I can not believe the weekend I have just had. This is probably one of the most exciting times I have had in Valencia so far.
Yesterday was the final lunch with the group of Americans. All twenty-five of us were there save one. Patricia was spending time with friends who were visiting from home, but it was exciting to be almost all together again. We went to Buñol, which is the hometown of our director Laura’s husband. It is also the site of the famous celebration la tomatina which is a celebration during which the town is filled with revelers who throw squishy tomatoes at each other. I don’t know too much more about it, but it seems like it would be a precarious time to wear anything white, light-colored, expensive or remotely nice.
We went there because we’d never been and because it is a place that makes one of the best paellas we have ever tasted. The restaurant at which we ate sat us at long tables outside and we all got raciones of tapas, bread, paella, dessert and tea/coffee which I actually never received. Hmm. They owe me a tea. Anyway, it was a way for us to say goodbye to each other all together before we all head off in our respective directions. Looking back to the beginning of the semester, I can not believe that this date to which I was looking forward and pegged as too far away to think about has already come and gone. It was fun and at the very beginning of lunch we presented Laura with the memory book that we made her as a going away present. It is a binder that has many pictures that we printed out and pasted in a book that has been decorated by everyone with notes, drawings, quotes, slogans etc until it practically pulsates with color and character. No one wanted to give it up when it was all finished, so I took it back from Laura at the end of the day with the intention of scanning it into a PDF document and giving everyone a copy. Laura loved the book and to our astonishment informed us that no other group had ever before given her a present. I’m especially glad now that we made her something so personal, yet so low profile. I hope it sets an example for other groups because a scrapbook like this is such a good way to both thank Laura for her hard work and dedication, and at the same time document the time we all spent here in Spain. Perhaps when we come back to visit we will be able to leaf through and remember the jokes we had a the time, wonder what some of the phrases mean and marvel at how young we looked once upon a time. It’s an important present for all of us even if it only lives with Laura.
At the end of the day I was exhausted, but happy and feeling a little bit bittersweet. It’s weird to know that I’m leaving for Australia in a month. I don’t have much time at all. I better really start throwing things away and sorting through what I want to send home and pack. I have to make solid plans for my vacation at the beginning of July, and most importantly, I have to prepare for my exams which are approaching faster than I even realize. Yikes.
Today I went to a couple of places outside of Valencia with my friend Danielle from the RU program and a couple of my friends that live in Germany who had come to Valencia on vacation and rented a car for the weekend. One of the German guys, Gabe, is a fantastic driver and a lover of all things BMW. He worked for BMW for a while and has done a lot of test driving, so he has some serious skills on the road. Both Gabe and his friend Daniel had been to Valencia once before and as a result had no problem skipping the usual touristy stuff and going to some destinations outside the city. It was an overcast day but the plans looked promising…except that Gabe’s car got towed the night before on account of the fact that some crooks told him that it was okay to park in a spot in which parking was actually illegal. There were about 20 cars towed that night and the swindlers made a lot of money off the unsuspecting tourists like Gabe, who later had to make his way down to the office of the Grua (local police) to collect his car and pay the rather exorbitant fine. Luckily Gabe had me to help him out linguistically since he does not speak a lot of Spanish, and we got the car back without too much trouble. Yay for being bilingual!
Once we had the car we went to pick up Daniel from the hostel and Danielle back at Colegio. It was about noon by the time we were finally on the road…two hours later than we originally planned, but still in good spirits and ready for an adventure. The first adventure was actually finding the highway. Danielle and I have been in Spain since January, but we only ever take the roads on foot, so we were NO help navigating Valencia by car. Luckily the boys were good with maps and quite a good team. They travel together a lot and Gabe is an intuitive driver, so after a few wrong turns and a nice view of the city we were on our way. We decided to go first to Sagunto which is only about 30 minutes outside the city. Danielle recognized the name of the town from The Best of Valencia in the Lonely Planet series written by our very own Miles Roddis, husband of our illustrious Geography and History professor, Ingrid. Miles has never steered us wrong. Gabe said there was supposedly a castle there that was worth a look, so we pointed the car in the right direction and got there in no time flat since, once we finally got OUT of the city, we were practically there already.
Once in Sagunto we found a small town that was relatively devoid of people with tiny roads and plenty of idle cars blocking the way. We found a parking space in the general vicinity of the hill/mountain on which the castle stood and we started walking…or rather hiking up the rocky, cactus-strewn terrain that led up to the castle walls. We stopped half way up to have a little picnic that the boys had packed. There was a pack of cookies that the packaging proclaimed had been baked “The American Way.” For those of you who know me well, you’ll know what the effect of this American cookie must have been. (Ecstasy. They don’t make ’em the same here in Spain.) Once we were finished we chatted a little bit but then started trekking the rest of the way up to the castle, all the time wondering when we might encounter the entrance. Danielle was wearing flip flops since we thought we would be strolling through underground caves when we started out (it was the original plan, but our late start diverted our journey) and therefore the climbing was slow going.
