We resurfaced from the Covid-19 confinement of nearly two months with a renewed appreciation and soft spot in our hearts for the city parks of Valencia. They represent our little “snippet” of nature until we can get to the real thing.
Fortunately, when it comes to parks, Valencia packs a wallop. We have several parks within walking distance from our home and are daily “forest bathers”, a Japanese term for slowing down and connecting with nature in a wooded environment. We’re always in the park for a two-hour block sometime between 7 and 10 am when it is quiet and we can enjoy the sumptuous setting, fellowship, a symphony of morning birdsong, and intoxicating aromas.
When the parks re-opened and we could resume this small pleasure it was like being re-born. It was like that first whiff of coffee in the morning or banana bread baking in the oven. We enjoyed plenty of those at-home pleasures during the confinement - maybe a few too many. Once our small pleasures expanded to the outdoors we really began to feel alive again.
I know we’re not alone. There seems to be a resurgence in people enjoying nature. A friend of mine told me that the crowds waiting in line at REI, an outdoor equipment store, were passing a list of all the items no longer available in the store. Yes, there was a rush on bicycles and camping equipment. It wasn’t just toilet paper! I do hope that enjoyment and respect for nature is one of the positive, lasting outcomes from our new normal.
Possibly, now is the time to take stock of what you missed, what you can’t live without, and more than anything, what makes you happy. By renewing our acquaintance with forest bathing we’ve only heightened our awareness of its magical effect on our mornings even in the humid heat of a Valencia summer. Our small daily pleasure took an upturn today when we woke to see cloudy skies. Expected showers may keep most Valencianos at bay, but never an Oregonian. It was like wandering in a private park. The breeze was just strong enough to circulate the aromas produced by the flowering trees and to keep the flies from landing. Oh! Small pleasures compounded!
Here’s how our mornings begin.
We Start with Morning Exercise
We spend the majority of our mornings in Los Jardines del Real (The Royal Gardens) where we have found the perfect gym. Just like an indoor gym, we see the same people each and every morning. But, in our gym, we see the same dogs. Perfect.
Our exercise spot hasn’t always been the same. We’ve upgraded a few times. Our new spot has a huge lawn where Lizzie used to love chasing her ball. The grass is watered regularly so the ground is soft. Easy on old feet! Some day the young trees scattered across the lawn will grow to comingle their branches with the mature silk trees under which we exercise. Meanwhile their dappled shade softens our early morning horizon.
A convenient park bench is ideal for push-ups and tricep presses. Curbstones bordering the pathway along the perimeter of our green gym are the perfect double-riser for our step routines.
The birds are familiar friends too. Most familiar are the permanent residents – the doves and parakeets. Swifts, hoopoe’s, and a host of others are welcome seasonal visitors.
After our workout we like to cool down while we forest bathe in the gardens. We check on the cat colonies (which are well cared for), view the many sculptures in morning light, and visit the exotic birds housed in the park, remnants of the sad time this park was the city zoo.
If time permits, we’ll sit outside and have a café con leche de soja. What a perfect small pleasure. I could write a whole story about the pleasures of multiple outside cafés in every block of the city.
More about the Royal Gardens
The Royal Gardens were created in the 11th century when the Muslims ruled Valencia. They consisted of a “country” palace (it was outside the city walls) surrounded by almunias - a combination of gardens, orchards, and farmland with water features and beautiful resting places. Several generations of Muslim kings lived in the palace.
After the Christian reconquest of Valencia in 1238 under King Jaime I, the 300-room palace fell into new hands to become the Ritz Carlton for several generations of Christian rulers. Sadly, the palace was destroyed in the early 19th century during the Peninsula Wars fought with Napoleon’s French troops. Some zones were excavated as recently as 2009 but most are buried under a busy street for future generations to ponder.
The palace is gone, however, the gardens continue to grace the modern city. In 1903 the land was donated for use as a horticultural nursery. This nursery or viveros in Spanish gives the Royal Gardens a second and even more popular name- Jardines del Viveros or just Viveros. As a result of this history Viveros boasts a whopping 2,769 tree specimens and 167 botanical species. No wonder I love this place.
While basking in the heady floral scents it is also easy to enjoy the garden’s sculptures by Valencian artists. Andreu Alfaro (1929 – 2012) is an accomplished Valencian artist with sculptures all over the world. His work in the Royal Gardens is titled Monumento a Ausiàs Marc (Monument to Ausiás Marc). Marc was a Valencian poet and knight from the medieval period. His poetry must have given Alfaro an image of birds taking flight because that’s what I see when I gaze on the sculpture. The sculpture is magnificent from any approach but designed to be viewed as a focal point from an alley of mature cypress trees.
More about Avenida de Blasco Ibañez
From our place, the most satisfying route to Los Jardines del Real is along the Avenida de Blasco Ibañez. This Avenida was designed as a 50 meter-wide boulevard planted with gardens that are nearly deserted at 7 am. The street is almost like an extension of the Royal Gardens due to its grandeur and plantings and I qualify it as a third garden near our home. Our six-block walk down the Avenida to the Royal Gardens begins a fragrant journey that continues for the whole two hours that we are out.
Avenida de Blasco Ibañez was renamed in 1977 after one of Valencia’s renowned citizens, Vicente Blasco Ibañez, a journalist and novelist. Blasco Ibañez gained fame in the English language world after several of his novels were turned into movies by Hollywood film studios during the first quarter of the 20th century. Most people have heard of “The Four Horses of the Apocalypse” which was made into a film in 1921. Greta Garbo also starred in two screenplays adapted from his novels.
V Blasco Ibañez was born in 1867 and died in 1928. The city of Valencia maintains his last Spanish home as a museum. The house sits right on the Mediterranean Sea in a location that would have been as tranquil as a mountain retreat 100 years ago.
More about él Túria
We chose our apartment for its convenience to Jardines del Túria, the most popular park in Valencia. Following a devastating flood in 1957 the former Túria River was diverted and the riverbed claimed for a 9 kilometer park. Both residents and tourists can enjoy recreation, culture, events, and sports in a package that never fails to impress.
Our favorite activity in Él Túria (also known as “The River”) is bike riding. Designated paths for cyclists, runners, and walkers keep things from becoming too chaotic in this well used park (as long as you don’t go on a holiday).
One of the most iconic attractions within Él Túria is the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias). The first building, L’Hemisferic, opened in 1998 and houses the IMAX theatre, planetarium, and laserium. Other attractions include the Reina Sofia Opera House, Science Museum, L’Oceanografic, the largest aquarium in Europe, and L’Umbracle, a garden of native plants. There are lakes, restaurants, cafés, and several bridges. The primary architect was Santiago Caltrava, born in Valencia in 1951. His work is seen throughout the world. Before we ever saw or set foot in Valencia we knew his work from the Art Museum in Milwaukee Wisconsin. New Yorkers may know his work from the 2016 World Trade Center PATH Station. Georgians may be familiar with the Atlanta Symphony Center.
Susan Carey retired in 2017 after a long business career most recently in animal welfare leadership. She writes about her experiences as a recent retiree living in Spain. Susan lives in Valencia, Spain with her husband, Jamie, and the senior pets they brought with them from the United States.