‘LA RIUÁ’ October 14, 1957: 60 Years Since The Flood That Changed Valencia Forever

On October 14, 1957, a little known disaster occurred in the Spanish city of Valencia. When I first moved to Valencia in 2005, I heard the story of the Turia (the Valencia river) flooding the city in the 1950’s. Now, the city has the beauty of a park in place of the dry riverbed. Years after I first moved to Spain, I decided to research the event in more depth (excuse the pun), and it is the backdrop for my second Secrets of Spain novel, Vengeance in the Valencian Water (out Jan. 2014).

In my first book of the series, Blood in Valencian Soil, Cayetano, a bullfighter from Madrid and Luna, a bike mechanic from Valencia, team up to find the burial-place of a murdered Republican soldier and his involvement with an International Brigade nurse, who disappeared from Cuenca in 1939.  The second book of the series, while on the search for more civil war mass graves, Cayetano’s Falange member grandfather, José, is forced to tell his story of survival during the Valencian flood which changed his life forever.

city mapThe Turia wasn’t always a flowing torrent of water. While there has been recorded flood records since the 1300’s, the riverbed spent most of its time dry, where people would walk to the tiny stream to wash their clothes. Shack houses sprung up in the riverbed. Sales of animals were held down in the riverbed. It was not a year round flowing river. Serious floods had happened every century that the modern city was based against the Turia, the most recent in only 1949 when several dozen people drowned. Even so, they were unprepared for October 1957.

Before you read on, here is the link to a documentary made in 2007 by Valencia University, with radio reports, video footage and eyewitness accounts of the flood. It’s all in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language, you could just mute the sound and watch the video if you want, you will get the idea. Floods pretty much speak for themselves.

Each October, rain comes to the Valencia region, not so much in the city area, but in the surrounding plains and mountainous area that separates the city from inland Spain (If you’re new to this area, Valencia is both a city and a province of Spain. Just a heads-up). The rainfall surges during this change in autumn, onto land that is very dry after a long year without much rain. On Saturday 12 October, 1957, the heavens opened up over Valencia city, in conjunction to the torrential rains in surrounding villages in the Turia (plains around the city) region. On the morning of Sunday 13 October, Las Provincias newspaper noted that the outlying towns of Lliria, Segorbe, Chelva, Requena and Buñol had received rainfall of 500 millimetres in only two days. The Barranco del Carraixet and Palancia rivers north of the city, and the Magre river to the south, along with the Turia river through than ran Valencia city had all risen, but said there was no reason to worry. The rain began to die down in the city, and by late evening, had stopped completely. What the people of Valencia didn’t know was the immense torrent that was gushing its way down the Turia river towards them.

At around 9.30pm, an emergency call came through from the towns of Pedralba and Vilamarxant, 40 kilometres from Valencia, announcing that both towns had been flooded by a deluge of water as the river swelled beyond breaking point. At 11pm, an alarm sounded in the city, notifying all Guardia Civil and Police to be on alert, as the flood was heading directly towards the populated city.

Just after midnight, with the absence of rain, the river continued to swell, and logs and debris began floating through the city, blocking the bridges that connected the two sides of Valencia. Alarms sounded to alert people, and messengers knocked on doors in the El Carmen and Campanar areas, both the closest barrios on each side of the river’s edge. Radio messages went out with a flurry as police rushed to warn people of impending water. Soon after, the first waves began crashing over the edge of the riverbed, instantly flooding the flat streets on both sides, just as the torrential rains returned. In one hour, the water height pouring against the central city was between one to two metres and rising, cutting people off from any escape in the dark. More than 1000 cubic metes of water per second flowed into the streets, reaching over two metres in some areas. The Manises Dam at the edge of the city rose to seven metres above normal height as the river tripled its width and swallowed up much of the city and surrounding area. All water, power and phone connections were swamped and collapsed under the water. Reports say manhole covers exploded into the air followed by a violent shot of muddy water as the water took the city one street at a time.

ciudadinundada-1(If you don’t speak Spanish – blue: river, green: populated flooded farming areas, purple: city/town flooded, grey: not flooded populated areas. Notice the tiny safe area in the centre of the disaster zone?)

In the centre of the old town lies the Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, where today stands the Valencia cathedral,  the Basilica and the archbishop’s palace just behind them. Along with Calle Micalet, this tiny pocket was once home to a mosque and before that a Roman city. This area is built on the slightest, and almost impossible to see, ridge in the land, resulting in these treasures not getting any water and instead were surrounded. (Coincidentally, in my novel, the main character lives one street over from Calle Micalet in this magical pocket of space, but don’t be fooled into thinking they are all going to be safe – you know I don’t write happy endings!)

At 4am, the flood reached its peak of approximately 2,700 cubic metres of water per second, but then quickly tapered off. As the sun rose on Monday October 14, the water continued to decrease and the Manises dam was no longer inundated. From the peak of around eight metres above average to only two metres at the dam, Valencians thought the worst was over. A single telephone line to Castellon in the north remained, so emergency services could get word to Madrid, calling for help. All roads and rail lines leading out of the city towards Madrid, Barcelona and Albacete were blocked, damaged or completely swept away. Many of the bridges that crossed the Turia were damaged or destroyed, along with the beautiful stonework that lined the river one day earlier.

riada10As people ventured out into the water and mud-filled streets, the government received a message around midday that things were about to get worse. The towns of Pedralba to Vilamarxant had again been inundated with a second flood, washing away all landmarks. The water took two hours to reach Valencia city, with 3,500 cubic meters of water per second hitting around 2pm, accompanied by the worst downpour of rain yet seen; around 100 millimetres in just half an hour, enough that people couldn’t even see in front of them. By 3.30pm, the flood reached its peak of around 6,000 cubic metres of water per second, enough to start washing away buildings that had been weakened in the first flood. The river had expanded to cover 2,200 hectares. While Valencia city gave many the luxury of multi-story buildings to find shelter above the water line, which rose between two to five metres above street level in places, the more outlying areas by the beach and port, including the towns of Nazaret, El Cabanyal and Malvarrosa at the mouth of the river, were on flat land and single level buildings, resulting in a complete catastrophe and loss of life as the water poured into the sea. Only five bridges, the longest-standing stone ones, remained in place, though some were damaged and impassable. The worst had finally passed, and the riverbed emptied out into silence again. The final death toll was recorded as 81, though the actual figure remains unknown, but commonly thought around 400.

