Do you speak Valencian?

Greetings from sunny Valencia where yes, Spanish is spoken, but the real official language appears to be Valencian. Like the Catalan region, Valencia is reclaiming its language heritage after its suppression by Franco. It’s a little disconcerting for us English-speaking travelers, who are used to seeing English whenever there is a back-up language on signs and notices, especially in the tourist areas. Nope, here everything is Valencian first and then Spanish. On the buses, it’s only Valencian, unless the sign is safety-related, then they begrudgingly add Spanish. Valencian, like Catalan, is a mix of Spanish, French, and Portuguese, so thankfully we can puzzle most things out.

Yet when we go out to eat and order in our approximative Spanish, the waitstaff takes pity on us and switches to English, all while telling us that English is not widely spoken here. This may be true, but everyone we’re interacted with has had a least a decent amount. Mark said this is the place where everyone and yet no one speaks English. We always thank people for their English. We know how hard it is to learn a foreign tongue, and we really appreciate it. I never want to take for granted how lucky we are that our first language is the world’s second. Everyone on the receiving end of our thanks lights up when we say it. I’d like to think we’re doing our small part to counter the stereotype of native English speakers being entitled monolingual imperialist boors.

I find it curious that there is simultaneous interest in preserving local languages while English takes over the planet at a break-neck pace, like an invasive species. Perhaps we’ll end up with a world where you speak your local dialect plus English, and nothing in between. We took a walking tour and I asked our guide about how common Valencian is. He said in the province it is the main language, but in the city most people speak Spanish. He grew up speaking Valencian and learned English in school. He didn’t speak Spanish until he moved to Valencia a decade ago at the age of 18.

On a side note, the world will be a much less amusing place once there are wide-spread, excellent A.I translations available. No more menus with things like whisky baby, fizzy drink, roast bread, spelled soup, raw meet, mushy sandwich, old cheese, or pasted empty.

So how’s Valencia? Lovely. It’s a big city, and very wide spread. The historic center is the most attractive area, outside the old walls are miles of meh, nondescript 70s apartment buildings.

In the center of it all is the cathedral, which houses the Holy Grail. No really, the real one. Or so they say. It also is home to a couple of mummified arm relics and baby Jesus’s t-shirt. No, really.

It’s a glorious mess of styles, from Romanesque to Baroque, built on the site of a former mosque. All Islamic features were destroyed centuries ago unfortunately.

The Romanesque door of the Apostles, 13th c

No one does decorative excess quite like the Spanish. The porcelain museum.

There’s over-the-top Spanish art deco

And Europe’s skinniest apartment building.

The Spanish Modernista style. This is the Mercado de Colon, a former food market turned food court.

Valencia is home to the architect Calatrava and his super modern City of Arts and Science museum complex.

When modern architecture turns to the dark side
The eye of Sauron

The best part about Valencia is the miles-long, dry riverbed park that arches over the north side of the old city. The Turia river was diverted a few miles south after a devastating flood in the 1950s. Franco wanted to turn it into a highway. Valencianos said no thanks, thankfully.

Cabanyal, by the sea, is the shabby side of town. By all logic, this should be highly desirable real estate. But the area was stuck in legal limbo for many years due to planning for a new highway which would have bulldozed the area. The neighborhood group won, but for years properties here languished as no one wanted to invest money in a threatened neighborhood.

Paella is Valencia’s claim to fame, but it’s Horchata that won us over. This isn’t Mexican horchata, which is made from rice and flavored with cinnamon. This is made from chufa, the tuber of the Yellow Nutsedge, grown in the US as turkey fodder. It tastes a bit nutty and slightly sweet. You can also just snack on the raw tubers, which is my new favorite thing. I’m sure that chufa will become the new super-food, but they’ll call it by its cooler name, Tiger nut.

Hochata is typically served with a crispy pastry called fartons.

Valencia is our February choice in this year’s theme of parking it in one place for at least a month. I’m giving it a thumbs-up, all while knowing it’s a place we won’t likely to return to. It’s a terrific city, but a big, modern city nonetheless and a month will be enough. Besides, there’s so many more places to go!

Words to live by



Other things get lost in translation too…