Sun burns and Bed bugs- the Valencia finale

Day three in Valencia dawned a dawn full of promise. We would rent bikes, we would sun screen up and we would go to the beach. Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances AKA: bed bugs the beach had thus far eluded us, but no more messing around! Today we would reach the promised destination come rain or shine. Admittedly though I would prefer the latter. We found a really great deal at The Easy Way bike rental and paid only €9 each for a 24 hour rental period that came with the bike, a basket, a lock, and safety lights for riding at night. Valencia has a beautiful park in the old river bed that runs through the city which offers a car free route to the sea. So, coffeed up and ready to go, we hopped on our sweet rides and pedaled our way to the coast through the scenic park. I must say we felt pretty liberated to be off our feet and speeding through the city on a pair of wheels!IMG_9362IMG_9355

Warning: You may want to put on sunglasses for the image you are about to see contains a sun deprived Canadian in all her pasty whiteness.IMG_9342This is the moment I had been waiting for, this right here. And as always, totally worth it. A few hours soaking up the sun and some splashing around in the water made for a very happy day, but knowing that we had received next to no sun in the infamously grey Vancouver winter, we reluctantly packed up our things after a few short hours and headed back to town. Earlier, when we had rode to the beach, we passed by the Valencia science center. A strikingly modern structure featuring not only an exhibit on Nicola Tesla that was absolutely calling our name, but also bright blue pools and what can only be described as a hamster ball on water that I absolutely had to do. I tried to ignore how ridiculous I felt as I joined the line up of children waiting to test their balancing skills, paid my €5 and climbed in. IMG_9413IMG_9418IMG_9420

This is way harder than it looks. As in, it’s incredibly hard! I spent most of my time falling down and trying to stand or chasing the kids who kept trying to slam their hamster ball into mine. I didn’t succeed in catching any of them (they’re surprisingly fast) and I have no regrets whatsoever. Well, except that as it turns out despite the application of sunscreen and limiting exposure to the sun I was as red as red could be. Which is exactly what I didn’t want…oh well, better red now than in Ibiza later.

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That evening, nursing our bug bites and sunburns, Bev and I treated ourselves to a scrumptious tapas style dinner. A serve yourself feast of bite three bite goodies billed by the amount of toothpicks you amass. With nothing labelled, it’s a bit consume at your own risk. For example, I happily stuck a spoonful of this fresh green goodness in my mouth expecting a green smoothie like concoction only to discover my worst enemy- pea gazpacho soup. Pea anything, really. Luckily, everything else was delicious and the experience was saved!

With the beach and bedbugs behind us we turned our focus on the upcoming Ibiza! It was time to meet with friends and dedicate ourselves to some good times in the world famous party destination. We had thought we were so clever making our way down to the coast thinking we could ferry over to Ibiza from Valencia only to be thwarted by a ferry ride that is 6 hours long and extremely expensive! We talked to some locals to learn that it’s actually really boring and is mainly designed for those who want to bring their cars to the island. Instead we booked a flight for €80 and gladly hopped on the 45 minute long plane ride. We even ended up in the emergency exit row with so much leg room, we could touch the seats in front of us without having to bend our knees. I almost felt guilty.

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But…not that guilty. So long Valencia!

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Dealing with Bed bugs on the road

Encountering bed bugs on the road is easily this traveller’s worst nightmare. While I was aware that I could encounter them at some point, I didn’t expect it would actually happen and this soon. Waking up on our second day in Valencia, I looked over at Bev, who was still asleep in her bed and noticed that her arms above the covers were covered in angry red bumps. She’s allergic to mosquitos so I assumed that she had been attacked by a hoard of the insects who find her irresistable on the late night walk home.

No, the answer was much worse than that. No matter where we stay, I check our beds for evidence of bed bugs before we put our stuff down. Yes, this might be a little paranoid but better safe than sorry! When we first arrived I did a quick sweep of the mattress seams and pillows and was satisfied. So when Bev awoke on day two looking like this:IMG_3417

We were entirely surprised. A cursory search on the internet didn’t really help, all the photos we saw and first hand accounts we read couldn’t convince us that it was bed bugs or it wasn’t so we remained suspicious. We thought maybe it was a rash the bites were concentrated only on her arms and shoulders, were itchy, but as you can see, also extremely red and swollen not the tiny red bumps like we had seen on google search. Plus, I didn’t have a single bite, surely if there were bed bugs we’d both be affected? We checked the beds again. There was nothing to indicate the presence of bed bugs maybe the mosquitos in Spain are super tenacious.

