Once you set your eyes on the beautiful city of Valencia, you will instantly fall in love. Valencia, Spain's third largest city, sits nestled on the Mediterranean coast. Within the city limits, one can find a modern paradise, classic Gothic architecture, picturesque beaches, and a welcoming population. Whether you enjoy visiting museums or exploring new shops, there is always something to do in Valencia. This is the main reason I was so excited to study here. Being from a small town, I couldn't wait to spend my summer in a big city and minutes away from some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. When I was applying for the Honors Program and even after I was accepted, I couldn't believe all that the city really had to offer. The amount of culture is insane!
Valencia has its own traditions and festivals, most notably Las Fallas. Although the actual festival takes place in May, the presentation of beautiful falleras and preparation for the festival happen all year. During the summer, I was able to see the presentation of the falleras and their elaborate dresses and beautiful dances.
Be sure to take advantage of all of the wonderful cultural opportunities open to all visitors. Valencia boasts over fifteen world-class museums, ranging from the Fallero Museum to the Museo de Bellas Artes–a huge art museum filled with oil paintings. When I went to the Museo de Bellas Artes with my friends, we had the entire museum to ourselves! But the coolest museum, in my opinion, is the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and the Oceanográfico. My whole class organized a day when we went to an IMAX show, saw the exhibits, and walked around the Aquarium. My friends and I had a blast at the dolphin show and imitating the penguins. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, though: the Oceanográfico is HUGE–the largest in all of Europe! There's even a museum dedicated to Valencia's own cool and creamy horchata, a refreshing beverage made from tigernuts. Keep in mind, however, that it is a bit difficult to get to this particular museum–some of my compañeros got lost and had some pretty interesting stories for us the next day. Valencia also offers traditional Spanish bullfighting in the historic Plaza de Toros. Although it's a bit graphic, a bull-fight is a must-see when in Spain.
The heart of the city houses gorgeous ancient buildings and trendy new centers for shopping. We spent hours riding the escalators in El Corte Ingles, an enormous department store. In the last days of our summer, a group of us even planned a mini-Olympics in the store. Apart from the modern buildings, springing up high from the hustle and bustle of the city is El Miguelte, the tower of the Cathedral which dates back to the 1418. We even got to climb to the top, where the view is phenomenal! Even if you aren't Catholic, be sure to take in a mass in the Cathedral, which is home to the Holy Grail. In the Plaza de la Reina right outside of the Cathedral, IU Honors Program students have been known to grab a refreshing helado and socialize after classes. However, the best ice cream store is right next to the centrally-located Plaza de Toros. Il Gelatario has the best flavors! I personally recommend the Nutella-flavored helado. Everyone from the program would go here after school. I'm sure most of our money was spent on ice cream, but it was definitely worth it!
Right around the corner from the Miguelete, there are more shops and cafés surrounding the Plaza de la Virgin and the Basilica. Feed the birds, take a picture by the fountain, and roam the charming winding streets, and soon you will find yourself in the biggest plaza in Valencia. In the center of the city, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the main attraction. With the IU Honors Program, students will have the special opportunity to tour the sacred halls of the Ayuntamiento. As part of our tour, we got to visit the archives and Ayuntamiento museum, which isn't open to the general public. My favorite experience was sitting in the actual meeting room of all of the legislatures. It was such a unique experience!
Los estudiantes de honor also enjoy some of the best shopping–especially during the July "rebajas" and sales–found within walking distance. The downtown is home to both big-name stores like El Corte Ingles and small boutiques. A short bus or metro ride will take you from the downtown area past El Mercado Central, a beautiful market buzzing with locals and deliciously fresh produce and comestibles, and through El Barrio Carmen, a very artsy neighborhood with interesting shops and some very distinguishable graffiti. While most students spend free time in the city, a good majority of los estudiantes also spend time taking in the Mediterranean sun at Las Arenas, the main beach in Valencia. Don't forget the sunscreen–I went through at least two big bottles! Host families enjoy sending their students to the beach with delicious bocadillos, a typical baguette sandwich with either jamón (my personal favorite) or tortilla.
During the week, students attend school at Casa de Salud, a clinic that has a training school for nurses. The building itself is really neat, but the coolest part is that the school is run by nuns! The nuns have some really interesting stories that they are more than happy to share with the students. A typical day includes classes in phonetics, culture, literature, grammar, and conversation. Almuerzo becomes one of your favorite parts of the day! Students have the pleasure of dining in a nearby restaurant that offers home-style Spanish cuisine. Paella, revueltos, lomo, and natillas are some of the usual favorites, and all the food is so good that you never leave hungry. Students get to unwind by participating in theater or chorus classes, and, once a week, with a day of sports at the Technical University of Valencia and a movie at a local cinema. We saw some American movies dubbed in Spanish, like Kung Fu Panda, but we also had the opportunity to see some Spanish films. One of them, 3:19, was even filmed in Valencia, and our whole class went to go see where it was filmed.
Things like this made Valencia different than all of the other cities. It has the hustle and bustle and conveniences of a large city like the metro and big shopping centers, but it has the charm of a small town with laidback lifestyle and siestas and friendly neighbors. Valencia has so much to give to IU Honors Program students. The professors themselves are extraordinary, but the beaches and shopping and the parks in the city (including a park that has a larger-than-life playground resembling Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels) truly set it apart from the rest. Even the excursions to the nearby villages and towns are fantastic! The food and culture is rich, not to mention delicious (mmmm…paella!). To experience Valencia is to experience a city with fascinating culture and tons of fun opportunities. A word to the wise: don't forget to bring sun block, a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and a camera! All in all, Valencia offers IU Honors Program students the best of both worlds: a city rich in history and tradition, as well as a beautifully modern coastal oasis. If you study in Valencia, you'll love every minute of it–I know I did!