After Brandon and I flew back from New Zealand, there were about 4 days in San Francisco to organize and pack for our move to France in January before I would be flying to Valencia for two weeks of full immersion Spanish lessons. Brandon also had a short turnaround as he would be heading to Colorado for a week-long mountaineering course. It would be another whirlwind trips for both of us, but this was something we were now familiar with and didn’t bother us much – living out of a suitcase had become the new normal!
I arrived in Madrid on the morning of Sunday, December 7th. Aside from making a flight reservation through my dad’s benefits at United, I didn’t book anything. Since Valencia was a large city, my assumption was that English would get me around, public transportation would be reliable and that hostels and/or hotels would be easy and available to book. In hindsight, it may not have been the most prudent decision to make such assumptions especially when traveling alone. Luckily this time, for the most part, my assumptions were accurate – aside from English being widely spoken. As soon as I arrived in Madrid, I paid 5 euro and took the bus to the center of town where I walked around in circles for about 2 hours until I found the right ticketing desk and platform to take the high speed train to Valencia for 65 euro. I finally made it to Valencia that afternoon and continued to plan my stay there.
The first step was to find a place to stay for the night. I rolled my one piece of luggage around the city until I found an acceptable hostel with availability. I came across the Orange Hostel near the center of Valencia and decided this would be a nice place to crash until I found a homestay to take me in for the following two weeks. I checked in with the receptionist and we started talking – I explained that I was visiting Valencia for two weeks to learn as much Spanish as possible but hadn’t booked anything yet. Her name was Ida and she was Italian but studying at the University of Valencia. Immediately after hearing my story and checking me in, she was on the phone with her friends in Valencia who were launching a new service for tourists visiting the city called Welcome Spanish. She arranged to have her two friends meet me the following morning for a tour around Valencia and to enroll me in Spanish school. I couldn’t believe it! What a hook up.
The following morning, I met Rafa and Jorge, who showed me the beaches and marinas in Valencia, the beautiful parks, the massive market in the center of town and other beautiful, historical sites around the city. That afternoon, Rafa and Jorge also helped me enroll in Spanish school. They had done their research and found the best one in Valencia – I just couldn’t believe how friendly and welcoming they were. I also sorted out a homestay in Valencia the following day that happened to be 4 blocks away from the Spanish school.
My homestay was an interesting and more challenging experience compared to the homestay experience that Brandon and I shared in Bariloche that past summer. The homestay mother knew about as much English as I knew Spanish, which is to say she knew not much at all. In Bariloche, I would use Brandon as my crutch to communicate with the family. This time, I would have to fend for myself, which to be fair, is what I signed up for. I wanted to be thrown into the deep end when it came to learning Spanish this time.
Meanwhile, I was really enjoying the Spanish school (school name) where I registered thanks to Rafa and Jorge. Luckily, I also met a friend, Margot from Holland, in the class. She and I were on the same page in Valencia – we were in class from 9am – 1pm everyday and immediately afterwards, we would grab a delicious café con leche and explore the center of Valencia. Over the two weeks, we visited the aquarium, climbed the bell tower of the cathedral, shopped at the indoor and outdoor markets, and enjoyed amazing meals in the sun! One night, Raja even invited us to go out salsa dancing with him, which I hesitantly decided to join. It was a good experience, but let’s just say salsa dancing doesn’t run naturally in my veins.
On one of our last days in the city, Rafa so generously offered to have us over to his house on the outskirts of Valencia to enjoy authentic Valencian paella. He said we couldn’t leave before trying paella from the birthplace of the dish. Margot and I drove over to Rafa’s house where we ate an amazing amount of paella outside in his backyard under the palm tress. I was in paradise. The food was delicious, the weather was perfect and I had met friends that I’d keep for a long time to come!