Valencia

I discovered Valencia on a business trip in 1992, and I have loved it ever since. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city at over a million inhabitants, it is the largest / busiest port in the Mediterranean and has been for centuries. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately it remains fairly unknown to most folks on the tourist circuit. Because of this, it maintains a certain undiscovered quality to it, a small town feeling.

Valencia is home to the delicious paella, to the “painter of light”, Joaquín Sorolla, the brilliant architect Calatrava, it was the last home for El Cid (check out the film with Charlton Heston), etc. It is a city rich, very rich in culture, history, literature, architecture, and so forth. I have been lucky to keep great, close friends, including my PhD thesis director!

I hadn’t been to Valencia in a year, when I spent a day walking around and catching up on the Museo de Bellas Artes. This time I have had the luxury of spending a whole week here, so I have squeezed every moment here to see and do all my favorite things, which include:

  • Walking around
  • Having breakfast at my favorite coffee shop (ok, I’ll tell you… Café Aquarium)
  • Eating paella by the beach
  • Drinking Horchata (made from a tiger nuts)
  • Eating fartons, a delicious pastry, in my case, stuffed with chocolate.
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Running along the old river bed (after a dramatic and deadly overflow, they made a safer channel for the river, sparing the city of further damages.

It has been a very busy but rewarding week and I even got to catch up with one of my old students which is always enriching and fun.

With the AVE high speed train, Valencia is now only a short two hour ride from Madrid – at 189 mph! So there is no reason not to jump on a train and spend a couple of days in this great city.

 

A good cup of coffee

Of course I have mentioned coffee many times before in this blog, but I have never dedicated a post to it. About bloody time, some of you might say.

As my friend Theo would say I am a bit of a late bloomer, at least on the coffee front, maybe because I did not hit my teenage years in Madrid but in London in the 80’s where a good cup of coffee was as unheard of as a sunny day. Ditto for university in Boston later that same decade. Although I do remember some memorable coffees in the Italian North End where a few cafés knew how to pull a solid espresso!

When I finally got back to Spain in the early 90’s, still young -mind you- then the coffee consumption crept in unannounced. You see, in Spain at mid morning everybody takes a coffee break, who was I not to enjoy a cup? Thus an addiction began.

I do not drink a lot of coffee, preferring to focus on quality over quantity. Normally it is just one a day, mid morning. While travelling, it will be at least a couple, one with breakfast and one mid morning. If I have lunch out, I might have an espresso to finish.

During my PhD, I would meet with my awesome Thesis Advisor a couple of times a week to go over my progress at UNC’s now defunct The Daily Grind, where they knew our orders by heart. Those coffees remain in my memory as some of the most enriching ever.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

– T.S. Eliot

Relative to the rest of Europe, Spain does not have the best coffee. You see after our Civil War (1936 to 39) we had a rough famine through the 40’s while the rest of Europe was in WWII. We were lucky to be included in the Marshall Plan that helped us out. We had a scarcity of coffee so it was over roasted to increase flavor. Folks also drank chicory instead of coffee since this grows naturally in Spain and was widely available and much cheaper. Sometimes they mixed coffee and chicory (in proportions depending on what you could afford). A final trick was to add caramel to the coffee, again to push the flavor. All this means is that we got used to bad coffee, torrefacto. Nowadays this is not so much the case except if you go to a remote village where they still like it “old” style.

Another great coffee moment is Sunday after church, where I do not have any time limit on my coffee. In Florida I would go to Bad Ass Coffee next to St. Ann’s, although eventually I moved to The Brick for the more comfy sofas to read on. Here in Madrid I go to the wonderful Pancomido Café where the girls know me enough to prepare my coffee when they see me walking in!

More important than the coffee itself might be the coffee time: a time of reflection, or reading, or of company, and conversation. The ceremony of coffee whether at home, or at a coffee shop is also equally important; taking the time to enjoy a coffee alone or with a friend.