After leaving Cambodia in 2007, we hit the shores of Spain… Valencia to be exact & home of the 32nd America’s Cup. Kevin was working there for Team New Zealand & we returned together for the final months leading up to the Cup.
When we initially moved, I had visions of sipping Cava in the old city square amidst little old ladies in black & the youthful nouveau-riche click-clacking about with their statement Prada handbags; indulging in Sangria by the beach whilst lounging under a stripy umbrella; enriching my taste buds with tantalising tapas & jetting off to Madrid & Paris for romantic jaunts…
Instead I was puffy, exhausted & highly emotional with pregnancy; cold (Spain did not look or sound cold in my early research) & then hot (a lot of fat ankle action) …. & just when I thought I’d left the dirt & grit of Phnom Penh behind me, I simply found it replaced – just in a lighter shade (I don’t look as hot or or as dirty as I felt at 6 months pregnant below…..)
And the language threw me. I completely isolated myself by learning minimal Spanish – despite teaching English there & meeting the most wonderful people who could have provided ample opportunity.
Valencia, it quickly became apparent, was a whole new challenge unto itself.
Different to how Cambodia challenged me – without holding my heart though, I couldn’t take on its differences with any passion.
That was 2007 though….
We returned in 2008, when Kevin took up a job with BMW Oracle for the 33rd America’s Cup & I found Valencia to be a city of great beauty, filled with generous people & a creative cultural mix of the new & the old.
This time, when we relocated with a four-month-old Ethan, I mastered the place with greater competency (not that my language skills improved significantly mind you).
We finally began to spend evenings in the Old Town at sidewalk cafes (Lambrusqueria a memorable favourite), soaking up centuries of history. The Central Market was an indulgent favourite, as was embarking on walking missions around the alleyways surrounding Plaza Ayuntamiento.
The friends we made & the memories created, made Valencia a good place to call home for almost two years in total.
Slices of Life….
Something of Valencia, any visitor or resident will not, cannot forget if there in March, is Fallas. This ground shaking (literally) celebration promises to rattle your bones right down to the depths of your soul.
The whole city takes on this festival where neighbourhoods sponsor a creation of their own falla – an often grotesque Papier-Mache effigy satirising local politicians, celebrities, current affairs & so on. These magnificent (grotesque?) creations are on public display for a number of days leading up to the final event of the festival which involves the lighting of each falla at midnight. At that point, the city is engulfed in flame & smoke – months of work & creation disappearing within seconds.
On a daily basis leading up to this final incineration though, the city echoes with fire crackers being lit every direction, almost every minute of the day. A rare moment of quiet is guaranteed to be exactly that – a moment.
The icing on the cake though is mascleta – the daily lighting of fireworks in Plaza Ayuntamiento –an event so physically powerful, pregnant woman are not allowed in the city centre during its five-minute duration. As the fireworks are lit, the whole city shakes with the vibration marking 2pm. It is said that you cannot sit close to mascleta (if one dares be present in the first place) without opening your mouth during the event, to prevent damage from the sheer force of the surrounding explosions.
But if noise, smoke & the resulting heart damage are not your cup of tea (as they were not mine in truth) – the horchata & chorros for sale on most street corners are sure to provide compensation. The creamy, rich hazelnut beverage is perfectly refreshing on a hot summers day & of course, deep-fried dough-nutty goodness of a churro rolled in sugar…. Need I say more?
Valencia, it’s all about balance – a little physical trauma from mascleta balanced out with the soothing comfort of decadent dessert!
The Spanish know how to celebrate life & living it & it’s worth jumping on board their ride any time you get a chance… although for me, I’ll be ok if the Cup does not return!