Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Valencia: First Impressions

I have arrived and survived my first few days in Valencia. As my family predicted, I did bumble around confusedly, I have got lost many times already and I have already spilt ketchup and nail varnish on my bed. However, I have not been trafficked yet (told you, familia). I have managed to survive, mainly thanks to the lovely people I met on the street who helped me out.
As soon as my taxi pulled out of the airport, I noticed a cute bunch of orange trees, that turned into a veritable forest. During my chat with the lovely taxista Adrián Orrego, I learnt that pretty much as soon as you leave the city of Valencia there are just orange trees everywhere, that Valencia is the best city in Spain for festivals (and apparently everything), especially Las Fallas and that he is saving up to join his half-Valencian, half-Uruguayan family in Uruguay, reflecting the trend of descendants of Latin American immigrants going back to the countries of their heritage, due to the dire economic situation in Spain.
Valencia is particularly bad, with the worst regional debt in the country after Catalonia. I was struck by how a good eighty percent of the city centre seems to be made of marble, as well as by the Jardines del Turia, a former riverbed that is now an architect's dream of modern innovation and facilities for the yoots. By standing on the bridge above and spinning around I could immediately see a playground, a football pitch, benches, a cathedral and a lot of happy people in the sun. However, the Angela Merkel in me says some of this money could have been diverted to feed struggling families...
Speaking of food, here's what I had for lunch! No, that's not American cheese-in-a-can, it is an actual tortilla bocadillo. Aka one of the best things ever, especially when it has been properly salted. It was so massive I had to save some for dinner, which was a real shame because I do hate to have an excess of food...
Since I've been here I've also managed to eat cod and cauliflower paella - don't knock it till you've tried it-, patatas bravas and calamares. All were delicious and very cheap, but the recipe I have for bravas is much nicer (just saying).
I found myself in the Plaza de la Virgen, around the corner from my hostel which would make any Europhile tending towards emigration NEVER LEAVE. Apparently everything happens here, including protests, so I assume I'll be stalking the square with my camera for a good part of my time here.

Meanwhile, it's set to be 21-25 degrees on Wednesday. Guess who's going to the beach?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Belated До свидания!

So, my four months in Russia is up and I'm writing this at home, wrapped in a slanket, with a hot water bottle, by the fire. Purely because it's comfy obviously, the 30 odd C increase in temperature was kind of noticeable. 

Anyway, this post will serve as a kind of summary for lazy but well-meaning people. 

Cool things I did in St Petersburg:

Walked across a BIG frozen pond
Went to the banya, NAKED, and got whipped with veniki (birch branches). No photographic proof, I'm afraid.
Russian Venus - Boris Kustodiev
Met Russia's biggest Beatles fan, Kol'ya Vasin, in the Temple of Peace, Love and Music.
Went to the Hermitage a few times.
Japanese goldfish bowl
Caught and ate Fred the fish, like a good bloodthirsty pescatarian.
Saw these tributes to Ekaterina II (no donkeys here)
Got a rose from a drunk stranger
Went to see the rising of the bridges
Saw a Chekhov play (The Cherry Orchard/Вишневый Сад)
Complied with all the best Petersburg superstitions
Ostap Bender
Cat statues on Malaya Sadovaya (Vasilisa)
Atlas('s feet)
Kissing bridge
The Hare Escaping Flooding
Saw Finland (possibly? Yeahh)
Made some great (little) friends
Saw some, quite frankly, odd things.
Now that's a toilet! (Made from carrots)
Experienced winter (and the casual threat of near-death) like never before
Tried new food
Buckwheat & Tofu and Pumpkin curry
Okay maybe not all the time
Drank a LOT of tea (even by my builders' brew standards)

Trekked off in the snow to see the wacky art in Erarta
Learnt to ceremoniously serve tea the Chinese way
Found these greats of Russian literature
Mayor Kovalev's Nose
And the greats of Russia in general
The Bronze Horseman (Peter)
The Eternal Flame
Peter the Great
Saw Petersburg at its worst.
And at its beautiful best
Appreciated Russia's past
And guessed at its future.
Looking onto oligarch complex from Church annexe
Hard as it was at times, we learnt to deal with laughably grumpy cashiers, pillowy mountains of snow and not seeing the sun for a good 5 weeks. Ultimately, I was sorry to leave and I hope I can go back in the next few years (and remember a bit of Russian). 

Otherwise, I'll see you chumps in Valencia!