It was a last minute decision to go surprise my boyfriend, who was working in Madrid in the hot August sun. His family comes from a long line of cafe/bakery business and all the workers go on Holiday in the summer, so he was pitching in. Summer in Madrid is far from ideal. The heat is unbearable and the closest beach is a few hours away, but keeping a relationship is like watering a plant. You have to maintain it and give love, so I packed up and headed to Madrid.
I booked a hotel with a pool to fabricate a little beach in Madrid, but the real reward was when we decided to take 2 days and go to Valencia. Spain is a big country and the advantage of dating a Spaniard is getting to visit new town in Spain whenever you go. This time it was Valencia!
Valencia, the home of paella, it is about a 3 and a half hour drive from Madrid. We decided to stay overnight and explore for 48 hours.
I don’t know about you, but in my experience, road trips always force people to talk. My boyfriend and I have been dating about 3 years now and we have probably learned about 80% of what we know about each other during our road trips around the world. I am sure turning off the phone has a lot to do with it. It really forces us to be present, look at each other, and talk our brains out.
After hours of driving and talking, we arrived in Valencia. We stayed near the convention center. The Valencia convention center resembled a parking lot for space ships. It was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava Valls, a Valencia native, who also designed the well known Oculus in the New York World Trade Center. The multiple creature-like buildings of the convention center are amazing but also creepy. To me, they resemble Star Wars space ships or dinosaur bones. He uses water to reflect the buildings, thus giving the appearance that they’re twice as large.
The next morning, we headed to the city center to explore. I was awed by the architecture and paintings in Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas and La Cathedral (Iglesia de San Nicolás), thencooled down with a glass of horchata – a milk texture beverage made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, tigernuts (chufas), or melon seeds.
After that, we headed to the most anticipated lunch at the Casa Carmela. One of the few restaurants in Valencia known for serving authentic Paella, it’s been around for years. We made a reservation a few days prior. If you are ordering meat Paella, you need to order it in advance since it takes hours to make. Unlike Paella I was used to in the past, these Paella have less ingredients. They say it’s rice from Valencia that makes the Paella, thus this Paella is about the rice! Of course my favorite part is scrapping the burnt part called “Socarrat” from the bottom and washing it down with Sangria! After this very satisfying meal, we checked out the beach front – but the beach wasn’t all that, so we headed out.
Of course, I needed to squeeze in another spot – Castle of Xàtiva. The drive is about 1 hour away from Valencia, kind of toward Madrid but not really. We arrived around 2pm. It was more than scorching at this point. I blamed myself for always wanting to do so much.
I was nearly passed out from the heat wave when I spotted a wedding photo session in full affect. A bride with giant taffeta dress was posing, but barely sweating. I wondered what her trick to stay cool was, but definitely didn’t want to be in her shoes, despite her gorgeous gown.
The highlight of the trip was on the way back toward Madrid. I needed a bathroom break, so we exited the highway and landed in the fields of sunflowers. Rows and rows of sunflowers greeted me. I couldn’t help but to run around and take zillion pictures.
I am a researcher. I have ideas of where I want to go, eat, and sleep most of time. But what I have learned from traveling to over 50 countries is that you need a little room to breath. Spontaneous magic like sunflower fields can only happen when you have a little time to get off beaten path. Running through sunflower fields has been on my bucket list for awhile and thanks to nature calling and my responsive boyfriend, this magic happened.
Valencia is a city full of roman buildings, stucco architecture, water fountains, palm trees, icy cool horchata, and delicious Paella. Though the weather was scorching hot and the car dashboard melting at times, I felt content and complete. I hate using this word since it’s overused and lost some of it’s authenticity, but I felt #grateful.