Hello, I’m back. My schedule is still slightly disrupted but it’s good to be blogging again. Let me tell you all about our trip to Valencia which turned out to be very simple and very relaxed – just what we all needed. This is one of those posts that is a bit of a personal journal as well as a midlife style blog. As you know, one of the reasons I write is for any future great, great grandchildren of mine who might wonder what our family’s life was like at this particular point in history. However I know you all read for different reasons and it’s a long post so I’ve tried to split things out. I’m starting off with the background story and a little introspection, then moving on to the travel and the outfits so that you can read whatever interests you. Here we go: a city break with teenagers – 4 days in Valencia.
A bit of background
Why Valencia? Well as I mentioned in my last post, I lived there exactly 30 years ago. You see I was doing a joint honours degree in modern languages, so I had to achieve equal fluency in both French and Spanish. This meant that for my third year, I had to spend six months living in France and six months in Spain. For the first foray I chose Paris and I wrote all about it when we went back there two years ago. To recap quickly I studied art history there and was based with lots of other students at the Cité Universitaire.
Picking the story up from where I left off in the Paris post, there were four of us from the same university and two of us had made the same choices of destination. I didn’t know the other girl very well (I’ll call her Karen – not her real name) but we were glad that when our time in Paris was up, we’d be heading to Valencia together.
Karen had spent the summer holiday before our year abroad working as a Redcoat at Butlins (for overseas readers that’s a rep at a holiday camp). She’d fallen madly in love with another Redcoat and like most of us was very homesick in Paris. During our time there she started to behave a bit erratically and we began to get a bit worried about her. Shortly before we were due to leave, her boyfriend came over for a visit and knocked on my door one night. He told me that he was worried because she was pregnant but wouldn’t tell anyone – not even her mum.
So after he’d gone, I sat down with her and had a long chat (bear in mind that we were 20 years old and very naive). She didn’t have a good relationship with her parents so we decided that she didn’t have to tell anyone, we’d carry on and go to Valencia. She could have the baby whilst we were out there and it would all be fine. I had a slight niggling concern but I figured we’d work it out between us – and of course it would give us a whole new dimension to our Spanish…
We booked our flights and were all set for our adventure but there was a week’s break between the two halves of our year abroad so we both went home to see our families. Two nights later my mum had a call from Karen’s mum to say that Karen wouldn’t be coming to Valencia with me – she wasn’t prepared to explain why but I would have to travel alone!
So, my plans changed and with the blind courage that comes with youth, I had no concerns about going to an unknown country on my own. Sometimes though, life throws you a lucky card and an old friend from school called the next day. She had finished her course and heard that I was off to Spain. She wondered if she could come with me because her dad had a contact in Barcelona where she might be able to find some work.
That was fine by me – we decided that she would come to Valencia with me for a couple of weeks and then travel back to Barcelona when she’d organised a job. (Some of you will be making connections here and remembering that this was my friend J whose wedding I went to in September).
And off we went. There was no airport at Valencia in those days so we flew to Barcelona, stayed a night and then travelled to Valencia by train. It was the first week in March and all I had was the name of a professor in the English department at the university (Nottingham University’s Spanish Department was twinned with Valencia’s English Department).
We walked out of the railway station into utter chaos. The streets were heaving and it sounded as though guns were being fired all around us. We had never heard of Valencia’s famous Fallas festival when the city turns into a huge party town for a week and people travel from miles around to see the political effigies that appear on every street in the city. The ‘gunshots’ were Valencia’s famous Mascletàs which go off all day and are all about the sound and sensation rather than the light. They literally shake you to the bone.
So, of course the university was closed and every hotel room we tried was booked…until we found a place of ill repute masquerading as a hostel which had one very shabby, smelly room left. Luckily we had inter-railed together a couple of years before so we were used to low budget travel but nothing quite compared to this and the nefarious things going on in the rooms around us.