The boys scouted ahead some and when Danielle and I finally reached the castle walls the boys had already given up the search for a gate and decided to scale the wall at a point at which it was at its lowest. Danielle and I decided to proceed with the search for a more conventional way into the castle but after some time searching, we too bent to the inevitable and resigned to climbing the wall. Gabe climbed back down to help from the bottom while Daniel covered the top. I went up first and was shocked to find that climbing a rock wall is actually quite easy…and fun! Gabe who, as it turns out, climbs rock walls for one of his hobbies, guided me as to where to put my feet, and once I got to the top I was very proud to effortlessly pull myself into the castle. Thank goodness I have been going to capoeira practice three times a week for this whole semester. I would have been supremely out of shape had I not been so disciplined.
Once I was safely at the top I handed my shoes down to Danielle so she could make the climb. My shoes were too small but they served the purpose of providing traction on the rocks and protection for her feet that flip flips simply cannot supply. She was scared but also managed the wall beautifully and we were both beaming when we got the top. Gabe came back up last and we all went off the explore the castle. We had entered in a part that was overgrown with cacti and lots of other plant life. It turns out that the castle was ENORMOUS. Far bigger than we thought originally and it took us a good five or seven minutes walking to reach a part of the castle that looked like it had been made to accommodate tourism. Once we got there we found out that the castle dated to about the XIX century, but there was not very much information displayed. We followed the path of lights and garbage cans to what seemed like the front of the castle and eventually we came across a building that was closed, but it said it contained a bunch of artifacts about the castle. Seeing the closed museum made me realize that there was no one else besides the four of us in the castle at the time.
Sure enough a few minutes later we arrived at a set of front gates that were padlocked shut!!! Since it was Sunday, the castle closed at two and would not reopen again for the remainder of the day. When we arrived at the gates it was 2:30pm and there was not a soul in sight, leas of all at the security office/entrance center. There was a surveillance camera, however, and we are unsure as to whether or not it was rolling. We stood around for a second considering our admittedly limited options and finally Daniel decided to attempt to climb the gate. There was (thank goodness) no barbed wire to speak of and a convenient design of metal barring on the inside of the gate formed a sort of ladder. Daniel made it over easily and after a few deep breaths I was next. It wasn’t so hard to climb up to the top of the gate, and with a little bit of wriggling, I was soon sitting at the top of the gate holding onto the stone gate frame on the right preparing to swing my legs over and make the drop down. Daniel spotted me on the way down, but I am still quite short which made the drop a little longer than I expected. Still, in under five minutes I was on the other side of the gate unscathed. Gabe got pictures, unbeknownst to me, so look for them in the corresponding photo album. Pretty soon we were all over the gate, and marveling at the grand adventure into which our little excursion had morphed, we headed back down to find the car, waving to the security camera as we turned our backs.
We found the car in virtually no time and were soon on our way to complete the second part of our plan for the day: to go visit a friend of Gabe’s who is originally Persian, grew up in Belgium, spent three years in the US during which he learned kitchen Spanish in a Tex-Mex restaurant, and has now moved to Valencia to open up a bed and breakfast that he is constructing pretty much on his own. His property is currently a mess but you can definitely tell that it’s shaping up to be an incredible place to stay. I hope I get to come back when it is finished. This guy, Hadi, was really welcoming and interesting, so we just sat around talking for a little while. He told us about his travels and we talked about music, movies, politics and everything in between. He then gave us a tour of his property while detailing for us exactly what he was planning on doing to the place.
We decided to go into the town of Alcublas, outside of which Hadi’s B&B is/will be located, to get a coffee. Once we got there was decided instead to go up to the Embalsa de Loriguilla which is a dam that holds a reserve of drinking water surrounded by absolutely breathtaking scenery. Of course it was raining the whole time we were there, but it was still a jaw-dropping sight. We didn’t spend too long standing around in the rain and cold, but it was enough for Danielle and I to decide that we really wanted to return and go kayaking on the embalsa.
Because Google is a master of all things internet related, it allows me to create a map marking all the places that I went this weekend and embed it in my livejournal!! Click on the picture to enlarge it and Click Here to see the zoom-able version on Google Maps. I can now go fix those other entries in which maps are included. Go back at look at the entry entitled “One Trash Can Full of Tissues Later.” Enjoy! Now back to our scheduled programing...
We decided to hit the road after topping off the day with such an amazing sight, and all too soon Gabe and Daniel had dropped us off across the street from Colegio and driven off to join Gabe’s parents who were also in Valencia celebrating his father’s birthday. It was a lovely day and Danielle and I agreed that it was one of the most rewarding things we have done in Spain so far. Since we lack the ability and funds to rent a car and drive it all over the place, we rarely even consider going to these small towns right outside the city limits. However we think we can swing a way to return on Alcublas once more before we leave. And if we can’t, we will certainly always have the memory of today.