riada07In the coming days, the army came in by truck and helicopter, bringing up to 500,000 kilos of bread to feed stricken residents. Many needed to be airlifted from rooftops and isolated pockets of dry land as the water receded. Much of the city, port and beach areas were filled with a heavy mud and debris, resulting in a ‘on hands on deck’ response from army and locals alike to clean up. On October 24, dictator Francisco Franco arrived (when much was cleaned already, of course) to survey the damage and have his loyal (oppressed, whatever) subjects cheer for him for coming to the disaster zone. As people lived on bread brought north from Gandia and milk given out by the ladle-load, the long process of rebuilding began. The mud was not completely cleaned away until the end of November.

In June 1958, the outlying port and beach areas suffered a second minor flood, as their drains were still clogged with mud, and the following month ‘Plan Sur’ began, a project to divert the river. The plan had initially been designed over a decade earlier but sidelined due to excessiveness (which is ironic considering the ‘excessiveness’ of everything the Valencian government spends money on). A plan to build an enormous green space in the city was put up against building a huge highway to get people from Madrid to the beach a fraction faster. In 1965 construction began to divert the river south of the city, resulting in water flowing around the city for the first time in 1972. At the same time, land cleared by the flood on the other side of the river from the old town was used to create many new buildings, mostly apartments, giving Valencia a construction boom (that’s a whole other tale). The flood had accidentally given Valencia a whole new chapter in its story, already thousands of years old. (I have never seen any water in the river diversion, other than the tiny part where the sea flows into the river mouth. If you have a photo of the Plan Sur river diversion (any year) with water in it, I would love to see it).

Here is a short clip (in Spanish) made as they designed Plan Sur in the 60’s, with some aerial shots of Valencia if you’re so inclined.

In 1976, on his first visit to Valencia as head of State, King Juan Carlos I gifted the dry riverbed to the city, and the highway plan was shelved forever; the seven kilometre park won its place in Valencia’s history. Construction on the final part of the Turia riverbed park continues today, with most of the park now complete. The ‘top’ of the park has Valencia’s zoo, the Bioparc, and footpaths and bike lanes weave though gardens, streams, sports fields, playgrounds to the other end, home to Valencia’s massive Arts and Sciences complex. The final part, where the old riverbed meets the sea is all-but completed.

While Valencia is an amazing city, the park is the jewel in the crown.

This is a tourism video was taken a few years ago, but shows Valencia from the air, over the park and areas rebuilt after the flood, plus many of the great sights you can read about in my books.

riada1

All photos in 1957 are courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces.

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‘LA RIUÁ’ October 14, 1957: The Flood That Changed Valencia Forever

On October 14, 1957, a little known disaster occurred in the Spanish city of Valencia. When I first moved to Valencia in 2005, I heard the story of the Turia (the Valencia river) flooding the city in the 50’s. Now, the city has the beauty of a park in place of the dry riverbed. Years after I first moved to Spain, I decided to research the event  in more depth (excuse the pun), and it is the backdrop for my second Secrets of Spain novel, Vengeance in the Valencian Water (out Jan. 2014).

In my first book of the series, Blood in Valencian Soil, Cayetano, a bullfighter from Madrid and Luna, a bike mechanic from Valencia, team up to find the burial-place of a murdered Republican soldier and his involvement with an International Brigade nurse, who disappeared from Cuenca in 1939.  The second book of the series, while on the search for more civil war mass graves,  Cayetano’s Falange member grandfather, José, is forced to tell his story of survival  during the Valencian flood which changed his life forever.

city map

The Turia wasn’t always a flowing torrent of water. While there has been recorded flood records since the 1300’s, the riverbed spent most of its time dry, where people would walk to the tiny stream, to wash their clothes. Shack houses sprung up in the riverbed. Sales of animals were held down in the riverbed. It was not a year round flowing river. Serious floods had happened every century the modern city was based against the Turia, the most recent in only 1949 when several dozen people drowned. Even so, they were unprepared for October 1957.

Before you read on, here is the link to a documentary made in 2007 by Valencia University, with radio reports, video footage and eyewitness accounts of the flood. It’s all in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language, you could just mute the sound and watch the video if you want, you will get the idea. Floods pretty much speak for themselves.

Each October, rain comes to the Valencia region, not so much in the city area, but in the surrounding plains and mountainous area that separates the city from inland Spain (If you’re new to this area, Valencia is both a city and a province of Spain. Just a heads-up). The rainfall surges during this change in autumn, onto land that is very dry after a long year without much rain. On Saturday 12 October, 1957, the heavens opened up over Valencia city, in conjunction to the torrential rains in surrounding villages in the Turia (plains around the city) region. On the morning of Sunday 13 October, Las Provincias newspaper noted that the outlying towns of Lliria, Segorbe, Chelva, Requena and Buñol had received rainfall of 500 millimetres in only two days. The Barranco del Carraixet and Palancia rivers north of the city, and the Magre river to the south, along with the Turia river through than ran Valencia city had all risen, but said there was no reason to worry. The rain began to die down in the city, and by late evening, had stopped completely. What the people of Valencia didn’t know was the immense torrent that was gushing its way down the Turia river towards them.

At around 9.30pm, an emergency call came through from the towns of Pedralba and Vilamarxant, 40 kilometres from Valencia, announcing that both towns had been flooded by a deluge of water as the river swelled beyond breaking point. At 11pm, an alarm sounded in the city, notifying all Guardia Civil and Police to be on alert, as the flood was heading directly towards the populated city.