There’s really nothing like waking up covered in large itchy splotches to take the wind out of your traveling sails. Instead of going to the beach like we had planned, we stayed close to home and nursed a coffee and waited for the time difference to catch up so we could consult with my bestie and knowledgeable nurse friend about what it could be. She in turn consulted with her nurse friend and by 23:00 we had (kind of) an answer: It’s not a rash, it’s bug bites for sure.

I returned to the bed and this time I tore it apart. We scoured every inch of bedding, looking right into the folds of the seams in the sheets, the pillows, stripped the mattress bare and took a flashlight to every corner and crevice. Still nothing.

Until…one teeny tiny bright red moving dot scurried to the safety of a mattress corner. We caught it in a glass and looked at it closely. It was a bed bug! Super small and according to google, one only in its second phase after feeding. We took the evidence to our host (who was snoring soundly) and explained to him in the WORST spanish known to man what had occurred. His response was great! He was deeply concerned but as it was super late there wasn’t really a lot any of us could do. He moved us to a different (and larger!) room on the other side of the suite and put our things in the hall until the morning and they could be laundered. We decided that since it was just one very small bug if he DID have an infestation it must be a very new one. We would stay the night, if she woke up with any new bites then we would leave that morning. We took photos of all of her bites and then scrubbed down vigorously in the shower because there’s nothing like the image of bugs crawling all over you in your sleep to make you feel super gross.

The next day our host had all of our clothing laundered in hot water and dried with hot air, Bev was free of any new bites and the bed bug from the night before met a boiling hot death. We didn’t experience any problems again after that night so we ended up staying at the Airbnb until the end and after ensuring every thing got a good scalding, we pulled our things into our new room. And that was it. We were lucky that our brush with bed bugs was so minor, after the horror stories I’ve heard from other travellers forced to spend hours at the laundromat watching their backpacks and clothes go round and round in a dryer, or the unfortunate traveller who abandoned their things not knowing that hot air for 15 minutes is all you need to kill them, we got off lightly.

So what would you have done when up against the dreaded bed bug? Would you have left the place immediately or stay as we did?

The saga of bed bugs and sunburns- A Valencia tale

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Oh, Valencia. You set a standard of enjoyment the rest of Europe will scramble to meet. On our first night we stumbled upon a festival in the city where all the Valencians had come out to play, upbeat 40’s jazz sounded throughout the streets to which couples were swing dancing in the square. The buildings were an intricate art nouveau while a warm breeze rustled in the palm fronds and the setting sun gave the last of its warm rays. It was magic. I breathed deeply, cherishing it. For the first time I truly felt like I was on vacation. Invigorated by the energy of the city and warmed by a night time glass of rosé, Bev and I went to bed that night dreaming of the beach we would visit come the morning, two weeks spent in landlocked cities had these Vancouverites absolutely aching for the sea.

Sadly, the best laid plans…We didn’t make it to the beach that day. We mean’t to.. but we started out hunting down the perfect coffee spot.So far, Spain had absolutely nailed coffee. (Oh look, a starbucks!) Though we really did mean to go to the beach, we naively thought just take a quick peek at what is on this street and this and this…At the edge of the old city we found the Torres de Serranos, a gothic style 14th century gate that once served as the main entry to the city. Fully restored and open to the public for a modest €2.00, and free on Sundays, for those wanting to climb up and experience not just history and pant wetting heights, but stunning views of the city as well.IMG_9299IMG_9305

I got my calf work out on with the hundred or so steep stairs connecting the different levels of the tower but was well rewarded with an unparalleled view of the city that got better and better with every staircase I ascended. Now, I don’t consider myself acrophobic, I can peer over the battlements no problem. I feel safe with the strong wall holding me back, but I must admit I get a little wobbly when I come across a glass floor in a tall building. Why yes, that ground is very far below and this is exactly what it would look like if I fell through your questionably safe glass floor to the ground below.
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We were so caught up in the city that it was already 3:00 before we even took notice and a quick bite of paella was necessary to restore our strength. Yes, real Valencian Paella! After all the hype from Madrid it became priority number 2 (after priority number 1 AKA the beach didn’t pan out) we sought it out as quick as possible. Turns out, it’s really, really good. Just about every restaurant offers a version of it so we picked the first place we could find and tucked in. Side note: I was so hungry that I gobbled it down before I remembered to take a photo of it.

