Valencia; Finally, a hotel with a kitchen; Quail eggs, pre-cooked eggs and sangria; Taking an antisocial few days off to finish the websites at last; Linear parkland, lots of rain and not making it to the beach even once

Valencia was a profoundly unambitious travel destination. We arrived very early one morning after spending all night on a bus. Out of prudence, we waited a couple of hours to walk to the hostel, since the areas around bus stations aren’t usually good places to wander in the dead of night, but as it turned out it would probably have been fine - Valencia is a fairly friendly and peaceful place and it was quite straightforward getting to the hostel - but still, it wasn’t a bad idea to wait all the same. We found the place easily, after a twenty-minute walk. It was on a main street in the north end of the city. It was too early to check in, of course, but we dumped our bags and used the kitchen to make a very badly-needed cup of tea. Unfortunately we’d neglected to call the hostel the night before and tell them we wouldn’t be arriving until the morning, and so they said they were going to charge us for the unused night. We felt pretty stupid, because there were a couple of times we could have called, from Figueres or from Barcelona, after we’d known we weren’t going to make it back in time to catch the right bus. We had no one to blame except ourselves and I was ready to write it off as a learning experience, but the manager of the place - an Australian woman who smiled constantly with an insane forced perkiness - relented and decided not to charge us after all.

We went out to the supermarket first thing - we were so happy to finally find one in Spain, we didn’t care if it was small - and stocked up on food for a few days. We’d been craving bacon and eggs for breakfast, so now that we had the chance we went for it. In the supermarket’s egg section were tiny spotted things I thought must be quail eggs. I’d never had them, but more importantly they looked neat and I wanted to take pictures of them. They were only €1 so we bought them too. In fact the food was so cheap compared to Ireland that we were practically dancing in the aisles, and almost wept for joy when we saw the final total. What would have cost us €30 in Ireland cost us €12 in Valencia, it was beautiful. But when we got back to the hostel we had a surprise. Cracking the eggs - the chicken eggs - into the frying pan did nothing - the eggs wouldn’t break. Turns out the word “cocido” means “cooked”, who knew? The eggs were pre-boiled. We really wanted some fried eggs with our bacon though, so we fried the quail eggs. Why not, really? They tasted more or less exactly like chicken eggs - maybe a bit richer. They were awfully hard to crack, though, and we made a huge mess. But breakfast was good and worth waiting for.

After breakfast we left to explore the town a bit. Valencia is very charming - Barcelona without the hustle and aggression. It didn’t hurt that it was perfect weather, hot and blue. The downtown area is small enough to walk across in an hour. We found a big food market and I used my bad Spanish for the first time to successfully negotiate the purchase of a lemon and a few other things. The market was huge; a couple of hundred stalls under one big roof, all reeking of the fish stalls in one corner.

There’s a lot of good graffiti art in Valencia. One artist in particular I noticed did very detailed feathers in various sizes, and there were also the inevitable antifascist tags. Sheryl found a big mural of a cute little Japanese girl that she appropriated for her website’s front page.

Valencia is also home to a huge, ten-kilometre-long linear park, a green strip which curves around the east and south sides of downtown. It’s sunken into the ground by ten meters, flanked by stained stone walls and spanned by bridges. In fact it’s the remains of Valencia’s river, which dried up decades ago. The city turned the dry riverbed into a string of garden parks, football pitches, walking paths and exercise equipment. We spent quite a bit of time there, over the days we were in Valencia, walking or napping or picnicking. Sheryl had the utterly brilliant idea of walking from one end of the park to the other, pointing the camera forward and taking a picture every ten steps. She made a test and it worked quite well, giving a sort of jerky flip-book or zoetrope effect as we scanned through them, with the path unrolling toward the viewer. The proof-of-concept was enough, though, and neither of us wanted to spend the time to walk the park or to string the photos together into a video.

We’d originally planned to spend a couple of days in Valencia, camping, but the hostel was nice and the weather was bad, so we wound up staying for five days in the hostel. Sheryl used the time to rest and chill out, and I used it to finally, finally finish the websites. It took almost all week non-stop, plus a few all-nighters, but they’re done bar the fine-tuning. The hostel had computers running Internet Explorer 6 and 7, plus Firefox, so I was able to get them working and looking nearly the same in all those plus Safari and Firefox on the Mac. I’m quite pleased with the design for Sheryl’s site, too - it came together nicely. I did a mockup and presented it to her, and she made a few minor changes to the layout and added her little graffiti girl, which finished off the design well. I’m overjoyed to have the things finally done - it’s a huge weight off my mind. Now I can finally start relaxing and enjoying the trip, I hope - except for stocking the bloody site with content. I’m absurdly behind in my journal writing, since every spare moment was going to developing the sites. Hopefully the bug-reports don’t start pouring in now.

The weather never got better than it was the first day. We’d hoped to make it to the beach - in fact that was the reason for being in Valencia in the first place - but it rained solidly for five days and so we never made it there. I put the time to good use, and we stayed tipsy on cheap supermarket sangria a lot and met some nice people, a couple of whom we’ve stayed in contact with; Seb the crazily-bearded Belgian comes to mind. My only real regret from Valencia is that I only had paella once. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, and it’s really good there. What with Sheryl’s rice allergy though, I was only able to have it the one time for lunch.

Sheryl had one unfortunate episode in Valencia. There was a very strange, very smelly man who stayed in the hostel for one night. His body odour was… stunning, in the literal sense. Anywhere he walked you could smell him for an hour afterward. And apparently he had some sort of foot-fetish, or something, because Sheryl had to endure a painful conversation in which he first asked to see, and then to massage her feet. I consider that I had the worst of it though, since I had to share a dorm with him. At least he had taken a shower by that point, so he was merely smelly and not eye-wateringly horrifying.

By far the most difficult conversation I had while in Valencia was when I tried to get my watch repaired. It was a steel pocket watch that was a gift from my brother before we left, and the winding stem had snapped. I found a watchmaker and tried to demonstrate the problem and find out how much it would be and how long it would take. It took four days to repair, a bit longer than I’d hoped, but it gave us an excuse to slow down and have a rest. Unfortunately the work turned out to be badly done - the winding stem is now too long and wobbly, and every time it wobbles the watch stops. I can keep the knob wired down, but it’s not a reliable solution, and I’d rather have had it properly and permanently fixed, of course. Some would say it was stupid to spend €15 to repair a $15 watch, but it has sentimental value to me. I’m still carrying it in my pack, hoping for another opportunity to have it repaired, but I’ve replaced it with a cheap digital watch for the purpose of actually knowing what time it is.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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