After spending a few days off of the hippo course by backtracking to Portugal, I made my way to Valencia. This meant taking the night train from Lisbon to Madrid which all in all something I don’t mind at all. I actually like night trains because you can do so much traveling all while you are asleep. So the ten hour train ride passed quickly while I was only subconsciously aware of the rocking motion of the train. Every so often I would wake up feeling the train curve and bend along the tracks with that feeling of impending derailment. Fortunately I made it to Madrid with a restful nights sleep behind me and a new friend Leyre who I met in my cabin that I shared with three other women including her.
Leyre was from Valencia and had also been in Lisbon on business. We actually didn’t talk until we both got ready to get off of the train when she asked me where I was going. When I told her Valencia, she said that she was going there too and so I decided that it would be in my best interest to follow her through the train station to the next train.
This was a great thing because without Leyre’s help, I would have been totally lost. The Madrid train station (yes, the one that attacked in February) was very complex and we had to move from the international train station to the domestic one, almost like an airport. After getting our things through the international turn stalls and heading towards the domestic trains, we realized that we had just missed the next train to Valencia and would have to wait another hour and a half to catch the one after that.
So Leyre asked if I wanted to join her for a coffee—sure, why not? So we sat down and after I managed to spill HER orange juice all over HER croissant (she waved off my embarrassed apologies) we settled down and had a nice talk about life in Spain and the USA. Turns out that Leyre works for Wal-Mart—the ultimate American company. It was fascinating listening to her talk about it and their company policies—I would later find out that Wal-Mart executive employees cannot accept ANY free gifts at all—like if they are visiting a client that they might potentially going to buy from the Wal-Mart employee has to pay for the taxi and for their own meals, even when the clients are trying to impress them. They cannot even get frequent flier miles! Anyways, we had a good talk and Leyre invited me to go out with her and her friends tonight for dinner and a concert. She sympathized with my situation—being in a city all alone just for one night—and said that her friends wouldn’t mind me coming along.
Great! We exchanged numbers (ok, I gave her my hotel number) and made our way to the waiting area for the train where we soon boarded. I say “boarded” here because that is what it was really like since it was much more like an airport than a train station with heavy security.
Leyre had suggested that I get a reservation for the train which was a good move since the train was almost full and I wouldn’t have been guaranteed a seat if I hadn’t gotten a reservation. Since our seats weren’t next to each other, I spent the three hour train ride listening to music and trying to read while slightly paying attention to the Robert DeNiro movie on the TV screen above me. The train was very plush and comfy but it still felt like an eternity to get to Valencia.
We finally arrived and by 4 p.m. I had said goodbye to Leyre and gotten a taxi to the hotel where I checked in and set about getting to the zoo before it closed. According to the zoo’s website, it closed “at sunset” but I was skeptical of this since it is now winter and that didn’t mean that I had oodles of time to get to the zoo. So I inquired about getting a bus to the zoo but then while waiting for the bus I got impatient and hailed a taxi which dropped me off at the entrance to the park where the zoo was located.
Now I had heard several things about the Valencia zoo before I visited—actually I had heard just ONE thing several times. Leyre told me, the woman at the hotel told me, and the man in the park whom I stopped to ask for directions to the zoo.
“The Zoo?” he says, “Why do you want to go THERE? Its so small!! Don’t go there, go to the Aquarium instead.”
All three told me that I a) shouldn’t go to the zoo; b) the zoo was small; and c) I should go to the Aquarium.
Well, hippos do love water but I don’t think that I would find them at the aquarium. Leyre seemed surprised that there were even hippos AT the zoo since it was “so small.”
Well well, how small could this zoo be then?
I made it to the zoo, bought my ticket and discovered just what they meant.
Valencia Zoo is the world’s smallest zoo.
Ok, this might not be fact, BUT based on the animals that it had (lions, zebras, hippos, rhinoceros, gorillas, giraffes, its own aquarium…etc) it was SO SMALL. I walked right in and there were the hippos RIGHT there. I took note of the hippos (2 of them) and then went to see how small the zoo was. You could stand at one end of it and see the other end. It was tiny! Yet in such a small place there were all sorts of wild animals.