Just after midnight, with the absence of rain, the river continued to swell, and logs and debris began floating through the city, blocking the bridges that connected the two sides of Valencia. Alarms sounded to alert people, and messengers knocked on doors in the El Carmen and Campanar areas, both the closest barrios on each side of the river’s edge. Radio messages went out with a flurry as police rushed to warn people of impending water. Soon after, the first waves began crashing over the edge of the riverbed, instantly flooding the flat streets on both sides, just as the torrential rains returned. In one hour, the water height pouring against the central city was between one to two metres and rising, cutting people off from any escape in the dark. More than 1000 cubic metes of water per second flowed into the streets, reaching over two metres in some areas. The Manises Dam at the edge of the city rose to seven metres above normal height as the river tripled its width and swallowed up much of  the city and surrounding area. All water, power and phone connections were swamped and collapsed under the water. Reports say manhole covers exploded into the air followed by a violent shot of muddy water  as the water took the city one street at a time.

ciudadinundada-1

(If you don’t speak Spanish – blue: river, green: populated flooded farming areas, purple: city/town flooded, grey: not flooded populated areas. Notice the tiny safe area in the centre of the disaster zone?)

In the centre of the old town lies the Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, where today stands the Valencia cathedral,  the Basilica and the archbishops palace just behind them. Along with  Calle Micalet, this tiny pocket was once home to a mosque and before that a Roman city. This area is built on the slightest, and almost impossible to see, ridge in the land, resulting in these treasures not getting any water and instead were surrounded. (Coincidentally, in my novel, the main character lives one street over from Calle Micalet in this magical pocket of space, but don’t be fooled into thinking they are all going to be safe – you know I don’t write happy endings!)

At 4am, the flood reached its peak of approximately 2,700 cubic metres of water per second, but then quickly tapered off. As the sun rose on Monday October 14, the water continued to decrease and the Manises dam was no longer inundated. From the peak of around eight metres above average to only two metres at the dam, Valencians thought the worst was over. A single telephone line to Castellon in the north remained, so emergency services could get word to Madrid, calling for help. All roads and rail lines leading out of the city towards Madrid, Barcelona and Albacete were blocked, damaged or completely swept away. Many of the bridges that crossed the Turia were damaged or destroyed, along with the beautiful stonework  that lined the river one day earlier.

riada10

As people ventured out into the water and mud-filled streets, the government received a message around midday that things were about to get worse. The towns of Pedralba to Vilamarxant had again been inundated with a second flood, washing away all  landmarks. The water took two more hours to reach Valencia city, with 3,500 cubic meters of water per second hitting around 2pm, accompanied by the worst downpour of rain yet seen; around 100 millimetres in just half an hour, enough that people couldn’t even see in front of them. By 3.30pm, the flood reached its peak of around 6,000 cubic metres of water per second, enough to start washing away  buildings that had been weakened in the first flood. The river had expanded to cover 2,200 hectares. While Valencia city gave many the luxury of multi-story buildings to find shelter above the water line, which rose between 2-5 metres above street level in places, the more outlying areas by the beach and port, including the towns of Nazaret, El Cabanyal and Malvarrosa at the mouth of the river, were on flat land and single level buildings, resulting in a complete catastrophe and loss of life as the water poured into the sea. Only five bridges, the longest-standing stone ones remained in place, though some were damaged and impassable. The worst had finally passed, and the riverbed emptied out into silence again. The final death toll was recorded as 81, though the actual figure remains unknown.

riada07

In the coming days, the army came in by truck and helicopter, bringing up to 500,000 kilos of bread to feed stricken residents. Many needed to be airlifted from rooftops and isolated pockets of dry land as the water receded. Much of the city, port and beach areas were filled with a heavy mud and debris, resulting in a ‘on hands on deck’ response from army and locals alike to clean up. On October 24, dictator Francisco Franco arrived (when much was cleaned already, of course) to survey the damage and have his loyal (oppressed, whatever) subjects cheer for him for coming to the disaster zone. As people lived on bread brought north from Gandia and milk given out by the ladle-load, the long process of rebuilding began. The mud was not completely cleaned away until the end of November.

In June 1958, the outlying port and beach areas suffered a second minor flood, as their drains were still clogged with mud, and the following month ‘Plan Sur’ began, a project to divert the river. The plan had initially been designed over a decade earlier but sidelined due to excessiveness (which is ironic considering the ‘excessiveness’ of everything the Valencian government spends money on). A plan to build an enormous green space in the city was put up against building a huge highway to get people from Madrid to the beach a fraction faster. In 1965 construction began to divert the river south of the city, resulting in  water  flowing around the city for the first time in 1972. At the same time, land cleared by the flood on the other side of the river from the old town was used to create many new buildings, mostly apartments, giving Valencia a construction boom (that’s a whole other tale). The flood had accidentally given Valencia a whole new chapter in its story, already thousands of years old. (I have never seen any water in the river diversion, other than the tiny part where the sea flows into the river mouth. If you have a photo of the Plan Sur river diversion (any  year) with water in it, I would love to see it).

Here is a short clip (in Spanish) made as they designed Plan Sur in the 60’s, with some aerial shots of Valencia if you’re so inclined

In 1976, on his first visit to Valencia as head of State, King Juan Carlos I gifted the dry riverbed to the city, and the highway plan was shelved forever; the 7 kilometre park won its place in Valencia’s history. Construction on the final part of the Turia riverbed park continues today, with most of the park now complete. The ‘top’ of the park has Valencia’s zoo, the Bioparc, and footpaths and bike lanes weave though gardens, streams, sports fields, playgrounds to the other end, home to Valencia’s massive Arts and Sciences complex. The final part, where the old riverbed meets the sea is still to be completed.

While Valencia is an amazing city, the park is the jewel in the crown.

This is a tourism video was taken a few years ago, but shows Valencia from the air, over the park and areas rebuilt after the flood, plus many of the great sights you can read about in my books.

riada1

All photos in 1957 are courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces and 2013 photos are author’s own. 

