“Want to go for a walk?” I asked Michael. After a four-day vacation in northern Spain it was time to reacquaint ourselves with our neighborhood and our routines.
We showered, dressed and were out the door at 11am. This might seem like a late start to most Americans–myself included. But things are different here. We are different here.
Within five minutes, we were in the Rio–which means “river” in Spanish, but there’s no river there. In the 1950s the city decided it had flooded one too many times and they diverted it. In the late 80s they embarked on a project to turn 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) of the former riverbed into a park–now referred to in guidebooks as the “Green Lung” of Valencia. But to the locals? It’s still the Rio. Even though most who call it that have never, in their lifetimes, seen a river flow there.
Michael and I descend into the park and decide to head towards the City of Arts and Sciences. Which isn’t a city. It’s a collection of buildings by architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. The “City” anchors one end of the Rio. Here we find a science museum reminiscent of a whale’s skeleton, a “Palace of the Arts” that looks like an alien spacecraft you’d see in a Speilberg film, and an unfinished building inspired by the comb the local falleras girls wear in their hair–all reflected in pools surrounding the structures.
Men stand in the aforementioned pools in thigh-high rubber boots pushing long poles through the water–spring cleaning. Beside the pools we see wooden crates surrounding the next sculptures to be placed in and around the pools. A large greenish man’s torso looks like it fell, broke apart into a few pieces, and was put back together again. I make a mental note to read up on the new exhibit.
We see a mix of locals and tourists–the latter distinguished by their slower gait, their stares of amazement, their language, and their now-recognizable-to-us rented city bikes. The Dutch bikes of Verrassend with their front baskets made of wood and painted with the company name. The hundreds of others plastered with the name of the bike rental companies.
We peel off our sweaters. The sun abandoned Valencia in early March but sends us its warmth from behind the clouds.
“Now the question you want to answer is, ‘Does the goat cheese place have one goat cheese thing left?'” Michael said. I laughed.
The “Goat Cheese Place” isn’t actually called “The Goat Cheese Place.” It’s called Notre Dame but I don’t think Michael even knows that. I found it some months ago and would visit on my way back from my Friday walks with the International Women’s Club of Valencia. One day I confessed my visits to Michael. “These things are sooooo good. But I only go once a week,” I told him. Thanks to our addiction to the Great British Baking Show I know how much butter it takes to make the layered, flaky pastry!
“But here’s the funny thing,” I went on. “Every time I go, they only have one goat cheese tart.”
For proof, we headed over there. And months later our point is proved over and over again–no matter what day, what time, nestled among the dozen croissants, the few apple tarts, the mini-quiches is just one goat cheese tart.
Yesterday proved no different. We sat down with our coffees and snacks (a croissant for Michael–he doesn’t even ask me to share my tart). We reminisced about our most recent adventures, talked about our plans ahead. Then spent the next twenty minutes walking a distance that normally takes us five.
Why? Because it’s Spain. Because we can. Because on the way home we can also make our dentist appointments and stop in the tiny little hardware store. We can try, in our limited Spanish, to get what we need. The people are all patient with us. And we, in turn, have learned to be a little more patient with ourselves in this country where the “river” contains no water, where a “city” can be a few huge architectural wonders and where Notre Dame can be the best place to get a goat cheese tart.