No good. I mean, I have seen a lot of zoos. A lot of them. And I still go back and forth on what I think about them—are they inherently good? Bad? Its like a daily debate that I go through every time I visit another zoo. Well, the Valencia zoo, while it makes attempts to be quaint and nice, is really a sad place.
So I started to take pictures of the hippos as they moved around in their tiny enclosure. There were two of them—one huge male (again easily defined by his dung spraying) and the smaller female who preferred to swim around in circles with a tree branch on her head (quite endearing really—I don’t think she realized how silly she looked) while the male showed me who was the shit.
Sorry, bad pun.
And sorry again for swearing.
Ok, anyways, the hippos were doing their thing while I took pictures—I even got the occasional “look at me I am going to get out of the water—oh wait never mind” tease that hippos like to play with me. The weather was getting increasingly worse as storm clouds gathered and rain began to sprinkle down. Since I was the only person in the zoo, I decided to make friends with the woman at the ticket counter and inquire about the hippos’ names. She didn’t know and wasn’t of much help. The keeper wasn’t around (I laughed since of course, THE keeper—there is probably only ONE!) and so I went to ask the girl in the gift shop who was closing up for the night.
She thought I was nuts but agreed to ask someone for me. Who else could there be? There was no one here!
She went to the ticket lady and said she was going to call someone to ask. So I waited while my two new acquaintances figured out the hippo’s names. Ralf (the massive male) and Rigas (the slightly smaller female). I thanked them and ignored their questioning looks and went back to the hippos where I took a few more pictures before deciding that I couldn’t stand in the rain any longer and would have to come back in the morning when the light was better.
So I left and ended up walking over to the cathedral of Valencia by a long, round about sort of way. The train was letting up so the walk wasn’t bad even though I didn’t have an umbrella. I didn’t really know where I was going but just sort of wandered. I figured it was too early for me to go back to the hotel to wait to meet up with Leyre (she was going to call me at 9pm) and I wanted to see downtown Valencia.
Valencia is a beautiful city—with a gorgeous cathedral that I poked around and nice small streets that can take you all around in circles if you want them to. I had a nice time walking around and trying to find a place to eat. I eventually settled on a semi-chain type of place and got a huge tuna sandwich, juice AND a big bowl of yogurt and fruit. The waiter taking my order joked, “are you sure you don’t want anything else?” which made me laugh.
I then headed back to the hotel after walking for quite a while through the Pl. Ayuntamiento and ending up at the train station (again) where I decided to just get a taxi back to the hotel. I then got ready to meet my new friend Leyre at the hotel. She called me at 9pm and we planned to meet at the hotel lobby at 9:30.
At 9:35pm I was standing outside the hotel (so that she didn’t have to get out of the car) and up pulled this BMW with Leyre and presumably her boyfriend in it. I smiled and got in and we zoomed off as I was introduced to Leyre’s boyfriend Jonathan. The stats on Jonathan: his mother is Scottish, Dad Spanish, so he was born in Scotland but few up in Spain. Basically he looks like this crazy Scottish guy (who you would instantly think didn’t speak a word of Spanish) who of course has this brilliant Spanish accent and fires back in the Valencian rendition of Spanish to anyone who will speak with him. My first impressions (and the ones I continue to hold) were who IS this guy?
To sum up the night, I had a blast. Who would have thought I would be partying in Valencia with these crazy people! They made me talk to their friend over Jonathan’s BMW speaker phone and I had a feeling that my night wasn’t going to be an early one. We first went back to Leyre’s apartment for a bit (and a beer) and then headed to meet up with the rest of their friends (who were strangely all men and just one other girl besides Leyre and me).
I could tell right away WHY there were just guys there—they were on the prowl. One in particular seemed set on winning over a lady that night which just so happened to be me since I was the only other lady. His efforts were brushed off as I reminded him that I had a boyfriend. The night was ridiculous and really fun though—we ended up dancing until the wee hours of the morning which was accomplished by having one too many gin and tonics, which, I might say, make my Spanish a force not to reckon with. Even the Spaniards were impressed.