Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Puerta de Sol
I just ran away to Madrid for five days to see some dearly beloved people. As I live in Valencia, the Spanish capital was a big change from my relaxed seaside town. Significantly less oranges for a start, and a lot more statues of people on horseback. I'd been to Madrid before and loved it but as I'm now enamored with Valencia, I was expecting to be hurried into museums to escape the constant grey sky. So, so wrong. I had five ecstatic days in which I managed to check off most of what I wanted out of Madrid:

Daredevil rush to the train station
Initially, I would not have chosen to have the taxi driver bring me to the wrong train station just because I said its name in Valencian (WHICH was what it said on my ticket), wander around a bit then jump into another taxi to bring me across town to the right one. However, it proved for me that a)any attempt of mine to travel stress-free is like trying to make coca-cola healthy - imposible - and b)although I will always be a walking accident, things turn out alright in the end. I got on my train and found a travel buddy, Carlos, who talked to me for 6 hours and didn't let me disappear into the station when we had to make a simple change. Essentially as long as I continue to smile a lot, people will take pity on me and help me. Penelope Pitstop ftw.

Visiting my beloved people
Con Luca y Maite
I was lucky enough to see some of the best people I know, who are painfully apart from me, all in Madrid! And I got to see my favourite adorable Spanish toddler dance to 'Gangnam Style'.

Seeing a protest
This particular protest was about public healthcare. I read the other day that there's been a sharp increase in the number of indignados in Spain, especially at the recent claims about corrupt politicians and on a lot of the banks you can see graffiti-ed scrawls about liars and thieves. I was really pleased to get the chance to see an actual protest rather than just signs of the brewing rancor in the capital city of one of the world's most affected countries.

Eat my weight in tapas
This is the only photo I managed to get of tapas in Madrid because, while still very tasty, it was the least delicious meal we had. The others were devoured much too quickly - although the raciones were so large we had to take food breaks. I hate to leave food on a plate, especially delicious Spanish food soo this happened:
You can't eat art, right? My boyfriend and I reckon we ate at least four squid between us in those five days, as well as paella, bravas, gambas al ajillo...and a lot of places ply you with free tapas and even free beers! I am well on my way to pleasing my family and 'fattening up like a churro'. It's disappointing that Valencian places seem less likely to give you free food but probably better for my cholesterol.

Lucky for me churros are available all over Spain. We went to the famous Chocolatería San Gines for the best churros con chocolate of my life - and they do good hot chocolate in Russia! If like me you don't have much of a sweet tooth it's better off to share one as the portions are massive; and better not to go with a chocoholic. 

Chueca district 
The capital's thriving gay scene, Chueca is a vibrant area with a lot of rainbow flags and adverts with very muscly men on them. We did a walking tour in the guide book starting from this area, but I had to stop off at this cute juice bar/café for some fresh orange juice after that chocolate overload. It would be perfect in Camden or Hampstead Heath as it has a lot of mismatched, brightly-coloured furniture, but as it walks the border between quirky and twee, it's not too douchey for me to enjoy. And I saw three whole oranges go into my juice which pleases Valencian me greatly.

New cultural experiences
 This is the wonderful Cine d'Ore, as we were waiting for the lights to go down. We paid a ridiculous 2.50 euros (2 for me with my student card) to see the incredible Goldfinger! Although initially disappointed at the lack of hilarious dubbing, the subtitles were wonderful as we got to really appreciate the film in its original glory AND our mother tongue. Plus the seats are big plush armchairs and there were a lot of Star Wars films showing at the moment. I am incredibly jealous.
We visited the Reina Sofia on my first evening in Madrid and saw the incredible Guernica as well as a number of Cubist and Civil War works and propaganda. The above photo is a church near the Museo del Prado but in both cases I was much too excited to remember to take photos. The Prado is beautiful, modern and full of works by Goya, Velásquez and many more. However, after months of being spoiled by the Hermitage and the Russian museum, the soft grey interior felt quite underwhelming compared to the friezes and gold-encrusted palaces we were used to.

