If I say Spain, what do you think of?
I think of colors, I think about lunches eaten at 4pm and midnight dinners, I think tapas and rivers of beer too!
My only Iberian experience before today was limited to the polyhedral Catalan capital Barcelona and the crystalline island of Palma de Mallorca. While Barca on many occasions has seen me wandering (and getting lost) in its colorful alleys, traveling its infinite sea front, and wishing I had Mary Poppins’ suitcase every time I delved into the variety of colors, products, and smells that I found in the Boqueria market, Mallorca is a distant memory, a legacy from childhood.
Do you know about the Italian vacations of long ago? Those taken as a family with friends of your parents, that by virtue of that friendship you really called Aunt and Uncle and therefore their children became cousins to an arbitrary second degree?
There you go, Mallorca for me represents that memory and a flavor that I will never forget: sweet corn in milk and baked chicken, the thigh of course! I don’t visually remember the beaches or the places where we went: I only remember that they were the destination of thousands and that the most awaited moment of the day was lunch in a restaurant on the beach.
Always the same, every day.
A hallway full of transparent doors awaited me, where I could choose what to eat and then help myself: chicken and sweet corn in milk. Simple and tasty. Ah… Memories!
Returning to the present and remembrances decidedly more recent I ask you:
Have you ever been to Seville? Or Valencia?
I visited them both in three days and it left me fascinated and infatuated.
The first is a blaze of Baroque, Gothic, and Romanesque architecture, the second a stroll through efficiency, innovation, and the future.
Different accents and different traditions.
Unique and something to savor at every angle, alley, and turn: whether it’s around the Cathedral of Seville or the Agora of the City of Arts and Sciences doesn’t matter, it’s their very diversity that renders them unique and magnificent.
In Seville you don’t need maps or itineraries: navigating it is super simple, all you need is to provide yourselves with comfortable shoes and the character of travelers. You will find yourselves immersed in a world made of majolica and ceramics of every color, shape, and time period. Multicolored fans in every price range will make you take a look at the shop windows. In a few more steps you will be able to emerge from a small alley of the old city to suddenly find yourself right in the middle of a crowded downtown shopping street.
Our hotel/hostel was right in downtown, the Van Gogh Hostel: nothing special, clean and cheap enough, a double room was 48 €. But the location was truly spectacular, inside the historic center, FABULOUS!
Tapas and Beer are the key words in this marvelous city of Andalusia. Exploring the various alleyways we emerged in one of the streets that ends at the square with the Catheral and Giralda, Calle Colon. Here the tapas bars multiplied and followed one another among lights, music (little of it Spanish) and so many infinite TAPAS!! Here a tourist can’t go unobserved due to the almost exclusive presence of locals of all ages, which in my experience means two things: excellent food and reasonable prices
Indeed that was the case: we found our corner (of Paradise) at the bar and in line with natural Spanish hospitality we were immediately served several tapas, some meat-based, others vegetable-based. Small pieces of chicken cooked in a sweet curry cream sauce, a crispy fried pork roll filled with cooked ham and cheese, and a spinach flan were the dishes that, for my personal taste, without a doubt deserved to be mentioned. Incredible quality, light and super fresh beer, and friendly service made our first “Tapas night” absolutely AWESOME
The next day we ventured into the labyrinth of streets that makes up the historic center of Seville: between ceramic and antique shops, historic monuments and places where you could eat at any time, the city offers every type of amusement and pleases just about anyone.
How beautiful Seville is!!!
On the third day the alarm clock went off at 8:00: just a few things to put in your bag (if you fly Ryanair) and off in search of a bar for breakfast before setting out towards the airport with Valencia as the destination. That morning I couldn’t resist a special breakfast and … Starbucks A white chocolate mocha and a cinnamon muffin made my day!!
At that hour the city was populated only with travelers and bar staff, and that business: an ode to slowness, of course
Leaving the Valencia airport we took the subway, which in FORTY-FIVE MINUTES brought us close to the historic center of the city that has hosted the last two editions of America’s Cup (2007-2010).
The third-largest Spanish city after Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia is one of the most important of the Mediterranean. Almost snubbed until a few years ago, after America’s Cup Valencia became famous throughout the world, renovating itself and transforming abandoned neighborhoods into avant-guard neighborhoods. The Cathedral was our first target after a quick stop at our hostel (Purple Nest). Our visit began at the Miguelete, the tower with an octagonal base that overlooks the Cathedral and which, after 207 steps (puff, pant), offers an incredible panoramic view over the entire historic center. With the descent (certainly easier) completed, we entered the impressive Cathedral which they say holds the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper.