A Wistful Day in Valencia – Lost in a Sea of Familiarity

For me, the day starts with noise. Normally, it’s the sound of one of my young sons singing in the bathroom down the hallway. Or, if I’m lucky and the children have slept in, it’s my 6am alarm, waking me to the sound of Recuerdos de la Alhambra. But I’m not at home today, I’m in Valencia city. The hum of the city is immediately evident; Valencia is never quiet, and in my absence, I had forgotten just how noisy the city can be. Fourth noisiest in Europe, someone once told me. Statistics aside, the place buzzes with life 24 hours a day. I hear it while I lie in bed, the constant whirring of traffic somewhere, of scooters and buses on the street three stories below me. I wonder how long ago the love affair with leaning on the car horn began. The city sighs, breathes and releases a sound that is not unique, yet oddly comforting.

Out of bed and I pull open a window, to look down on Carrer de Sant Vicent Mártir. Two street cleaners are emptying a bin. I’m sure I heard one yell to the other that he didn’t have sex last night because his girlfriend was constipated. You can’t accuse Spaniards of not sharing. Only a few people are walking the streets at 7.30. The air is still cool, but that won’t last, even on this narrow shaded street. The beautiful building across from me is silent; I hope it has life inside somewhere, it deserves life. This street has seen a lot of history. Franco and his troops marched down here when the city was overcome in the war. That plays on this war nerd’s mind.

The apartment has a little patio in the well of the building. I step out in the cool air and privacy and sip my drinking yoghurt. It’s not a favourite thing, but I used to buy it in Spain when I lived here. The cheap price gave me a sense of nostalgia at the Mercadona last night, as did the organic fresh milk from Galicia, and the Valencian oranges. I don’t even eat oranges, can’t stand them. But they are part of the life I used to have in this city, and today is my chance to enjoy that life again, if I can find it. One floor up, a woman is talking to her daughter in French; the smell of cigarette smoke is overwhelming. Time to go for a walk.

Last night’s exuberance is still in my head. I walked the streets and alleys of Valencia old town in the dark – because it’s safe enough to do so – and found myself in a club late at night, with an old friend in tow. Places close earlier than they use to; all-night parties seem to have faded. Maybe the long-suffering residents of the El Carmen got their way with their noise protests, maybe the recession keeps people home more often. Maybe not, there are people everywhere. I had forgotten how many people live in Europe. Too much south Pacific island living? Is there such a thing?

La plaza de goerlich

Plaza del Ayuntamiento 1933 and today

plaza1

The tourist route can wait, though it will be filled with cruise-ships parties following their guide soon. That’s new. I wander into Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the main square of the city. Two police officers stand at the main entrance, which is still closed. They both smile and nod hello as I walk by; that’s not new. There are a few other tourists out early in the day, but are all at least twenty years older than me. I have learned a lot about Plaza del Ayuntamiento in my absence – it was called Plaza Emilio Castelar during the Second Republic, and Plaza del Caudillo when Franco took over. They tried Plaza del País Valenciano for a while, too. Since I’m in Spain on a civil war research trip, I can stand and imagine the propaganda posters and protesters, plus soldiers from both sides of the battle.

ENTRADA DE FRANCO EN vALENCIA EN 1939

Town Hall balcony 1939 and today 

plaza

desmontaje estatua de Franco

Franco gets his marching orders

A statue of Franco stood in the square once, to commemorate 25 years of peace under his reign (no comment!). Now, a statue of Francesc de Vinatea stands in its place, a 14th century Valencian hero. The plaza once had a flower market embedded in the centre, underneath a fountain-littered promenade, but that was ripped out in 1961. Now, flower vendors are stalls that dot around the open space. I buy some; pink somethings (I don’t know my flowers!), for no reason than to say hello to the old man who was selling them. The plaza teems with people driving around its exterior, the audible hum of life is in full swing. There are stickers on posts; protests against government cuts to education. Valencia’s voice is coming in to protest later, but I don’t know that yet. My first day in Valencia years ago, as a new citizen to the city, there was a fireworks display in the plaza. I had never seen such a spectacle; Valencia like to burn things with a lot of noise. It was to commemorate an event being staged, the same one that had brought me across the world. The fireworks, which were let off in the centre of the plaza, where I’m standing, were so loud that a glass bus shelter shattered into a gazillion pieces. Nobody batted an eyelid; shit happens. Now, my friends, who shared the moment, aren’t here. We’re spread out across the world again. It changes the feel of the city remarkably.

fireworks

BOOM

I leave the plaza and the older part of this ancient city, and head down the pedestrian Carrer de Ribera. It’s cold in the shade. The stores are still closed, but the cafes are all open, filled with people having breakfast at 9am. Everyone looks so relaxed. I’m glad I brought my pink scarf on holiday; it seems to be part of the fashion. New Zealand may as well be another planet when it comes to clothes; finally my scarf has a home. I’ll need to buy more before I go back.

Carrer de Colon is busy, its one way traffic speeds past as I wait to cross the wide street. A bus stops and many people, mostly women, get off, obviously on their way to work. It’s the Number 19 route, almost at its end. I’ll take that bus at some point, it’s the route I took many times before. One woman is loudly telling another that her period is really bad this morning. There’s that over-sharing again. I cross the street, next to a woman pushing a worn-down stroller. The girl, perhaps three, looks tired. The mother is struggling to push the child on wobbly wheels and suck on her cigarette. I don’t like to tell people how to live their lives, and hate to receive advice, but smoking like that in a child’s face annoys me. I forget I come from a place where smoking is considered strange.

toros

I pass by the bullring, Plaza de Toros de Valencia, which is closed this early, even the ticket booths. Posters are up for the upcoming weekend fight. I must go (it will later disappoint me). The statue of Valencian fighter Manolo Montoliu has had an artificial wreath put around his neck, and it’s covered in ribbons the colour of the Valencian flag. The anniversary of his death has just passed.

Down busy Carrer de Russafa, past a panadería selling the most delicious-looking pastries, and there is a space in the line-up of conjoined buildings. I think of Jason Webster’s novel, A Death in Valencia, when the main character’s apartment block collapses in this suburb. There hasn’t been a building on that site in years. Wasn’t it once a public carparking space? Knowing Valencia, they probably went to build something and found Roman or similar artifacts. The place is good for finds like that.

