, I must say that although the paella here is very good, I’m almost positive that one of the only reasons it stands out from everything else is because most of the other Spanish food is incredibly bland. The saffron-seasoned rice is so desired here because it actually has flavor. Needless to say, paella will undoubtedly be something I perfect once I get back to the States.
3) Ruins under glass. While walking through one of Valencia’s squares, we passed what we thought was a reflection pond. Not so, my friend. Upon closer inspection, we realized that underneath the water were excavations of old Valencia, founded by the Romans in 138 B.C. Pretty cool, right? Apparently they are part of a larger museum where you can see Roman baths, Roman baths, Visigoth tombs and a medieval Moorish ward for plague victims.
4) Lladró factory. I must admit, I didn’t really even know what Lladró was until I got here, and I was extremely skeptical about it. I figured it was just a brand of overpriced figurines that end up collecting dust on the shelf. As it turns out, I was right! I will give the Lladró brothers credit though, the figurines are absolutely fantastic, and the process and time that goes into making them is unbelievable. It was very interesting to be able to go behind the scenes and watch the steps that were taken to create the pieces. Every step is painstakingly managed, and each piece is incredibly different. I really wanted to buy a Cristus statue (a replica of the one that was made especially for the Madrid Temple), but they weren’t selling any, and my bank account probably would have had a heart attack anyway. I did find a nice ceramic boat that only cost $200,000.00. Who needs a place to live anyway?
Here’s a little recap of what we saw inside the factory: Upon entering the small factory (extremely surprisingly small, as a matter of a fact – I’m actually fairly sure that this was only a “display” factory to be able to see all of the steps), we were surrounded by what had to be thousands of porcelain statues, some completed, some not even assembled. The figurines go through an extremely lengthy process. First, they are made in alabaster, from which molds are made to shape the porcelain. The pieces are assembled by hand (some of the small figurines can have as much as 200 different segments!) and then painted and glazed meticulously.
They are placed in a kiln and fired for over 24 hours, and during this process they lose about 15% of their original mass because of water loss. When adding flowers to a piece, the pigment is pre-added to the clay so that the artists can simply sculpt the flowers by hand without having to go back and glaze each petal individually later in the process. Some figures have over 400 flowers, which can take the artist three of four days to complete.
5) The City of Arts and Sciences. Basically, it’s an extremely large complex filled with all sorts of modern buildings. Several years ago, the area was constructed using billions of euros in attempts to make Valencia more of a tourist spot.
The original project was pushed strongly by the socialist government, but their magnificent idea failed (surprised, anyone?) and now the buildings are hardly used, and just keep sucking up more money. It’s pretty sad actually. Valencia, falling almost dead last in the race for “good” economy in Spain, is also home to a completely unused yet brand new airport, as well as a large racing circuit that was once part of the European Grand Prix. Things aren’t looking too hot for them right now.
Oh, I also danced with an old man who was trying to teach me how he got all the ladies with his moves. It made my night.