Travel

Polya Pencheva: My take on the sites, the street art and the summer heat of Valencia

This was my first visit of Spain and for this reason I chose to go to Valencia on the sea. For those of us living in northern climes, Spain is everyone’s dream destination. With sunny beaches, sangria and heat, it has something to offer to every wanderlust soul who is inquisitive and wants to experience a new culture.

Yet, my experience was rather different. I didn’t make it to the beach and I didn’t have any sangria. Well, I did make it to the beach but after a summer storm, so it is no surprise I didn’t take a dip in the water. (The walk on the beach was totally worth it!)

To be honest, I can’t wait to go back. Next time, however, I will try to go at a time of year (August) when the heat doesn’t try its best to suffocate me. As an expat student in Groningen, I guess I have adapted to the Dutch weather. Of course, this post isn’t about my beloved Netherlands, but about my adventures in Valencia, which I won’t forget any time soon.

From my experience, I felt very lucky that I was with a Spanish-speaking person. As a person who comes from Eastern Europe and has spent the last seven years in the Netherlands, my Spanish level is practically non-existent. Another thing that startled me was how spacious it felt. I knew Spain is a large country, but being there made me feel so small and everything seemed so big.

Street art

All photos by Polya Pencheva

Frankly, I had little to no expectations before visiting Valencia. I only knew that Spain is magnificently beautiful. But there were so many nice surprises.

Unfortunately, the torrid weather wasn’t one of them but I honestly had forgotten how it feels to want to hide from the sun. I do have mixed feelings about this experience.

Another element I wasn’t expecting was the sophistication of the street art. As a person who is interested in art – all sorts of art – I was more than positively surprised of all the murals I saw outside.

I would highly recommend Valencia to anyone who is particularly big fan of street art. I took so many pictures and I stopped at every corner because I wanted to enjoy every single bit of street art. Of course, Valencia stands no chance when compared to the street art in Madrid and Barcelona, but it’s more than worth checking out.

And of course there is so much more to discover in this town, and I did visit some amazing places.

Arts and Science Museum

On my second day, I visited the City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia’s most famous landmark, with multiple attractions.

One of my favourites was the Arts and Science Museum. The museum is probably the most famous destination in Valencia for tourists, and it is definitely worth spending the day there. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I definitely wasn’t disappointed. One of the most memorable things was L’Hemisfèric , a 3D cinema designed by Santiago Calatrava with a 100-metre IMAX concave screen.

Yes, it is overwhelming. But it is a must-do.

The screenings are usually educational documentaries suitable for different spectators. What I loved the museum was the fact that most of the exhibitions were interactive.

I could touch and play with different displays, unleashing my inner child.

My favourite was the color-blind test which I did and now I am positive I have no issues seeing colors. There were so many scales for measurements of various things. There’s not enough space here to write about every single thing I saw and I touched there but it is a place I highly recommend to anyone who is curious about the world.

Nearby is L’Umbracle, a huge, beautiful open-access garden that’s part of the City of Arts and Sciences complex. I didn’t even know it existed until I strolled in between the plants, which are all native to the region. It’s also a sculpture garden with works by contemporary artists including Yoko Ono!

No, really.

Royal Gardens

Landmark hunting

During my third day in Valencia I went landmarks hunting and discovered so many amazing things.

• To begin with, after a solid 30-minute search, I managed to find La Estrecha. It turned out to be the narrowest building in Europe and the easiest building to go right past and miss completely.

• Another discovery I particularly enjoyed was visiting the Serrans Gate. It is one of the 12 gates that formed part of the ancient city wall. Climbing them in the heat was definitely a challenge but it allowed me to see Valencia from another perspective.

• Other interesting places to visit include the National Museum of Ceramics and the Royal Gardens. The ceramics museum is interesting because you can find original works from Picasso. (Who knew he worked in clay?)

Additionally, literature enthusiasts would be amazed by the statues of Don Quixote and his friend Pancho Panza. Last but not least, something that isn’t necessarily considered a landmark but I particularly enjoyed is the House of Cats. Although the “house” is only a few feet tall, it showcases the traditional Valencian architectural style.

And of course, what post about my trip without recommending at least one great place to eat.

This time it was Ubik Café. As somebody who is more than fascinated by literature – and books in general – I enjoyed this place so much. I could have my lunch and sip wine while being surrounded by the books of some of my favourte authors. It felt like heaven on earth. And the best thing about this café was the fact that they had vegan/vegetarian dishes.

As a person who rarely eats meat, I find it very wholesome that I could have a proper warm meal excluding the meat.

Pro Tip:

One last thing to keep in mind when visiting Spain is the afternoon hours. Until my visit, I didn’t know that almost everything closes between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Keep this in mind when you’re visiting so you don’t end up starving in the middle of a city where everything is closed.

I could write so much more about all about my impressions of Valencia. But overall I was more than happy with my experience there. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys sun and warmth. Just don’t make the same mistakes like I did and go mid-August.

Other than that the experience was 10/10.

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Read more about Valencia here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more by Polya here.

Polya Pencheva
+ posts

Polya Plamenova Pencheva is a young Bulgarian journalist based in Groningen, Netherlands. Polya holds a Master's degree in journalism from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and loves writing and telling the untold stories of interesting people. You can find her dining at cute café, shopping at markets, scouting second-hand shops or just chillin' at home with something great to read.

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