Saturday, January 16, 2010

Campari on the rocks

Here’s something to love about Europe: I can drink Campari on the rocks with lunch (or for lunch, for that matter) and this is considered acceptable behavior. Doing so is certainly not common practice on my part, but work has kicked my butt in recent days, and sometimes a girl just needs a break in the form of a tranquilizer.

Hours ago, I received a reminder from Vueling airlines that my flight "shall depart to Paris on Saturday, 16 January". Indeed it shall! This is easily the most exciting news I have received in weeks, leaving me with a sense of anticipation and relief that I have not felt in a long time. Anticipation, because I consider Paris to be nothing short of heaven. Relief, because - and I say this with all due respect and in no reference whatsoever to the wonderful friends who live here - one month in Valencia has been about 24.5 days too long.

Valencia is one of those cities that sounds like a great idea. Situated along the southeastern beaches of Spain, Valencia enjoys reasonably mild winters and sunshine nearly year-round. It offers all those wonderful things that Spain does best: Fiestas. Siestas. Espresso. Red wine. Manchego cheese. Inexpensive spa treatments in luxurious settings (recommended: Spa Del Mar). A good, albeit expensive, selection of organic and eco-friendly food products (check out J. Navarro). Cool music. Stunning architecture. Charming plazas. A well-preserved cultural heritage. A plethora of museums.

With all this to offer, a tourist could certainly enjoy Valencia for a few days.

It doesn't take long, however, to realize that Valencia's image of grandeur and beauty is all surface. This is an image that was – according to my roommate – bought by the conservative local government. Massive amounts of Euros exchanged hands in order to bring two international events here: Formula One and the America's Cup. Undoubtedly the objective was to put Valencia on the world map, give the impression that this is a modern, cosmopolitan city, and shine the spotlight on a city that has always been outshined by its neighbor to the north, Barcelona, otherwise known as the darling of Spain.

One cannot blame the government for their efforts; any city would do and has done the same. These two events have put Valencia on the world map, and they certainly have brought in a tremendous amount of tourism and foreign investment. As I type this now, spectators are pouring into town in anticipation of next month's America's Cup race. They will enjoy the city for a short time, and the international press will shine a very bright spotlight on Valencia. To the outside world, it will look like a fabulously exciting place to be.

But the race will end, the boats and spectators will depart, and the truth that lies under the shiny surface will be revealed. The truth being this: Valencia is one very big pueblo. One big, unimaginative, uninspiring... and dare I say it, boring pueblo. Apart from the handful of fascinating and kind people I had the pleasure to know, not much else was on offer here in Spain's third biggest city.

With all that said, my advice for you is this: if you are at all like me (someone who thrives in an international setting; someone who prefers to feel comfortable and welcomed regardless of nationality, religion or race; someone who longs for variety, and maybe at least one smoke-free setting other than Starbucks) and if you are traveling to Spain in search of all those aforementioned wonderful things that the country has to offer - tolerable winters, beaches, coffee, siestas, cheese, wine... if this all applies to you, then - as one dear friend wisely put it - you might as well just go to Barcelona. There is a reason, after all, that she is the darling of Spain.

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