Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain where we stayed for 2 weeks, the longest stop during our 2-month Europe trip last year. I wanted to have a sort of base to slow down and relax, at least for a little while. We honestly didn’t do anything spectacular and the city doesn’t have world-famous attractions, such as in the case of Barcelona. But that was the exact reason why I picked Valencia, for its smaller size and lesser-known destinations, to be the place for us to recharge and hang out.
Our Airbnb apartment was homey and spacious which was nice after being cramped in a tiny flat in Lisbon for 9 days. We settled into a very nice daily routine and the place started to feel like home to us. We can’t really put a finger on why exactly except that we just feel very comfortable and could see us actually living in this laid-back city.
There were however a number of tangible things that helped our stay being as lovely as it was.
One thing great about Valencia is that it was a very walkable city, and it has a huge park that pretty much runs through the city. Park Turia is a 9km long old riverbed converted to an urban park with tons of green space, playgrounds and walk/bike paths. It is the local’s favorite hangout spot. We took daily walks to Park Turia and played soccer or frisbee as part of the children’s daily gym class. On weekends we also visited local fairs held in the park and enjoyed some really yummy churros.
City of Arts and Sciences. Probably the most well-known place in Valencia. The area is located on the eastern end of Park Turia. It has been featured as the filming location for the Disney movie ‘Tomorrowland’ for its futuristic structures. The ‘city’ includes a science museum, a planetarium with IMAX theater, an oceanographic park, an opera house and performing arts center, and a multipurpose hall for hosting concerts, performances, exhibitions, conventions, etc.
And as a bonus, there were these water balls that were basically giant inflatable bubbles where you can get inside and have a good time floating around on the water. The kids had such a blast that we went back again on a different day.
But the main reason why we think Valencia is so awesome is because of Gulliver Park, the most amazing playground we have ever been to, located towards the eastern end of Park Turia. This playground was designed based on the story of Gulliver’s Travel, where Gulliver was washed ashore after a shipwreck and found himself being tied down by a race of tiny people. In this case, we were the tiny people and the body of Gulliver was transformed into this huge play structure full of slides, climbing areas, and hiding places for some epic hide and seek tag games. It was such a fun place for both children and adults alike, and needless to say, we (and by we, I meant Rich and the kiddos) spent a LOT of time running around in there.
Valencia is also a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. We tried to have a beach day, unfortunately the water was still too cold so everyone was done after about 10 minutes of swimming and playing in the waves. We did get to try the Paella for the first time at a beachside restaurant. Paella was a traditional Spanish dish originated from Valencia, and it’s basically fried rice with seafood. It was way too salty for our liking to be honest. Not sure if that’s how the dish was supposed to taste like or if it was just that restaurant.
When the kids were not doing school work or running around in the park, we spent our time reading, playing games, and just being with each other. We also enjoyed walking around town, seeing the cathedral, watching the street performers, exploring the old city gate, and visiting the Roman ruins underneath the city. I also loved seeing how they integrated the new architectures with the old so harmoniously.
One culture shock that we experienced was the Spanish siesta time, where schools/offices/restaurants/shops would close down for a few hours after lunch (anywhere from 2.5 to 3 hours). At first we couldn’t believe that people still do that in today’s society, I mean, shut down your business in the middle of the day, really? But yes, really, it is still very much a thing in Valencia and it took us several times to try to go grocery shopping after lunch only to find the supermarket closed to remember it. 😅
It was also in Valencia that we briefly experienced the nightmare that no parents ever want to encounter: we lost Annabelle for about 15 minutes. We were on a free city walking tour and as usual we liked to stay at the front of the pack so we can hear the guide better. Only this time when the group went inside a church and stopped to look around, Annabelle did not realize and kept on going to exit the church on the opposite side of the building. By the time I noticed that she wasn’t anywhere inside the church, I ran out and couldn’t see her anywhere. We kept running in and out of the building, as well as all around outside of the church many times and still no sight of her. Of course by this point we were totally freaking out and all the bad thoughts started to enter my mind. Some locals were trying to help but with the language barrier we couldn’t really get the point across.
Just when we were trying to find a policeman for help, an English-speaking gentleman (from Canada!) walked up to us and asked if we have lost a girl. He did ask us to describe what Annabelle was wearing first before taking us to her (good for him!). Turns out, she was at the next square over behind the church, where she stopped when she realized that she couldn’t find us. She was so brave. Even though she was definitely freaked out, she did not lose her composure and tried to wait for us to find her. Luckily another tour group just happened to walk by and this Canadian couple noticed her all alone and approached her. The wife waited with her while the husband went to find us. Thank goodness for them so the nightmare was shortlived for us. Though it was the longest 15 minutes in our lives no doubt. I could not and would not dare to even imagine what would happen otherwise. After the incident, we did not continue with the tour and headed back to the apartment instead. There was a lot of hugging and holding each other for the rest of the day until both Annabelle’s and my nerves were calmed again…
Even with that one scary moment, ask any member of our family they would tell you that Valencia was their favorite destination in Europe, and it was by far the hardest place for us to say goodbye to. Oh Valencia, you have carved a special place in all of our hearts. We promise that we will see you again someday!