Coming to a new place like this you never know what you’re going to find. In this case, we absolutely loved València. Loved it, as in could almost imagine living there some day. Great architecture, great food, an incredible park, perfect weather, access to the Mediterranean, and all at a fraction of the cost of, say, Paris, where we’d just come from.
Part of why it was so perfect had to be the season. The mornings would start cool and then temperatures would climb through the 70s through the early afternoon. This must be just about the perfect time to be here; I can imagine that in July it would get a little hot. But mid-May? Perfect early summer weather, especially after all the cool rain we had in Paris and even Japan.
València is Spain’s third-biggest city after and capital of the “autonomous community” – essentially a state – of València, the latter about the size of New Jersey. From my perspective there are two important dates in València’s history. The first was in 138 BC when it was founded by Roman soldiers who’d been pensioned off. After that a lot of stuff happened and it was even the Spanish republican capital in 1936 and 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. When Franco then defeated the republicans, València was punished under his rule.
The next big date (again, this is a very personal history) was in 1957 when the Rio Turia, which
runs through ran through the city, flooded. Again. This time the city leaders decided they’d had enough and chose to move the river. Seriously. At the western end of the city, where the river once entered, they diverted it and sent it southward more directly to the Mediterranean and avoiding the city.
The cool thing about that project is that what was once the riverbed running through València is now a remarkable green space consisting of a huge variety of soccer fields, running tracks, bike trails, basketball courts, exercise stations, walking trails and on and on. Traffic moves above the parkway on bridges constructed long before the diversion project (some dating back several hundred years) making it one of the most amazing public green spaces I’ve ever seen. And on top of all that, near the end of the parkway, what used to be down river, local-boy-made-good international architectural star Santiago Calatrava designed the City of Arts and Sciences. This is a modern architectural fantasy land with museums and opera halls, walkways and water features, an IMAX theater, an oceanographic aquarium, and perhaps the most beautiful bridge I’ve ever seen. The whole thing has cost more than three times its original estimate (shades of Boston’s Big Dig), but if you weren’t paying Valèncian taxes it is stunning.
And so once again, after years of travel all over the world, we discover something we’ve never seen before: a massive public park built into an old riverbed. It got me wondering why other cities don’t think of this. Paris could move the Seine, or Minneapolis could divert the Mississippi, and *boom!* great opportunities for parkland. OK, maybe that’s not likely, but in València it worked pretty well.
That was València. A gorgeous and atmospheric old city surrounded by ancient towers that once formed parts of the city walls. A beautiful 15th century silk trading house that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beautiful 19th century Spanish architecture along with some stunning modern buildings. A nice free art museum – my favorite entrance fee – great tapas, and in case I didn’t mention it, perfect weather.
We like Spain!