A Warm and Showery Introduction to Valencia…

[I’m using the (Un)Inspired Ramblings Facebook page to post some more regular updates and photos in between main blog posts here. You can find it here.]

Heading down the coast from my little beach retreat at Benicassim towards Valencia involves taking some nice smooth bike paths…

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…tracks through lime plantations…

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…past decrepit industrial estates…

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…and along beaches (feeling that urge for fat tyres again)…

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A week or two before, I’d posted a question on the Warmshowers.org Facebook page, asking whether anyone knew somewhere near Valencia where I might be able to store my bike and gear for a week, whilst I took a little trip back to London to see friends and family. This trip home may feel like cheating a little, but as I make up the rules on this ride I’m only cheating myself, and I was ok with it.

For those of you not familiar with the Warm Showers community and/or who might have smirked at the slightly unfortunate name (and believe me, you’re in good company – every friend I’ve explained it too has smirked in the same way), its a community very similar to Couchsurfing, but specifically aimed at connecting long distance cyclists. If you have space in your home to put up a cyclist, or group of cyclists, or just to let them camp in the garden, then you can advertise as a host on the Warm Showers website. There is no money involved – the cyclist might bring a gift, and the host might offer anything from just a patch of land to pitch a tent, to a bed, food and guided tour of the local area. If you’re a cyclist taking advantage of welcoming hosts, the only expectation is that one day you will register as a host in order to return the hospitality to other cyclists. The benefit of Warm Showers over something like Couchsurfing is that, despite the wide range of people who might visit, long distance cyclists generally have the same three primary needs – somewhere to sleep, eat and shower!

Anyway, I have only registered with Warm Showers a few weeks previously, thinking that it might be a good way of meeting more people locally on this trip, and posted on their page in the hope that perhaps someone could recommend a bike shop or hostel in Valencia that might be open to keeping my bike and gear for a week. Within a few hours John has replied to my post telling me that he and his family lived about 25km outside of Valencia and would be happy to store my bike. For someone who is somewhat awkward about accepting people’s help / hospitality (I even feel this in hotels & restaurants where I’m paying!), and who can be a little introverted as far as Jung’s definition goes (tending to recharge by spending time alone, and eventually losing energy by being around lots of people for a long time) staying in strangers’ homes could be a little daunting, but I end up arranging to camp in their garden on the nights before and after my trip back to London.

Picking up the bike lane in Valencia’s 9km long park in the former bed of the River Turia, which was diverted around the city after a devastating flood in 1957, I then continue to head West up along a new off-road bike path which heads out of the city, following the river valley.

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After a couple of hot and dusty hours, I reach John’s place, and pitch in the garden, with my very own pool 🙂

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As a first experience with Warm Showers, staying with John and his family is brilliant. He is in regular touch by email beforehand, helps me to find a nice off-road route out into and out of Valencia on my way to his town, takes me to and from the train station on my way to the airport and invites me to join the family for dinner. In Spain its common for children to live at home whilst they study at a local University. This is very different to the UK where escaping from the family is often a big factor in not choosing a University too close to home. For Spanish families, this appears to happen mainly for financial reasons (its very hard for students to support themselves independently), but one of the benefits is that the ‘family’ seems to remain closer for longer. Clearly not every family will be like John’s, but I’ve seen what might be the benefits of this elsewhere – young people who are more polite and engaging than I might have expected, families of multiple generations all out socialising together, or sitting down for a family meal every evening. John’s family, including his son and daughter and their friends, were incredibly welcoming, warm and open, and as a first Warm Showers experience, I couldn’t have asked for more. So if you’re heading past Valencia, be sure to look him up.

Once again I don’t take any ‘proper’ photos of actual people…but this is John (left), I, John’s daughter Emma (far right) and her friend Ampi…

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I do manage a couple of shots of the new addition to the family though. This is Tyson, who was very cute, despite not yet knowing where he allowed and not allowed to poo…

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My rear tyre is getting a little low so after my little break back in London, I bring a replacement out. I really need a shop to fit it for the first time using an air compressor and so spend a couple of days in Valencia whilst the bike is serviced by Bicicletas Belga. Frank the mechanic, apparently says that my bottom bracket had fishes swimming in it, it was so full of water… I guess after nearly 2000 miles, it is overdue a service and repacking with grease. Mountain biking is pretty popular down this way and its good to see a shop with equal numbers of mountain bikes to road bikes. And a proper fat bike (a Trek Farley) in the main window gives you some confidence that the shop will be able to deal with a slightly unique build. I also get a new chain and the rear sprocket reversed as its showing wear.

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I’ve visited Valencia before, many years ago, but didn’t come away feeling that I had a good feel for the city, so this time stay right in the old town in the great Home Youth Hostel and spend a couple of days wandering around. Its great to be in a hostel with other travellers for a change – something of a shock in fact. In just a couple of nights I meet a financial consultant from Toronto, a raft guide / adventure company marketeer from southern California, an architect from eastern Europe, an Iranian oil and gas engineer living in Moscow, an Indian telecoms engineer living in the US, and others from New Zealand (via Bristol), Belgium, and Brazil. Whilst there is a definite element of the younger ‘lets just go and get pissed’ backpacker attitude, it was a refreshing couple of days and has renewed my enthusiasm for making the most of hostels throughout Europe, even just for short breaks from a more normal life in the UK.

As with many towns and cities in Spain, I come away with the feeling that Valencia would be somewhere cool to live for a while…

There is a grand central market…

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…stocking fresh veg…

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…fish…

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…meat…

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…and all sorts of other things…

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There are many squares in which to sit, eat and drink, and catch the autumn sun…

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…and many grand buildings…

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As well as a healthy dose of street art…

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Once again, I have an urge to just stay here for a while longer, but I know I must keep moving. I’ve been off the bike a while, and it’s time to start following those yellow arrows that point towards Santiago again, at least for a little while…

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Posted in Bikepacking London to Seville (2014) and tagged .

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