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We did 26,000 steps that day and 18 flights of stairs! A personal record that I think doctors would be proud of. As the first day drew to a close, we made a vow: tomorrow we will resist the siren song of the beautiful city, rent bicycles and go to the beach. Or so we thought…the bike and beach just weren’t in our stars! That morning we awoke to find Bev was covered in angry red bumps. Alarm bells singing the awful tune of bed bugs had our focus turned from the beach to sanitizing and expelling the dreaded vampires from our clothes and bags. There’s a whole post on it if you’re immune to heebie jeebies here.

But, it’s nothing a hand crafted gelato rose can’t cure!

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Valencia really touched my heart, the traditional and the modern met here with a harmony not often achieved. I could walk the historic city and feel lost in time then turn a corner and indulge in a very 21st century shopping experience. We accomplished so much in our short time in Valencia, we found coffee shops and patisseries to while away the hours, gyms to work off the bread and cheese feasts which were becoming de reigueur, and settled into a little lifestyle routine that also included two days spent nursing metaphoric travel wounds and binge watching TV in our room. Hey, sometimes you need netflix. But the count was on, we had three days left in Valencia before we would jet off to Ibiza to celebrate birthdays island style and if this pale Canadian body didn’t see some sun before we got there, I would spend the whole time a miserable little lobster. Valencia was so busy I had to make three posts just to cover it all! Find out if our heroes made it to the beach in the next thrilling chapter in the Valencia tales!

Olé! Madrid!

High school Spanish, please, please come back. I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you! 

We stepped onto the tarmac at Madrid international to a bright and sunny sky and immediately turned our faces to the sun eager to catch up as much of its warmth as possible. Madrid was the beginning of the much anticipated hot and sunny chapter in our adventure and yet, I couldn’t wait to go home and nap. Maybe it’s the newness of traveling, or sleeping in a strange bed, but the night before we go to a new place I can’t seem to sleep. I wake up constantly thinking I’ll over sleep my alarm or repeatedly go over the details of my route in my head. Fortunately for me, I didn’t really have to use my tired brain to find our airbnb, getting from the airport proved to be a simple affair. The metro system is less complex than London and Bev is quickly becoming a super navigator! The Metro in Madrid is way cheaper too, a single ride ticket is €1.50, or they offer a ten ride pass for €10.00 and because our airbnb was a little out of the centre, we anticipated doing a lot of transiting so we picked up two and then two more we went through them so quickly!

Unlike London, I came to Madrid absolutely clueless about the city I didn’t do any research prior to coming here so I didn’t really know what to expect. No lonely planet or trip advisor would guide my travels here. Instead I would keep myself open to what the city had to offer and see what unfolds. Almost immediately Madrid pulled us into her easy pace of life. Amongst the winding cobbled streets residents would gather in plazas and markets where the bountiful fruit displays were bursting with ripeness or come together for an afternoon of chit chat over a cafe de leche at the cafeteria that seemed to be on every corner. The historic city seemed to draw you in, inspiring and rewarding explorations with squares and fountains that you ached to sit by. 

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Speaking of markets, this is the Mercado de San Miguel, the oldest market in Madrid. We went there and spent a €30 on fruit! That’s crazy expensive! It was really nice to walk around inside and enjoy the stands (No tocar!) but the little mom and pop stands that dot the city have way better prices, and better produce. The proximity to the Plaza Mayor is responsible for making this a tourist hub and a complete rip off.

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Anyways, without knowing what to do or where to go we indulged in one of my favourite ways to travel: the aimless wander. Setting off from the city centre we walked in the medieval centre, which had intentionally been designed by sadistic predecessors to be extremely easy to get lost in. We ended up at the Palacio Royale, the stunningly large “home” of the Spanish Monarch (3500 rooms, seriously?) and contemplated touring the inside, but one of the best things about travel is the people you meet. A couple from New York there on their honeymoon, had asked us to take their photo and took ours in return (one of the best exchanges between travellers) they also gave us great advice about what to see and permission to skip the palace tour, it’s just alright Instead they pointed us in the direction of the Temple De Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple given to spain in the 1960’s. Experience a little bit of Ancient Egypt in Spain, it wouldn’t be the most peculiar thing I’ll have done, so sure, why not?

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We learned something that day, most museums in Spain are closed on Mondays. So we worshipped from afar.