Street performers
There's not so many of these in Valencia and it was a lovely reminder of London. Fortunately for my boyfriend, I don't see so good and I can be very gullible so I was great entertainment trying to figure out which were real statues and how they did it. Also, I got to see a Spongebob and a Mickey Mouse having an off-duty chat through the little holes in their costumes.
This guy was hilarious
 Lord knows I love me a good market. The above photo is in Mercado de San Miguel, the upmarket, glass-walled beauty that sells tapas and drinks along with fresh produce. The photo below is the Mercado del Rastro, the flea market that attracts throngs of people on a Sunday morning. I was hoping for more battered old furniture, but the handmade pieces and artworks are really interesting if you don't mind a steep walk up the hill on the way home.

Exploring Madrid on foot
El Parque del Retiro
Catedral Almudena

I genuinely think that, after the experiences I've had in Valencia and now in Madrid, I would be happy to move to Spain as soon as the economic situation makes it viable. In the meantime I have my eye on Chago and beyond.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hair of the Lizard

The Spanish (along with actually quite a lot of Europe) are well known for their love of mullets, but this bizarre design was outside a barber's down my road. I'd advise to look at it for a while, it just gets funnier. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias - The City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia

Images of the City of Arts and Sciences are among the first ones to pop up on a Google images search for 'Valencia'. A stunning array of innovative modern architecture, the city hides a rich variety of cultural activities, including Europe's largest aquarium. The keen interest in science and art is hinted at both by its sci-fi appearance and the modern sundials scattered around near L'Umbracle.

Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe

L'Hemosferic and Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia
 Inside L'Hemosferic - an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laser show. The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, this auditorium with seating for 4400 is smaller only than Sydney's Opera House.
El jamonero and the Agora
Autovía a El Saler; Oceanografic €24, Hemisferic €7.50, Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe €7.50. Right now, €10 for the Oceanografic every Sunday!; www.cac.es 

Mercado Central, Valencia

The Mercado Central claims to be Europe's biggest active indoor market, with almost 900 stalls of jamón iberico, fresh fish, fruit, baked goods and sweets. It's a great place to people watch and to be very jealous of the size of the vegetables (damn that Mediterranean sun). 

Una horchatería
 I had my first taste (that I actually remember) of horchata, the regional drink, a milky kind of drink made from chufas (tiger nuts), lemon, sugar and cinnamon. It's not the best thing I've ever tasted, so a small cup was quite enough for me. However I've clearly moved on from hating it 10 years ago in Barcelona, and it was nice and refreshing to sip it as I moved round the market after my hour-odd walk into town.
 I took this picture while I was waiting to buy pan de abuela (I got bored and wandered off). If it's what it looks like, it's just a cross-section of baked pumpkin, served by the slice. 
 For those of us who don't eat meat, even chicken thighs can look like cut up bits of animal. In Spain there are literally cut up bits of animal. I like the idea of not wasting anything but really, who wants a nose on their plate?
Strange cabbages
I managed to get myself two swordfish steaks after establishing that no, it wasn't tuna, and having a rare 'I'll eat whatever that is' moment. Doesn't happen a lot for pescatarians.

I also managed to cross fideuá off my list of '5 things to try in Valencia' (yeah, I literally have this list). It's basically paella, but with pasta. Mine had mussel and prawn (singular) and octopus in it. I definitely prefer paella but this was a novel alternative and I only had one moment where I could definitely feel the outline of suction cups in my mouth. Maybe I'm more barbarian than I thought.

Mercado Central is open 8.00-14.30 Mon-Sat. Saturday is the best and busiest day to go.
Plaza del Mercado; www.mercadocentralvalencia.es 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Valencia Beach Winter

I can see the sea!
So, I walked twenty minutes down the road to the beach today. Had I stayed in St Petersburg, I would have got this:
Or at least this, in England:
However, I got this:

It's February, people. I want to live here forever.

Valencian Graffiti Art

Some of this is intentional art and some is just protest graffiti but they were all clearly made by people who felt strongly about something and about Valencia itself:

I shit on dead police
No to the privatization of education
General strike against police violence

I had a couple more that just will not rotate the right way when I try to upload them so if any young people want to help me out, teach me your technology!