However, for the days until the university reopened, we survived, wandering the city in a rather dazed way just going with the flow. When Fallas finally came to an end, I was welcomed warmly into the university and they were incredibly kind to J too, even though she wasn’t on their list. Not that the list meant much. We discovered that we were expected to find our own lodgings and the only way to do that was by walking the streets and looking for signs saying ‘se alquila’ in apartment windows. We paired up with another student refugee and after a few days of knocking on doors and making hesitant phone calls enquiring about availability, we found somewhere.
Having been thrown in at the deep end like that, our Spanish improved rapidly. I had a certain amount of work that I was expected to do to help the final year students who were due to take their English exams. However I had been awarded a hefty travel grant so I had no worries about money. J on the other hand was travelling under her own steam and cash was running out. Phone calls to her father’s contact were not picked up and so she faced a stark choice of going home or finding a way to fund herself.
We gave ourselves a deadline of a week and made leaflets offering English tuition which the secretary at the university photocopied for us, suggesting that we add her phone number for enquiries. We must have walked the streets for miles placing them under windscreen wipers and before we knew it, the jobs started to come in. In fact soon J was so busy that I had to take some of the lessons for her.
And so we settled. Our flatmate turned out to be an unusual chap – these days you would have called him ‘buff’ and in his limited luggage he carried a large collection of copies of the Gay Times. We soon realised that he funded his studies by modelling for them. As such, his regime of ‘self care’ took up a lot of his time and he also had a German girlfriend who was often in residence. One day he flew out to see her for the weekend never to return, leaving us with all of the bills and another life lesson learned.
There are lots of other stories but they’ll have to wait for another day. I don’t know how well you remember being 21 but I think it has a lot in common with being 51 – you’re bridging two lifestages and there is a sense of a new beginning ahead. I remember doing a lot of thinking when I lived in Valencia. I knew that when I left, I would have a year of hard work left at Uni and then it would be down to me to carve a path for myself. I spent a lot of time trying to work out what that might be.
And you see that’s why I’ve never been back – I didn’t want to return until I felt I’d found my path. Like most people, at 21 I thought life was going to be easy – that as long as I had a good degree everything would unfurl in front of me. As young women growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, we’d been instilled with the idea that we could (and should) ‘have it all’. I had an axiomatic belief that I would be happy, wealthy and fulfilled… that I would be in complete control of both my life and my time and that everything would be simple. Of course it doesn’t work that way and I soon learned that a happy life doesn’t just come along, it has to be crafted.
In fact as I look back now, I think that you only start to be truly happy when you’ve made enough mistakes. It’s only by finding out what is wrong for you that you know what is unequivocally right. You have to live through periods of unhappiness so that you recognise the happy times when they come along. I have found myself constantly recalibrating throughout my 20s, 30s and 40s, finding the courage to make changes until I’ve started to get it right. And that is why I don’t regret any of my mistakes. I’m not saying that my life is the definition of a perfect one but I do feel happy. So you see Valencia was an important trip for me. I went back to face my 21 year-old hopes and dreams and say “this is how it turned out.”
I think I might have been surprised by just how simple my life has turned out to be and I would never have expected to find myself living back in the north. At 21 I had plans to do an MPhil and was intending to spend my life in academia. With my languages under my belt I saw myself travelling the world and quite possibly settling overseas somewhere. In a parallel universe it’s a life that still appeals to me but I don’t think I would have been as happy as I am. You see I know now that I’m not really the exotic creature I thought I was. My enlightenment has come with realising that at heart I’m a home bird, happiest when I’m with the people I love doing nothing in particular.
So now that I’ve got all of that off my chest, join me and let me show you what a great place Valencia is for a city break with teenagers.
City break with teenagers – 4 days in Valencia
Arrival in Valencia
We’ll start off with a quick outfit shot. This was as we arrived at the airport – I have one eye on the boys in the taxi queue, knowing that despite the fact that they’ve both taken Spanish to GCSE, they’ll panic if they have to speak to anyone!