For the visit (4.50 €), we armed ourselves with a talking guide, a sort of telephone, easy to use and well programmed. It’s worth getting.
From the hostel toward the historic center we went down Calle de la Paz: it was 4 in the afternoon and we were in search of a place recommended by the girl at the front desk of the hostel. We were famished and couldn’t wait to enjoy a good fresh beer and sample new tapas. From afar (due to my hunger and the heat I thought perhaps it was a mirage), I saw a sign that was unfortunately pink J depicting a verrrrry familiar silhouette and, as I approached, I read “Cupcake Valencia” … … …
WHAT? REALLY? I began to utter incomprehensible sentences, and I literally threw myself from the other side of the sidewalk, sticking my nose against the glass of the display window that obviously housed THEM: the one, the only, fantastic CUPCAKES!!! But seriously, do you realize??? A dream, one of many, come true.
Behind the glass, the sales clerk was serving a little group of girls that had seen too many episodes of Sex and the City and, accompanied by irrepressible happiness, I managed to read the names of the various flavors displayed: Chocolate Cherry, Carrot, Vanilla Violet, and then Her, the most American of all along with the Blue and Black sisters, Her: Red Velvet!
I was about to pass out from hunger.
My state of numbness was suddenly shaken by two hands that grabbed me and dragged me away saying: “It’s okay, it’s okay, those later!!!” It was my boyfriend who one minute was enjoying a carefree stroll with me and the next saw me appear possessed by the Cupcake demon??? If this episode had repercussions for our relationship, I couldn’t blame him
With the crisis past, we finally arrived at the tapas bar we had talked about, and I couldn’t help but notice that the first thing we saw was a potato tortilla (omelet) that was as tall as a cake. It reminded me of the grandmother from those visits to Barcelona.
We ordered, we stuffed ourselves to the brim, and then I let myself get talked into taking a walk through downtown before dessert, the sweet moment of Cupcake Valencia.
All of the photos that you see were taken while, so I am told, people looked at me like I was crazy. The stupid smile that I had stamped on my face surely didn’t help me prove them wrong…
“So, what do you want?” “What do I want?? I want them all!!” A withering glance of disapproval restored the functioning of the left side of my brain, which had been overtaken for several minutes by the right.
Choosing, I can assure you, was super hard. In the end, the result was this:
What can I say, people, if you are American and homesick, if you are passionate about cupcakes or simply in the mood for a simple pleasure, you can’t not stop here: Valencia Cupcake, Calle de la Paz, 36.
The next day, the last of our vacation, we woke up early and left our bags at the front desk of the hostel. Destination: The City of Arts and Sciences. Needless to say, on the streets at 8:30 Sunday morning there was only us and a few joggers.
The buildings that make up this example of super modern architecture and technology leave you speechless. With white and blue as the predominant colors, imposing construction, and large sweeping windows the result is enormous yet harmonious.
The port that hosted the last two editions of America’s Cup was our second stop in the late morning. Seriously!
As I already said, our last day was unfortunately Sunday: the Central Market of Valencia was closed. They say that those who have been to the Boqueria in Barcelona (and I have been there many times) and think that a finer market doesn’t exist, have to think again. Obviously for me this is reason enough to return to Valencia very soon
The Central Market is located opposite the magnificent building which housed la Lonja de la Seda (Silk Market) and today is home to the Cultural Academy of Valencia. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, it is an essential stop for anyone visiting the city.
Tired, exhausted, but happy we headed back toward downtown to pay homage to THE DISH of the Valencian gastronomic tradition: Paella.
Close to the tapas bar from the day before, we found a very welcoming, well furnished little restaurant. We followed our noses, as they say
We ordered a glass of house wine (full-bodied and velvety) and a glass of beer and then, of course, STRICTLY Valencian paella selected among those listed on the menu. They presented us a paella pan filled to the edge that they “recommend” for 2. I can guarantee you that it would be a very respectable dish for 4. Us? Well, we unceremoniously wiped it clean!!! Exquisite, sharply flavored, with chicken, Spanish (of course ) white beans, saffron and some tomatoes for color. Delicious! The cleanliness of the pan says it all:
Unfortunately our Spanish adventure was now coming to an end. After picking up our bags from the hostel, we headed toward the metro, which carried us back to the airport. The weather changed unexpectedly: after three days of short sleeves and flip-flops, our departure happened in a storm.
Time to head home.