After only a couple of days in Valencia, I’m now in Madrid. Two and half days is hardly adequate for a visit, for while being a small city – there are plenty of things to see and do in Valencia. For example, I missed The City of the Arts and Sciences, IVAM (albeit only down the road from my hostel) and even the central market. And the weather being as disagreeable as it had been, I saw no time nor reason to pop down over to the Valencian coast. Beaches are beaches, after all.
But I drank, ate and photographed my way through centre the of Valencia.
On the first night, desperate for that Spanish tapas I’ve heard so much about, I popped into the first bar I found, Q Art (Carrer de Guillem de Castro 80). I order chorizos and Leffe, take a seat, and just mind my own business. It’s suitably dark inside and I figure that this must be one of the hip and happening joints in town. There’s a guy behind me tapping away on an Apple PowerBook. Cool, I thought, I’m in with the young and trendy.
Then I notice the bartender fixing almost a steady look in my direction. I look away, then look back and still, he catches my gaze! Why is this guy looking at me funny? I look for clues. Then …
Oh shit! It’s a goddamn gay bar! I should’ve spotted it sooner, but there’s that familiar multicoloured gay flag overhanging the doorway. And now that I’m paying attention, I notice the bartender swaying his hips, everytime he walks, as if like Paris Hilton in a porno. Quickly, I finish my tapas. It’s a bad one, but since I eat anything, though perhaps not in a gay bar, I happily take my fill of needed nourishment. Then I leave.
A must-visit for cheap Valencian cuisine is the little strip of restaurants just across the central market. There I dropped by into Boatella Tapas.
I recommend being ballsy enough to sit at the bar like a regular local. That’s if there is enough space. Boatella seems always to be busy with customers sometimes waiting in a queue to take a seat. Furthermore, sitting on the high stools at the bar gives one an excellent vantage point for people watching and, especially, the workers who fire off one-line commands to one another as orders are made and delivered with speed and efficiency.
“Cerveza, por favor. Gracias”, I say, keeping my opening simple. Overcome with shyness, however, I resort to finger pointing at the menu. I order patatas bravas and garlic prawns. The beer and the patatas come rapidly enough, while the prawns are cooked. But when the prawns arrive, I get so excited I actually clasped my hands together, as would a little boy who’s about to receive that longed-for pressie.
Oh heaven. Nothing much can be said of potatoes, I suppose, fried and served with sour cream and sweet sauce, but the garlic prawns surpassed any that may have visited my taste buds. Still swimming in cooking oil, in a small thick pan and sprinkled with garlic – the prawns were perfect. I began to daydream of opening my own tapas bar back home in Sydney and drag these Spaniards along with a 457 visa.
Naturally one may not drop in on Valencia without trying the famed Valencian paella. This now globally known dish was, if you did not know it, invented right here. Frankly, having had rice as my staple since practically birth, it is difficult to believe that anyone else could do a rice dish better that we Asians. All I’ll say is that this paella is interesting and worthy of an Eastern diet.
Just about anything, it appears, goes into a paella dish. In one establishment, where we finished our tapas tour, our entire touring group laughed ourselves silly trying to determine if a head covered with that yellow rice was that of a rabbit or a rat! An Australian fellow, who was a on prolonged European holiday break from his day job on a golf course in Scotland, bravely picked through the meat and bones and ate most of the unidentified animal. Good was the verdict.
Chances are, I’ll one day revisit Valencia, if only to attend to some unfinished business. That, I think, ought to be a common reason for travel: to go back to a place. Often, too many of us are too eager to add to an ever growing list of visited places, quantity before quality, without ever really striving to appreciate.
Valencia, I’ll see you again.