There are places with a special spell and charm and the city of Valencia is one of them. I think it embodies the best of the Mediterranean spirit and its way of life.
Fallas in your face
I’ve visited Valencia for many years and, even though I’m more or less used to the week of hell (for better or for worse) that is Fallas, there’s still at least one instance in which I fear for my life. And it’s not because I drunkenly stumble too close to a burning statue, no, it’s nearly always down to a group of rogue children and their little boxes of fireworks. I have a theory that, just like a pack of lions, they target the weakest member of the group (me) in order to use them as firework target practice while their parents calmly drink beers in a bar round the corner. In this day and age of heightened health and safety, things like this (and the whole festival, for the most part) would never be allowed to take place neither in the rest of Europe nor in other cities of Spain. I’d hate to be a party pooper -I want these savage kids to continue having dangerous fun- but this is one of the things that still shocks me year after year.
If you have not enjoyed the experience, you can not imagine how noisy it is and the feeling that at any moment you will be blown up through the air. However, never having attended this human explosion, is the best reason not to miss the next edition in March. Nothing can prepare you for the unbridled, inescapable mayhem of Fallas.
Morrison’s Spanish Rice versus Valencian Paella
I read once a Facebook post from an acquaintance that tried to explain the poverty of the paella. In short, he came to say that it was a badly mixed dish of chorizo, cuttlefish, overcooked chicken and rice. Although many people visit Valencia every year, unfortunately this is a very widespread opinion based on the experience of a precooked dish sold in well-known supermarkets abroad.
It didn’t take long after moving to Valencia to realise that paella is no joking matter. Round these parts it is taken very seriously. As a general rule, Valencians LOVE rice. It’s been a component of their local cuisine for centuries and they can get very emotional about it if you get it wrong. There are many different types of paella but the main one you’ll get round here is the paella valenciana -the Valencian version- that contains green beans, butter beans, chicken and rabbit. There are, of course, some slight variants and the recipe may change in order to include seasonal vegeatables, like artichoke, and it’s not uncommon to see a paella valenciana made with duck. But chicken and rabbit are the typical ingredients – NEVER chorizo, like the Morrison’s version above.
However, there’ll always be some clever foreigner who thinks they know best. They’re obviously accustomed to some sort of bastardised paella eaten at God-knows-where. They’ll have a job on trying to find a chicken and chorizo paella in Valencia, that’s for sure. I assure you that it is one of the Mediterranean dishes with the most intelligent combination of flavors, based on popular and natural products.
Strange birthday gifts
A close friend who also lives in Valencia mentioned how it took a while to get used to the fact that the birthday boy or girl nearly always pays for their friends’ meals and/or round of drinks on their birthday – the exact opposite of what we do at home. If you’re expected to be showered with shots or regaled with gifts on your birthday in Spain, think again. Get your wallet out. On his birthday, a Spanish workmate is more likely to turn up to the office with a platter of biscuits for everyone than expect you to fork out for a birthday pint down the pub after work. “Whose are these biscuits?” “They’re from Chimo, he turned 43 today”. It can sound strange, but that’s the way it is.
The guy does not expect gifts from anyone. He simply wants to share his special day with his co-workers. More and more it has become a tradition and not doing so can mean a decline in his popularity.
Due to the fact that more and more hours are spent in the office, co-workers have become something like a second family. Or at least, in a second circle of friends. Familiarity with office friends is not usually widespread in the rest of Europe. We must associate it to the tremendous sociability of the Valencian character, which seems to have room for a multitude of different circles of friends.
It is not unusual to go out to dinner with this group during the work week. It is not mandatory, but not doing it is considered to be a strange element in the office group.
Either way, everyone loves Valencia
Although the Valencian character may be shocking to foreigners, it is one of the preferred cities in Spain to study by many foreign university students. The joviality of the inhabitants makes this beautiful Mediterranean city attractive. Not to mention a tremendous cultural offer in the middle of an ideal climate to live all year.
A large number of Europeans choose the coasts around Valencia to establish their second home or to retire. It seems that the charm of this city far exceeds the initial cultural clashes. its bright side generates followers day by day.
We love Valencia! Don’t you?