Can A City Be Your Soul Mate? Finding Myself in Valencia

Valencia, Spain

Author: Marisa LaValette

As the plane began its descent towards Barajas Airport in Madrid, I have to say I felt like a little bit of a poser. I had been teaching Spanish for four years already, but this would be my very first visit to Spain. As I climbed into one of the white Mercedes taxis lined up along the airport curb, the driver asked me immediately “¿Es Mexicana?” He wanted to know if I was Mexican, which in its own way was validating. I intentionally teach my students to speak with a Mexican accent, or any accent from the 10 other Spanish-speaking countries where I have spent time.

Money was the factor that kept me away from Spain from so long. In Guatemala, I had a place to lay my head for 70 cents per night, and a grand meal ran me about two dollars. A beach front room in El Salvador was a reality at $7 nightly, and I could even get a decent hotel in Mexico City for $25 per night. Friends of mine on the European backpacking trail reported back to me about bug-infested dorm
beds for $65. If that’s what $65 could get me, I wasn’t interested.

Home-sharing options changed all that for me, along with the fact that I was
finally, more or less, an adult, and could spend more than $10 a day on travel. My
trip to Spain was made possible, thanks to finding accommodations that would
never run me more than $30 daily. I still wonder if this great rate was aided by
Spain’s wounded economy, but while traveling the stunning country, I was
completely unaware of the economic recession, as people seemed to have incredibly high standards of living, at least in those places where I traveled.

My first stop, like many travelers to Spain, was the Prado Museum in the heart of Madrid. As I took in the summer’s El Greco exhibit, I realized that I could not have appreciated El Greco before having become a Spanish teacher. At the risk of sounding smug, I decided right there in Madrid that the rendition I had of El Greco in
my bedroom in San Francisco was exceedingly better than the amazing works I
gazed upon in all their splendor in front of me, in one of the world’s finest art
venues. An 8th grade student had painted for me View of Toledo as a birthday
present. It differed from the somber original in that she infused her own choice of
violets, aquas, and teals throughout her interpretation. Had I never had the privilege
of teaching this particular student, the exhibit in Madrid wouldn’t have meant much
to me personally, albeit it impressive.

Tapas in Madrid

My relation to the El Greco exhibit at the Prado was not my only personally
significant experience in Spain. As a solo female traveler, I faced the ever-dreaded
experience of dining alone. While traveling alone in the past throughout all of
Central America, I was younger and tended to follow the backpacker trails where
one is hardly ever alone. Being a little bit older and eating at nicer restaurants, I
faced the traveler’s dilemma of being surrounded by people but being truly by
oneself. I treated myself to a pricier than usual seafood dinner in Nerja on Spain’s
Costa del Sol on an outdoor balcony at sunset looking towards Morocco. Instead of
marinating in any feelings of loneliness, I congratulated myself on all the ways my
identity had developed over the past few years from early-20s backpacker to late-20s sophisticated traveler, and I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to hang on to my raw adventurous spirit from those earlier travel days while developing more refined aspects of my personality.

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

My Spanish adventure came together for me when I arrived in Valencia on
Spain’s Mediterranean coast. It reminded me so much of my current home in San
Francisco that I immediately felt that I fit in.

Barrio Russafa in Valencia

Valencia is fashionable and trendy, but its grungy neighborhoods, particularly Barrio Russafa where I stayed, keep it real. The old plazas and cathedrals show off Valencia’s classy side, while the miles of beach keep things fun, hot, and sandy.

I felt an extreme sense of irony while exploring Valencia. In addition to being a Spanish teacher, I shepherd my STEM program students to visits at Silicon Valley tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. In Valencia, I encountered a huge emphasis on technology, engineering, and forward-thinking architecture as seen in the city’s Ciudad de las Artes y las Sciencias complex. I caught an iMax at the eyelid shaped Hemisfèric and explored the interactive aquarium Oceanogràfic complete with shark viewing tunnels and outdoor marine bird exhibits.

