It’s the dreaded V day, no matter if I’m single or coupled up, I still stand by the mantra; “Valentines day is for marketing moguls and smug couples”. I’m not cynical, I swear. I’m a hopeless romantic that happens to think every day should be a silent celebration of love. I’m a dreamer man, but I’m not the only one 😉
This Valentines day, keeping with the ‘V’ theme, my much beloved Valencia came to mind. 2 years ago, marks the date myself and my best friend Emily took a long weekend escape from the depression that overcomes Britain in February. As per usual, our tactic was to use Kayak’s explore feature to find the cheapest flight. Alas, we found a £60 return flight to Valencia. Little did we know, it would be the most enjoyable and inspiring weekend.
When people think of Spain as a whole, their minds immediately wonder to the cosmopolitan beach city of Barcelona or Ibiza. As much as I also love Barcelona, having been many times, my true love lies with the charming city of Valencia. Unassuming and understated. A juxtaposition of pristine pink architecture and gritty wall paint. The place that inspired my ongoing romance with travel and for that, I write this love letter to you. My Valencia.
I think in the past few years myself and my close friends have calmed down on the partying and impulsive front. Yet, flashback to 2017, final year of university, as with most students, self control was not one of our strengths. A running joke amongst my inner circle was “Lets go for dinner at 7pm? Yes”. Dinner then ends at 10am the next day. I only mention this to give context to our introduction upon landing…
Arriving in Valencia, still hazy from the previous night, we were instantly set into a terracotta trance of Catalan houses and deserted streets adorned with oranges and lemons. February was low season, meaning no tourists, just peace and friendly locals gathering at cafe’s drinking coffee. It was exactly what I’d hoped for and more. My urge to get out and explore the golden lit streets overcame my sore head and fatigue. We sipped on black coffee, shared a lemon pie, chatted with the kind cafe owner in broken Spanish and checked into our Airbnb as fast as we could.
If you have ever spoken to me about travel, you will know how much I rave about Airbnb.com. I find hotels overpriced and hostels too claustrophobic. Airbnb’s have character and give you the independence and freedom to do as you please. Wherever I lay my hat is my home, and that’s how I like to travel. I want to feel part of the place, I want to be an imposter, to blend in. Our apartment was situated down a quiet street, with an overlooking balcony intended for balmy nights of red wine and long talks. What struck me most about the area was the crackled paint on the outside walls. I appreciate clean lines and precision in design but there is something more interesting in the idea of ‘decaying beauty’. The Japanese call it ‘Wabi Sabi’ and I think, that sums up my overall attitude to design.
The reason Valencia sticks in my mind more than any other city I’ve visited is that it is by far the most photogenic place. A photographers dream; the way the winter light glows at all times of day, the mix of warm and cold colours, the architecture, the street art and the abundance of nature. As mentioned before, i’ve never seen so many citrus trees in one place, they line every street.
Most days we spent hopping from cafe to cafe sipping coffee by day and Sangria by night, eating paella and tapas. With my 3 cameras at the ready (film, digital and Iphone for the Gram), I couldn’t help but become an unstoppable force of nature when it came to taking photo’s. Every corner something new would catch my eye. I would never claim to be a photographer, but I am obsessed with taking photo’s, finding the best light, angle and subject. Walls are perhaps my favourite thing to photograph, a strange choice but I love the weathered shades and unpredictable patterns caused by erosion or graffiti. I think this wall fetish comes from all the Dulux paint strips I used to collect from B&Q when I was younger…(only child, we’re a bit weird like that)
Valencia is known as Spain’s art capital, wherever you look there is an expression of art to be found. Street art is huge, being from Bristol, a UK city that in my opinion is the best UK city for street art..and no, I’m not referring to Banksy, although we have him too. (Soz London and Manchester). I was amazed at the variety and unique style Valencia had to offer for murals. My favourite wall, although not typically graffiti art but still street art was the tapestry wall of roses presented delicately on nearly invisible mesh.
When it came to art galleries, I let Emily decide the best one to visit. The gallery that stood out to me the most was the IVAM, its exhibitions at that time were extremely emotive and dealt with very sensitive issues including HIV, Homelessness and the connotations of masculinity versus femininity. Each exhibition was completely individual and used different medias but they flowed and complimented each other. This is what I look for in an art gallery, fluidity. Art is supposed to make you feel something, anything, disgust, love, sadness and joy, anything counts and if a galleries installation team can enhance that it makes the exhibition more worth while. It’s the same as a cinematic movie such as ‘Dunkirk’, if you watch it on a small tablet it’s not going to bring out the same emotions that it would in a cinema setting.
My favourite artist during this exhibition was a Spanish artist called Pepe Espaliu, who succumbed to Aids and passed away in 1993. His work was very much focused on the stigma and isolation of people suffering with HIV and the internal struggle we all have as humans feeling caged in our own bodies. I know some people will look at the below photos and think it’s art gone mad and whatever happened to Michelangelo masterpieces? but as said before it’s the thought process behind it. The fact that someone, no matter how abstract it may be, had connected the body to that of a birdcage and had the nerve to present it to the public as an expression of themselves says a lot. This all sounds very pretentious, I can hear myself and can feel the paranoia of judgement creeping in, but I don’t care. I love his work! And I love contemporary art.
Valencia will always hold a special place in my heart as the stepping stone that set me off on an independent journey to where I am now and I hope to one day return. Part of me wanted to keep it for myself, but I couldn’t help but share my experiences. I’ve also bored my friends to death with recommending it as a travel destination, so needed to get this out my system. If you travel to Catalonia and Spain, it is definitely worth stopping by!
As with all love letters, this is not the end, just unfinished business.
T’estimo, gràcies. x