A Short Break From Everything – Valencia

The true Cinderella story of this trip was Valencia — we knew we’d love Paris, pretty certain about Malta being awesome, but Valencia was the wildcard. I’ve never been all that interested in Spain and 3 years ago was disappointed by Barcelona.* But man oh man did Valencia deliver.

The warmest of our February destinations (in both celcius and friendliness), Valencia is a completely walkable mish-mosh of old and new. My favorite feature (aside from the people!) was the massive park that cuts through the entire length of the city. The Turia Riverbed Park is a five miles of green space made over an old riverbed that cuts right through the center of Valencia. And it’s absolutely amazing.

Turia Park

What can I say? I’m a sucker for 5+ miles of gorgeous green space through urban spaces that allows avid pedestrians like me a pretty space to walk (unfettered) pretty much anywhere.

There are fountains, trees, walking paths, (separate) bike paths, patches of people doing yoga and other exercises at every hour of the day; even people just dancing, carefree, in the midst of the beauty. It’s difficult to effectively describe what a positive impact this park has on the city (and, by extension, our trip) – it effected pretty much every aspect of our trip in a wholly positive way.

There are fountains, trees, walking paths, (separate) bike paths, patches of people doing yoga and other exercises at every hour of the day; even people just dancing, carefree, in the midst of the beauty. It’s difficult to effectively describe what a positive impact this park has on the city (and, by extension, our trip) – it effected pretty much every aspect of our trip in a wholly positive way.

Parque Gulliver

Parc Gulliver is a fun little playground located in the eastern half of Turia Park. Consisting entirely of a prostrate giant made of fiberglass and concrete, it is a mecca of slides and stairs — and terrifyingly sheer cliffs 30 feet high that obnoxious little three year olds named Oberon try to ignore and run off of constantly.

Being more familiar with Ender’s Game than Gulliver’s Travels, the park seems to me to be the Giant’s Corpse, not Gulliver. In my head, that’s just the way it is going to stay.

But whatever fictional image it induces in your brain, it is a really cool park with really fun slides and is very aesthetically and physically entertaining. Just don’t take little jerks named Oberon until they learn how to not to run carelessly off the side of cliffs/ribs.

City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències)

A complex set of enormous, futuristic structures – the City of Arts and Sciences includes several striking buildings: a palace of the arts (mostly Opera), the Hemisfèric (an “IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium”), the Science Museum, the Agora (a ‘central public space’**), and finally the Oceanografic, which is actually multiple buildings, and Europe’s largest oceanarium.

  • Museu de les Ciencies Principe Felipe
    This has been on Westley’s list of places to visit since he first heard about it almost exactly three years ago. A massive science museum, Museu de les Ciencies is filled with hands-on and fascinating exhibits as well as a wide variety of special/temporary installations.
    The boys both seemed to learn a lot, and added new interests/obsessions to their wish lists: Oberon wants a Mars Rover and Westley wants an axolotl… I just wanted coffee (their machine was broken!)
  • OceanogrĂ fic
    I want to preamble this with an admission: I did not do enough research about this place before we bought tickets. This is not an excuse, but an admission. In general, we are huge aquarium fans — but the nonprofit kind that does vital conservation work and research that helps animals and ecosystems. I lazily assumed that Oceanografic was one of these non-profit/conservation-centric aquariums as it is highly lauded and exists in a “city of arts and sciences”.

I began to suspect my foolish assumptions were wrong as we sat down for the afternoon dolphin show. Most legitimate marine science research centers no longer have Cetaceans that perform tricks for the audience. So while the kids were in joyous awe of these magnificent, intelligent creatures, I started googling.

As I dreaded, google revealed that Oceanografic is a for-profit establishment.*** I found some vague complaints written by people like me who have seen Free Willy and assume the animals are all miserable, but very little about any evidence or fact-based data on the actual welfare of these specific creatures. I could not find many details specific to Oceanografic, but their animal welfare and operations are managed by Vancouver Aquarium — #9 on the 2016 “10 worst tanks” list. Since then, court rulings and public backlash have pushed the aquarium to largely dismantle their objectionable cetacean programs, but that is about the extent of the relevant information I was able to find on the animal care at Oceanografic.

Now, with all of that out of the way, from a (suspicious and cynical) visitor experience, this is actually one of the best aquariums we have ever visited. It is massive, and – with the possible exception of the Beluga whales and the dolphins (I honestly don’t know) – the tank sizes were generally large, clean, and seemingly spacious. Moreso on all counts than most of the other, largely respectable and conscientious, institutions that we’ve visited. I’m definitely not an expert in any way on the wellbeing of animals (aquatic or not) or ethical management of aquariums or zoos, but I really was impressed with the visual treatment and environments of the non-cetaceans at Oceanografic. Despite being super suspicious of the for-profit motivations.

