Valencia & Tarragona, Spain
Next stop: Valencia! We parked in the first car park we saw, which turned out to be about three kilometres from the main city. We walked around for ages looking for some sort of tourist information centre, following signs here, there and everywhere but everything seemed to be closed. I guess tourists don't need information on a Sunday. I was amazed when I found a vending machine that printed out maps of the town for €1.20 but when I put my money in, nothing came out. Valencia was not making a great first impression. An hour later we spotted a small kiosk that organised bus and cycling tours, which thankfully stocked maps of the town. Without a map I don't know if we would have located our car again.
We found a store (part of a chain) called Cervecerta 100 Montaditos, which translates to 100 sandwiches. They literally had 100 different types of sandwiches, all for €2 or less. We couldn't pass up that offer, so we both ordered one. When they arrived we realised why they were so cheap: they were no bigger than a small dinner roll and came with a few potato crisps. They were tasty, just not filling.
After visiting a couple of plazas we walked through Jardines tel Turia, a huge, long park that wound its way around the city. It was fantastic, providing something for almost everyone. Trees and shade, fountains, bicycles, massive playgrounds for the kids, a skateboard park, a lake - and that was just the small part that we saw. It seemed to be never ending and the whole town appeared to be out enjoying it. The park eventually led to the Centre for Arts and Sciences, an enormous museum complex that houses an aquarium, IMAX, performing arts centre, science museum and more. We didn't enter but we were happy walking around the outside and admiring the architecture. It was obviously a fairly new, with bright white buildings and light blue reflecting ponds along the perimeter. One building was the shape of an eyeball, another a pistachio nut. It was very cool.
Our legs were tired after walking around all day, so we caught the train back to the centre of town. We found a pub-style restaurant for dinner, where we were informed that we must try the Valencian paella. I was happy to discover that it was chicken and not seafood. We both ordered one, with a Valencian white wine. Paella great, wine not so great. We also ordered Sangria, which they poured from a tap like beer. Why don't more pubs have sangria on tap?
There was a huge thunderstorm overnight, loud enough to wake us up several times. We can officially confirm that the van is waterproof.
We walked into Valencia again because Danny wanted to visit the main market (it wasn't open yesterday). I went my own way to see more of the town that we didn't pass on our travels yesterday. Other than some decent-looking buildings, several churches and a tapestry market (really, a whole market for tapestries) there wasn't anything remarkable about the town, so I wandered over to the market in the hopes of finding Danny.
Outside the market there were a few stalls selling clothes and accessories but nothing worth stopping for. Inside was gigantic and only sold fresh food, including fruit, veggies, meat and seafood. I randomly ran into Danny down one of the aisles and we walked through part of it together. Danny couldn't stop telling me how this was the best market in the entire world, as well as the cleanest he had come across. He said he would be happy to park the van out the front and stay here for the rest of the year. I wasn't too keen on that idea. I left Danny to drool a bit more so I could explore the market on my own at a much faster pace. I bought a punnet of strawberries (Danny would never buy strawberries), which we fantastic and only cost €0.60 - bargain. Amazingly, Danny didn't buy the whole market.
Back at the car we ate lunch before driving on to Tarragona. Luckily Lonely Planet contained a map of Tarragona so that we could make our way directly to the beach. We were surprised to find car parks with no time limits right beside the water, so we jumped in the first one we found. The only downside was the train line on the other side of the road but when there weren't any trains, all we could hear was the sound of the waves.
We strolled along the beach, which turned out to be quite a popular place to sunbake topless, much to Danny's delight. Once we reached the end I managed to drag Danny away to a cafe, which smelled overwhelmingly of popcorn. As soon as we sat down a bowl of mixed nuts and a huge bowl of popcorn was delivered to our table. Danny ordered a beer; I was happy with the popcorn. Coincidentally, Danny bought popcorn kernels at the market today as he had a craving for popcorn. The cafe must have been calling Danny's name.
The rest of the afternoon was spent back near the van, drinking wine and sitting on a bench that overlooked the beach. Many people were running along the beach, being far more healthy and energetic than we were. Two of the runners that passed just happened to be wearing running t-shirts that we also own, which we received for running in a "worldwide" run. At the time of the run we didn't really think about people all over the world running in the same event, but I guess these people were part of it too. It's nice to have little connections like that every now and then.
Danny made a fantastic mushroom risotto for dinner, using strange mushrooms he bought at the market today (even Danny didn't know what variety they were). He still hasn't stopped gushing about how much he loved the market.
The next morning I wandered the streets of Tarragona, walking from the new town (not exciting) to the old town (much better). In the old town I passed several Roman ruins, most of which I could see from the outside and didn't need to fork over the requested fee to enter. Tiny laneways were running all over the place, too small for cars to drive through but perfect for a casual stroll. There were also numerous plazas - it felt like every intersection was a plaza. The views over the beach (and our van) were sensational.
I arrived back at the van to find Danny had been for a run along the beach. Must have been inspired by those t-shirts yesterday.