Stopping to smell the jasmine
I arrived in Valencia with much excitement! Not only is Spain one of my favourite countries, but it’s also when my mom is coming to visit! I’ve been traveling for nearly six months and mom will be my first visitor.
A thousand years ago, a formidable set of walls protected Valencia from invading armies, and anyone hoping to gain access to the city had to pass through one of its twelve monumental gates.
Today, the medieval walls have disappeared, but two gates remain, and my commute to the workspace takes me right through one – Torres de Serrano. This is considered the main entrance to Valencia and is the gate through which the royal processions of visiting kings would enter, and for a long time, the imposing Gothic towers were used as a prison for wicked noblemen.
How lucky am I to stroll through this gate every single day?! I can’t walk through the gate without stopping to imagine what those stones have seen.
My apartment is in a quiet neighborhood along the “river”. They say “river” but there’s no water now.
In 1957, the river flooded, destroying over 5,800 homes and killing at least 81 people. The government decided to divert the river and developed the area into a beautiful park with walking, jogging and biking paths, sports fields and playgrounds. It’s gorgeous!
Mom arrived on my third day in Valencia and I waited anxiously at the airport for her plane to land. This was her first visit to Europe and her first time traveling alone! It was a big, brave step and I knew she could do it.
It was after midnight before she came through the gate, big smiles and ready for an adventure. I scooped her up and we were off!
We started with a walking tour the next day, taking mom over the bridge and through the city gates. (She was excited to see the palm trees along the way!) The tour showed us the highlights – cathedrals, basilicas, fountains, plazas, central market, silk exchange. Mom had many questions and we made note of all the places we wanted to come back for further exploration.
One of the things I love about Spain (and it probably exists in other countries) is their bike share program. I first saw it in Barcelona ten years ago and was happy to see it in Valencia.
For a small fee, you get a card which gives you access to borrow a bike for as long as you like. The first 30 minutes are free and then it’s 0.50 euros per hour after. Simply hop on, ride as long as you like, and drop it off at another station. So convenient!
We decided riding bikes to the beach was a great idea and headed off around 8pm with my friend Patricia. Mom hadn’t ridden a bike in over 20 years (we won’t mention the “so long, suckers” incident…) but she hopped on and took off like a pro.
Riding along the river is perfect – it’s flat, no vehicles, and a dedicated bike path. Plus, it’s beautiful! There are palm trees and flowers and fountains and bridges.
We had numerous stops along the way to smell the bright pink jasmine flowers. And there were hoots and hollers of “we’re riding bikes in Spain!!”
The path takes you beside the City of Arts and Science complex, which looks like a scene out of Star Trek. It includes the opera house, Imax and planetarium, science museum, oceanographic park, and walkway surrounded by steams and pools of water. Teenagers are riding skateboards, couples are holding hands, moms are chasing after toddlers – it seems like the place where everyone likes to hang out day or night.
We arrived at the end of the river and thought the path to the beach would be clearly marked. Nope.
We rode up one street and down another, trying to follow Google maps with no luck. After several stops and starts, asking locals and strangers, we finally made it to the beach.
The sun had long set but we didn’t care. We took off our shoes and walked across the soft sand to dip our toes in the Balearic Sea. It was shockingly warm!
We waded out to our knees, under the light of a nearly full moon and laughed at our two-hour bike ride to get there. But there we were – standing in the waters off Spain at midnight. How amazing!
We decided to taxi home, much to mom’s protests that the night was still young! I looked at Patricia and she agreed – we were going to have our hands full with this one… :))
The following night my friends had organized a surprise party for mom. It was so sweet and she had no idea! Everyone brought a delicious dish, including dessert, and we chatted late into the evening. But not too late for an adventure! We had heard there was a “fun fair” happening at the river and decided to go check it out.
Sure enough, there was a Ferris wheel and all sorts of rides, carnival games and cotton candy. It was 1:30am and there were families everywhere! It’s such a different culture here – where people siesta in the afternoon and stay out late into the night.
We stayed for awhile before deciding it was time to head home. Walking along, we passed some bikes and decided – why not? Let’s ride home! There’s something freeing about riding a bike – the wind in your hair, the world rushing past, the feeling of being alive.
We did a hop on/off bus tour and decided we wanted to go back to the open-air aquarium, or Oceanográfic. The line up was long and as we stood in the blazing sun someone may have gotten cranky (okay, it was me – we can now add “overheating” to the list of things that make me cranky, along with being hungry and lack of sleep!)
But mom was a sport and excitedly went from one display to the next. The highlight was walking through the “shark tunnel”, a glass display where fish and sharks swim over and around you. What an incredible sensation! You can see the fish from every angle, getting close enough to look in their eyes. We were mesmerized.
There were tropical fish and jelly fish and turtles and penguins and birds. We saw it all and have the pictures to prove it! Another night riding bikes home at midnight…and a big smile on mom’s face.
Crawling into bed, we reviewed the day and all the fun we had…and started making plans for tomorrow’s adventure!