Plaza del Ayuntamiento in Valencia

On top of the city’s innovation, my experience in Valencia really got to me as it harkened back to my lifelong love of languages –Spanish, German, and Arabic to date. While I got along just fine with Castilian Spanish in Valencia, I look forward to a time when I might live in Valencia (perhaps teaching English!) and learn Catalan. In fact, I had to learn how to type the “grave”accent mark while writing this reflection, which only serves to feed further into my lifelong passion for learning and teaching.

Ultimately my trip to Spain taught me that when it comes to travel, you never
“miss the window.” It’s never too late to go somewhere you’ve always had your
heart set on visiting. In fact, when you finally do get to go, the timing may be just
right. The culmination of your life’s experiences will show you how to find the
reflection of your own identity in a brand new place.


***Since I’m in Antarctica without internet access for 22 consecutive days, I’ve selected a few articles from other great bloggers to share with you. I’ll be back on February 3rd, 2015 with loads of fantastic adventures from Antarctica to share. Chat soon.***

33 thoughts on “Can A City Be Your Soul Mate? Finding Myself in Valencia

  1. I’m so jealous. Antarctica? I would love to go there. It’s on my bucket list. Say hi to the penguins for me and tell them I’m on my way. We lived in the Comunidade Valenciana for almost eight years. A beautiful part of the country and Madrid is a must see on a European tour. Thanks for the interesting post. Adios Amigo.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jean,

      I agree with you about Madrid. I invite you to check out my Madrid posts and let me know if you’ve been to the same places!

      Thank you Lesley for allowing me this space to talk about Valencia Spain on your beautiful blog! Safe travels in Antarctica!


      Liked by 2 people

  2. Spain is a wonderful country, I love visiting this wonderful country. the Science and Art Centre is one of the great places to visit in Valencia, the architecture alone makes it worth the visit, it sounds like you had a wonderful visit, may you travel many many more miles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Spain is so wonderful. I studied in Valencia last spring through Berklee and the campus was in La Cuidad de las Artes y Ciencias, near where one of your pictures was taken actually. I feel like Valencia makes you feel at home even though you’re so far away. I hope you enjoyed the city as much as I did!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I always love your adventures and pictures. Valencia looks stunning! I would really like to be a travel writer like you some day. I get so excited reading your updates. I’m very interested in hearing about your trip to Antarctica! Thanks for sharing your world. It’s inspiring!

    Favorite part from this post:
    “early-20s backpacker to late-20s sophisticated traveler.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you. I sometimes think the bulk and variety of my dreams might keep me from getting to see them all come true, but I know that the perfect situations will arrive in perfect timing (even if it happens years from when I think it should. Thank you for reminding me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I know for sure that some places just speak to your soul with no rhyme or reason. Venice felt that way to me, I’d never been but my spirit didn’t know that. Glad you are having a great time. Can’t wait to hear about Antarctica. Safe travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very interesing and compelling argument. As someone of Spanish decent, I can’t help but recommend visiting Tenerife, Canary Islands where my family originates. It’s beyond gorgeous with beautiful and welcoming people.

    It’s so insane that I found your article because I had been thinking about writing a provincial love letter to my hometown (Miami, FL.) as well.

    Great post. ¿Viste que diferente era el vocabulario y accento del español (castellano) en comparasión con lo que hablaís vos?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. thanks for sharing your trip and your photos with us Marisa! I was a 20-something backpacker too, and got hooked. Now I travel, yes, but being on the trails alone at 7000 feet is where I want to be. Kudos to you for traveling alone. I love your spirit. And I’ll bet you felt more confident after the trip. No more poseur!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful story/post! The first time I went to Spain, I only spent a few days in Barcelona in 1992. Then in 2011 we spent some time further south in Córdoba and Malaga. Such an amazing richly historic country with the most lovely people! I now have to add Valencia to my list! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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