It was only 20 minutes from the airport to the AirBnB that I’d booked. We met the host and I watched the boys blanch as she checked that I hadn’t forgotten about the cockroach population in Valencia, reminding us to keep the windows closed at night. How I laughed at them as they sat and muttered about insect infested cities. I went to unpack only to find that a bottle of sun cream had exploded all over the cashmere shrug that I was about to put on. So, I popped into the kitchen to find the washing machine and screamed as I opened the powder dispenser and saw a fat cockroach scuttling towards me.
And of course that set the tone for the rest of the evening. As we ate our tapas at a local bar, Mr MC and the boys just wouldn’t let it go, rolling around with laughter as they replayed the scene endlessly!
Day 1 in Valencia
The next day was one that the boys had resigned themselves to. I’d warned them that I was dedicating it to retracing my student footsteps so they set off with a stoic approach. I quite quickly found the road that our flat was on but it’s a very long one and we had to go up and down a few times to find the apartment block we lived in…
…but at last we did!
Just down the road was the park that I used to spend a lot of my free time in, thinking deeply about the future. It’s called the Jardines de Viveros and it was originally commissioned by the Moors so you can imagine the style. It’s an absolutely stunning place.
The boys are not big fans of cities and so it was good to stop here for a while. Mr MC had a handful of seeds and was pigeon taming. It’s something he likes to do so that he can make unPC Geordie jokes about having birds eating out of his hands(!)
We ended up spending a couple of hours in the park. There was an outdoor gym and so the three of them went round a few times, trying to outdo each other on every piece of equipment. As you can see in this picture the boys had retreated back to their screens but Mr MC was saying “just look…”
… and he showed them that the birds in the aviaries were working together at both sides to break through the wire. There were lots of areas that had been patched up so they’d clearly done it before – it was quite something to watch their teamwork.
And as we wandered, I could feel us all starting to unwind. It takes a little while to get into step again when you’re a family with teenagers but I could feel their carapaces starting to break down…
… and before I knew it the middle one had linked my arm and was chatting away.
We had a long lazy lunch and completely forgot to take any more photos. After a siesta back at the apartment, we walked into town. Valencia is a very political city with a Catalan dialect. Valenciano passions run high and we were trying to work out what statement they were making here – presumably about Brexit… or it could have been Catalonia’s own yearning for independence (Valencia identifies as Catalan and has its own dialect). Mr MC meanwhile was muttering that in his opinion, it was a symbol of the eye-watering Sterling to Euro exchange rate.
As we were debating it, the youngest sidled up to me for a photo.
It didn’t last long and he declared that having to have his photo taken in the main square in front of all of the people sitting in cafés was the worst form of torture…
… and spotting the opportunity to embarrass him even more, the other two went in for the kill.
And so we went on to have dinner – and there’s a pattern emerging here – as soon as we had a glass of wine, we forgot about taking photos.
Day 2 in Valencia
The next day was forecast to be cloudy so to change the pace, we decided to hire bikes. It’s easy to do in Valencia – there are stands on almost every street and you can rent a bike and then drop it off at a different point in the city.
The wide river Turia that once ran through the centre of the city was diverted a long time ago to prevent flooding. When I lived there it was just a dry bed but now it has been developed with gardens, cafes, art installations and a cycle path. So we went from one end to the other.
This was outside the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences. If you have teens who are science fans they’d probably love a wander round here. I’ll be shot down now but I always breathe a sigh of relief that mine, like their parents, see science as a rather grim necessity.
We ended up at a place that everyone was happy to visit – the Aquarium or ‘Oceanografic‘ which is the second largest in Europe (the largest is in Moscow). As always we stopped to refuel them first and the eldest fell upon a quandary. He had two emails in his Inbox – one included details of his first shifts at a job he’d accepted in our village pizzeria and the other was the offer of a weekend role at Primark at double the salary.
