So I have already been away from the UK for a month, living a remote lifestyle in Valencia. I am writing this while on the bus, travelling across Spain on our way to start month 2 in Lisbon. I cannot get over that we are already a month in but at the same time I look back and realise I’ve done so much already.
Valencia could not have been a better place to start our trip. The warm sunny climate promotes a café style lifestyle and the long lunches and siestas means that the nightlife goes on well into the early hours. The city was very welcoming and vibrant with several cafés that were perfectly happy for us to sit in all day, logged onto the wifi, while serving up deliceous food and coffee.
Over the last month we have had several large events which I’ve spoken about in my previous blogs including the San Juan festival on the beach and the Remote Year opening party. On Thursday evening we had our Valencia leaving party which started out on the beach again. Afterwards a few of us headed over to a small music club where a Spanish band played music from Quentin Tarantino’s films. This brought me straight back to the last time I spent any significant amount of time in Spain, back in the summer 1995, when I spent 5 weeks in the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain undertaking my geological mapping project for university. We stayed on a campsite for five weeks along with other students from universities across the UK and the soundtrack for that summer was the music from Reservoir Dogs.
But back to Valencia. Apart from the general food and drink orientated lifestyle Valencia had a huge amount of history and there are considerable roman ruins located beneath the streets around the main cathedral area. What I hadn’t realised was that Pompey had invaded and razed Valencia to the ground in 75BC which left the city in ruins for approximately 50 years before it was rebuilt.
The surrounding area was also very historic with several large fortified castles and towns including Sagunto and Xativa, both of which I visited during my stay. On both occasions I managed to buy a train ticket with my limited Spanish. But during my initial trip my Spanish was definately tested as the ticket man was intent in telling me lots of things in Spanish while pointing out of the train station. Eventually I got the gist of what was being said (well he wrote the word bus on my ticket!) and realised that there was a bus replacement service. I thought I had left England behind! Eventually I arrived in Sagunto and met up with my Spanish friend and we walked up to the castle. The castle is located on a rocky ledge above the town and is over 1km long. You could see that it had an immense vantage point above the surrounding area and looking out to sea. In 218 Hannibal held siege to the castle and defeated the Romans before heading out over the Alps with the elephants on his way to Rome.
The other castle at Xativa was equally spectacular, and this time I managed to get a train. One thing I was surprised about was finding an ice house. I couldn’t believe that there was a supply of ice that was sufficient enough to fill this early refrigerator for prolonged periods of time. In fact it was only used for a short period of time during the 18th Century when there was a mini-ice age and snow was transported down from the mountains and packed down until it formed ice.
Last weekend I went out of the city to go hiking with two of my fellow remotes. We tried to leave early on the Saturday morning but were let down by Google Maps and couldn’t find the car rental place. We knew it was at the back of the station but after walking around we still couldn’t find it. Eventually we asked someone and they sent us off further away from the train station – we then realised that there were in fact two train stations, in close proximity to each other and we had the wrong one (Google Maps really hadn’t helped either!). So off we set in our hire car: one American (with no licence), one Australian (who had only driven automatics on the left) and me who also had never driven in the right. We had decided to get an automatic as it was probably easier for me to swap from a manual to an automatic. I can say that I was a bit daunted as I had manged to get this far in life with only driving on the left – what surprised me the most was that I suddenly didn’t have a good concept of the size of the car and that getting through narrow gaps proved difficult. Given that this was exactly the same car as I drive in the UK it can only be due to it being right hand drive. But between us we managed it.
We headed up into the mountains and stopped in Montanejos where we were staying that evening. It was lunchtime when we arrived and we headed into the town to find something to eat. We got to the central square where there was a lot of activity going on as metal grids were placed across all the entrances to the square, including in front of the bars and cafés. As we sat and ate pizza the band turned up and went and sat on a platform above one of the metal grids. It was then that the bull running started – or should I say bull taunting. We watched for a bit from the vantage point of the café we were in but can safely say I didn’t agree with it. Letting a bull out in a small enclosed area and poking it with a stick until it gets cross and chases you is not my idea of fun!
We then decided to head up in the hills, following little symbols painted on the rocks just like I did when in Greece when I was 12 (but that is another story for another time). This time at least we had GPS and a little blue dot to help out along with a downloaded hiking map. The path was well defined and we walked up through pine trees with butterflies and birds around us. At the top we were rewarded with a view over a large lake formed by damming the valley. After spending a while admiring the view we headed back down and tried to find our hotel. Again Google let us down: it was not there. We had the right road name, and found number 4 but no hotel! After much wandering around and a brief visit to the tourist information (no help) we discovered, thanks to Facebook, that we were in the wrong village! Somehow the address that we had been sent via the confirmation seemed to have missed out the important bit: which village the hotel was actually located in! Montanejos was just the nearest large town which conveniently had exactly the same road names as the village where we were actually staying. So we headed out of town along a road with spectacular scenery to the far end of the lake we had seen to Puebla de Arenoso where we actually found our hotel. That evening there was another celebration and it appeared as if the whole village was out eating in the square just outside our hotel.
The next day we headed out for another walk, which started off by climbing up a narrow valley full of wild flowers with a spectacular view back over the lake. After reaching the summit we traversed around to a point where we found a completely deserted village. Along the way we saw many cow tracks and wondered if any of them were the poor aggravated bull from yesterday – we hoped not!
At the village the path ran out but we had spotted a potential path from Google Earth which appeared to wind itself back and forth down a steep incline to a lower path. It’s always much more interesting to walk a circular route so it was now time to try and find out if the path actually existed. The first problem was getting past the deserted village. The village was situated on the side of mountain and was in ruins. Some of the buildings had been three storeys in height and now that they had partially fallen down meant that the remaining walls which were cut back into the slope were unstable. We were lucky and managed to find a path away from the village that then cut back below the lower houses to pick up the zig-zag path – we had found it! After heading down past some spectacular rocks we headed back into the trees and came across a conveniently placed spring for a refreshing drink.
The rest of the hike down and drive back was relatively uneventful except for the stops back along the road to look at the amazing views we had seen the evening before. At one point the river went through a narrow gorge and the road, way above the river level, went through a tunnel. After walking through the tunnel and finding a small cave we were rewarded with a spectacular view down to the river bed. We finally had a short stop to go paddling in the river along with little fish intent on tickling your feet!
So the month has finished and our Lisbon adventures are about to start. Valencia was great – definitely a city I would like to return to and one that I would highly recommend to people who would like to see the real Spain and not just sit on a beach.