Down Gran Via del Marques del Turia, a street I’ve wandered many times. You can wander either side of the multi-lane street, or through the middle, in the tree-lined walkway lovingly placed in the centre. The cobbled path is dusty, like Valencia always seems to be. There are many beautiful buildings along here; I had several friends who lived here, in gorgeous apartments. They don’t live here now; they were in San Francisco or New Zealand last I heard. My doctor lived on this street. His office, in his apartment, has a plaque outside his door, and I touch it when I walk past. In very difficult times, it was good to have someone who listened to serious concerns. The old bookstore is still there, still not open for the day. Imagine all the stories hiding inside. The optometrist is still there; a young woman is opening the place as I go by. I wonder if the old couple who worked there have retired yet. I hope they were able to. The traffic is building as I reach the end, at the Pont d’Aragó, the bridge over the Turia across the street. The light says I can cross, but cars stream through their own red light anyway. It was always dangerous crossing here, though I don’t have my quad (yes, quad) stroller with me anymore. The sight made cars stop, but running down a single woman seems to be of no concern, as always. I stood on this bridge late one night, eight months pregnant with my fourth child, knowing I had to move away from Valencia. What a depressing evening.

turia

Into the Turia I walk, one of the grandest sights you will ever behold. Bikes drift past as I head along familiar routes. The Chinese guy is still doing tai chi in his usual spot after all these years. Keen runners are out, along with pairs of old women out for a stroll. One tells me that I’m beautiful enough to find a good husband. How generous. One of my favourite spots, the fountain outside the Palau de la Musica, is silent. My children loved running along the edges and watching the water displays. No one is playing now. A young guy is setting up a tripod and he goes out of his way to say hello to me as the sun begins to warm up the city. I remember seeing a friend here, a famous New Zealand sportsman, one hot summer evening as he was riding his wife’s bike, and had a pizza in the front basket. His front wheel wobbled when he waved hello. He’s gone now, runs some kind of hovercraft company these days. Another friend told me to stop running along here, because I was too pregnant; she’s gone now, too. There used to host open-air concerts here at night in the summer, maybe there still are. Sitting under trees with picnic baskets and enjoying noisy Spanish life; I hope the recession didn’t claim them.

Turia

A walk along familiar paths brings back memories, like the bike stand where tourists grab a ride, Gulliver playground, which is amazing, but in all honesty, not that clean and my children were too small to really enjoy it. The concrete mini-golf thing is still there, looking as worn as ever. The cafe with foul-tasting horchata ice-blocks is open, and mothers sit outside with young kids. When we took our kids there with friends, we went around as a group, and collected the rubbish before the children could play. After a while, you accept that as standard practice. I remember learning of a friend’s miscarriage while at the playground, and wondering how could I tell her that her husband had been cheating on her after that? She forgave him, once she found out.

park

The skateboard ramps have even more graffiti and it seems angrier than before. Spanish life has got harder. ‘My’ part of the park, the area around the Arts and Sciences has a huge amount of familiarity, yet feels so different at the same time. On the whole, nothing has changed. The Reina Sofia theatre, the giant eye, could use a wash, but the place is exactly how I remember. I walked along here every day, and after being away so long, coming back is a bizarre experience. There’s no way of explaining what is it like to walk past things that I have missed for so long that I almost felt as if they no longer existed. The playground where my children played is exactly the same; the bushes still rustle oddly, too. The kids always suspected giant rats (not sure who started that rumour. It’s just birds). I sit in a spot under the shade of a tree. I did that one day, with my sons, then aged 23 months and 7 months, and wondered why we were alone. Then I noticed it was 44 degrees, according the temperature gauge on Pont de Montolivet. I had a pain in my stomach and I had a feeling I was pregnant. Four weeks later I had that confirmed, while looking out over the park in my apartment.

Turia

It’s odd to see my part of the city so lifeless. Once, I couldn’t walk down the road without bumping into 30 people I knew, friends to chat with, husbands wheeling pink shopping baskets home for their wives, locals who were amazed at how many sons I had and how close together they were all born. Now, almost no one is about. The woman at the perfume counter I used to visit seems happy to have a customer when I buy a bottle of Prada. The smell is an instant reminder of my old life.

It’s easy to waste hours walking around old haunts, up and down streets, filled with memories. The facade is all the same, but the atmosphere has changed. Valencia moved on without me. Of course it did; I moved on without Valencia. I was only meant to be away three months, not six years. But it’s great to be back. The day is quickly lost by wandering old haunts. I stop by the Disney store; there was a robbery at the nearby Carrefour once. Friends had been there, and dived behind piles of stuffed Disney characters. One guy dived behind his girlfriend. I don’t think the relationship lasted much longer after that. Today, the whole place is quiet.

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Walking among the tourists at Torres de Serranos

It’s time to walk back through the park, to Torres de Serranos and dive back through the old town. People to see, places to go. I have to play tour guide later, not something I’m sure I can do. The way I know the city can’t really be explained. Plaza de la Virgen is gearing up for a fiesta, but I can’t even remember which one. I’ve seen a few girls in their fallera dresses, so it’s something big. I sit at the fountain, a popular spot, and remembered sitting here with my father, while heavily pregnant with son number 3 of 4. My father has passed away now.

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I see familiar spots, places I put in my first Spain novel. New(er) places will be in the next novel. I’ll visit those spots later. The beverages in Cafe le las Horas are as good as ever in the mid-afternoon, as is the decor. I might sit here for a while; little do I know I’ll be wandering busy streets later and getting caught up in a giant-sized anti-government and banking protest. This spot will do nicely while I laugh with a friend. Valencia exists entirely inside the people who are there. 

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All 2013 photos author’s own. Valencia history photos courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 4: On the road with ‘Blood in the Valencian Soil’

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The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see – Gilbert K Chesterton

There are two things I don’t like – being mistaken for a romance novelist, and being called a tourist. I went to Spain without maps, guidebooks, or a plan for my trip. Yet, I decided to do something that would mix in two things I don’t like, and walked around like a tourist, taking photos of a book about love affairs destroyed by the Spanish Civil War. People in Valencia didn’t look twice at me, such is their relaxed nature. Madrileños looked at me like I was crazy, which was pretty fun. Either way, for several hours, I took photos of my last novel in some of the locations in the book.

