I had always assumed that Decembrists song “O Valencia!” to be about the city of the same name. It speaks volumes about my ability to pay attention to song lyrics that I had to first go there and look them up to realize it was instead about a Shakespearean love story and bore no references at all to the place in Spain. But it fit: I had come to Valencia on a whim, having heard much about it, and with an image of the city in my head. Just as with the song, my assumptions turned out to be skewed, products of my imagination, whereas the reality was much more complex and – dare I say – lovelier. Once I had left behind the tourists in the city center, Valencia had something about it that made feel much more foreign than Madrid had felt: an architecture I could not get enough of, a fisherman’s quarter tragically marginalized, a rugged seaside, a dried-out riverbed filled with a human-shaped playground or a megalomaniac art and science museum. Oh, and even though I should know not to romanticize them: Palm trees.
There are places you visit and you only pass through. And then there are places that strike a chord and stick with you. Valencia did the latter.