It’s hard to accurately review or assess a place that is so (rightfully) controversial and scrutinized – especially when I do not feel qualified to make any real assessments. Did we have fun? Yes. If I had known it was a for-profit company run by a controversial (at best) aquarium, would I have taken the kids? Probably not. Did the boys love it and did it spark or further their interests in marine science? Absolutely! Did the open and honest conversation I had with Westley inspire him to research animal welfare in zoos and aquariums – making him a more ethical and thoughtful person/tourist (hopefully)? Yup.
So do I recommend the place?

Decisions are hard.

Hotel Art Party

Returning exhausted after our day at the city of arts and sciences, we found our hotel was the host of a moderately fancy art-based party. They had several canvases set up and the artist-host encouraged us to join in and for the boys to add their own art to the available canvases.

They both had a blast. Especially Westley who made some great contributions to the party’s collaborative art project.

Historic Center

Day two we went the other direction (both in time and space, sort of) and headed southwest toward the historic city center.

Exploring as we went, our far-end goal was Torres de Serranos. We paid the two euro and climbed to the top – it was pretty fun and the view was (of course) great. I did some almost gymnastics and the whole thing was a bit reminiscent of The Princess Bride.

Thankfully, I kept Oberon strapped to my chest the whole time thus avoiding any nerve-wracking toddler attempts to jump over the side.****

On the way to and from, we meandered through beautiful gothic churches and historic squares including:

Centre del Carme – Cultura Contemporania

I have very mixed feelings on this – on the one hand, the building and the exhibits were phenomenal. On the other hand, many on the staff were rude and almost mean – especially disconcerting because of how friendly the rest of the city is! But the exhibits and the art were really nice, and Westley was very interested in some of the pieces we saw.*^

Housed in an old convent, the Centre del Carme (at its best) incorporates its unique structural elements into their exhibits, taking advantage of the pillars, ceilings, arches, and other architectural details to focus the gaze to specific components within the art (sounds almost knowledgable, right!?)

Playgrounds, Markets, and Food

We stopped by some old school markets, Mercat Central and Mercado de ColĂłn; Colon was (architecturally) prettier and more impressive – but Central was huge and filled with local delights. Westley’s favorite part was the diorama.

Wandering around aimlessly after climbing the Serranos Towers led us to a really fun mini-playground and the kids enjoyed some much needed running around time. No other kids were there, so I enjoyed it too. Though mostly I sat and relaxed while they played in a contained and fun space.

A corner restaurant near the playground gave us the opportunity to try some local cervesa and a smattering of tapas (none of which the kids liked), as well as some more wonderful interactions with friendly Valencians.

We actually all got too hot sitting outside – a nice problem to have in February

Less tangible delights

Wandering (almost) aimlessly around the city gave us exposure to an awful lot of experiences that aren’t usually found on the “what to do in…” google searches. Touched upon already, the highlights include:

  • The people. Just the best.
  • The trees. Okay, yes, trees are tangible. But these were next-level magnificent
  • The yoga, dancing, exercising, active lifestyles. (Handstands everywhere!)

The only real downside of the entire city was the lack of my delicious Milka Choco Pause*^^ cookies! I was counting on hoarding another 5 or 10 packs and smuggling them home in my carry on!

*Barcelona disappointed me, but not the Hotel Arts Barcelona – the greatest of all hotels in the known world. I stayed an extra night just to experience that shower again (I showered like 4 times in the 2+ days we were there). You can bet solid money on the fact that I am going to try to recreate that in one of our 2nd floor bathrooms 😉
**Thank you college-level Ancient Greek!.. though in reality, this Agora is just an event space that is locked and empty when not in use.
***This directly impacted our end-of-visit stop by the gift shop. For-profit (and possibly horrible) oceanariums don’t get extra money from me. Except a few postcards.
****Such as when he tried to jump off the bridge in Malta chasing after his kinder egg. Hmm. Maybe they are dangerous after all.
*^ Which makes me even angrier because most of the rudeness was directed at him and Oberon – even though they were actually (and somewhat surprisingly) on very good behavior!
*^^ I love that ad – just found it while writing this post, and that little hug at the end is exactly what I feel when I eat those adorable and delicious little cookies. Weird? A little macabre? Whatever, they are delicious.

3 thoughts on “A Short Break From Everything – Valencia

  1. Valencia looks like a place I would love too! Beautiful trees and art. I also have struggled with finding the fine line that separates animal conservation and exploitation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was fantastic! Wes keeps reminding me of additional things we loved that I forgot to mention 🙂

      I do really struggle with zoos and aquariums – some of my favorite and influential memories of childhood involve them, and I feel like watching the dolphin show at the baltimore aquarium and seeing the elephants at the baltimore zoo were both crucial to my appreciation and love of animals and wildlife. But there is also so much research out there about how bad they can be (and often very little about which ones in particular are good or bad). I want to give Wes & Obi a chance to experience these things, but at the same time I don’t want to financially or socially support exploitative programs 😦

      Like

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