Editor’s Note: We started on this International Love Affair tour to celebrate the release of our fourth book, Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World. Subscribe to get the inside scoop of each destination in Europe (plus the behind-the-scenes stories that never makes it to this blog.)
But we’re not so foolish to believe there’s nothing left to learn. A relationship is a living organism, and it takes daily attention, nourishment, and refinement. So we set off to see Europe by train and find out what else travel had to teach us about love and togetherness.
The first thing we packed was our romance bucket list, an account of all the ways we planned to infuse our relationship with some good, old-fashioned romance.
First stop: Valencia, Spain.
Checking Off the Romance Bucket List
The Scene: A boutique hotel on a pristine beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Our room overlooked the beach and had a luxury bathroom complete with a jacuzzi tub big enough for two. The sun rose over the sea right in front of our window, and sand sculpture artists worked below to create elaborate castles and moats as people walked by.
It was an idyllic setting, and we marked off several items on our romance bucket list during our three days in Valencia.
Ride bikes together
Warren almost crashed into a bush while taking a selfie of us riding bikes from Valencia Bike Tours. There is a long park in Valencia created from a diverted river, and it functions as the lungs of Valencia. Trees and flowers abound, and there are well-maintained flat trails to walk, ride, or run on. The park eventually ends up at the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias), an impressive (and controversial) architectural site housing the aquarium, museum, event center, and opera house.
The architecture of the complex reminded me of Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. I think the architect Calatrava must have been on the show’s creative team.
We definitely needed this long ride, because…
The food was so delicious! We had tapas on the terrace at The Westin, which is a 5-star hotel located in a renovated textile factory. We didn’t stay here, but the likes of George Clooney and oil sheiks do. We even got to see the swank rooms they stay in, though I was forbidden to roll around on the Heavenly Bed like a dog in heat. <sniff>
Then we cozied up in the corner terrace at LaLola for the funky Valencian food from owner Jesus. The food was incredible, and we’d come back to Valencia just to eat at this romantic and eclectic restaurant.
And then we visited the 178-year-old Casa Montaña Restaurant, where we sampled traditional tapas made with the finest ingredients and accompanied by incredible red wine. It has a friendly, neighborhood vibe and we ended up joining a birthday celebration with a group of people at the next table consisting of a nurse, a winemaker, and an actor, among others. There’s nothing more stimulating than conversation with fascinating people!
Ride on a boat
Valencia has a great nature preserve just outside of town. The water only comes up to knee level even at the deepest point, so traditional small wooden boats are used to navigate amongst the reeds and migrating birds. We saw herons and ducks and plent of other unknown types of birds during our afternoon tour of the lake, binoculars glued to our eyes as we tried to identify all the birds we saw.
Take a cooking lesson together
Once we finished the boat ride, we stopped at the Restaurant Mateu. This is one of about 25 restaurants in this microscopic town that specialize in paella. In fact, there’s not much else in this little village on the outskirts of Valencia except for paella restaurants!
We took a sneak peek into the kitchen, where six paella pans were going at once with about a dozen more empty. On weekends, all burners are in use to feed hungry families who come together after a busy week apart.
Warren learned the process of a Valencian paella, which is typically made with rabbit, chicken, green beans, tomato, saffron, olive oil, salt, and the special round rice of Valencia called bomba rice. I can’t wait to taste his version of this when we get back to our kitchen!
Take a bath together
Do you really want details on this? Remember, our moms read this website. Suffice to say it was a really big, really nice tub with jets at the Petit Miramar Hotel. We even got lovely bath salts to use. And we were definitely spic and span at the end. (To scrub the image from your mind, I give you the lovely museum.)
People watching at a cafe
Mark greeted us at the door in his silk paisley bathrobe, a teddy bear clutched in one hand and a long cigarette holder in the other. The theme that night was Divas, and patrons were dressed in everything from cabaret style clothes to saucy chanteuse to an impersonator of this year’s Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst. We felt like we were walking into a salon of intellectuals and artists from early 20th century in Paris. It was a sensory feast at Cafe de las Horas.
We arrived here at midnight to taste the local Agua de Valencia, a citrusy drink containing three types of alcohol. It tastes harmless, but I could see where a few of these could be dangerous. We settled into a table in the corner and watched the regulars at this famous spot take turns performing and playing. We were dressed pretty conventionally and well below the bar set by this creative crowd, but they made us feel welcome all the same.
If we hadn’t had an early train booked for the next morning, we would have followed this party all over Valencia until breakfast.
What We Learned About Love in Valencia
Yes, we had a great time in Valencia. And you can bet we’ll be back, especially since it is not too far from our new part-time home in Andalucia. But what did we learn about love?
There is a famous story in Valencia about Floriano and Erifila, two star-crossed lovers who were accidentally placed in an insane asylum. This farce was first written in about 1595 by Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio, and it’s still performed today.
The short version of the story is that they played games, both to get into the asylum to escape uncomfortable lives and as they navigated their early romance. There were lies, secrets, and manipulative games, including a fake marriage to another person. The drama in this play is high, and while it makes for a good performance it is certainly an uncomfortable way to live and love.
As we enjoyed our last hours in Valencia at the famous Cafe de los Horas, surrounded by men in drag, women in costume, elaborate performances by lip syncers and bona fide chanteuses, presided over by a dapper gentleman in a silk paisley robe, we realized the modern-day lesson we could take from Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio’s farce.
Manufactured drama is only beneficial when it’s used for fun and enjoyment with others. When we create drama in our relationship to prove a point, teach a lesson, or soothe a hurt, we’re twisting the purpose of play and make-believe into something ugly.
The Lesson: Drama is a drag unless it’s actually in drag.
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