The most curious thing I ever noticed about Valencia was the bat that hovers over the city crest. I had to squint, as I was coming off a wild weekend in Ibiza during my study abroad month. Present since the medieval reigns of kings on several coats of arms, the bat nowadays crowns the alcantarilla street covers, as well as the serves as the symbol of the Valencia Club de Fútbol, one of the top teams in the division.
It’s fitting, of course, as Valencia seems to be the ciudad nocturna – a place where nightlife booms and people (and boundless study abroad students) never seem to rest.
I set out with Camarón to explore the city I barely got out in when visiting, save a trip to the famed Ciutat de les Arts i Ciencies and a near-death experience driving to the beach with a 16-year-old German. Turning up from my hostel towards the city center, home to the Borgia palace and the Holy Grail (reputedly), small side streets covered in graffiti jutted off to either side, inevitably leading through the web of streets to the cathedral. Like all medieval cities, the buck stops at the Holy House, so I steered past the Torres de Quart.
The gate, it turns out, is the one once used by travelers (and feudal lords) entering from the mountains. The church of Saint Ursula sat quietly in its wake, no doubt witness to all those entering the old city. Near-empty bars and cafés sat along the way as bartenders looked bored, glancing down the Calle des Quarts to discos further up the road. I looked back over my shoulders towards the gate, able to get a full-on view.
I kept my eyes open for interesting graffiti or a bar throbbing with people, but no one seemed to be around. I wondered if Valencia was the destination I’d always heard it was.
As I inched closer to the city center, camera poised, the slinky alleys began growing wider and the streetlights cried out. I was approached by a man wielding a plastic bag. ¿Cerveza? Beer? Like Madrid, I was hounded by foreigners hocking cold drinks. The lights grew harsher, as did the raucous music coming from the bars up and down the street.
Study abroad students, sleeveless in the chilly night air, stood contemplative in my wake. “Omygod I was totally out till 5am last night. Sooooo drunk!” one girl mused as a tall friend bought a beer off the street. Natives leaned casually against the stone walls of the Casa Borgia sipping gintoncitos. I felt like I was gasping for air, suddenly too overwhelmed at all of the people and afraid someone would take Camarón.
Arriving at Plaza de la Virgen, awash in yellow light and nearly empty, save some teenagers on skateboards and the municipal cleaning crew, the square was a welcome respite. I remember eating an incredible duck a l’orange at a small bar tucked away on a side street seven years ago. It seemed amazing that I was in a city that I really didn’t care for and soaking in a totally new place.
Walking around the sprawling church, the light was suddenly gone. No one was next to the Miguelete tower or around in the courtyard adjacent the Archbizopal palace. It was quiet and the city took on a medieval feeling. Even the Pope came along.
At the edge of the cathedral lies a gargantuan square that gives way to the new city, dripping in Victorian boulevards and more street food than I had imagined (I cursed myself for eating the overpriced tapa in the airport). Ah, yes, what Spain specializes in: mixing old with new.
Walking around Valencia at night made me love nocturnal Seville more (despite being voted one of the most poorly lit cities in Spain) : the rings of the puente de Triana reflected on the Río Guadalquivir, the towers of Plaza de España.
As I walked back to my hostel down empty alleys, the beer men called out again. ¿Cerveza guapa? ¿Te gusta esto? Maybe he was referring to himself, but I’ll just keep thinking he was asking if I liked Valencia.
Have you been to Valencia? What was your favorite site, in or outside the city? Are there any cities you’ve only known nocturnally?