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Caught being a tourist at Valencia’s Pont del Real

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Valencia’s Turia is a central point in the book through most of the novel, and in the titles to come in the ‘Secrets of Spain’ series. Who wouldn’t want to visit? I enjoyed sitting in the grass every day of my time in the city.

So here we are, in rough order as they appear in the novel, photos of my book and locations in BITVS. Even if you haven’t read the novel, you can still enjoy some beautiful parts of Spain –

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Chapter one – 1939: view of the Cuenca Convent San Pablo from the Beltrán family home in Barrio San Martín

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Chapter one – 1939: Cuenca’s Casas Colgadas, Hanging Houses, where Cayetano, Alejandro, Scarlett, Luna and Sofía discuss the civil war

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Chapter two – 2009: Madrid’s Plaza de Toros near where Luna meets Cayetano ‘the bull-minder’

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Chapter two – 2009: a walk in Madrid’s Retiro park

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Chapter three – 2009: a night at Madrid’s Ritz hotel

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Chapter seven – 1939: the drop from Luna’s window

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Chapter eight – 2009: Cayetano follows Luna in Valencia’s Turia

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Chapter 11 – 2009: Luna and Cayetano go to Cuenca in search of their namesakes

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Chapter 12 – 2009: Cayetano and Luna get into a fight at Cuenca’s cathedral

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Chapter 13 – 1939: Luna, Cayetano and Scarlett panic run up Cuenca’s Barrio San Martín steps

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Chapter 14 – 2009: a stolen night in Cuenca’s parador

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Chapter 19 – 2009: another visit to Madrid to uncover the Beltrán family secret

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Chapter 21 – 1939: a secret burial in the Valencian mountains

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Chapter 21 – 1939: arriving in Valencia as the war comes to an end

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Chapter 21 – 1939: Placa del L’Angel, where a plan to survive the war is hatched

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Chapter 24 – 2009: a disasterous night out in Valencia’s El Carmen district

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Chapter 26 – 2009: a secret hideaway in the Valencian mountains is found

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Chapter 29 – 1939: panic at the clock tower at Valencia’s port

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Chapter 33 – 2009: Luna goes back to work as a Valencian bike mechanic

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Chapter 34 – 2009 and 1939: a declaration of love (written on Cuenca’s gorge bridge) that is broken and forgotten

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Chapter 35 – 2009: Cayetano hears a painful truth, another barrier to getting back in the bullring

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Chapter 39 – 2009: a bullfighter and a bike mechanic at the Valencia’s Plaza de la Virgen fountain

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Chapter 39 – 2009: the entrance to the Valencia cathedral where the Water Court meet

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Chapter 45 – 2009: a new grave discovered in the Valencia mountains

There you have it! Because I am doing posts on Valencia, Madrid and Cuenca, I didn’t feel the need to go into specific detail about each location, I will save that for other posts. In the spirit of not planning my trip, I unexpectedly ended up in Xátiva. I didn’t want to visit the town again, but the fun trip gave me this photo, standing in the spot where, in 2005, my husband took a random scenic photo. It ended up being the photo that graces the cover of BITVS, but I didn’t have a copy of the book on me that day!

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So, what happened to the copy of the book in the photos? It got autographed and given to a friend who was kind enough to accompany me on a very cold day out in Madrid as I took the photos. Thank you for your good humour and an arm-in-arm stroll in Retiro, in the spirit of the novel. Being able to talk about Spain and the civil war every day was the highlight of my trip.

Up next… Part 5 (of 10) – Madrid Tapas and History Tour with James Blick

*all photos are authors own, with the exception of photos 1 & 2. Owner – Sabine Kern.

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 2: The top ten things I rediscovered about Valencia

VALENCIA

If any city deserved to be announced in capitals, it’s Valencia. I lived in Valencia for roughly three years and I had a whirlwind of a time. I moved away in 2007, on the premise that I would return in three months. However, court cases, immigration and several cases of terminal cancer got in the way and my life once again took shape in New Zealand. Valencia has remained the place I love the most, and I joked that I left my heart there when I moved, so I would need to return. After a long absence, it was time to put that to the test.

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Time to get my Valencia on

I arrived in Valencia by train. The trip from Barcelona felt days long. Despite a successful trip to the Catalonian capital, I wasn’t in a great mood. The three-hour trip was punctuated with stops in forgettable locations, and the rigours of the night before threatened my resolve to stay positive. I arrived my apartment on Calle San Vicente Martir, and met a lovely woman named Inés, whose English was much appreciated, I felt keen to be on holiday again.

When I joked and said I left my heart in Valencia, perhaps I wasn’t joking. I dumped my bags and set off along the streets of the city’s old town, and realised that I absolutely belong in this city. That began six nights and days of enjoying as much Valencia as possible. Who needs sleep? Not me, a few hours after I arrived in V-Town, I found myself in a club deep in the El Carmen district, lost and loving it.

Rather than bore you with a diary of my events, here are the top ten things I rediscovered about Valencia. I knew all of these things, but they stood out to me again on this trip.

In no particular order, and without photos of the same spots as every other site –

1 – PDA’s (Public Displays of Affection) are everywhere

When I started writing the modern day storyline of Blood in the Valencian Soil (BITVS), I set out to write in little details of life in Valencia city. Now, I have seen this in many Spanish cities and towns, but in Valencia it seems to stand out to me. Everywhere, but particularly in the Turia park, they are people kissing. Not just kissing, attempting to suck each other’s faces off. To their credit, the Spanish don’t look like two virgins at their church wedding when they kiss, they have largely sorted the art of good kissing. I have a love/hate relationship with this level of public affection. I love the fact that people feel free enough to sit around kissing (very unlike where I live), and I hate it because I’m not the one doing the kissing! I remember on a number of occasions, when living in Valencia, when asked what I would like to do on an evening out, I replied, “Let’s go and make out in the park. That’s what all the kids are doing these days”. If you have a companion while in Valencia, or happen upon one, I recommend kissing in the park. The other week, I saw a couple farewelling one another. I was lying in the grass, listening to some Pablo Alborán, when I heard a bang nearby. This couple, in their lust for one another, had both dropped their bikes in a heap while he swept her into his arms for a very long smooch. I screwed my face up – with jealousy. I think kissing is highly underrated, but Valencia’s Turia celebrates this somewhat lost art.