It’s so difficult when you live in a village – you juggle constantly to make sure you don’t upset anyone. I didn’t realise Mr MC was taking photos but you can see the difficulty of the decision (his dad and brother were keeping well out of it)…
In the end, the higher pay and the more regular hours at Primark won. This means that in quick succession he has worked at his mother’s two least favourite brands – McDonalds and now Primark. Regardless of what their CSR policies say, I cannot believe that people further down the supply chain are paid fairly for their part in producing goods that retail for as little as they do, especially when you look at their UK overheads. It’s just my view though, I don’t inflict it on anyone else and I appreciate that for many people both brands are a saviour.
Anyway here’s a quick whizz around our favourite bits of the aquarium. I’d never seen a beluga whale before – they are utterly mesmerising…
… the middle son has a lifelong love of penguins now after his traumatic audition last September…
… and I, of course, have an affinity with flamingos (although usually of the ovine kind)!
I even had a Botticelli moment!
We cycled back for another siesta and then in the evening headed out to the student quarter. As always we took pictures en route…
… and this is what happens behind my back…
… and then this… until we give up and take them away and feed them. We found a suitably scruffy bar outside the English Department so I regressed again – particularly because the youngest had brought the Emoji game with him. If you’re looking for a good travel game to play with teens this year I recommend it – but be prepared to make monkey noises while standing on one leg!
Day 3 in Valencia
The sun was back so we took a taxi to Malvarossa beach. The boys were delighted – in their opinion this felt like a proper holiday. We had fresh fish and paella for lunch (paella originates from Valencia)…
I was wearing this stunning dress that was sent to me by Harriet who is a midlifer with teens so I’m keen to support her. She has a shop in Stockbridge in Hampshire and also a website with lots of lovely things but my favourite section is the beachwear.
It was a fantastic dress to wear over my swimming costume, it looks simple but it’s really well designed. The wide braiding works with both halternecks and straight straps underneath which is really unusual…
The boys had been so patient on the day that we’d explored my old haunts that I felt I owed them something in return. So, there was no lazing around reading a book, we swam and played volleyball on the beach – it was almost like the toddler days again.
For our last evening out, I wore the dress that you helped me to choose in the last post. I’d ordered both this one and the red one but the vote was clear so the other has been returned. It’s another dress that moves beautifully as you walk…
It even pools nicely when you sit on the floor and wait for everyone to decide where they want to eat.
This is Valencia’s spectacular Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
More tapas – and I remembered to take a photo this time (although not until after we’d eaten).
My abiding memory of that night will be the sheer joy of walking back across the bridge sharing an earbud with the middle one, strutting our stuff to Play that funky music. Altogether now:
” and they was dancin’ and singin’ and movin’ to the groovin’… and just when it hit me…”
Day 4 in Valencia
On our last day, the vote was overwhelmingly for a return to the beach but the middle one made a strong argument for a cultural experience first – shopping in a real Spanish Zara! So we went into town and he very efficiently found a few things he liked. And then it was back for another beachside lunch…
… followed by a game of frisbee. We had one last drink in a beach bar – and here’s the middle one acquiring a taste for my Agua de Valencia which is a rather lovely mix of orange juice, cava, gin and vodka.
I said goodbye to my city from the place where I very first greeted it 30 years ago – the Estación del Norte so here I am for one last photo – very fittingly underneath a banner for the university.
And I’m going to leave you with these photos that sum it all up for me because as I revisited my past, I also reconnected with my present.
In the first shot, the middle one is telling me about something typically little brotherly that the youngest has just done to him (you can see the mischief on the youngest’s face). It’s been so good to see them bond again (and yes this is their way of bonding). It’s been so good for us all.
I’ve told the boys that we have to go back to Valencia for my 81st birthday so that I can wrap the story up. In the meantime, my 21 year-old self is shaking her head at me and smiling. She’s saying “well it isn’t how I thought it would turn out… but I like it!”
Disclosure: ‘City break with teenagers – 4 days in Valencia’ is not a sponsored post
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