My wife and I recently visited Spain, more specifically Valencia, for the first time, spending a total of a week in that city. The purpose was to attend a conference (see previous post) but we also played tourist. Seven days does not make you a connoisseur of a city but still creates clear impressions, however errant they may be. So, I apologize in advance for any rushed judgments.
As the name of the city suggests, the oranges and orange juice were plentiful and good. For that matter so were the coffee and beer, which I thoroughly enjoyed (but did not abuse). As for the Sangria, I am allergic to grapes and chose to avoid it but not because of its taste. In terms of meat, there was lots of jamon (ham) and its cousins. Of these porcine delicacies, I acquired a tasted for certain sausages (whose name escapes me but they are small and red) but found the bacon rather limp. We spent the whole time in the old city and ran into two phenomena, churches and smiles. Our walking guide said that there were 24 churches in only the old city only, albeit with only a few actually regularly active. They do provide interest, both architecturally and historically, but that is a matter of taste. Actually, the most interesting site to visit in the old city is the covered market. It is clean, large and filled with tempting food, especially oysters, one of my favorite foods. The oysters I sampled, twice, were among the largest I had ever eaten. In terms of atmosphere, the smile and good humor of the residents is contagious. The Spanish way of rolling through life is a nice contrast after the tension of Israel.
Less is not always worse but sometimes detracts. For example, the level of knowledge of English outside the hotel was close to absolute zero. For example, I had to ask a question at a bank and entered a branch of a major European bank. There were at least 10 bankers, assumingly with college degrees, but only one could speak French while none could speak English. I was rather surprised to see this level of monolinguism in a city of 1 million people. Likewise, the desserts and pastries in particular were far from tempting and not worth taking seconds. I find this surprising given the high-quality raw materials that we saw at the central market. A bit spoiled by my French heritage, I also found local use of spices in food to be a bit minimal and unbalanced, aside from saffron, of course. Furthermore, the lack of light in the sky until 8:00 in the morning was almost uncomfortable but the Valencians are not to blame for that. On the other hand, I was impressed by train system in Spain. We took the express train from Madrid to Valencia and sat in the quiet wagon. The trip was indeed fast and quiet. Speeds reached some 300 kph with almost complete silence in the cabin. We took advantage of it on the way back to Madrid and enjoyed our siesta.
On the bright side, we didn’t see much of the three things and were quite happy to make do without them: sugar, salt and litter. Those sweets we did eat lacked the overbearing sugar content typical of American and many Israeli desserts. Likewise, people with high blood pressure can relax in Spain, apparently, as cooks don’t overdo the salt, at least where we ate. Finally, the Valencia I saw is a clean city, almost without the plastic bags, cigarette buds and sunflower seeds that are typical of many Mediterranean cities. You can call it addition by subtraction.
All in all, we had a wonderful time, discovering an unknown world and fueling a desire to explore other regions in Spain. Writing this post, I thought of Alexander Dumas, who funded his writing by writing travel guides, including to Spain and Russia, funded by hosting governments of course. I paid my own way but enjoyed the never-ending process of unfolding the world and discovering alternative realities. Hasta la vista, Spain.