On life in Valencia

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but kept finding other things to write about (not really complaining!) So, at long last, here are a few observations on life in Valencia.

1. Winter in Valencia doesn’t feel like winter

Winter in Valencia is like spring in the UK. Actually, no it’s not, other than in that it definitely cools down at night. It is lovely and warm most days – very warm if you’re out running! – and the sky is an amazing blue colour almost all of the time. Except when it’s dark, of course.

2. Don’t expect to get anywhere fast

At least not if you’re walking. Spanish people seem to walk at two speeds: slow and very slow. Oh, and stop. They like to stop. Leave plenty of time to get to wherever you’re going. If you try to walk fast, you’ll just get frustrated as people dawdle along or slow you down by stopping randomly in front of you.

3. Pavement etiquette is not a thing

In the UK, if there are three or four of you walking along together, taking up the entire pavement and there is someone coming the other way (or even coming up behind you) one or two of you will usually step behind to let them past. Not in Valencia. Oh no. In Valencia they will charge you down until you either take your life in your hands and step into the road or stop and wait for them to sort themselves out. Ah yes. They like to make you stop.

Oh, and if you’re coming up behind an elderly couple, my advice is to cross the road. There is no way they are getting out of your way.

4. Don’t expect drivers to stop at zebra crossings

They won’t. They will, however, go round you. Just be sure there’s not a car coming at you full pelt before stepping into the road. But once you’re committed, stick to your guns, otherwise you might find they veer to the side that you’ve just decided to retreat back onto.

5. It is illegal to cross at a red man… but everybody does it

I’ve had people tell me you can be fined up to 1000 euros for crossing at a red man. But if you stop to wait and there’s nothing coming, they look at you like you’ve gone mad. I haven’t been fined (or killed) yet. I have had plenty of funny looks.

6. Valenbisi is the best way of getting around

Valenbisi is great. For the uninitiated, it is basically Boris Bikes a la Valenciana (but much cheaper at less than 30€ a year). Just make sure you leave plenty of time because if the bike station you’ve chosen to drop your bike off at is full, you either have to wait for someone to come and take a bike (and who knows how long that could be) or find another station that does have spaces. There’s an app to help with that, but of course things are changing all the time, so the next one could be full by the time you get there, and then you have a further decision to make. Do you wait? Do you go back? Do you carry on to the next one?

But the good news is that there are LOTS of cycle-friendly roads and cycle lanes in Valencia, including in the park, so you should have no problem getting safely to your destination – and might even get fit at the same time.

7. Everything happens at 11pm+

When I say everything, I mean social events, of course. Going out at 11pm is still considered early. People meet their friends at their houses at 11pm and go out at 12, or even later.

The problem, if you live outside the city, is that the metro stops running before then, so you’ll need to find a good taxi app. If you live in the city, there are night buses if you don’t mind waiting. Or Valenbisi (if you’re not too intoxicated).

8. The Río is the heart of the city

OK, it could be argued that the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the heart of the city. Certainly for cultural events, lots happens just outside the town hall. And yes, there’s El Carmen and Ruzafa – two neighbourhoods with lots going on. But the old riverbed is the place to be for everything from rollerblading to rugby, ashtanga to athletics. I’ve even seen people playing the ukulele there (no, it wasn’t me).

It’s also a great way of getting around: there are bike lanes along the length of the Río, or it’s a great place to just take a wander on a warm, sunny day. Tourists love it and the locals love it too. Officially it’s called the Jardín del Turia, but everyone refers to it as El Río, which is worth being aware of. The first time I was asked whether I’d been running in the river, I imagine my face was a picture.

9. Don’t expect to buy cold and flu remedies in the supermarket

In fact, don’t expect to buy anything even vaguely medicinal anywhere other than at the farmacia. The good news is that there are farmacias everywhere and they’re easy to spot with their green crosses lit up outside. (Just beware that some green crosses are actually outside veterinary surgeries. Once you get there you can usually tell the difference!)

10. Valencia has two official languages… but almost everyone speaks English

If you want to move here and don’t speak Spanish, don’t fear. The official languages of the Valencian Community are Spanish (Castellano) and Valencian (Valenciano). Don’t worry about learning Valenciano unless you want to eavesdrop on the locals – everyone speaks Spanish. But if you only speak English you will find plenty of people who speak your language.

For someone like me, it’s actually been a bit of a disappointment quite how much English (and how little Spanish) I’ve been speaking, as I’m living and studying with international students. But there are opportunities to practise your Spanish if you want to, and it certainly comes in handy when dealing with officialdom.

11. Agua de Valencia is not water 

Oh no, sirree. Which is probably just as well, because the tap water in Valencia is actually pretty horrible (although nothing a Brita filter can’t sort out). But Agua de Valencia (Valencian Water by name only) is actually a cocktail of orange juice, cava, gin, vodka, ice and sugar. And very tasty it is too. And capable of making me absolutely fluent in Spanish, apparently.

12. Veganism is in

Last week, I went on a vegan ‘tapas crawl’ – basically going from bar to bar sampling vegan tapas for just 1,50€ each. And very tasty they were too. Valencia really seems to have embraced the whole vegan scene, so unlike when I lived in León 20-odd years ago and couldn’t so much as get a salad without having some ham sprinkled on it (which, incidentally, they didn’t consider to be meat) these days it is really easy to find cafes and bars with entirely vegan menus.

13. Paella isn’t paella unless its Valencian Paella

Paella is everyone’s favourite dish (unless they’re vegan). Seriously, on our course we asked the students what their favourite food was and they all said paella. But don’t even think of suggesting that you could have such a thing as a vegetarian paella. No, no, no. That’s not paella, that’s ‘arroz con cosas’ (rice with things). Which isn’t to say that you can’t buy a vegetarian paella in Valencia. It’s just that the chef won’t really consider it to be a paella at all. And neither should you.

14. It’s all about Las Fallas

It seems to be all anyone can talk about at the moment. So, if you’re going to be here in early – mid March, bring your earplugs, leave your dog at home and prepare for the most spectacular, crazy festival of sound and colour. And if you’re not, watch this space and I’ll tell you all about it.

There are obviously so many more things I could have written about. Valencia is a wonderful, diverse, historical city. If you haven’t been here, I recommend you visit and discover it for yourself. But you might want to pack paracetamol. Especially if you’re here during Fallas!

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