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Anyone fancy a kiss near my favourite part of the park?

2 – It’s so easy to get around the city

Pull out your map of Valencia. You feel mind-blown by the amount of things to do. There’s the old town, the El Carmen, Ruzafa, the Turia (which has the Bioparc zoo and the Arts and Sciences at opposite ends of each other!), and you can’t miss a chance to go to Malvarrosa. Sure, if you want to explore Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, they are nearby each other, but you may feel like you are going to have to miss out the further flung attractions.

Oh, no you don’t! The beauty of Valencia is that everything is within walking distance, and you don’t have to enjoy marathons to sight-see on foot. Even if you don’t want to walk, there is the excellent bus and Metro services. Valencia is beautifully packed. Want to try the markets ofMercado Central, Mercado Colón and Mercado Ruzafa in the same day? Of course you can! Want to eat paella at the beach, but also visit the Arts and Sciences complex? Do both! Want to wander all the historical sights of the old town? You can do all of that in a day, and enjoy plenty of meals, beverages and ambiance. It’s nigh impossible to get lost in Valencia, despite it’s narrow intricate streets of the inner area. If all else fails, you will eventually pop out on what got nicknamed ‘the ring road’, the road that winds along the edge of the park, and around Carrer Guillem de Castro/Xativa/Colón. This circle of roads encompasses the oldest part of the city, and what could be considered the most complicated area to navigate, but also home to the largest concentration of sights. No matter where you get lost, you’ll pop out on the main road and can dive back in somewhere for more fun. In six days, I did every sight in the whole city, plus day trips outside the city, and multiple afternoons of mucking around relaxing. You will never want to leave Valencia, but if you are time-poor, you can still be attraction-rich.

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There is a lot to see, so get out there!

3 – Valencia has its very own vibe

“It’s the vibe of the thing”. Classic line from an excellent Australian film. It’s relevant here in Valencia. The city definitely has its own vibe. Valencia is like Spain’s youngest child. Madrid has the feeling of being the oldest child – there is a reserved obligation, a feeling of needing to be in charge, needing to set an example. Barcelona is the middle-child, too flamboyant to be forgotten, but feels the need to show off for attention. Valencia is the baby of the family, and while the other cities came of age, Valencia was still running between the adults in search of fun. Now, Valencia doesn’t need guidance, or to try to measure up to its counterparts. It may be Spain’s third largest city, but there is no conformity in its way of life. Valencia is alive with its own traditions, language, food and attitude. Valencia feels like its inhabitants are on regular alert for a good time. The city, like the nation, may be in times of hardship, however, the joy of life remains.

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You would never know an anti-austerity protest in directly beneath me, would you?

4 – You don’t need to know Valencia’s history – you’re living in it

When Valencia sighs, it doesn’t just let out the stress of the day. It heaves with the weight of all that has gone on. This is a great thing! Granted, most who visit the city don’t know the great detail of this spirited city. For a history nerd like me, I jump up and down with excitement. The interesting thing about Spain is (and I spent many an evening talking about this over drinks) that the country is how it is for a number of reasons. The people are the way they are for specific reasons. This all relates to Spain recent (ie. 20th century) past. Spain is a deeply complex country, and history’s events have plunged in a knife into each city and town differently. For example, the horrors many cities suffered in the civil war are very different. Valencia was never at the front line of the war (aerial bombings aside), but when the city fell at the end of the war, the last point to be captured by Franco’s rebel troops, it fell hard. (BITVS can give you a easy-to-digest concept of this if you are interested. My fiction doesn’t get to stuck on little details, so as not to weigh down the narrative. Good if you don’t want to be a history buff) Also, for me, the disastrous story of Valencia’s 1957 flood still has hints around the city. While researching the subject for my next novel, the locations in the book are largely the same as they are today. I can walk around corners, my hand on the stone buildings, and be able to visualise the flood water level, which is marked in some locations. Valencia has a soul, and if you wander off the cruise-ship tourist trail, you can hear it speak.

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The Portal de Valldigna, the old entrance to the Arab quarter of the city in 1400. My next novel, Vengeance in the Valencian Water, has a scene here. Standing there with the place to myself, gave me a chance to finalise details for a gruesome scene.

5 – The city knows who it is, but the future is still wide open

In my eagerness to celebrate San Isidro in Madrid, I forgot to check the fiesta timetable for Valencia. What do you know? Second Sunday of May is the procession Virgen de los Desamparados. The Virgin of the helpless/forsaken, who is much-loved in V-Town, is pulled out of the Basilica, where she lives, and carried to the city’s cathedral. It’s around 200 metres. Piece of cake. Not. The original statue dates from around the 15th century, so she stays at home, and a replica is paraded through the thousands of people who want to see her. Touching the statue is a big deal, you get a year of grace if you touch her. People hurl their babies at this thing, who cry in panic. I stood in attendance and watched with amusement as people cheered “Long live the mother of God” (Correct me if I’m wrong there).  Was this the end? Lord no. The night before had been full of processions and prayer, and the rest of the day followed suit. Valencia has many such days in its calendar, and they are regularly attended, despite being hundreds of years old, and surely enlightenment has opened people’s minds to the world. No matter, from rugby-throwing your baby at a replica statue, to burning down the city at Fallas, and everything else the year holds, Valencia loves its traditions.

In saying that, Valencia, like its Spanish counterparts elsewhere, has suffered upheaval. Apart from anti-austerity, Valencia’s current main beef with the scum-filled right-wing government is the cuts to education. Indeed, what becomes of the generation of children in school right now? Those a decade older than them are suffering at the beginning of their lives. Everyone is hurting. Valencia has a difficult future ahead. I realise this is irrelevant information for your average tourist, but not to me.

