Of course, tourist sights and churches doth not a city make. Despite all of my efforts to sell Valencia as a wonderful place to visit, Valencia is a place to live in. Its true richness is its distinctive and vibrant neighborhoods ("barrios"). Here I'll briefly characterize the most well known and visible neighborhoods of Valencia.
|This official district map offered by Valencia-cityguide.com is pretty good,|
though I've added in the names (all in Catalan) of a few subdistrict neighborhoods
• El Carmen:
El Carmen, in the previous entry. Named for the part of the old town that used to be orchards and gardens, El Carmen in Valencia is distinguished by its windy medieval-style narrow streets, comparatively shorter buildings and lots of local color. El Carmen here is also one of several hotspots for nighttime activity, so it's always crowded with club-hoppers Friday and Saturday nights. (Other good clubbing spots: Cánovas in L'Eixample and in the summer the beach clubs at Malvarrosa, among many other areas. I know there are good places in El Pla del Real, near the University, and I suspect there are spots in Extramurs. But these are the three areas I know from back in my days of clubbing here.)
• L'Eixample:This neighborhood, really an entire city district, has the same namesake as its sister neighborhood in Barcelona, which is Catalan for "the widening" or "urban expansion"... both of which are true of it. Just like with Barcelona, this is the "new" as in mid 19th-century extension to the old part of town (a.k.a. "Ciutat Vella"). While it doesn't have buildings designed by Gaudí, it does has the impressive broad avenues and that high modern form of urban planning, grid layout, and it has some pretty beautiful Modernist buildings, facades and balconies.
I highly recommend a stroll down the median of Gran Vía Marques del Turia, to take in the elegant buildings' skyline while laughing at the contrasting inelegant marks of globalization on the shops at ground level (i.e. Starbuck's, KFC, and such). (It's a schism much like the one I described for Madrid's Gran Vía here.)
|Edificio Chapa, one of several beautiful buildings to be found by walking|
along Gran Vía Marques del Turia
|Club hoppers might be more familiar with the other side of Edificio Chapa, at|
Plaza de Cánovas, a common meeting point for going out clubbing in the area nearby
|Not quite Gaudí, but pretty wild. This building is also on Gran Vía|
Marques del Turia right where it meets Antic Regne.
Russafa:You might also recall "Russafa" from my earlier blog entry on Fallas. In mid March, this is ground zero for awesome neighborhood falles, and especially for seeing the most impressive light shows around Calle Cuba and Sueca.
Russafa also has many cool hangout spots. One such locale is Ubik Café (Calle Literato Azorín 13, 46006 Valencia; phone: 963 741 255), which is my dream of dream businesses, a bookstore / dining spot. Indeed, there is also a "carnicería librería" (bookstore meatshop) not far away with the excellent name Slaughterhouse (Calle Denia, 22 Valencia; phone: 963 287 755), that is a popular hangout. Perhaps for these reasons and others, Russafa has had a lot of recent activity organizing neighborhood events and festivals, most of which are targeted towards kids. Right now it is gearing up for its Carnaval festival. (Last December neighborhood shops started a "Ruzafa loves kid" fair.) There are a variety of websites and blogs which follow these events in the neighborhood. I direct you to Living Russafa as one such example, and Russafa CulturaViva as another, though there are others (on food; on neighborhood politics; etc.). All of this is evidence of how Russafa has really become a happening spot and definitely worth a pass through on your visit.
|Café Ubik, one of many cool hangouts in the Russafa area.|
|I found this really nice collage of Ruzafa photos at Rincones de Valencia,|
a pretty nice blog (in Spanish) about Valencia's different hidden corners and history.
|An example of the "exotic" food you can find in Russafa. This Spanish chain, Taste of America,|
just opened a store in Valencia last fall. It seems to be a hit as much or more with locals than
American expats. I saw a Spaniard outside it once pointing at a box of Americana food
and speaking an essay about how typical and amazing it was. When I looked
at the box it was Pop-Tarts. I almost laughed out loud.
|Russafa also has a pretty large marketplace, Mercado de Ruzafa. Not so large and beautiful as the|
Mercat Central, but it easily competes with the grand markets of other cities.
|Gerry Blackwell snapped a picture of this Art Deco building facade in Russafa,|
next to the train station. Like the rest of L'Eixample, it is worth checking out
the architecture and buildings of this neighborhood.
Benimaclet:More than anything, Benimaclet is an interesting example of how much Valencia has changed and grown over the last half century. Not long ago it was just a "pueblo" (town) on the outskirts of the city. Now it is a fully integrated neighborhood. Benimaclet is in no way a tourist area. It is a neighborhood to be lived in. (This is my tip off to those future fellows and English teachers who ask me: Benimaclet, along with Russafa are the two neighborhoods I usually direct exchange students to on where to live and find a rental.) But like Russafa, Benimaclet is a vibrant, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural neighborhood. This is a popular area for Erasmus students (I've noticed the Mercadona here carries more products from other EU countries than other locations); it also has a street with many Arabic Halal meat shops. And yet at the same time it is a "de toda la vida" neighborhood, too. It is an interesting fusion, and while I couldn't say it's a "must-see" for tourists, it's a nice area to get to know if you want to get off the beaten path.
It also, as you can see from the pictured fruit shop below, has some surprising finds nestled into an otherwise humble area. One such pleasant surprise is En Bàbia Café, which I've mentioned earlier as one of a handful of place I've discovered in my adopted city that reminds me (pleasantly so) of my oh-so-missed coffee shops from back home in Austin, a chill, hip place to hang out and just chat. And like Russafa, it seems that the local business and neighbors are starting to organize a bit here, and create cool events and synergies. You can find out about them on "Yo Soy de Benimaclet," one of several Benimaclet blogs that have sprouted up recently which follow these neighborhood happenings with that kind of local, local pride that is typical of continental Europeans.
