I sat outside a cafe with Kristina on my second week in Valencia. We had been dating for the same amount of time. I remember looking around, feeling at ease. We weren’t anywhere worth bragging about, in fact, I couldn’t tell you what street we were on. But I will never forget the feeling.
I was in la terreta.
I turned to her and said, “This is my city. It feels like a city with a village heart.”
Having Lived in Lagos, Nigeria, and the great New York City, I felt a connection that I could not describe. I was in a place with a personality that just seemed to fit my vision of the ideal life.
“I told you that you would like it here,” Kristina responded before a sip of her cortada.
Though it is the third largest city in Spain, Valencia feels small and extraordinarily humble. The people are kind. They exchange two kisses and hugs in the streets, and there is never chatter too far away. There is this sense that a stranger only need say hello to become a friend in this wonderous city.
In Valencia, there is El Rio. Where the Turia River once ran is a park, across which span many beautiful bridges. One of my favorite places for a stroll.
Then there is where I lived. Ruzafa is a modern as any other trendy European city with its bars and night clubs but not too far of is Barrio del Carmen with its buildings from the 13th century. Come to Valencia to mix with history in the narrow meandering streets that just may lead you up to the Valencia Cathedral. And then go shopping at the Mercado Central not too far away from chic restaurants and bars for your taste of Spanish tapas. The old and the new seem to complement each other perfectly in Valencia.
And oh my, are there things to see here! If the futuristic landscape of Las Sciencias does not take your breath away, the bullring (Plaza de Toros de Valencia) might, or The Palau de la Música, or L’Oceanogràfic (the largest aquarium in Europe), or the Llotja de la Seda, or the Torres de Cuart, or the Valencia Bioparc. It goes on.
Valencia is one of those places where I do not recommend a tour bus, flip a coin and exercise your legs. You won't regret it.
Taking a walk to the city center from just about anywhere in Valencia, you are covered by the shade of palm trees, bathed by fine weather, and never forget that you are never too far away from the sea.
By my first month in Valencia, I found that everything I have just mentioned is packed tightly together. Amazement after amazement compounded on top of each other into this magical place on earth.
And to think it all happened on a whim. I met Kristina at the Arenal Sound music festival at Burriana, decided to drop out of school and start life anew. I ended up stumbling on the place I would love to one day raise children.
It is peaceful in Valencia. But still eventful.
Every night there is somewhere to go, and something to do and none of it need cost you any money. At language exchanges, I would be invited to the tiny villages that circle the city by generous folk eager to share their traditions.
The week of Las Falles is to this day the most impressive combination of celebration, politics, and culture I have ever experienced. Entire streets are decorated and shutdown to make room for visitors from all over the world and statues made to mock the issues of Spanish society. You and party in the streets, purchase a variety of foods from carts, join parades and watch fireworks bursting day and night. It is a nonstop event, unique to precious Valencia.
But what if you get hungry? You wish you could never stop eating when you are Valencia, the gastronomy here leaves you craving more. Though those from Castellon may pridefully contest, but Valencia is the home of the Paella, my favorite dish in the world. And I am beginning to share in the passion of the people here in the quality of a good paella. Just the right amount of salt, plenty of rice for me, rabbit, chicken, I'd even have birds in it. But never EVER add seafood to it.
You can sample just about all the types of food unique to Spain in Valencia like the tortilla, calamares con pan, even Basque pinchos. You don’t lack for much in Valencia. There is even a beautiful football stadium, La Mestalla, across which I used to take Spanish lessons. What more could a football fan like me want from a city? Absolutely nothing. It seems like Valencia was made for me.
“Valencia is growing, and I don’t just mean the number of people but the opportunities there,” Kristina said to me on the last day of the music festival. “You should give it a try.”
And I am so glad I did. She was right in every way.
I had to move from the city because I do not cope well with distractions. I needed to give myself a year of productivity to make this brand happen. I packed my things to a village where there isn't much to do but eat and stare at nature. I have done a lot of growing since but Valencia has never left my heart. Out of all the places I have been to, it remains the only where I can spend the rest of my life.
So when I told Kristina, “I belong here. I want to stay in Spain, and I want to give my achievements to Spain.” She must have known that I was thinking of Valencia.