The palace itself is an impressive sight. Situated in front of the Catedral de la Almudena, the  Catedral looks to the Palacio as a nod to the importance of the monarchy and the two buildings create a plaza where tourists meander and take photos. Across the street from this is a small hill intersected with a path that boasts (according to one local) the best free sunset you’ll find in Madrid. The sun set is framed between the two structures. Always an awe inspiring sight. This same local informed us emphatically “No one drinks sangria in Madrid, if they are drinking sangria, they are tourists. Also, skip the paella. It’s not REAL paella, real paella is in Valencia where the water is the secret ingredient to the best paella. That is where it originated and that is where it should be eaten.” He was very adamant about this and kind of scary so I dared not cross him and didn’t touch a bite of paella in all of Madrid.

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Back in London we had made some new friends who were touring around Europe. They were on a fixed tour with a group so we went our separate ways but kept in touch via instagram. So when we posted our first photos of us in Madrid, who should contact us but the super funny Ariellah! She was in Madrid at the same time as us and what do you do when three chicas are in Madrid? Go dancing of course!

Ok. Not us. Are you kidding, shake my booty in the land of Enrique Iglesias? I’ll let the professionals do it. On the advice of the passionate local gentleman we dug out a Flamenco performance at Tablao Flamenco La Quimera. According to him there are two styles of Flamenco, the old and the new and the way to tell the difference is if the performance could be performed in a cave, as it should be. The large parties of dancers with their waving shawls and exaggerated movements are NOT flamenco (he had a lot of excellent opinions.) So we were very pleased when a small ensemble of people took the stage, three dancers, a singer, and the guitarist. The music started, the singer began her steady chant, the complex rhythm kept by all on stage when the first dancer took to the floor. Dressed in his red vest, black shirt, ascot, sleek pants and cool boots, the passion he emoted as he performed, his hand placed against his chest…it was dark and sexy, unlike anything I’ve seen before. All three of us were instantly absorbed, the girlish chatter ceased and we didn’t speak again until intermission.

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You can almost hear the strum of the spanish guitar coming out of this photo.

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Photo taken after a sangria was guiltily consumed by all.

I wish I understood what the singer was saying, but it didn’t matter the dancer’s performance said more than enough to inspire emotions. I had bought our tickets online through the restaurant. I went with the full meal deal. Literally. The performance included a meal and when we were finally able to pick our jaws up from the floor we filled our bellies with some of the most delicious food I’ve had in Spain. Salad, lamb, fries, chocolate. I could have been rolled on my side to get home the food was THAT good.

Meeting with Ariellah sparked the beginning of a new joy in travel- meeting with new friends. Prior to leaving Canada, we discussed meeting up with friends over in Europe as people began to plan their summer holidays, but seeing Ariellah in Madrid was the first time we had actually met with anyone. There was something in the familiarity of our shared experiences that comforted and uplifted when everything you’re experiencing is new and unfamiliar. IMG_9203

In Madrid Bev and I made the decision to spend some time separately doing different activities. We had spent over 14 consecutive days together and the need for independence was becoming painfully apparent. So we went our separate ways, she to the Reina Sofia and I ventured to find the Museo De Romantico and immerse myself in the past and to find a Starbucks. Hey, don’t underestimate your creature comforts.

As it would turn out, it was one of the best decisions we made! We returned home in the evening totally refreshed by our individual pursuits, to experience Europe without reference to someone else’s desires and pace. We had new topics for discussion at dinner and happily we shared our experiences from the day and the things we saw that got our creative mojo going.

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Between gardens and shopping along Gran Via, Plaza Mayor and the bridal district, Bev and I really conquered Madrid. We had walked from one end to the other, explored the Crystal Palace and art museums, wandered among the foliage at the botanical gardens and spent solo time in coffee shops painting and reflecting on the journey so far. Madrid was the beginning of so much more than just sun and adventure, every moment was a learning experience. Learning about myself, about travel, about culture and the world. The importance of letting go and trusting. Prior to leaving I was never fully convinced I could solo travel as a petite female in a world that seemed full of danger. I was too afraid and my fear was fueled by those around me. Now I have navigated unfamiliar cities using transit systems (something I wasn’t allowed to do in childhood) ordering food, albeit awkwardly in a foreign languages, counted my pennies and made grown up decisions such as choosing to buy food over clothing and other frivolous pleasures. I ventured alone into to crowded places infamous for petty thievery, I have asked for help from strangers and listened to my instincts when the spidey sense tingled and I am still alive. And while I am not fully alone, that confidence grows and every experience expands my bubble a little more each day. I still use common sense, you don’t throw caution completely to the wind, but now I am less afraid of the strange unfamiliar world around me.

What about you? What teachings did travel offer you? Did you experience the fear and excitement of adventure as I did, were you able to let go and trust in yourself?