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Valencia’s ghastly mayor, Rita Barberá, throws petals at the Virgen while people toss forth their kids. It’s all smiles on the balcony for the rich, not so much for people on the ground

6 – It’s all about the people

Yes – Valencia has it all – the abundant good weather, the first-class food, the luxury of the Turia, history, language, shopping, sexy policemen in tight pants (note – may be limited to the guy I saw in Plaza de la Reina), but the people make the city. I feel this way about any place. Something can be beautiful, but if the people are assholes, the trip is ruined. There are a few assholes in V-Town, like anywhere, but for me, the moments where I met with people in the city, old friends and new, they were the best parts of the trip. Who would have thought I would have watched a group of ex-pats try to lay out a portable cricket pitch in the baseball diamond in the Turia? It’s the more out-of-the-way things that make a trip for me. You can only take so much sightseeing and tapas. People make the difference.

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Graham Hunt and myself pose for a shameless selfie to post on the WABAS FB page. Nicest guy in Valencia, no question. 

7 – It’s possible to be a local and a tourist at the same time

How? I will tell you. Shoes. You can tell a tourist by their shoes. They are wearing comfortable walking shoes. Please, go and buy something pretty and inappropriate, and you will blend in.

I’m kidding. The number of tourists has remarkably increased since I last visited Valencia. It’s a double-edged sword; the city needs to survive and cruise-ships pouring in mostly middle-aged punters, or hordes of Japanese tourists boosts the economy. They follow marked routes through Valencia’s main points, and in theory, spend their money. This is new to me, and I wondered what the city will look like in another five years. Perhaps like Barcelona, who seems to have sold itself to tourism? I hope not. The risk is there in Valencia right now. You can follow the main sights of the city, and they should be seen. They are popular for a reason.

However, wander a few streets away and you can feel the buzz of Valencia life again. Tourism hasn’t swallowed up Valencia’s spirit. You can sit and eat like a local, talk like a local (or at least try) and get a feel for the place. Cast off the oversized lens, the guidebook and the comfortable shoes, and get to know the place. You will be glad you did. My happiest moments were found in total solitude, just living life, and not sightseeing in Valencia.

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Valencia bullring. As a woman aged 32, with no male companion, it was impossible to blend in. I needed to be male, over 60 and smoke a stinking great cigar to fit in. The guy next to me kept calling me Nueva Zelanda and every time a bull got stabbed/killed, he would remark “Nueva Zelanda sigue siendo tranquila. New Zealand remains calm.” He seemed rather surprised. Dude, I know my shit.

8 – You don’t suffer cathedral fatigue

Cathedral fatigue – I suffer it. I have long lost count of the number of Spanish cathedrals/churches/basilicas I have visited. I am not religious, so the places don’t hold significance (though the one I entered with Nick Lloyd in Barcelona was amazing – another post). I have seen some big churches – Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona, Segovia, Cuenca, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Xativa, Avila, Burgos to name a few locations. Valencia Cathedral is still the best of them all. Not for anything in particular, though it houses THE Holy Grail and the views from the bell tower are eye-watering. I guess it’s just the Valencia vibe that makes it special. Between the cathedral and the Basilica (home to the above Virgin statue), you will be left feeling like you’ve seen a great sight, not trudged through another church that reeks of the church’s former power over the population.

There are plenty of old-world attractions that aren’t churches, like the La Lonja, the Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart, the streets of the El Carmen area, the town hall and the post office in Plaza Ayuntamiento, and the train station and bullring. Valencia has unique sights to see.

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, the Valencia Art Museum just over the Pont de la Trinitat, is a great spot to visit, and gorgeous. Go for the art, but stay for the beauty.

9 – Something new is always available to try

Whether it’s a tall glass of Horchata, a taller glass of Agua de Valencia, or a pincho (whose ingredients you can’t quite decipher, but it tastes good, so roll with it), the menus in Valencia will always have something for a new visitor, or someone who has been to the city before. Warning, they are plenty of bad paellas around, as with anything, but there are many fine ones as well. There is no need to find some upmarket place, because you need to make your way to many places in order to decide for yourself what is best.

I have been pretty much everywhere in Valencia (I have a propensity to wander), however fun sights can crop up anywhere. The streets of Valencia still have sights to behold, whether you are new to them or not. When in Valencia, whether it’s food, sights or ambiance, you can make your own fun. There isn’t a set list in order to find enjoyment. The city allows freedom to enjoy Spain.

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The rabbit catches the chicken… now get in that paella. I’ve seen photos of this particular random street art, but never in the flesh. I found it by accident. Just one of the fun things about wandering Valencia

10 – It’s a great place to stage a novel trilogy about Spain’s past

Valencia is a terrific backdrop for novels about Spain. I’m certainly not the first to use the city as the central location, but you will find far more books based in bigger cities, or in the south of the country. In terms of novels, Valencia is like an untapped resource. I get many readers who know absolutely nothing about the city, but that’s okay, it’s an easy city to bring to life. It has enough unique features to quickly distinguish it from other locations.

Everything I have written already seems accurate with what I saw on my trip, and all the locations used in the next novel look/feel as I have already conjured up. Just as the city felt desperate in BITVS, it can lend itself being a place of fear in 1957 with a mixture of natural disasters and human greed.

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Placa de L’Angel 1 is a location in both 1939 and 2009 in BITVS. I was pleased walk down the little plaza to find they are trying to save this building!

Did I learn anything new in Valencia?

Absolutely. I moved to Valencia with a one-year-old and a newborn. They have fire-red hair, and never could blend in as a local. I learned the city as a mother, as a family. The city is great for families, so much so that I had two more children. However, this trip was solo, and I saw the city differently. I could go out for longer, stay out later, climb more stairs, take more time to read, reflect and absorb. The city is great for the single traveler, but I will always want to enjoy it as a family. The choice is yours.

Up next… Part 3 – The civil war history of Barcelona with Nick Lloyd

Click here for the other parts of this series – Spain 2013 in Review