Friday 15th – Monday 18th October 2004 – Valencia, Spain
We made a reasonably timed start, getting away from the filling station in Mougins at 9:00, which is just after the rush hour traffic dies down. It was really just a case of pointing the car at the Mediterranean and then turning right. So long as we kept the sea on the left-hand side of the car it was hard to go wrong! The drive took about 9.5 hours, which is roughly what the route planning program suggested (in fact it said 10 hours). That’s not bad for a drive just short of 1,000 kilometres. Of course, by the time we got there, I could hardly move my right foot, because it’d been held in the same position for such a long time, but I didn’t fall over when I got out of the car, so that’s OK with me.
Actually, getting out of the car was a bit difficult anyway, because the central locking system chose Thursday afternoon to develop a bit of a problem. I can lock the driver’s door once I’m in the car, though I have to use the key to get in, rather than the remote, which now only opens all the passenger doors. You know what that means? It means I can’t get out of my locked car, unless I open the window, then lean out and unlock the driver’s door from the outside with the key… It’s not the easiest way to exit a car, I have to tell you.
Anyway, we stopped for coffee and sandwiches somewhere round Narbonne, and again for fuel just south of Barcelona, but otherwise we just kept driving, getting to Valencia around 18:00. Trying to find the Holiday Inn was… interesting. The directions they supplied kept telling us which street to take, but not whether it was to the left, the right or straight on. Now given the traffic system in Valencia, this wasn’t the best way of trying to get where we were going. There are roundabouts in Valencia, massive great things that can take six or seven cars abreast, pretty much guaranteeing you’ll be in the wrong position when you finally figure out which way you want to go. In addition, there are solid white lines intersecting the roundabouts, and each of these lines has a set of traffic lights, which appear to have three settings; there’s the customary red for stop and green for go, but then there’s flashing amber, which means proceed at your own risk, and these appear to be completely arbitrary. By the time we made it to the hotel (after a diversion up a side alley that we didn’t actually need to take and that spat us back out onto another roundabout) I’d decided that we’d get a cab to go into town for dinner!
Finally at the hotel, we discovered that the 120 Euros a night standard room we’d booked had been upgraded to an executive room on the top floor, at no extra cost. We weren’t complaining, as you can imagine. While we were busy unpacking (and wondering why the hotel felt as if it was badly moored) a call from Andrea established that she, Jo and Brigitte were settled in at the Ibis on the other side of town. They’d been to the circuit, having arrived much earlier than we did, and had – predictably perhaps – discovered that the media accreditation people had no trace of them (or us for that matter) on their list. They had, however, had no trouble persuading them to hand over passes. The main thing was not to miss the office to ask questions, because if you did you got sent on a wild goose chase by the security guys, and would eventually end up back where you started! Old Spanish customs, anyone? Anyway, armed with that information, we were sure we would get in.
By now, of course, we were hungry too. It was almost 8pm, so there was a chance we might be able to find dinner in about an hour (the Spanish tend to eat very late – restaurants often don’t open much before 21:00). With that in mind, we grabbed a cab to the old town and the taxi driver dropped us off just behind the cathedral, pointing out a street where he suggested we would find some good restaurants.
We took a stroll round, the same as everyone else it seemed, and in front of the cathedral we found the other three, studying a model of the building. This was doubly good news, because Jo is Portuguese, and can make himself understood in Spanish, possibly by just shifting his accent slightly as he claims not to speak Spanish, and Brigitte is Belgian but also speaks Spanish. We found a pleasant little place, and ate paella mariscos, drank some local wine, and had a really relaxing meal, before legging it back to the hotel very early by local standards, and falling into bed.
Saturday morning started badly, when it proved difficult to get out of the hotel car park (and I managed to bash the rear end of the car against a concrete post), and then we had the utmost difficulty finding our way out of town too. It meant we were a bit late arriving at the circuit, especially as we had to try and explain to the girl manning the accreditation office that we had applied (repeatedly) but had had no response. She spoke only Spanish, which is very unusual for someone doing the job she was doing. I appreciate we were in Spain, but the circuit claims to be an international standard facility. Anyway, she added us to the list, gave us string, passes and two car-parking passes and we were away.
At the end of the afternoon, we finally packed up for the day and headed back to town, arranging to meet up for dinner again, around 8.30. We were early so we sat at a bar behind the cathedral and people watched, and when the others turned up, we wandered down a side-street and found a fabulous restaurant called Ocho y Media. The chef was Norwegian, the menu was eclectic, with a lot of Norwegian salmon and vodka, a lot of foie gras and a truly wonderful collection of main courses and desserts. Service was terrific and the location was intriguing, in a square full of medieval and 17th/18th century buildings that are being renovated. Oh, and no one commented on the fact that I was sitting there with a massive great rip down the seam of my trousers – done getting into the taxi from the hotel…
I have to say that Valencia is a glorious city, and there’s a great deal of civic pride, judging from the investment that has obviously been pouring into the place. The main artery through the city is a wide green expanse that used to be the river, which has been diverted because it was smelly and unpleasant. The bridges are all still in place, and there are gardens, parks, monuments, a massive concert hall, and the truly amazing city of arts and sciences complex that seems like the best of modern architecture. The old town is full of medieval buildings, and then there are the 18th century stretches of town, with incredible doorways, and columns, and stucco decoration. I want to go back – I need to spend some time investigating the place properly…
This time, having found a sensible way back to the hotel that didn’t involve a tour of Valencia’s alarmingly convoluted one-way system, we made it to the circuit in good time on Sunday morning.
The meeting finished very early on Sunday so we headed back to the hotel to type up our notes – only when we got there the chambermaid was still cleaning the room. So we retired to the bar where I used what little Spanish I have (about four phrases) to order a glass of wine. We finished that, went back to the room, and organised the notes while we could both still decipher them, then grabbed a taxi to the old town and had an early paella dinner near the cathedral. We were back at base camp and asleep by 10.30.
The green strip through the middle of town seems to be a great way of orienting yourself to avoid getting too lost, something we managed to do on the Sunday night as we searched for an open restaurant. What was fascinating to a northern European was the fact that weddings were taking place in the cathedral as late as 9pm on Saturday evening, and also the fact that the museums and galleries and such all stayed open till 8 or 9pm. It’s fascinating, though the fact that we were on a racing weekend made it a little frustrating as well.
Restaurants not opening before 8.30 or so is fine if you’ve had a late lunch like the locals do, as well as a late breakfast, and maybe a siesta. When you’ve been at the track from about 9am, you haven’t had lunch because there wasn’t time, and you’re hungry because you’re used to eating at 7pm, it’s not ideal. If we manage to go back, we’ll not be racing and we’ll go native!
On Monday we hauled out of bed at some ungodly hour and were checked out and moving by 9. That meant we hit the circuit about 9.30 where I spent an hour getting some photos I needed, and talking to people I needed to talk to. By the time we left it was a little before 11 (20 minutes after we’d hoped to get away and 10 minutes before the absolute cut off time we’d given ourselves). Just as we were leaving the track I got stung in the palm of my left hand by a wasp that had blown in through the car window. Deeply painful for a brief moment, but luckily I’m not allergic to wasp stings, so an application of anti-sting spray and a blob of anti-histamine cream and I was fine. I was driving at the time and was on a tricky junction when it happened, but – and this won’t surprise anyone who knows either Lynne or me – there was no panic at all, although I swore profusely and vigorously. Anyway, the drive home was incident free and we made it in just under 9 hours. I cooked a very quick meal and bed was beckoning a little after 10 as I needed to get Lynne to Nice airport by 8am.