Last I left off, my Aussie friend Luca and I returned our bikes and headed back to the hostel. We hung out in the common area for most of the day. Before we went to bed, we needed food. We had tapas all day, so we both really wanted paella. We’ve been in Valencia for a day and we haven’t come across any paella. We looked for a place with the original paella, Valencian paella, which contains chicken and rabbit meat. Every restaurant normally carried seafood paella, but they don’t always carry Valencian paella. It was a challenge for us at 11:00 pm on Thursday night – most restaurants with paella closed at 12:00 am.
We asked the hostel receptionists and they gave us several locations. I’d like to say that we made it to one of those predetermined locations, but we were drinking 1 euro beers from the hostel’s vending machine. At 1 euro a pop, why not have a few?
We headed out the door and I normally let Luca take the wheel since he had explored the city more than I had. This time, he relied on me without my knowledge, or so it seemed. Needless to say, we never found the restaurants our receptionists told us about. We had spent 45 minutes wandering aimlessly with no luck. So instead, we went back to the tourist-y plaza – Plaza de la Reina – that had plenty of open-but-about-to-close-soon restaurants. We walked around and the first restaurant we walked to had valencian paella! SCORE! We ran in and asked the chef if they were still serving food. He said yes, so we grabbed a seat on the terrace. SCORE! We glanced at the menu and went straight for a beer and Valencian paella. The server said that the chances are unlikely that we would could order paella because it took 30 minutes to prepare and the restaurant is closing up shop. We almost cried. Luckily, she went and asked the chef if they would cook the paella, and she returned with a yes. SCORE! The paella was amazing. We were gluttons. We ate all the rice, including the crunchy charred bits on the bottom of the pan. It was so good.
The next day we headed to the free walking tour. This tour was just as entertaining as the one I went on in Madrid, but for completely different reasons. The guy running the tour was from Liverpool, England. He had a heavy accent. And, he only had two and a half hours of sleep. He was wasted. He was nervous. And he was English. This combination was so humorous I just had to follow him around.
The reason he’s so wasted was that he organized last night’s pub crawl and he got smashed. In his intro, he told the group that this was his second week doing this tour. His boss had to go home so he learned everything in a week and began organizing tours. He claimed that the only money he’s getting today was from us. This was at the beginning of the tour mind you! I don’t think he was supposed to say that. But it was hilarious. He was barely holding it together. I didn’t learn too much, but I was in complete awe that this guy was standing up.
After the tour, the guide, Luca, and I went for some horchata and donuts. The guide’s a good fellow through and through. He just had too much to drink. It’s also painful for him because he was scheduled to run all the events for the day. That means after this tour, he had a tapas tour, and at night he had another pub crawl.
After the tour, we went back to the hostel and hung out in the common room for a while. I was looking at train times for Barcelona. As I did this, Luca came out of the bathroom and saw a poster for hot springs 90 km out of Valencia. He egged me to go, but I was hesitant. The next day I had planned to travel to Barcelona, and I didn’t want events before leaving. Luca called the hot springs tour guide and found out he was doing a full day tour to the hot springs and a tour to a city letting bulls run in the streets. I looked at the website to see what the bulls were about. It looked cool. There were gates fenced up and people watched from afar. The tour guide also mentioned that we would get back before 6:00 pm. Knowing that there was a train to Barcelona at 7:35 pm, I agreed to do the tour.
This was the best decision I’ve made so far. The tour happened on Saturday, and started at 11:15 am. The tour guide, named Mike, picked us up and two other students who were also interested. The day was the best day of my trip so far. I thought I couldn’t beat my bike ride tour of Valencia the other day, but this blew it out of the water. I swam in a hot spring – which felt like a cool swimming pool, ate some figs, did some rock climbing along the hot spring’s walls, climbed into a cave near the hot springs, jumped into the water from above hot spring walls, and ran with bulls. Freaking sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.
Anyways, we arrived at the hot spring around 1:30 pm, just in time for the sun to shine down on the water. The water was in a gorge surrounded by rocks. The water started at one end of the gorge and fans out into a river at the other end.
At first the water was cold, but after a bit, it was perfect. It reminded me of the water in Perth, Australia. The water was the same temperature. I had some goggles that Mike brought along so I could do a little snorkling. The water was crystal clear. I wish I had a waterproof camera because this hot spring was beautiful. Every few meters I could see air bubbles bubbling up from the floor!