Deep in the neighborhood of Benimaclet, there is an amazingly beautiful fruit shop,
with purple tile exterior. You can find it at the following intersection:
Calle de la Murta and Calle de Mistral. Apparently it was in a scene in
Almodóvar's movie La Mala Educación (2004).
|Plaza de Benimaclet in 1955|
"Fotografía No. 22" digitalized by Víctor Serna, from an interesting blog
"Benimaclet com a poble" (Benimaclet as a town)
|Plaza de Benimaclet today|
"Fotografía No. 21" by Víctor Serna, from an interesting blog
"Benimaclet com a poble" (Benimaclet as a town)
|Rita Barberá, who's been Valencia's city mayor forever,|
will take some blows in Fallas this year for her rough
handling of the disadvantaged Cabanyal neighborhood
|Cabanyal has that characteristic fishermen's village look to it.|
Because of recent economic decline, it can be patchy so far as
some areas looking picturesque but others looking run down.
Needless to say, many of Cabanyal's residents don't want to simply pick up and leave (particularly during an economic crisis) just to satisfy the grand architect plans of the city. Instead, they propose the city invest in renovating the neighborhood and lifting it up as a kind of Barceloneta, Cabanyal being the historical fishermen's village for Valencia much as Barceloneta is for Barcelona. I confess, part of me would love to see the urban reform and extension of the avenue to the sea. As it is, the neighborhood can be a bit of a disappointment to pass through on your way to the beach. Still, I can't help but also agree that the local government's handling of the whole thing has been inconsiderate and awful. Certainly, if you have time while visiting the beach, it is worth a stroll through this neighborhood to see a few of the restored historical buildings, which give you a glimpse of what the area could look like were the city to expend its resources on building it up rather than tearing it down.
|Cabanyal stands in between the Avenida Blasco Ibáñez and the sea|
|El Teatro de Marionetas is one of the quaint historical buildings in Cabanyal|
which makes the stroll through it worth it. It has also become
a site for those protesting the City's efforts to bulldoze the neighborhood,
their common chant: "Rehabilitació, ja! Sense destrucció"
(Rehabilitation, now! Without destruction).
|You can find such pretty buildings all over Cabanyal. (Photos source: ARCA, see below.)|
|ARCA, or the Associació per a la Revitalizació dels Centres Antics, has photographed|
some of these buildings in its effort to promote its campaign to restore Cabanyal rather
than bulldoze it for the extension project. I must agree that these buildings are its
most compelling argument. Why not create an L.A.-style Venice Beach instead of
a Barcelona-style Rambla?
This video offers a nice historical summary of Cabanyal
and the current political debates about it.
Dear Valencian readers, don't be upset if I didn't mention your neighborhood. Don't worry, I didn't mention my neighborhood here either. This is not an entry about the best neighborhoods to live in (a contest I wouldn't want to enter in, since it would be incredibly difficult to judge). Just an entry about those more prominent neighborhoods that we all know about. I think you're neighborhood is great, too. I promise.
• Port and Playa:And of course then there is the Port ("puerto") and city beaches ("playas") of Valencia. These two features, perhaps more than any others, have been what put Valencia on the map. (Though in the next entry I'm going to write about what I think _ought_ to put Valencia on the map.) In part this makes sense. Valencia's Port is the third largest (in terms of cargo movement) on the Mediterranean, and Spain's most important economically after (I believe) Bilbao. In other words, the Port of Valencia is a major economic engine for the region.
|Its port is the reason Valencia is so economically important to Spain.|
Contrary to what people often think, Valencia's is the largest cargo port
on Spain's eastern seaboard, substantially larger and economically
more important than Barcelona's
The beaches, obviously, are its other major tourist draw, particularly in the summer. There is not much to say about them that is self-evident. They are nice for city beaches (real beach lovers will obviously avoid them for more secluded cleaner beaches). And there are several large beach clubs that ensure the beach is alive and awake late on a Saturday night. Perhaps it is only worth adding that _the_ city beach is recognized by locals as three beaches, listed here from south to north: Las Arenas, La Malvarrosa, and La Patacona. La Patacona is actually the beach belonging to Alboraia, a town to the north (renowned as the home of the famous Valencian drink, orxata, but that I'll save for a later entry). So even in high season there is plenty of beach to go around for everyone.
|The beach has become Paella Row|
|La Pepica and Marcelina Restaurants are oversold to foreign tourists, |
appearing in almost every guidebook.
|The paella and fideuà is better quality at L'Estimat, and the view is just as good|
• Coda: Day-trip to Albufera & El SalerIf you have a full week in Valencia, then I highly recommend you make the trip down to El Saler beach and nearby Albufera Park. El Saler is where Valencians go when they want a nearby beach and are able to get our of the city. And as I've already said in my entry on Valencian rice, the Albufera and nearby towns of Sueca and El Palmar is the heartland for paella, and the place to try it. You'd only need about half a day to take a ride on a boat on the lake there, followed by a delicious lunch at one of the many quality restaurants in the area. And then you can take a siesta on the beach at El Saler. The only catch is that you will probably need a car, though you can technically catch a bus there, or even ride a bike.
|Why wait for a summer day to visit the beach? I snapped a photo of|
tumbleweed on the El Saler beach on a wind, wintery day a couple of years ago.
I have one more entry to offer you on Valencia, and it is on my favorite feature of the city. So stay tuned!