Have you ever traveled somewhere that opened your mind to a completely different perspective on life? Often you may discover the farther you venture from your comfort zone, the more profound the experience you will have. Join me in this adventure series while exploring cities in Spain that will fill your heart, soul, and senses.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.Lao Tzu
Over a year ago, my husband and I were fortunate enough to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Spain. It was our first-ever trip to Europe, let alone any other country so far away from home. We flew overnight from Florida through Germany and finally to our destination in beautiful Valencia, Spain.
I remember arriving at night which seemed strange because we departed around 2100 EST roughly ten hours prior (time zone vertigo). Nevertheless, it was nice to have a warm welcome from our dear friend and his family who reside in Valencia along with their two inquisitive and energetic dogs.
His mother, whom we affectionately refer to as “Momma,” had prepared a delicious soup with chicken, rice, artichoke hearts, and a savory broth. It was some of the most wonderfully satisfying comfort food I have ever tasted in my life. To this day, I stand by it being one of my absolute favorite meals during our entire trip throughout Spain.
After enjoying our hearty home-cooked dinner and a good night’s rest, we promptly embarked on the adventure together with our best friend JJ. The vacation took place in early April — right before Easter. There were plenty of spring blooms dotting the landscape and streets as we entered the heart of Valencia.
Our first stop was the Mercado Central (Central Market) which from the outside looked more like a cathedral. The seemingly unending rows of vendors were enveloped by an enormous, beautifully crafted dome ceiling. The structure provided ample natural light as well as an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere to browse the enormous selection of local delicacies.
We spent a good portion of the morning smelling and sampling some incredible regional food while checking out the local market and walking around exploring Valencia’s historic sights. Afterward, we decided to visit Europe’s largest Aquarium: L’Oceanogràfic. Although it was not historic in comparison to other buildings within the city, the architecture did not fail to impress.
As you enter, the building motif is reminiscent of ocean waves and giant clam shells that are separated by sleek walkways and bodies of water which divide the other exhibit areas. Unfortunately, our time exploring outside was cut short by incoming rain showers. But it didn’t prevent us from enjoying the many enclosed exhibits that were cleverly connected by a series of labyrinth-like underground corridors.
We marveled at the majestic ocean animals through large windows as they glided gracefully through the water. There were jellyfish, seals, sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, walrus, beluga whales, sharks, and many other countless species of mammals and fish just to name a few. Fortunately, we were able to catch the tail end of a dolphin show. In my opinion, it was well worth running through the rain to experience as the finale to our day.
Cold, tired, and ready to relax after a long day of walking around Valencia, we returned home to our gracious hosts. A delicious platter of thinly sliced jamón with manchego cheese and other snacks was awaiting us. My all-time-favorite beverage Sangria was freshly prepared as well. Momma remembered how much I had loved it when we visited them in Panama a few years prior. She was so very thoughtful, providing such wonderful and warm hospitality. I may or may not have finished nearly the entire pitcher myself that night as we enjoyed unwinding while playing some Tabletop RPGs.
The next day, we traveled into the countryside to partake in an authentic Valencian experience. We enrolled in a cooking class teaching us how to make Paella and Sangria. Our guide drove for about an hour until we reached a charming villa surrounded by Valencia orange groves. The sense of smell is linked closely with olfactory functions — evoking strong memories. I will never forget the beautifully fragrant smell of orange blossoms that greeted us through the wind upon our arrival. If I could bottle it up, I would call it pure bliss. There is nothing even remotely comparable to the exquisite taste and smell of Valencia oranges. Trust me. I live in Florida, and I knew nothing until traveling to Spain had changed my mind and sensory perspective forever.
After partaking in an entertaining and informative cooking class with the most beautiful view, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor sitting down to feast on a family-style meal of authentic Valencian paella and sangria. Salud! The afternoon adventure was made complete by taking a scenic drive around the countryside all the way to the Balearic Sea.
Storm clouds were closing in as we took some quick photos out on the beach. I remember thinking, “When will I ever have this opportunity again?” As the others began walking back to the car I had to run out to touch the water. (In the process, getting my shoes and feet thoroughly soaked by a wave.) It was chilly, but I didn’t mind. I have no opposition toward experiencing a moment as fully as possible. Who cares if I get a little wet, I would much rather be completely present. Life is so much more exciting and fulfilling when you simply say yes.