The place where all the water flowed from was hidden behind some trees. There’s a small path that leads up to the hot spring’s mouth. We decided to head up the path. Once we got there, we sat down near the mouth in some puddles. The spring looked like a small fountain coming straight out of the rocks. The water was really warm here, not like the rest of the gorge. Above us there was a rope that lead into a small cave. Luca and I both climbed to the top. When I reached the top, I stood facing out towards the springs and it looked like a secluded forest. I couldn’t see down, but it looked like a hidden hide out. Fantastic!
We climbed down and headed to an area where we could do a little rock climbing and some cliff jumping. On the way there we plucked some figs and ate them. The mountains in this area had heaps of fig trees.
Back to cliff jumping. This sounds dangerous, but really, it was roughly twenty feet high. It wasn’t bad at all. There’s a semi-walkable path up, and then there was the cliff side that was climbable. I started by using the walking path. I jumped in a few times with this route. After that, I tried my way at climbing up. It was pretty tough. The rocks under water near the cliff were slippery. It took me ten minutes to find a proper spot to pull myself up. Unfortunately, after that, my arms were dead tired. I hung on the side of the cliff for about five minutes to rest. Again, I wasn’t high up, I was literally above the water. After that, it took me another fifteen minutes to get up to the top. Once I reached the top, I was ecstatic! I hadn’t climbed something like that, so it was a good accomplishment.
We headed back to the entrance of the hot springs and ordered some food. There was a small shop there that was part of another restaurant down the street. Since Mike had taken people here many times before, he knew the lady in the shop. So, she hooked us up with some awesome chicken, potatos, and bread. We feasted like kings. All for seven euros. I’m becoming more and more of a glutton on this trip. Damn the food!
After eating, we headed towards a small town that was letting bulls loose. On the way there, we had a flat tire. Mike pulled the car over so we could change the tires. Everyone hopped out and helped. It was like an F1 pit stop. We changed the tire in under 4 minutes. Pretty fast! Once changed, we took off again towards the small town.
All the small towns around Valencia celebrated similar festivals this time of the year and they all had bulls running the streets. Both Luca and I had no idea what we were in for. We thought we could see some people playing with calm bulls. I couldn’t tell you how wrong we were. This bull watching was basically a smaller version of running of the bulls. Freaking insane! What I wanted to know was who the hell came up with the idea of setting a pissed off bull loose in the streets and then run from it.
Anyways, we were literally in the mix. We could have sat above on fences and gates, but Luca and I decided to jump down and run with everyone else. When you’re sitting you really can’t see the bull. Then again, neither could I when I ran full speed away from it. It was exhilirating. Once the bull ran down one street, everyone ran in the opposite direction. It’s chaotic. The first thing I heard was rampaging footsteps. I wish I was talented at writing because I’m doing a horrible job at describing the feeling I felt during this event. It was intense! My adrenaline was pumping the whole time. I felt like I could lift a car if it were in my way.
It was also funny how tense everyone was. There were a few times a kid just started running and screaming for the hell of it and everyone around him took off in every direction. These things tricked me several times. It’s hilarious.
These bull runnings were huge events in these towns. All the younger guys were literally running around enticing the bull to chase them. Once the bull chased, everyone sprinted off. Then the really brave kids were running circles around the bull trying to grab onto the bull’s horn. It’s a challenge of sorts. It’s insane. Then there’s everyone else, from old folks to young kids on the sidelines. Some of them were just eating food and smoking a cigarette waiting for the bull to start charging.
I was extremely lucky to have experienced this. It was pure luck that I was able to see this. These events only occur once in a year, and I happened to came across it.
Valencia. My bull running, hot spring swimming, rock climbing, bicycle seat snapping, tapas eating, paella hunting city. What. A. Blast. Off to Barcelona!
Oh, one last thing. Next time I have a beer with you, ask me to tell you the story of Mike, our tour guide. He’s living a life that I’ve only read or seen about in books and movies. It’s truly incredible and inspiring.
Valencia has rebuilt so many buildings that they ran out of materials. So they used old statues as well!
Smallest building in Valencia.
At a city outside Valencia, these bars were covering all houses and restaurants to protect them from the bulls.
Direction of the ambulance, just incase you have a hole in your torso.
Crazy dude taunting the bull.
Update: If you want to do this while you’re in Valencia, I highly recommend calling up Mike and visiting his website at http://www.do-valencia.com.