As it turns out, Valencia is a beautiful city, rich with history and a vibrant culture of art, music, and outdoor activities. After we recovered from La Tomatina, I was excited to connect with a woman I had met in an online support group. As I mentioned in my first post, I experienced the horrors of topical steroid withdrawal that rendered me a hermit for almost a year and forced me to face some very difficult truths about myself, and the world around us. Through the efforts of the people in ITSAN, I felt supported and informed throughout the almost 2 years that I dealt with my recovery from this condition.
One of the bright spots in the ordeal was meeting some wonderful people from all over the world, including four people I spent time with in person. I was excited to be able to see Christina, who is orginally from Montreal but is spending some time in Europe to hone her language skills and explore the world.
Walking through the city with her, I felt an increased sense that the world is a very small place, and that people are more alike than they are different. It was great to get her perspective on life, people, and relationships. I realize that some of our similarities step from having similar experiences - I don't think anyone can go through what we went through without being changed in some fundamental ways - but some of the connection I felt was more basically human. Maybe it was because we both experienced a physically and psychologically challenging health issue, or maybe it was just because of who we both are, but there was no pretense between us and we shared a lot of our vulnerabilities in a stripped-down and honest way.
Shane and I decided to stay in Valencia a little longer instead of going to Barcelona, and booked another apartment to extend our time in what turned out to be a city with a lot of outdoor life and friendly people. The street art was abundant and beautiful. It was easy to get lost in the winding streets that seemed to course through holes in spacetime and spit you out behind where you thought you were going to end up.
It began to dawn on us that we couldn't stay in Europe forever - not yet, anyway. We contacted Chris and Sorya, the French couple we met in Lagos, and asked if their offer to visit them in Paris was still open. From there, we would head back to New York. I was so excited to go to France. I had been drawn to its culture since I was a child in ballet class learning French words. (My favorite step was the "pas de chat" mostly because it seemed like such a cool name for what my feet were doing, even though it may be one of the least graceful moves in ballet, especially when I did it.) I studied the language in high school and college, and never had the chance to use it. I searched for cheap flights to other French destinations, and found a Ryanair ticket to Marseille for only 53 euros, plus luggage fees. Our plan was made: we would fly to Marseille for about a week in the South of France, and then take a train to Paris to reunite with our new friends and explore a place of legendary inspiration and richness.
On our last day in Valencia, Shane rented a motorbike and we explored parts of the city we hadn't seen before.
The Ciudad De Las Artes y Ciencias is an alien world of chlorinted water, metal and glass. It is situated at the eastern end of a park that fills a dry riverbed, just before the spot where the river once met the Mediterranean sea. The contrast between the massive futuristic structures and the ancient city walls nearby dizzied us.
We broke some rules (despite my vocal hesitations) and explored south of the city itself, buzzing past tiny towns covered in yellow and brown dust where dogs and cats outnumbered the humans. Eventually, we found our way to a national park, and a quiet tranquility that reminded me that cities aren't the only places that make me feel more alive. As we watched the setting sun across the mirror surface of the largest lake in Spain, I noticed someone had spray painted a message on the dock:
I already wished the adventure would never end. Tears filled my eyes as I realized we would be heading back to the US in a few more weeks.
"You know it doesn't have to end when we go back," Shane said, as I stared at the message written by someone who must have loved that sunset spot, too. It hit me that he was right - we don't have to stop having a sense of adventure and love of life just because we are in the US, or working most of our days.
"Do you promise?" I asked. "Promise."
Words by Kara
Pictures by Kara + Shane
Videos by Kara