Traveling from Barcelona to Valencia by train, we talked about some basic historical facts. The third largest city in Spain; warm mild climate; the site of many battles with the Moors; El Cid, the famous warrior of the 11th century; the Cathedral, dating back to the 13th century; one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1500. On both sides of the tracks, we saw endless orange and tangerine groves or fields, the trees laden with bright orange fruit, the heavy branches touching the soil. At the end of March, the temperature was +25C. The sky looked impossibly blue, and the greenery was so thickly green, it made one wonder if it all was real.
Nothing prepared us for the beauty of the city itself. We emerged from the train station, stopped and stared around. In front of us, there were the loveliest gleaming white and golden buildings, in which both the traditional European and the Oriental motives could be easily seen. The railway station itself looked like a monument to architecture. Next to the station, we saw the Coliseum, which we realized had to be a Coliseum, a stadium or an arena as it turned out, with announcements and schedules of the upcoming corridas, the celebrated bullfights. Yes, there were long lines of spectators patiently awaiting their turn to buy the tickets.
We must have looked a bit odd, standing there, with our luggage almost forgotten, clearly lost tourists. Passers-by stopped to ask if we needed help. Though our Spanish vocabulary is very limited and can be summed up by “Vamos (Let’s go), muchacho (man) and mujeres (women)”, and I can count to ten, we understood that help was offered. Well, at least we can both say Thank you and Please in several languages, so we said Gracias. We were OK, just overwhelmed. It was so beautiful and so warm, my husband suggested we walk. “Honey, it’s only about 400 meters to our hotel”, he said showing me his Google-map. Any married woman knows that she should never agree to that. But it was warm and beautiful, so we walked. And walked. Along the winding streets going up and down, across little bridges overhanging what I believe used to be some riverbed, through the parks with ubiquitous orange trees, up and down stairs. It was closer to 4 km. I saw the hotel from way away, high above the city. By that time, hot, sweaty and angry, I just waved my husband’s attempts at talk, at taking my luggage, at carrying me… We got there, had a shower and at once felt much better.
The city beckoned. Naturally there was the ever-present problem of lunch/dinner for the tired man. We went downstairs, and I asked at reception, in English, if the restaurant was open. The young woman smiled brightly: “Yes! It is open for dinner at 8PM, but you better come after 8:30”. I inquired if there were any cafes or restaurants nearby. “Yes, they are open for dinner after 8PM!” It was 3PM, which made the situation rather dire. But we went out, looked around, lo and behold! Right across the road, there was “Blue Canada Bar”. I don’t know why blue, by the way, but it was open. We rushed in, asked if there was any food to be had. “Just hamburgers and pizza”, the young clerk replied apologetically. Saved! We walked all over the city afterwards, and everything else was closed for business until, yes, 8PM. Siesta! We knew from experience that in the Mediterranean, time is a very flexible notion, 8PM could be 9 or even 10, so we were very lucky to have found something.
Next morning, I went exploring. Pont de Flores, a bridge over a street, had flowers in wooden tubs on both sides. I practically had to close my eyes against the bright white, mauve and green, and it seemed to me that the petals were at least 1 cm thick. Walking to the center, stopping quite often to admire the architecture and the scenery, I began asking if there was a post-office somewhere. Then I saw a postman whose jacket said, “Correos”. So that’s the word for post-office! I came up to him, pointed to the word and said, “Correos?” He began to explain, then realized that I spoke no Spanish, while he spoke no English. Nor, as it turned out, did several helpful pedestrians who stopped by wishing to help. “Vamos”, he said, motioning with his hand, and I gratefully followed him. The post-office, as well as various offices, is located in a gorgeous palace right in the old city center. Again, nobody spoke English, but I managed to explain what I needed. The clerk was extremely helpful. I sent my package and bought several cards with panoramic views of the city. Bearing in mind that everything closes down for the siesta, I bought some delicious sandwiches, tarts and water in a shop and walked back, enjoying the sights.
When I saw the hotel at a distance, I stopped to catch my breath, and heard someone exclaim behind me, “What are the chances of our finding someone who speaks English AND knows where our hotel is?!” I turned around and almost fell down. There was a married couple with four kids in tow, aged probably between 4 and 12. The husband, laden with backpacks, was pulling a large suitcase with one hand, while trying to consult the familiar Google map which he held in the other hand. The wife, obviously tired and angry, held two kids by their hands, and they held the two others. The man met my eyes, his eyes flashed, and I later thought, “This is how a condemned man looks when he gets a reprieve”. Yes, I assured them, I do speak English; what’s more, I know where the hotel is. Would the two kids agree to grab my hands?
“Do you happen to know if there’s a place to eat which is open now?” the husband murmured to me when we reached the hotel. I pointed to the bar opposite, whispered back, “Hamburgers and pizza”. Magic words, these, when one is traveling with children.